FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Country Got Real

by LORENZO WOLFF

In the part of the world that I’m from, a fondness for country music is looked at with uninhibited distain. Especially amongst musicians, it’s a character flaw to own anything other than maybe a little Gram Parsons. If one record could shatter these preconceived notions it’s Honky Tonk Heroes by Waylon Jennings.

By 1973 Jennings’s had been fighting for creative control with labels for over a decade. RCA had forced him to use the studio musicians and producers that were the standard in the Nashville scene at that time, much to Waylon’s displeasure. So after a string of Top 40 hits, he renegotiated his contract with the stipulation that he had complete creative control over who and what appeared on his albums. Honky Tonk Heroes is the second record released after this renegotiation and his biggest critical, if not commercial, success.

What separates Honky Tonk Heroes from Waylon’s previous efforts is not only his work on the production end, but his decision to use his road band to record a studio album. The musicians have the unmistakable feeling of a group who know each other’s tricks from years of touring together. This is something that no assortment of session cats can duplicate, talented though they may be. The rhythm section pushes ahead of the beat in a way that is unusual and exciting in a country record, propelling songs forward and creating the momentum that keeps the album feeling fresh, from the first song to the last. Meanwhile the lead instruments sound as though they’re in no rush, moving slowly and casually from one phrase to the next. On top of all this Waylon sounds almost content. Like he’s come a long way and waded through a lot of bullshit, but he’s finally got the band and the sound he wanted from the beginning.

Most of the songs on Honky Tonk Heroes are written by Billy Joe Shaver, at the time an all but unknown songwriter. It’s his lyrics, and Waylon’s interpretation of them that makes this an iconic album. Up until this point no one had released a country album this directly philosophical. While many country artists had confronted very real themes, poverty, heartbreak, struggle in all of its forms, only a handful of songs deal with such sophisticated subject matter as Shaver’s. In “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” he writes:

I’ve spent a lifetime making up my mind to be,
More than the measure of what I thought others could see…
It’s taken me so long but now that I know I believe,
All that I do and say is all that I ever will be.

This is a major departure from the typical Country music perspective. Up until then, Country songs were about stoic and stalwart characters, they were allowed to be vulnerable, but only if they were lonesome, or if a loved one died. So Shaver saying he’ll be as honest and upfront as possible, keeps Waylon’s character believable and, more to the point, human.

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail