Saturday, November 7, 2015
The issue isn't evolution.
At 81-years-old, female country legend and Grand Ole Opry member Jean Shepard is feisty as ever, fed up with what has happened to country music, and not afraid to tell anyone and everyone about it.
An Opry member for going on six decades, Shepard is set to celebrate her 60th Anniversary on the stage show November 21st. Ahead of the special night, she sat down with The Tennessean‘s Juli Thanki to talk about how she helped open doors for the women of country music at a time when most female performers were only a part of groups or family bands. Shepard was also very outspoken about how she feels about the country music of today.
“I’m very adamant about how I feel about country music. And I don’t care who knows it, I’ll tell the world,” Shepard said. “Country music today is not the country music of yesterday. It’s a lot more important than that. Candy coated country don’t make it. They candy coat it and try to be something they ain’t. Well it ain’t gonna work my friend.”
“It’s a good fight for a good cause and I mean that with all my heart,” Shepard continues. “Today’s country is not country, and I’m very adamant about that. I’ll tell anybody who’ll listen, and some of those who don’t want to listen, I’ll tell them anyway. … Country music today isn’t genuine.”
Shepard also had some more veiled criticism for the Grand Ole Opry.
“Sixty years ago, I loved what the Grand Ole Opry stood for,” she told The Tennessean. “I still love what it stands for, but not quite so much. Isn’t it terrible being so truthful?”
Jean also talked about how she is pondering retiring in a couple of months. Due to health issues, she has been unable to perform for the last year—even more reason to listen to the Grand Ole Opry on WSM November 21st for the 60-year celebration.
Shepard was first asked to become a member on November 21st, 1955. After the passing of “Little” Jimmy Dickens earlier this year, Jean is one of the institution’s oldest members.
The first response in the comment thread when this story was posted online coughed up a quote attributed a few months back to an impish (and a little shitfaced?) Blake Shelton...
"..aw, hell...she's just another old fart whose opinion don't matter...she needs to get over it.."
Ah, eloquence, thy name is contemporary country singer.
Lack of Dale Carnegie technique aside, Shelton's purported P.O.V., combined with this past week's resurgence of the whaambulance convoy bemoaning the end of country music in the "old school" sense of country music triggered by a CMA Awards show that highlighted every one (thing) from Justin Timberlake to William Shatner to Keefer Sutherland brought bubbling back to the surface the ongoing contemporary lament from the "purists amongst us" that whatever is is, or isn;t, may or may not be, the current offerings from the pens, pads and studios of Music City, USA "just ain't country music."
Well, here's the deal.
In the strict letter of the law sense, the naysayers are saying nay accurately.
What's coming, emanating, (spewing?) out of Nashville is not, in the strictest, purest sense, country music.
As defined by multiple decades and myriad generations of country music fans and/or lovers.
What is it?
Well, to borrow a phrase from the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination,...
"...what does it matter...?"
It is what it is.
And you either like it or you don't.
Buddy Cannon, a renowned and respected Nashville musician, songwriter and producer, weighed in in plainspeak on Facebook as to the "bro boy" brouhaha.
I don't consider myself an expert on anything. I don't care about names of musical genres. I do know when a music moves me. The Stapleton/Timberlake performance did that. All this "It ain't country" crap seems to me to be just a soap box for people who aren't content to not bitch about something. I like to listen to some B. B. King, George Jones, Rolling Stones, Vern Gosdin, Randy Newman, George Strait, the Beatles, Kenny Rogers And The First Edition, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Del McCoury and lots of other artists that do not have to fit under a genre name but can still fit into a same box. Whine, whine, whine. Why can't you just not like what you don't like and stop trying to demonize it. I remember how Nashville music biz locals slammed a song called Achey Breaky Heart and called it the worst thing that ever happened to country music. The 13 million people who bought that album must not have thought the same. So don't like what you don't like and let others like what they like
No reasonable person can argue the logic of Buddy's take.
That said, here's a thing?
Why the whine?
Why the bitchin?
Why do so many folks have such a hard time embracing Buddy's philosophy and not simply listen and let listen?
I been a'thinkin' bout it for a spell now.
And I gots a theory.
People resist, but eventually accept, innovation.
On the other hand, people just naturally, and instinctively, resist and rebel against invasion.
And that's what happened (what's happening) to country music.
In 1964, The Beatles exploded on the pop music scene with a blend of rock and roll, rhythm and blues, country, even a little big band with some jazz sprinkled here and there.
And created what can arguably be described as a brand new thing.
Traditional rock and roll, meanwhile, while perhaps losing some of its power wattage in the blinding light of the British Invasion, remained the musical entity it had always been.
And, to a large degree, is, still.
So, accepting, enjoying, even adoring what the Fabs were cranking out was an "addition to"
Not an "instead of".
What's going on in country music these days isn't an addition.
It's a replacement.
Traditional country music purists aren't seeing the arrival of some new folks moving in down the street.
They're seeing their streets torn up and replaced with six lane expressways.
There goes the neighborhood.
A poignant irony on display here, by the way, is the lament of the citizens of Nashville themselves crying loud and long and constantly about the tearing down of so many of their beloved landmark buildings in favor of slick, cold condos.
Read that sentence again and substitute the words "George Jones" for beloved landmark buildings and "Florida Georgia Line" for slick, cold condos.
And you have a little better perspective on why Jean Shepard is a little pissed.
Country music isn't evolving.
It's being evicted.