Both Kinds

I first saw the movie The Blues Brothers on a family trip to Woodstock, Vermont and I was captivated by it. It remains one of my all-time favorite movies for its comedy, simple yet fun plot, and especially its music. I definitely put my copy of the soundtrack to use as I walked everywhere with my Discman (ask your parents, kids). I remember when I first watched the movie and the characters arrived at Bob’s Country Bunker. They are told that music acts only play country and/or western music at that particular establishment. I rolled my eyes. I was not really a fan of either genre and, in fact, I could not tell the difference. As I got older and more open-minded about music, I realized how stupid I had been. Country is a perfectly acceptable genre of music. In the movie, the Blues Brothers even respect it enough that they are able to complete an entire set of country/western music despite not usually playing in that style. (We only see two songs but they later state they were there a long time).

Yes, it might be silly but the first song of the two genres I remember really listening to is the theme from Rawhide which I suppose would qualify as Western. The Western genre is born of the American Southwest and it speaks to adventure and rugged individualism. It idolizes the cowboy. This song is definitely all of that. Of course, it is sung here by a pair of comedians looking to make people laugh but they are backed by a supergroup of actual professional blues and jazz musicians. As far as I know, none of them ever played much country music professionally before or since but a great musician can play just about anything.

The next brush I had with country music that I remember is encountering Garth Brooks. Brooks is a big crossover star because he embraced the music that inspired him with a modern flair. Previously, when I thought about country music, I thought of it as slow wailing over a guitar. I imagined the stereotypical songs about a man whining about his wife leaving him or his dog dying. A white man’s blues. I had no idea that country songs could be both upbeat and uptempo. That kind of opened up new doors for me. I already liked other genres of the region (blues, southern rock) but now I had reasons to search out more country music.

It was around this time that my parents went out to the movies (a rare thing without us kids) and saw Oh Brother, Where Art Thou. They immediately allowed us to see the movie too because there was nothing bad in there that we had not already seen in other movies. The movie has a lot of southern blues but it also has a more old school, bluegrass style of country music. Every song was catchy and fun and even the slow songs had enough rhythm to not make me run for the hills. Finding out that there were more genres of Country music than “Old” and “New” (basically Hank Williams or Shania Twain) was a revelation. This would become another soundtrack that I would listen to endlessly and I briefly became a big Allison Krauss fan.

When I entered college, I immediately took a shine to the resident sound designer (a former roadie/sound mixer for various rock and roll outfits). I officially met him when I ran sound on a show called Bus Stop. During the show, the director wanted one of the actors to play guitar and sing Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking”. Because of that, and because the play takes place in a suddenly snowed-in Kansas town, they decided to go with a lot of simple country music for the soundtrack of the play. This was my first introduction to Hank Williams and I was hooked. While I still hated the slow, caterwauling style of his slower songs (and I still do), I love his playful uptempo songs like “Hey Good Looking” and “Jambalaya”. At that point, like a country hipster, I decided that I liked “Old Country Music” and not the new stuff that I had barely heard.

In the next year or so, we reached a time period during the golden age of file sharing when music was free and obtaining music was consequence free. This was before licensed services like YouTube, Pandora, and Spotify allowed people to legally listen to music without having to buy it first. File sharing expanded my musical tastes, allowing me to find more tracks from Garth Brooks and, because of a collaboration, I discovered the awesome George Jones. His deep voice combined with some really fast and playful songs made me a fan pretty quickly. From there, I found even more fun artists who were not making my heart hurt with slow songs. I found a lot of artists that I would later use in my own sound design of shows like Always… Patsy Cline and Greater Tuna.

So, that is more or less where I stand with Country and Western music. I have a bunch of artists I like and on a blue moon I listen to a Pandora station inspired by Hank Williams and Buck Owens. While I have heard a few songs here and there from modern country artists that I like, I remain hesitant to really get into it. Part of that is that country music was never part of my cultural heritage despite my family being from the South. Another part of it is that I tend to disagree with the political opinions of country music stars and country music fans. It makes it a little difficult to navigate a genre that I am somewhat unfamiliar with when I imagine the distaste I have with that particular world. There are exceptions, of course. Still, I do not immediately discount Country/Western music as I once did as a kid.

How do you feel about Country and Western music?
Can you give me some good recommendations?

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9 Responses to “Country”

  1. Iain Kelly Says:

    Love the Blues Brothers movie, and the soundtrack is brilliant. Never been quite able to get into Country and Western music – it is a very ‘American’ genre!


  2. Rowena Says:

    I’m with Iain. My husband loves The Blues Brothers and can quote most of the lines. I’m a fan but it doesn’t go that far. I’m not a fan of either country or western. I’m Australian and while we do have a country music scene here and world class performers, I’m a city girl and it’s always made me cringe.
    xx Rowena


  3. Silvia Writes Says:

    I like the country music of yesteryear, but my knowledge of names and such is limited, at best. Current vocalist today, Josh Turner, something about the voice, works well with Would You Go With Me.

    Liked by 1 person

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