FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

When Country Got Real

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

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail