Last Summer, I had a couple of relatives come visit me from my birthplace in Tennessee. As I drove them about town, blasting tunes from my phone, I asked what kind of music they liked. “Country music”, came the reply. Of course. I asked them to name a few artists they especially liked and I didn’t recognize a single one they cited.
Inside, I cringed. I can remember Saturday nights being stuck in front of a TV watching Hee Haw while my grandparents played poker with their friends in the dining room. Minnie Pearl. The Grand Ole Opry. The Beverly Hillbillies. Compared to my contemporaries, I never had an especially thick accent, but when I finally escaped Tennessee, I made a concerted effort to strip the remaining drawl from my voice. So you can perhaps imagine the knee jerk reaction I had to the prospect of country music.
Being a dutiful host, eager to please, I dug through my music library looking for what might work. I found that pair of country musicians that seemingly everyone likes; Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. Oh, and a few of my Chet Atkins tracks have an awful lot of country in them. As I dug a little deeper, I was surprised by what I found. My relatives had never heard of “The Devil Makes Three”, but there’s no disputing that it is thoroughly country. Leftover Salmon. Lyle Lovett. There’s a great (and thoroughly improbable!) album by Edie Brickell (former New Bohemian) and Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) that is straight-up country. Susan Werner. Asleep at the Wheel. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys!
And I recently rediscovered Jerry Reed. I had been looking at YouTube clips of Chet Atkins and stumbled across a duet with Chet and Reed. To the extent that I had remembered Jerry Reed at all, it was primarily as Burt Reynold’s sidekick in a few movies; he was the truck driver in “Smokey and the Bandit”. I was astounded to discover/recall that Reed was also a hell of a musician, a staggeringly talented guitarist and an enthusiastic and playful singer. I put an album of Reed’s on my Amazon wishlist and was rewarded when my brother gave it to me for Christmas (thanks, Bill!).
It turned out that my self perception needed a little updating. I like a fair bit of country; just not the sort of stuff they play on the radio. Which is about the same place I’m at with pop music, rock, jazz, etc.
A few links, for those who wanna hear more:
Jerry Reed & Chet Atkins – Jerry’s Breakdown
The Devil Makes Three – All Hail
Edie Brickell & Steve Martin – Love Has Come For You
Susan Werner – City Kids