The straight-talking monthly column on all things country, Americana, roots and acoustic…
My recent trip to Nashville coincided with the publication of my April, “Off The Record” column for Music Republic Magazine. The issues I raised in that column became the main focus of many of the conversations that I had while in Music City. This is the gist of that column:
“With the exception of a small number of distinctive and passionate vocalists, the majority of today’s current crop of male country singers do not possess that indefinable ingredient that saw names like Marty Robbins, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, George Strait, Jim Reeves, Don Williams, Glen Campbell, Alan Jackson and Buck Owens become true icons of country music.”
I was fairly sure that those words were going to get me in very hot water in the home of today’s country music superstars, but surprisingly, nearly everyone that I met agreed wholeheartedly with my stance.
The majority were quick to congratulate me for having the guts to put into words something that they had been thinking for quite some time. Since I’ve returned home, there’s been even more responses. not just from America, but also Canada, Australia, Germany, Sweden and naturally from across the UK.
Again, most have endorsed and agreed with my comments. Cameron Wallace, a well-respected man-about-town in Nashville, contacted me to advise that the column was to be the main topic of conversation in the weekly ‘Nashville Access’ Podcast with Dallas and Camo today, on iTunes, Google Play, and StitcherNashville Access Podcast with Dallas and Camo.
This is a well-respected Podcast not just in Nashville, but also around the world. I was naturally intrigued to hear what they would make of my comments. Again, generally they agreed with what I had to say.
I am no outsider!
Interestingly they honed-in on me being ‘someone from the outside looking in’. I found this rather strange, considering I’ve been involved in country music for more than 50 years in all kinds of guises, from journalist, agent, artist manager, festival, concert and gig promoter to magazine editor and publisher.
In more than 30 trips to Nashville, going back over some 35 years, I’ve never been treated as an outsider. Most people I’ve met have welcomed me warmly and treated me as an equal, mainly because it has soon become quite apparent that I really do know country music inside and out.
Not just the music facts and figures, but I also have long understood the way that the music business works in Nashville, so can discuss all aspects of country music with knowledge and authority.
Although I might be British and write with a UK-bias, I really don’t think that my column was written with an ‘outsider’ view. It’s true to say, that I often see country music in a different way to most of those that work in the music business in Nashville, but I truly believe that I would still have the same views if I was to live and work in Nashville.
I would be equally outspoken and honest in my writing. It’s the way I’ve always been ever since I first got involved way back in 1966, and quite honestly, I don’t think I could ever change, or for that matter, want to.
It was interesting the way that Dallas (Pictured above, left) and Camo (right) defended artists, record labels and managers for the way that country music has developed over the past 15 to 20 years. They likened the business to an American Football team, in which everyone had to be a team player.
You had to fit a certain position in the team and play your part. They explained that you needed a certain number of Quarterbacks or Middle Linebackers and so on, and in their view that was how it all worked.
I’ve never understood American Football and though I understand the importance of being a team player, in my view, music can never be considered a team sport. I’ve always been a big supporter of those ‘maverick’ performers who have made their mark in music by doing it their own way.
They might have surrounded themselves with a good team, but they’ve taken risks and played the game their own way, often ignoring advice and any of any current trends or fads. That’s the way that I’ve always been. I’ve found it quite impossible to be a part of a committee, board or team. I act on instinct and impulse after carefully weighing up all the pros and cons.
Get it done
If I decide that something needs to be done, I roll up my sleeves and get it done, rarely wasting precious time talking it over with those that might try and persuade me otherwise. For me, it’s always been the ‘maverick way.’
That is the reason why, when I launched my own country music magazine in 2002, I named it Maverick. From the outset, I wanted to publish a country music magazine that didn’t look like a ‘country music magazine.’
The cover images were usually black and white iconic images that were sophisticated rather than garish. The editorial policy was to cover all aspects of country music from the 1920s through to current music, without being dictated to by the corporate music business.
I was a stickler for getting facts correct, for good use of the English language and honesty and integrity. All vital ingredients for a well-respected magazine, but sadly lacking these days in most publications.
As so often happens when I start out on one of these columns, I’ve headed off into directions I never thought about or intended when I first started typing.
So back to where I began with last month’s column, which was inspired by the CMA’s Songwriter Series show at London’s O2 Indigo in March.
Over the years, these shows have brought me and many others great enjoyment. I’ve long been almost fanatical about songwriters. They deserve much more recognition and I’m in total support of how the CMA has helped to raise the profile of the songwriters, since the Association’s inception some 60 years ago.
The CMA Songwriters Series of concerts have been staged right across the USA, Canada, Ireland and the UK. It would not be stretching a point to note that the concerts tend to play to much bigger audiences in the UK than in America.
The UK loves songwriters…
Generally speaking, music fans in the UK are more aware of the songwriters than those fans in America and will go out and support them. In America, the CMA usually needs to add a ‘name’ artist or two to the line-up of songwriters in order to ‘sell’ the concert to the public.
That is not really necessary in the UK. For the past three years the CMA’s Songwriter Series London shows have sold out weeks before the names of the performing songwriters have been announced.
That leads me to ask why the CMA felt it necessary to include a pair of ‘name’ acts (Kip Moore and Luke Combs) in the London show. I know from chatting to songwriters in Nashville that there are literally dozens of songwriters who are not ‘name’ acts, who would jump at the opportunity of being part of the CMA Songwriters Series of shows in London
These include veterans like Paul Overstreet, Steve Wariner (Pictured, above), Sharon Vaughn, Mike Reid, Rob Crosby, Dallas Davidson and Matt King, not to mention the lesser-known, but equally talented Neil Thrasher, Sally Barris, Julie Delgado, Shantell Ogden (Pictured, above) and Max T. Barnes.
All too often the CMA seemingly makes the mistake of looking solely at the commercial gains and successes of the music, rather than the wider picture of how they could be helping more of those talented people nearer the bottom of the ladder, who are deserving of more help and assistance from an organisation like the CMA, in raising their profile.
By Alan Cackett