Country music has long existed for over a hundred years tracing its roots back to the 19th century. Thanks to its founding people — the men and women — who have served as pillars of this genre of music. To name a few renowned artists, we have Jimmie Rodgers who is considered as the “Father of Country Music.” He was also regarded as “America’s Blue Yodeler” popularly known for his rhythmic yodeling.
In addition, we also have Johnny Cash whose music has won the hearts of many. Not only he is a great singer but also, he is an excellent songwriter. Thus, he is original. He wrote songs about his childhood, family, and overall, about his life experiences. Then, we have the Carter Family whose music has stood strong country and also June Carter to whom Cash got married to.
And other great artists followed. Country music was not only for men but also for women. Female artists have found their own limelight in the industry. Good friends Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn found themselves performing together in Nashville. Unfortunately, we have lost Cline too soon. Then there’s “America’s Sweetheart” Dolly Parton whose songs have left a great impact to the world. Tammy Wynette, also known as “The First Lady of Country Music,” has recorded a number of number one hits that many of us enjoy to this day. And then we have “The Queen of Country” Reba McEntire, an Oklahoman gospel singer, who has given a new taste to country music.
Many lists of names would go on and we could not name everyone here. But we can’t help but mention some of the legends and icons that have graced the stage. George Jones, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, and Freddy Fender may have gone but their music will live forever. Furthermore, we should still be happy since we still have a number of great artists with us. George Strait, Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, and many more continue to empower the spirit of country music within us. And what a better way to thank the Lord for these amazing talents than to sing and listen to their songs.
We live in a world where change is inevitable and country music is not an exception to such. It sounds cliche but the changes we experience especially with music nowadays are so much incomparable. True enough, the evolution of music has been felt not just in the country but around the world. Sadly, most people only recognize the contemporary and mainstream music. However, it is with experiencing different kinds of music that we appreciate what a true tune is. And so, we do not just cling to one form rather, we look into the other side in order for us to enjoy what it may bring.
The Other Side of Country Music: Country Outlaw (A Synopsis)
Some forty years ago, publicist Hazel Smith came up with a new term “outlaw country.” It is a revolution that campaigns “traditional” country music that some claim is dying out.
“Traditional” country music, they say, has been killed by bro-country. The artists bringing influences from other genres into their music and the radio programmers who play those songs. Debates and arguments have sparked controversies over this matter. These outlaw country artists are regarded as the badass bastions of the good old days. These are men and some few women believed to be doing right by Nashville. Truly, this is the kind of artists we need more of these days.
It was never unknown to country fans that were four prominent names in the country outlaw side. These were four men who were more popularly known as “The Highwaymen,” collectively. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson have been the standard of the country outlaw. They have further made “traditional” country music alive despite the speedy evolution of the genre.
While many imply that the term “outlaw” suggest a certain distinct sound, some say that it is more than a sound rather a movement. It is a movement about artistic freedom that wishes to revive what country music is losing — its original sound. Michael Gray, co-curator of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s exhibit, explains,
“Before the outlaw movement, a lot of the artists were kind of in the passenger seat; it was the producer and the record label picking songs, picking which musicians would be on the recordings, which producer, which studio. The outlaws had the courage to be not just stars, but to dig deep inside themselves and present their artistry to the world.”
So far, this movement has inspired a lot of artists to venture on their own sound and go further to originality. This is what country outlaw is all about. One of the most prominent names in this other side of country music is Steve Earle. To note, he doesn’t sound like any of the four Highwaymen but he has his own. He considers himself a “true country outlaw” and that’s what he really is proud of. With this, he has translated whatever he believes in through his music and was never afraid to speak his mind.
Steve Earle: A True Country Outlaw
Born on January 17, 1955, in Fort Monroe, Virginia, Stephen Fain Earle, better known as Steve Earle, grew up in Texas. As early as a child, he got to show interest in music. Influenced by legendary folk-rock musicians Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Woody Guthrie, Earle trained himself to be a guitar player. By the age of 13, he was already a skilled and seasoned guitarist.
Not only was he great in instruments, but he also started writing his own songs specifically in country music. In 1986, he released his debut studio album Guitar Town. However, drug and personal problems have derailed and slowed down his career in the late 1980s. Eventually, he got over all these and returned to recording. He continued his passion for music and won multiple Grammys. To note, he has also starred in some television shows especially in his roles on the HBO’s The Wire and Treme.
In order to pursue and achieve his dream to be a full-fledged musician, Earle traveled to Nashville, Tennessee in 1975. There, he embarked on a musical career and soon met with his childhood inspirations, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
Initially, when he began performing at small Nashville venues, country fans were initially put off by his long hair and opposition to the Vietnam War. However, his strong musical prowess and unique country-rock style eventually won the hearts of many.
After a decade, he released his debut album called Guitar Town. It met with both commercial and critical acclaim. One of its tracks, “Goodbye’s All We Got Left,” reached a spot on the country music chart’s Top 10. Two years later, he released his second album, Copperhead Road, which even skyrocketed his career. In 1990, he released his album The Hard Way, an emotional and somewhat darker project than his first two albums. He released this album following several of his failed relationships and battles with addiction.
Moreover, Earle was very vocal about his ideas and thus, has incorporated these in his music. His politically left ideals (including his anti-death penalty and war stances) have been translated into several of his songs. Most notably, these songs are found on his albums, Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts…Now, released in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
Despite receiving mixed reactions for these albums, Earle earned a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album for the album, Revolution. Four years later, in 2008, he received another Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk for his Washington Square Serenade. In addition, this album features a duet performed by Earle and his sixth wife, Allison Moore. The following year, he won his third Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. It was an album called Townes, a tribute for Townes Van Zandt, one of his inspirations.
Steve Earle’s Greatest Hits
The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Steve Earle may not already be a familiar name in mainstream and contemporary music but his tune has spanned decades and his albums seamlessly blend rock, folk, and country. He is one of the outlaws and he is one great artist who will forever stand for the “other side of country music.” With these being said, here are ten of Earle’s greatest hit that rocked the stage and radios.
The Devil’s Right Hand
Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left
Six Days on the Road
The Rain Came Down
I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
Collaboration with Miranda Lambert
Another great creation of Earle, “So You Wanna Be Outlaw” is his latest album to date. Also, he is working with fellow Texan Miranda Lambert for a duet in “This is How it Ends.” In fact, both artists have already collaborated back in 2005 for Lambert’s debut album.
Although Lambert penned the song “Kerosene,” she later realized that it sounded too similar to a song written by Earle. Hence, she gave him credit. Most notably, “Kerosene” earned her first Grammy nomination.
When asked what the 62-year-old Grammy-winning songwriter say about this, he just cringes and tells everyone,
“I hate telling her this, but I would have never done anything about it. It’s a gift from Miranda the way I see it.”
Destiny made them unite and the connection they made resulted in a collaboration. Interestingly, the had a chance meeting at a beauty salon and Earle decided to write a song together. Thus, they came up with a twangy breakup song. The song became a part of his album “So You Wanna be an Outlaw,” which was produced last year.
On the other hand, Lambert expressed her collaboration experienced with the outlaw icon. She said,
“It was a really cool experience to write with him and he’s such an amazing songwriter. I was intimidated but I learned a lot.”
With this, Earle reciprocated what the female country artist had said. He also has had a high opinion of her describing her critically acclaimed double album “The Weight of These Wings” stunning.
Opinion on Country Music Today and His ‘No Love’ for Country Male Stars
Known for being straightforward and vocal about his opinions, Steve Earle did not take a pass on expressing his thoughts about country music today. In fact, with his unique sound, he has had a great influence on country music and its history. However, he finds the format too limiting and restrictive.
In one of his interviews during a tour rehearsal in Nashville, he says,
“The women are the strong singer-songwriters in Nashville at this point.”
Interestingly, he points out that Chris Stapleton is an exception. He shares,
“Most of the guys, their stuff is all right, but they are mostly, largely just party songs. It’s kind of hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people, I guess, as far as I can tell.”
In addition, he doesn’t blame country radio for ignoring female artists though. Further, he adds,
“I think the labels have an idea of what is selling, and right now the common wisdom is guys under 30 is what’s selling in country music.”
On the other hand, the singer-songwriter grabbed the opportunity to express some harsh words for male country stars. For him, he thinks that these male stars are not singing country music at all. He says,
“The best stuff coming out of Nashville is all by women except for Chris Stapleton. The guys just wanna sing about getting f***ed up. They’re just doing hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people.”
In addition, he even noted that he opts to listen to male stars from other genres and appreciate their music. He says,
“I like the new Kendrick Lamar record, so I’ll just listen to that.”
He expressed these comments in an interview with The Guardian. Also, he said that Noel Gallagher was the “most overrated songwriter in the whole of pop music history.”
“They [Oasis] were perfect for the Brit press because they behaved badly and got all the attention. Blur was really great. That guy Damon Albarn is a real f***in’ songwriter.”
Earle’s comments about male country artists echo those made by the late Merle Haggard, who died in 2016 at the age of 79.
He said in his interview:
“I can’t tell what they’re doing. They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find any substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody. It’s more of that kid’s stuff. It’s hot right now, but I tell you what, it’s cooling off.”
Steve Earle Today
In 2011, Earle released a folk-rock project that named after a Hank Williams song. It was called “Never Get Out of this World Alive.” In celebration of Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday, Earle hosted an event called Woodyfest in July 2012. It was held in New York City. Performances that delighted the crowd include Tim Robbins, John Hammond, Billy Bragg, and Amy Helm, among others.
To date, Steve Earle is regarded for successfully bridging the gap between country and rock music. His music has given way to the blending of the two genres, creating a new, amazingly unique sound that a few musicians have been able to replicate.
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