Josna Rege

372. Real Country

In blogs and blogging, Music, Stories, United States on April 22, 2016 at 11:58 pm
Kentucky, Route 80 (Wikipedia)

Kentucky, Route 80 (Wikipedia)

Blogging from A to Z
  Theme: Bringing Me Joy

RListening to Radiolab the other day, I happened to catch a show called Songs That Cross Borders, on songs that stick in our heads, and why they have such wide appeal. My ears pricked up with the third segment (starting around 12:40, if you click on the show’s link) which was about country music. Apparently, country music officially began with Jimmie Rodgers’ first recording, in 1927 (the year of my mother’s birth). Interestingly, it was also the year when, for the first time, the urban population in the United States exceeded the rural population.

What is country music about, at heart? A deep longing for a country home left behind. This note of longing resonates deeply with people around the world whose homes have been transformed out of all recognition, or who have been driven from their homes, from the country to the city, or from their countries altogether, far across the seven seas. But, the show asked, how is it that even people who don’t know English love these songs so much? The answer was that the characteristic wailing sound in country music, accentuated by the slide guitar, touches a universal chord.

In light of this insight, perhaps it’s not so strange that I love country music so much. Mind you, not just anything they insult the name of country with these days, but real country, which for me means Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams (Senior, that is), Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Linda Ronstadt, and John Prine. Everyone who loves country music has their own pantheon, I guess, but this is mine. These are the country singers and songs that, since my family immigrated to the United States more than 46 years ago now, have spoken to me, and made me feel that I belong.

Like some kind of country music missionary, I feel the need to proselytize. I have had to be ruthless in cutting things out, but still have links to more than 30 songs. Annotating them all with what they mean to me personally would take much too long, so I’ll just say a couple of words about the ones I simply must.

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Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933)
I was introduced to Jimmie Rodgers by listening to Doc Watson.
Away Out on the Mountain (1927)
Blue Yodel #1 (T for Texas) (1927)
In the Jailhouse Now (1928)
Blue Yodel #3 Never No Mo’ Blues (1928)
My very favorite Jimmie Rodgers song.
My Rough and Rowdy Ways (1929)
Blue Yodel #8 Mule Skinner Blues (1930)
TB Blues (1931)

(from hankwilliams.com)

(from hankwilliams.com)

Hank Williams (1923-1953)
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (1949)
Cold Cold Heart (1951)
Hey Good Lookin’ (1951)
Jambalaya (on the Bayou) (1952)
This was the first Hank Williams song I ever heard, sung by an unknown singer in the Nameless Coffee House in Harvard Square, c. 1972, and I was smitten.
I Can’t Help it if I’m Still in Love With You (1951)
Settin’ the Woods on Fire (1952)
You clap hands and I’ll start bowing/We’ll do all the law’s allowin’/Tomorrow I’ll be right back plowin/Settin’ the woods on fire.

Buck Owens (1929-2006)
Act Naturally (1963)
I don’t know Buck Owen’s music, but his Bakersfield sound is definitely real country. He made “Act Naturally” a hit before the Beatles did, and his version is “real purdy.”

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Patsy Cline (1932-1963)
Walking After Midnight (1958)
I Fall to Pieces (1961)
(with Willie Nelson) Just a Closer Walk with Thee

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Johnny Cash (1932-2003)
Ring of Fire (1963)
(with Joni Mitchell) I Still Miss Someone (1969)
Big River (1964)
Five Feet High and Risin’ (1974)

Willie Nelson (b. 1933)
Always on My Mind (1982)

Merle Haggard (1937-April 6, 2016) Rest In Peace, Merle Haggard.
Mama Tried (1968)
Iris DeMent covering Merle Haggard’s Big City (1994, orig. 1981)

at the Victoria Theatre (from Rolling Stone 1978)

at the Victoria Theatre (from Rolling Stone 1978)

Linda Ronstadt (b. 1946)
Lowell George’s Willin’ (1974)
(with Emmy Lou Harris) I Can’t Help it if I’m Still in Love With You (1974)
(with Dolly Parton) I Never Will Marry (1977)

Emmy Lou Harris (b. 1947)
Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell (1977, orig. 1964)

John Prine performs live on Mountain Stage.

John Prine performs live on Mountain Stage.

John Prine (b. 1946)
Andrew’s dear cousin Mischa took us to see John Prine at Passim’s in Cambridge in 1972, when he was touring for his debut album, and I have been a passionate fan ever since. Thank you, Mischa!
Common Sense (1975)
Mexican Home (1973)
probably my absolute favorite John Prine song of all time, though I have scores of JP favorites           
Angel From Montgomery (1971)
Bonnie Raitt made this famous, but I still prefer JP’s original.
Far From Me (1971)
Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore (1971)
Paradise (1971)
JP’s beautiful anti-strip mining anthem.
Peabody_ProtestIt’s Earth Day today, reminding me that the first Earth Day was celebrated on this day in 1970, the year we arrived in the United States. Listening to John Prine’s “Paradise” has also reminded me that Peabody Coal Company, the villain in the song, filed for bankruptcy last week. This potentially gives them the ability to walk away with no accountability for the health and environmental devastation they have wreaked. I’ve just signed a petition calling for the creation of a just transition fund. Save what’s left of the country, and reclaim what’s been despoiled.

Muhlenberg County, KY

Muhlenberg County, KY

Real Country.

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  1. Thanks for the Earthday/Peabody petition link.

    • Thank you! So many of these singers are/were activists and environmentalists in particular. “Paradise” has always one of my favorite John Prine songs. So when I heard that Peabody had just declared bankruptcy I had to include it here. Ugh, these corporations have so many escape hatches, as Union Carbide did after the Bhopal tragedy in India.

      • So true. I had a friend who lived on Dine land for a year as a volunteer. He spoke with such rawness at the impact to the People and the Land. Im not much on social media these days, so I had not seen the petition. Glad to offer my signature. Thanks again!

        • I’m glad I came across it. Hadn’t realized until then that Peabody had its tentacles on Dine land as well. I lived in New Mexico for a time in the late 1970s and we worked against uranium mining and disposal of nuclear waste, and to protect Mount Taylor.

        • Peabody has a very disruptive plant on Dine land in AZ. That’s where my friend was. This is precious land here (writing from Northern NM) and the impact of corporations on the native people certainly goes deeper than I can comprehend. Thanks for your activism and the small things like writing that spread the word and wake us up

  2. My Canadian uncle introduced me to country music the summer I was 19 and worked in a hospital pharmacy with him. It had it on all day while we worked. I’ve enjoyed it ever since, those you mentioned are some of my favorites too.

    Finding Eliza

    • Interesting, isn’t it, Kristin, that people from outside this country gave us the appreciation for U.S. Country Music. I was introduced to Johnny Cash before I ever came to the U.S. by Auntie Bette, my mother’s elder sister and her son, my cousin Bill, who together had quite a collection of his albums. Recently he made CD’s of his whole Johnny Cash collection on vinyl and sent them to me as a present.

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