JUST WHAT IS “COUNTRY”?
By: Richard Lee King
I’m a country music fan and have been all of my life. But I’m confused. Just who determines what “COUNTRY” is and what it isn’t. Who determines who qualifies as a country artist? The idea of musicians from other genre’s suddenly converting to country after their careers begin to falter is not new. It’s been going on for years. Allan Jackson wrote a song titled “GONE COUNTRY” which exposed that phenomenon back in the late 80’s or early 90’s. In those days there was any number of singers who jumped on the band wagon of the revolutionary popularity of Country Music. More recently, we’ve seen Darius Rucker who was the original Hootie from Hootie and the Blowfish take the plunge and “cross-over” to country. The music of his former group couldn’t be any further from country, yet here he is…. Country!! In addition, several years ago out of the clear blue Lionel Ritchie showed up at the CMA awards show.
In the past as a whole, just as it was with Rucker, it always seemed like the cross over came because of the artist’s desire to remain relevant after their career had pretty much “run its course.” However in the case of Mr. Ritchie the move feels more like it is being generated by the Country Music Industry, rather than him. He has enjoyed a fantastic and long lived career in music. However until recently, in my estimation, he was never thought of as a country music artist. When did that change and who is behind the concept?
With today’s country we have gotten a little flavor of islands music (steel drums) from the likes of Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson has mixed a little Jimmy Buffet into some of his releases. Some songs even seem to have a little influence from Mexico and of course Jason Aldean (and several others) has added a little rap to some of his music. It would seem that our country music of today has become a mixture of several other genres. I don’t see that as a bad thing, but I’m still struggling to convince my mind that Lionel Ritchie and Darius Rucker are Country artists.
Years ago Vince Gill became a huge country star after having started his career as a member of the band Pure Prairie League. I couldn’t tell you the title of a single song put out by that band, but my inclination is that they were not country. Yet, somehow Vince became a huge star in the country genre, going on to host a number of awards shows and pumping out many number one hits. I guess in the end the determining factor is talent. Either you have it or you don’t. Yet it seems that country loses just a little more respect each time another washed up rocker decides that he’d like to try to prolong his career by taking advantage of the huge popularity of country music. When your talent or your energy level has eroded to the point where you can no longer compete with the better performers, you come over to country where they accept any old washed up performer from whatever genre they are leaving.
Other names I might include in that category are Kid Rock and Sheryl Crowe. In my memory banks, neither of them considered themselves country until their careers had faded away to nearly nothing. Country opened their arms to them with the Kid even hosting several awards shows. And yes, they have each sung some songs that we might call country, but you’ll find me hard to convince if you try to tell me that either of them was thought of first as a country artist.
I’ve been a huge fan of country music my entire adult life. Somehow it saddens me to see country music, as a whole, be so receptive of all these has-been’s, wannabe’s and never-were’s from other genre’s. If you want to let them come to the awards shows and even be a part of the show by being a presenter, along the lines of what they did with the members of the band Kiss at 2012’s CMA awards show, so be it. But, someone needs to stand up and shout out that country music is and has been doing just fine for many years without the likes of Ritchie, Rucker, Kiss, Rock & Crowe. When your career begins to peter out, don’t come running over to the country side in an effort to revive it.
Gramps use’ta say
“Mean spirited words
…cain’t be erased by an apology.”