The Hodgepodge: Going Country and Respecting the Roots

Don Henley

“Going Country” is a phrase that’s been around for a while. Rock music and country music have similar roots, with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and even Dwight Yoakam treading the lines of country and rock all while keeping the same sound for the most part. Hank Williams had some influence on rock music too. Not only was Hank’s “Move It On Over” a big influence for rock’s first big hit single “Rock Around The Clock”, but George Thorogood recorded the song and popularized it for rock radio. Embarrassing admission: I didn’t know Thorogood’s “Move It On Over” was a Hank Williams cover, no less a cover song, until I really started listening to Hank almost 2 years ago. Even some of rock’s biggest acts have blurred the lines of rock and country with some of their hits. “Honky Tonk Woman” was written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and covered by many rock and country artists including Waylon, Hank Jr., Tesla and Def Leppard.

Those examples are just a few of music history’s country and rock crossovers. Rock versions of the songs more or less had a rock feel and inspiration to them. Country versions had a country feel to them. They were blended and no one really batted an eye because the roots were there. The problem with so many rock acts “going country” these days is because mainstream country has lost its roots. There aren’t many today who care or respect the roots of country music, and yet those are the bands and act that claim to make country music. This is why we can get washed up 90s pop rock acts joining forces to give us “B.Y.H.B.” or Bret Michael’s train wreck of a “country” song. No one cares to make an actual country song because these types of trashy pop anthems get played on radio all the time by the likes of Florida Georgia Line. Instead of making a song with any artistic value, they make sellout anthems for 15 minutes of fame.

Uncle Ezra Ray and Bret Michaels represent the worst of the gone country acts. The singers and band who make sellout music for the sake of trying to earn a quick buck. They don’t care what the song actually sounds like as long as the sound makes money. Another kind of “going country” act are the middle of the road bands. These are the acts that make country music that is somewhat rooted in country, but still dangle their feet in a populous area because money is still the first priority. Darius Rucker is the best example of this. For the most part, Rucker’s turn to country has resulted in some decent to good pop country songs. Learn to Live isn’t that bad of an album and showed serious commitment to Rucker’s turn to country. Since then, his quality as slowly declined with each subsequent album, but Rucker still keeps his sound country despite some terrible lyrics. Even Bon Jovi’s short turn to country with their album Lost Highway showed some country influence within their pop rock sound. The album yielded a beautiful duet with LeAnn Rimes, but mostly the album was still mostly generic pop rock. We’ll just try to forget that awful collaboration with Big & Rich.

Then we have the serious country moves: the artists who say they’re going country and then make real, honest country music. Don Henley of the Eagles is the best current example of this. The Eagles are a classic rock mainstay, yet they’ve always had some country influence to them. But Don Henley’s Cass County is nothing but country music. Henley brings in the likes of Dolly Parton and Merle Haggard for collaborations and features many classic country sounds through and through. When artists and bands announce that they are “going country” this is the expectation and standard that should be met.

If any artist jumps genres for an album or an entire career move, that artist should approach that move with respect for the roots and history of that genre. Merle Haggard would never take “Mama Tried” the way it is and try to convince Jay Z that it’s the next big rap song. In the same way, a “talk-sing” R&B groove shouldn’t be called country. A pop rock bro anthem shouldn’t be called country. Country music has lost its gatekeepers and most people who make a move to country know that and take advantage of it. Instead we need more crossovers into country where the artists make real country music that shows respect and appreciation for the history and roots of the genre. We need more Don Henley and less Bret Michaels.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Jason Boland & The Stragglers will release their next album, Squelch, on October 7.
  • Corb Lunds newest album, Things That Can’t Be Undone, will come out on October 9.
  • After a delay, Toby Keith’s 35 MPH Town will be released on October 9.
  • Eric Church has announced his newest single will be “Roller Coaster Ride.”
  • Jana Kramer will release her newest album, Thirty One, on October 9.

Today in Country Music History

  • In 1969, Loretta Lynn records three songs at Bradley’s Barn in Mr. Juliet, Tennessee. Among the three recordings is Lynn’s well-known hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
  • Garth Brooks’ debut album goes platinum in 1990.
  • In 2005, Dierks Bentley is inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Highway’s Home” by Will Hoge. This song closed out Will’s 2007 album Draw the Curtains. In my opinion, Draw the Curtains is Hoge’s most country album of his collection and it’s worth a listen if you haven’t heard it yet. The steel guitar on this track is excellent and the vocals are great. When Will sings this one at his concerts he moves into a short segment of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to conclude the performance.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” – Since I talked about “Honky Tonk Woman” earlier, I’ll suggest the Stones for my non-country listen of the week. Primarily, I suggest “Gimme Shelter” because this is one of my all time favorite songs.

Tweet of the Week

Everyone is calling their music country so I’m going to call all my favorite music acts country so I can simplify my favorites into one genre. Led Zeppelin, Springsteen, John Williams’ Star Wars Score…all country.

iTunes Review That Makes Me Happy

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This was left on Don Henley’s Cass County. Bringing today’s column full circle with a review that I agree with 100%. I also find it funny that it’s a rock star who brings us one of the many great, real country albums this year.

(Note from Josh: You’ll see my review of Don Henley’s Cass County tomorrow)

8 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Going Country and Respecting the Roots

  1. Raymond October 1, 2015 / 1:12 pm

    Wow I had no idea Dierks Bentley was a member of the Grand Ole Opry since well I figured since the award shows shun him why not the Opry. It’s also weird cause I last night saw on Youtube an acoustic Opry performance of Riser and I Hold On it was so fascinating watching that last night.

    Great job pointing out the Bon Jovi Leeann Rimes I’ve never truly appreciated her music but I think I’ll check it out.

    Well I’m still kinda excited for Jana Kramers album there’s bound to be some bad tracks but I think as a whole it’ll be fairly good.


  2. Lorenzo October 1, 2015 / 3:00 pm

    I completely agree Derek. I have sat through Cass County and it’s one of those albums that make you stop and think “hey, i finally remember why I fell in love with country music”. I can only hope it overperforms so that it will give Don the confidence to release a follow up to this masterpiece.
    as for pop/rock artists coming to country music, I’d like to point out that Sheryl Crow did the same thing in 2013: she released a very good country rock album, ‘Feels Like Home’, and it had some outstanding tracks like ‘waterproof mascara’ (if I don’t go wrong Brad Paisley had a writing hand in it) and ‘stay at home mother’. naturally country radio hates female artists (because, like our official country music douche Jason aldean pointed out, “they can’t be distinguished”) and the three singles released all got ignored. The whole album underperformed. It makes me sad.
    don’t even get me started on uncle Ezra ray. bullshit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin October 1, 2015 / 4:18 pm

      I can’t believe I forgot about Crow’s country move! Disappointed in myself now.


  3. Josh Schott October 1, 2015 / 4:31 pm

    I just thought of another recent country crossover you could add: Lionel Richie’s country album from a few years ago. I thought there was a couple of good songs on it, but then you had some bad ones too like Rascal Flatts singing “Dancing on the Ceiling.” -_-

    Rascal Flatts can ruin anything…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diesel October 1, 2015 / 9:56 pm

      How about Aaron Lewis of Staind? I enjoyed the EP and full album he released a couple years back. Whole lotta twang on both of them. Song writing wasn’t too deep, but he had some great songs I think (my personal favorite being the title track, The Road)


      • Derek Hudgin October 2, 2015 / 7:09 am

        Aaron Lewis’ has had a more respectable turn to country, but I also get the feeling he’s trying too hard to sing with a drawl. Some of his deliveries sound forced to me. Although, his recording of “Granddaddy’s Gun” is pretty darn great.


  4. Jeff Sutro October 1, 2015 / 9:53 pm

    Other notable rock acts that put out country (or country influenced) music in the late 60s and early 70s include the Byrds (Sweetheart of the Rodeo and others) and Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline and the soundtrack to Pat Garret and Billy the Kid; arguably The Basement Tapes and John Wesley Harding). Of course with their folk roots neither of them had to travel very far (as Alan Jackson sang “some of that stuff don’t sound that much different than Dylan). Mike Nesmith (of the Monkees) put out several very nice country influenced albums in the early 70s, as did Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet). Credence Clearwater Revival and The Band also had a lot of folk / country influence. Notably, all of them were putting out the music that they wanted to make rather than just chasing dollars, which is probably why it holds up well and still sounds great.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Zack October 1, 2015 / 9:55 pm

    Great topic Derek! Honestly, I might even like Don’s album better than George Strait’s latest. Not putting George down or anything, I’m just emphasizing the point that rock stars CAN make some good country music. It just hasn’t been seen that often. Can’t wait for the review of this album.

    I can’t wait for the new Jason Boland album. I’ve been playing the hell out of Holy Relic Sale. I love the Will Hoge song too (first time hearing it).

    Liked by 1 person

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