2004 was the year of the Monkey, and many of us sat in cages, throwing our own excrement at innocent gawkers outside the bars. Having had a massive pancreas attack on December 28th, and losing my gall bladder some 5 days later, I was prevented from giving that god awful year its proper fond farewell. A lot of people were metaphorically called to the majors in 2004, and most of them were summarily shelled for fourteen runs without recording a single out, demoted to the minors and put on a bus out of town before the game was done.
"Revival" was largely recorded live in a Dallas, Texas, studio a block from where the band played its first gig, "as quickly and cheaply as possible," says (Jim "Reverend Horton Heat") Heath.
Recapturing a live sound is only fitting for a band that's been called "the most electrifying live act in America," and fits in with Heath's philosophy.
"Being a musician is one of the more valid art forms," Heath says. "Being a recording artist, to me, is not a valid art form. ...
"The truth is that some of the brightest and best musicians are guys who are playing at a Ramada Inn on Friday and Saturday nights," he continues. "And recording artists are people who barely know what makes up a D chord."
One of the last shows at First Avenue before Christmas was a Reverend Horton Heat gig, with Split Lip Rayfield opening. The highlight of the show was probably "400 Bucks," where, at the crescendo of the song he screams into the mic, "Bitch! Gimme back my 400 bucks!" If a close friend of yours had some strange woman mashing up against him right in front of her boyfriend, well, it brought the song and performance all the way home. Every now and then, one of these super heroes from club land fires off a zinger borne out of experience and wisdom and you need to get it gilded and framed for your wall or tattooed across your chest in Old English script. "Being a recording artist...is not a valid art form." Reading that was very similar to a day when I was about 11 1/2 years old; having an older brother who was 10 years my senior, I'd heard a lot of good music, but it was also all over the map. One day he cranked the stereo over to Kansas City's big AOR station and "If 6 were 9" began to play. Clarity, my friends, clarity.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Billboard, the influential music industry trade magazine, is changing the way it ranks songs on its country singles chart after concerns that the old system allowed promoters to manipulate the rankings.
Before the change, record labels and promoters were able to buy relatively cheap, late-night air time on small market radio stations to boost a song�s total plays and move it up the chart � momentum signified by a �bullet� that often translated to more airplay and record sales.
The sponsored spins, commonly called �spot buys� and �spin programs,� are similar to TV infomercials and permitted under Federal Communications Commission rules, provided they are clearly identified as paid advertisements.
Critics say that while legal, the practice is questionable.
A recent example was MCA Nashville�s promotion of Reba McEntire�s single, �Somebody.� The label purchased spot buys for the song with the syndicated radio show �After Midnite,� which is heard on nearly 300 radio stations; Citadel Broadcasting Corp., which owns more than 200 stations in 24 states; and Entercom, which owns stations in 21 markets, including Boston, Seattle and New Orleans.
The song reached No. 1 on the country singles chart the week of Aug. 7 with an unusually large gain of 1,150 spins from the previous week, Jessen said.
But some Nashville record label executives worry that the shift from a spin-based to audience-based chart will hurt new artists, who often gain early momentum through spins during off-hours.
�A lot of times new artists break out on nights and overnights. Now, those spins won�t mean as much,� said Butch Waugh, executive vice president of RCA Label Group Nashville. �You can have more spins this week and show encouraging signs, but if the spins are occurring in nights and overnights, you can lose your bullet and send the signal that the record is losing momentum.�
Waugh says country artists already have fewer avenues for radio and chart exposure than their pop counterparts and will be limited even more. He also says ballads, a mainstay of country radio, will have a harder time cracking the chart under the new system.
�They are the last songs to go into morning drive,� he said. �So, you�re kind of being penalized if you are a new artist, or if you have a ballad. And if you�re a new artist with a ballad, you really have a hard time breaking into the system.�
2005 will be a good year, because all the anger I sprayed around in the second half of 2004 is starting to bear fruit. Granted, some of it was off-the-cuff, pretend anger; but, there's no doubt some of the responses were REAL. I half-wittedly smoked out some pretty big fish, and if you're a regular reader of this pissant space, you know a slightly different version of the "truth" that gets portrayed on shit merchants like CMT, GAC, and what passes for country radio stations in this town and others. Quite frankly, the above system is PAYOLA, and the people practicing it are GUILTY. But hey, people are getting rich in discreet and indirect ways, so no one bats an eyelash. While the explanation of "spot buys" is beautiful, the hooker with the heart of gold in this story is the whole "new artist with a ballad" bit. People thought I was joking when I posted a fictitious letter to Hank Williams about his songwriting from a modern country radio station. But the truth is so heart breakingly sad: there's a rigid, closed-minded, and creatively bankrupt PROCESS to music and recording in Nashville (and getting air-time on the radio for those records), and it gets reinforced almost daily in little quotes like this, if you know where to look (thanks Perfesser Al).
Oh, and fuck you Butch Waugh.
