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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy