BUT I DIGRESS: Metal and real country songs are always relevant and ripe for rediscovery at any age
I’ve been trying to avoid belaboring it, harping and sounding like a one-trick pony about it.
But I’ve come to a decision. And that decision is as follows: This is my column, right? I get to talk about what I feel like talking about, right? Well, since that’s the case – fuck it!
Here’s another column about fuckin’ metal, but with outlaw country and real country this time! I know you’re confused. Hold still and let Uncle Fuddy knock the scales offa yer peepers.
Do you remember what the Billboard Top 10 for 2016 was? Yeah, me neither. Seems to me a ton of music that is incredibly relevant on the date of its release lately becomes all but moot within a year. A decade later, it’ll make its way to a “One Hit Wonders of (insert arbitrary decade here)” compilation if it made a big enough wave during that one week folks cared about it.
Another 10 years and it gets very limited rotation on an AM oldies station (a little one, too. Not even a Clear Channel big wattage deal).
But I heard Black Sabbath and Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson on the radio this week. Not on a nostalgia show or oldies stations, nosireebub – on current playlists, both. And more than once, Sabbath being played on two occasions on the same day but separately by local metal station DJs and Waylon two days in a row on different stations, one country and one adult contemporary, or as it was once known, easy listening (a name I always had trouble with, since most of it was so fucking hard to actually listen too!).
All the songs were on average 25 to 30 years old, yet were not introduced as such, simply as “Got some Sabbath on the way,” and “Here’s one from good ‘ol Waylon and Willie.”
Exactly the same way as the modern hits are introduced. Current. Relevant. Permanent.
It’s a rare thing to find an artist, let alone a genre that has absolutely timeless staying power. So much of the music of the past 30 years has been disposable or dated; sometimes you’re almost ashamed to roll down the window of your car when you’re rocking out to some early 21st century Kelly Clarkson because the Twenty One Pilots fan delivering newspapers on his bike might roll his eyes at you. Far fucking out, right?
And you older judgy bastards can cram it, too – that broad has a killer set of pipes!
But metal and real country doesn’t seem to age much. And if they do, it’s more like a fine wine than an old hooker, knowwhatimsayin?
They came out of the box fully matured and never got cantankerous. These two forms of oft-emulated music have the great privilege of sustaining perpetual youth, and thanks to the gods of all things musical for that emulation! Because those that revere the originals (and have the talent to pull it off) never take themselves too seriously, never get precious about the music they love, but they pay great tribute to the masters. Bands such as Sleep and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are obviously the direct descendants of Black Sabbath and Zeppelin. Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton, as well as Waylon’s actual progeny, Shooter Jennings, are equally the obvious next step from the musical ancestry of Cash, Kristofferson, Willie, and Jennings, Sr., himself.
The genres, although diametrically opposed at first blush, often have much more in common than just the staying power of a 16-year-old boy all hopped up on Cialis in a whorehouse holding a winning Powerball ticket.
Lemme tell youse why…
Not least on the list is sheer virtuosity – Tony Iommi isn’t just a guy who’s “pretty good for a dude with prosthetic fingers.” He’s a bona fide riff master! Imagine the amount prowess a human being must exude in order to be honored with a meme as potent and reverent as this:
(Of course, there’s also this meme…)
But I digress…
Iommi is credited with not only the actual invention of what is today known as “heavy metal,” but he has continually crafted the greatest heavy riffs of all time and set the standard for what we even consider heavy. Before Tony, there was nothing of the sort besides Blue Cheer’s bombastic throbbing and Side 2 of “Abbey Road.”
The monsters of today’s guitar, from Malmsteen to Bonamassa all willingly give praise and openly profess the influence of Iommi, Blackmore, and Page, yet have created their own brand of musical wizardry that, however closely rooted in the originals, is never overtly derivative. Very much unlike the blatant 1980s rip-offs that were spawned by Edward Van Halen’s reinvention of the wheel, which he has repeatedly apologized for.
Here’s your proof – Tony Iommi literally ripping the top of your head off…
And Joe Bonamassa, in kind…
The gravity of Iommi’s influence is impossible to ignore, even by those who claim to do so.
In country, the list of virtuosos is nearly infinite, but for the sake of this diatribe, I’ll name a few. Roy Clark’s multi-instrumentalist brilliance, although not quite “outlaw,” was also never totally included in the “Nashville” sect, either… (as Johnny points out, there are a few labels that do fit…)
And another unsung hero of original rock ‘n’ roll, as well as all forms of country, Mr. James Burton, who played for Ricky Nelson as well as the King himself and invented what is not the ubiquitous country style of “chicken pickin’” hybrid playing…
And his demon fingered non-kin spawn, Brad Paisley. The influence again is a blatant homage, but in no way a derivative rip-off…
Not to mention his excellent taste in bridge pickups…
What I’m trying to get across here is that the music these people of varying generations and genres have created is as popular now as it has always been since its inception, and new fans are introduced to both new and old music by their interest in one or the other.
How many Zakk Wylde fans have bought a copy of “Vol. 4” because of the Ozzy connection and become diehard fans of Sabbath?
How many Buck Owens fans have bought Dwight Yoakam records because Dwight covered “Streets of Bakersfield?”
With every generation of fans of both genres that die off, there appears to be a new legion who are equally or more rabidly fanatical about their music and the music of the logical next-step artists they have influenced.
There are kids right now buying Hank Williams CDs because they are Pantera fans. The two styles that appear to have no common ground at all are actually so intricately intertwined that they are, essentially, inseparable. There is literally the same blood pumping through their veins.
It seems that just about every decade, the Nashville Hit Machine tries to reassert its dominance by force-feeding a new generation slick, overproduced, and under-talented pop country bile upon the unsuspecting ears of the masses. Fortunately, by the time the youngest of said masses hits oh, say, 21 years of age, they’ve discovered the ruse and the Nashville Machine is forced to crawl back into its hole and hatch a new plan to temporarily dupe the next generation.
Does anyone remember any of the “young country” smash hits of the ‘80s? Nope, me neither. How about the ‘90s? Shitniah Twang couldn’t even get arrested today (except maybe for impersonating someone with talent). This leads back to that pile murderer of good music, Mutt Lange, but he’s had enough room in my head as of late, thank you very much. Suffice to say that he’s been chucked onto the shitpile along with his no-talent ex, and not a moment too soon.
The ‘80s are a bad example of pop music without staying power, as the No. 1 slots were occupied at various times by Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Paul McCartney, Hall & Oates, Queen… an anomaly of a decade in every possible way, the 1980s must be held to its own standard.
But what about the ‘90s? Who did “Barbie Girl?” I do not remember, nor do I actually give the requisite two shits. “How Bizarre?” Don’t care. I remember the songs, but not because of their greatness. No, no, far from it. I remember the songs because of the overwhelming urge to vomit that the caused me. I remember them strictly because of the unprecedented level of disdain I had for them.
Uncle Kracker’s butchery of Dobie Gray’s version of “Drift Away” (the villainous act unfortunately perpetrated in part by Mr. Gray himself) stands out because of the insult added to injury with the aforementioned participation of the original hit-maker in this apex of unimaginative impersonation, this uninspired mimeographical atrocity.
Not only that, it was terrible.
I’ve discussed at length my feelings on the virtues of pop music in general, as well as why it’s largely forgettable, as well as great ‘80s and ‘90s music. I apologize for any superfluous repetition. I used to do a shitload of exceptionally good drugs, so I forget a lot. It was absolutely worth it.
Now, where were we?
Ah yes! The undeniable staying power of metal and country. Now, I am by no means saying that there are not amazing examples of pop, rock, orchestral, and even the briefly discussed easy listening. The Carpenters can still regularly be heard proclaiming their desire to lessen the proximity betwixt themselves and the listener. But when you hear them doing so, your brain says, “Ah yes, the 1970s.”
When you hear “Pancho and Lefty,” however, your brain says, “Ah, Pancho and Lefty!” The limitations and constraints of time are irrelevant. There is no lingering residue of a finite era clinging to the impression these songs make upon you, fresh with every repeated listening.
There is nothing “dated” about timeless music. And although there are, as I’ve noted, many examples in all genres of music, only metal and country seem to be whole genres that contain within them an entire catalog of timeless tunes.
I first heard the Sabbath staple “Iron Man” in a car with my uncle. He was appalled that I hadn’t heard it before and made a point of driving around until the song was over so that I could absorb the enormity of the event. (He would later turn me onto Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s “Brain Salad Surgery,” which literally changed my perception. Thanks, Freddy!)
After the song ended, I was baffled, enthralled, terrified, and intrigued. This event, coupled with my much-repeated purchase of KISS’ “Alive II,” were the events that solidified my determination to squander all of the proceeding years of my existence upon this planet in the always futile folly of professional musicianhood.
Add to this my dad always being able to find Hank Williams on the radio on our thousands of long, meandering drives (he had much more difficulty finding home, however – something I have inherited and neither of us minded in the least) and my fate was sealed.
I would be a rock star or die trying. I have yet to permanently die and I am still very much trying.
I have subsequently attempted on various occasions to live the life of Norman Normal, always with disastrous results. As much as I’d like to hold down a regular Joe’s 9 to 5 (which, by the way, is not at fucking all), I have never been able to take more than a few years of being told what to do by people who have never done it themselves and whose asses I could literally kick across the room. Not my immediate superiors, mind you, rather the mental dwarves in any and all facets of corporate management.
There is nothing more infuriating than being chastised for doing something the most efficient way by a fat bastard with soft hands whose entire exposure to your area of expertise is the abstract opinions of a “focus group” whose participants can’t even work a fucking hammer. Seriously, if the grid goes down, this pack of soft little men will be what I eat until the power comes back on. Fuck that noise…
…but I digress…
As I was saying… think. See, my Wi-Fi died when I started this column and I’m trying to pick up where I left off three days later, which wouldn’t be too much trouble for the average Joe, seeing as he could read what he’d already written and carry on from there. Trouble is, I have the attention span of a stoned gnat, so I truly don’t have nary a clue what the fuck I’m talking about at this point…
Fuck. I’ve done it again. I’m completely lost…
That’s right! These two genres of music not only inspired my entire life’s direction, they have also managed to inspire me every day, in one way or another, since that decision was finalized in my wee dome.
As recently as this week, I have used James Burton’s chicken pickin’ style, and often within a metal or hard rock framework. There are no limitations to the new and infinite combinations to be conjured by these wellsprings of awesomeness.
I listened to Black Sabbath during a workout today and they inspired me to force myself past my perceived limitations and move to excellence. There is absolutely nothing that can’t be done with, because of, and to metal and country music. I will repeat that to my dying day (and after, when I’m haunting a few of you more deserving buggers!).
Now, that’s just one man’s opinion, but it does demonstrate the universal appeal of any and all music. There are many reasons to confine your ears to what you already know – safety, peer pressure, fear of the unknown… let me tell you, my brothers and sisters, if you never take the risk and listen to something you’re cocksure you’ll never like, you are doing yourself a grave injustice.
Variety is, indeed, the spice of life. But without exploration into the unknown, it’s not so much variety you get as it is different recipes for the same old meals. We all know we love pizza! Instead of changing up the toppings the next time you order out, go out on a limb and have some shawarma instead! You might find a new favorite meal!
That’s what I think I was getting at in the first place. Just because on the surface two different styles of music may appear to be worlds apart, it’s very possible they may both touch the same, special place inside you.
And isn’t that what we all want, really? Somebody touching our special places?
I think that’s it, anyway. Like I said, I got sidetracked. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my sponge bath.
John "Fud" Zavacki has been a working musician since the age of 15. He owns well over a thousand LPs in every musical genre and erroneously presumes this makes his opinion noteworthy.