I spent a lot of time in the cab of a tractor this week. I tuned my radio
to several different country music stations which inspired me to write about country music this week.
I could start off by bashing new-age country music but that’s been
going on since Charley Rich burned the envelope for male artist of the year when John Denver won that award at the 1975 Country
Music Awards. I will simply state that in many cases the songs today sound like pop music that neither offends nor entices
my ears. It’s like fast food, the same every time and consistently unremarkable. There are still a few singers with
lyrical substance on country music radio but many rely on a dance beat, a pretty face and a huge cowboy hat.
My love for country music started in my youth. My parents listened to
Jim Reeves and Tennessee Ernie Ford so that’s pretty much what I listened to (except on Sunday, that was Lowell Lundstrom
day.) As a teen-ager, my friends and I listened to Alabama, John Anderson, John Conley and Hank Junior (heaven help me, I
didn’t know there was a Hank Senior as a youth) In 1985, I started my first job as a radio announcer in Fosston,
Minnesota. I had spent my life listening to Gospel, Folk and Country Rock-I never listened to traditional Country music until
I got that job.
I was nineteen years old and the records at that radio station looked
so old I thought perhaps they contained something of historical importance such as Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration speech.
Well, they did have historical importance but none contained presidential speeches. I remember the first time I heard Hank
Thompson sing, “Movin’ On,” I thought, man this guy rocks. I had to play these records so I was forced to
be open minded. I soon discovered the Outlaw section (Willie, Waylon, Cris, Johnny et al), the Honkey Tonkers (Merle haggard,
Ernest Tubb) and even that Hank Williams Junior had a father who could also sing.
My appreciation for music gained depth when I got past the melody and
listened to the lyrics. Has anyone ever described sadness better than Hank Williams when he sang “the moon just went
behind the clouds, to hang it’s head and cry.” The sparse arrangements and sparing use of instruments let the
words take center stage. Fosston, Minnesota was a rich area for traditional country music when I lived there. Rodney Myrhum
and friends held court down at the Embassy Center and if you timed it right (pretty much anytime) you might hear Vern Iverson
and Vernon Wold singing in the break room of the elevator in Gully, Minnesota. Dwight Yoakom had just released his first single
and Steve Earle still thought he was a singer and not a political activist. I even got to interview the Back Behind the Barn
Boys and Mel Mcdaniel, it was a good time to cover country music for a nineteen year-old radio announcer.
The radio on my last pick-up never worked so I haven’t listened
to much music for the last three years. It made me sad to see my old Chris Ledoux cassette tape stuck in the cushions of my
truck all dirty and ignored. I recently purchased another old truck complete with a working cassette player- perhaps Chris
will take me back.