Friday, April 8, 2016

Outlaw Country and Merle Haggard

The music world lost an icon this week:  Merle Haggard died at the age of 79.  He was one of the last remaining musicians of the "Outlaw Country" genre.  This genre was in part a reaction against the clean-shaved, rhinestone-studded "Nashville Sound" of the 1960s.   With acoustic guitar and untutored vocal styles, combined with lyrics from the edges of society, the movement turned country music on its head and had wide crossover appeal.

Merle Haggard: 40 Greatest Hits:  Compact Disc 21410
The outlaw theme is typified in his classic song, "Mama Tried:"
And I turned twenty-one in prison
doing life without parole
No one could steer me right
but Mama tried, Mama tried 
Mama tried to raise me better,
but her pleading I denied
That leaves only me to blame
                                'cause Mama tried.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson:  Django and Jimmie
Compact Disc 22799

Willie Nelson and Haggard collaborated on this album in 2015.  The title song acknowledges the influence of Django Reinhardt, the famous gypsy jazz guitarist of 1930s-1950s Paris, and Jimmie Rodgers, an influential white Southern blues musician ("The Singing Brakeman") of the 1920s and 1930s, known for his yodeling.

Willie Nelson's (b. 1933) "Red-Headed Stranger" (1975) tells the story of a heartbroken cowboy who kills a woman for touching his deceased wife's horse.
The yellow-haired lady was buried at sunset
The stranger went free of course
For you can't hang a man for killing a woman
Who's trying to steal your horse.

Waylon Jennings (1937-2002) "Are you Sure Hank Done it This Way" (1975) is an homage to Hank Williams, Sr., and at the same time a jab at the Nashville style:
Lord it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It's been the same way for years
We need to change.

Hank Williams, Jr. (b. 1949) summed up his outlaw ways in "Family Tradition," a song referencing his famous (alcoholic) father:
So don't ask me, Hank why do you drink?
Hank, why do roll smoke?
Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?
Stop and think it over,
try and put yourself in my unique position.
If I get stoned and sing all night long,
It's a family tradition!
Johnny Cash (1932 - 2003) a.k.a. "The Man in Black" is famous for singing "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" in the song, Folsom Prison Blues.

It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine
Since, I don't know when
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison
And time keeps draggin' on.

Nashville is no longer the rhinestone capital that it was when Elvis Presley and Porter Wagoner chased the long-haired, acoustic bad boys to Texas and beyond, but the bad boy idea lives on in lyrics that continue to be covered by today's artists.

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