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

July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail