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"Chord Discrimination"

What IS "traditional country music"? 

Country (not Bluegrass) probably started with guys like Jimmy Rodgers, 
The Singing Brakeman, in the 1920's. 
Jimmy used his guitar and any available instruments, 
usually Dixieland clarinets and other horns. 

Eddy Arnold and other country stars of the 40's and 50's 
often used full orchestras. 
Of course others used small acoustic groups, 
but they didn't enjoy the wide popularity. 

Then, around the early 60's, came the famous Nashville Sound, 
which put country music on the map. 
There were back-up vocal groups, harmonicas, drums, 
and other things like Ray Price's big string sections, vibes, organ, 
and Pete Drake's steel guitar, 
which could sound like a human voice, an organ, and other things. 
Pete once told me: 
"They call me when they don't want the steel to sound like a steel." 
People were looking for new ideas, hooks, styles. 
The Nashville Sound seems pretty traditional now to me. 

The basic two-beat acoustic, simple chords sound 
was popularized by Waylon and Willie, 
somewhere around the early 70's. 
This is what a lot of people now think of as "traditional", 
even though it came later than The Nashville Sound, and the others, 
as a retro style. 

It's become a point of argument. 
The guys who can play three chords 
hate the ones who can play four. 
Chord discrimination. 

It's strange, 
but Misty and I were among the first innovators in country music. 
We constantly added new and different things, 
and experimented with instrumentation, rhythms, and story lines. 
We write and record what we enjoy, and hope the public does, too. 

We make records for people who like Jack and Misty records. 
I think the listener can hear the fun we're having in our sessions. 
Overdubs are a rarity. 
We like to have all the pickers and singers there at the same time, 
like a party. 
They inspire each other. 
We are for pushing the envelope, but gently. 
If you're not careful you can tip it over, 
and it becomes something else. 

I have an imaginary friend 
who is such a traditional country purist that he wants it all acoustic: 
No drums, strings, horns, or anything else, 
even if it's done with taste and respect for the art form. 
He's still mad at Tom T. Hall 
for using a trumpet on "Clayton Delaney". 

My imaginary buddy has never forgiven us 
for using a Wah-Wah pedal on "Tennessee Birdwalk". 
I guess we should have used a live chicken. 

If we put out the all-time world's greatest country song, 
he would send us a note like this: 
"Why all the strings?" 
I say: "Why not?" 

To me, there are two kinds of music: 
Good and bad. 
I know it when I hear it. 

Today we listened to a new compilation of various major label artists. 
This CD, "Prevue Promo" is published twice a month, 
and contains the latest big label releases, 
It goes to American stations. 
We were listening because Misty and I have a track on it. 
There were a couple of songs we liked, 
one by The Dixie Chicks, which was in the traditional, or retro style. 
The other was not traditional at all. 
The artist was Montgomery Gentry. 
It's a HUGE production, with everything but the kitchen sink in there. 
But I LIKED it! 
I'm so ashamed! 

There were others that didn't do much for us. 
We feel that some of the main stream country music has stagnated, 
hack-written, and over-produced. 
It gets all the play, 
because a few big labels own American radio. 

I think it's good to be inventive... 
to try new things. 
Let's not forget: 
Traditional country music can also become stagnant, 
if we let it. 

Copyright  July 13, 2002 by Jack Blanchard. All rights reserved.


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