"The one genre of music that literally has me just baffled is country. What the f*** is country now? The corporate guys have moved into Nashville and destroyed the city. They have destroyed what was country music. I just look at it and I laugh. If you are a pretty good looking guy who stays in the gym six days a week and wears a big hat then you are going to be a mega-star. These guys just crack me up. Record companies make these guys what they are and they don't have to pay any dues. Maybe I am just a purest at heart. Maybe I am just old school. You can take any of them guys and I will play circles around his a** any day of the week. At lot of the guys in Nashville wish they were Lynyrd Skynyrd." - Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd
I couldn't do my show without Al Kunz, Greg Adler, Mark Haakinson, Bob Ferguson, and Steve Graffunder. Sometimes we're curmudgeonly and old, sometimes we're wild-eyed and crazy, but mostly, we're just a bunch of goofballs looking for some good live music sung by people who have enough self-respect to record what they care about and care about what they record. It gives me great pleasure to present the above fellas' Top Ten lists for 2004. You will not be sorry if you seek out these titles and add them to your collections. Additionally, you won't be sorry if you seek these folks out when they come to your town, and see them live. My own putrid Top Tens appear at the bottom of the page.
Al Kunz' Livin' in the Land of Sidearms and Bible Cults Top Tens
1. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
2. Old Crow Medicine Show - O.C.M.S
3. Todd Snider - East Nashville Skyline
4. Buddy Miller - Universal United House of Prayer
5. The Cherry Bombs - The Notorious Cherry Bombs
6. Charlie Robison - Good Times
7. Gretchen Wilson - Here For the Party
8. Serena Ryder - Unlikely Emergency
9. Dave Alvin - Ashgrove
10. Adrienne Young & Little Sadie - Plow to the End of the Row
11. Brian Burns - Heavy Weather
12. Mark Jungers - One For the Crow
13. Drive by Truckers - Dirty South
14. Cary Hudson - Cool Breeze
15. Kate James and Lost Country - Homewrecker, Heartbreaker
16. John Fogerty - Déjà Vu All Over Again
17. Roger Marin Jr. - Roger Marin Jr
18. Julie Roberts - Julie Roberts
19. Rachael Davis with Brett Hartenbach - Live in Bremen, Germany
20. The Copperheads - This Train is Gainin'
21. Jeff Barbra & Sarah Pirkle - Barb Hollow Sessions
22. Lisa O'Kane - Peace of Mind
23. Various Artists - Por Vida:A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo
24. Patti Scialfa - 23rd Street Lullaby
25. Blaze Foley - Oval Room
Mark Haakinson's South St. Paul I Top Tens
TOP 10 SHOWS OF 2004
1. Vote For Change � Bruce Springsteen 10/5 at the X
2. John Fogerty at Northrop � has never been better
3. Rosanne Cash � MN Zoo also at Austin City Limits Music Fest (take your pick � an incredible live performer, and a very underrated artist)
4. Clarence Clemons � Mn Zoo (w/ a 12 piece Band it was the surprise feel good show of the year � ask anyone there)
5. The Flatlanders w/ Reckless Kelly (great pairing)
6. James McMurtry at the Continental Club in Austin (hot show on a hot night)
7. Dylan at Wilkins (when Bob has fun so do we)
8. Solomon Burke at the Austin City Limits Musicfest (a true showman)
9. Graham Parker on Britt�s Rooftop � (great setting and format)
10. Steve Earle & John Hiatt at the Zoo � great double billing- the Zoo was the place to be in �04
Dishonorable Mention � The Artist Currently known as Not Worth Seeing : Prince. Row 6 on the floor proved that he is all smoke and mirrors but many were taken in by his antics. Insufferable!
TOP 15 ALBUMS
1. Patti Scialfa � 23rd Street Lullaby
2. John Fogerty � Déjà vu
3. Jesse Malin � Heat
4. Todd Snider � East Nashville Skyline
5. Drive By Truckers � Dirty South
6. Steve Earle � The Revolution Starts Now
7. Enjoy Every Sandwich � Tribute to Warren Zevon
8. Tift Merritt � Tambourine
9. Graham Parker � Your Country
10. Marah � 20,00 Streets Under The Sky
11. Beaver Nelson � Motion
12. Kasey Chambers � Wayward Angel
13. Slaid Cleaves � Wishbone
14. REM � Under The Sun
15. Loretta Lynn � Van Lear Rose
Song of the Year (Make that decade) : Carl Perkin�s Cadillac by Drive By Truckers
Bob Feguson's South St. Paul II Top Tens
1drive by truckers - dirtysouth
2 dave alvin - ash grove
3 tift merritt - tambourine
4 crosscanadien rag weed - soul gravy
5 rosanne cash - rules of travel
6 marah - 20000 streets under the sky
7 patti scialfa - 23 street lullaby
8 rodger clyne /peace makers - americano
9 guitar shorty - watch your back
10 remedy motel - rules of life
11 steve earl - revolution starts now
12 cris black - vacations
1 carl perkins cadilliac -dbt
2 americano - rodger clyne
3 september when it comes - rosanne cash
4 laid a highway - tift merritt
5 never gonna change - dbt
6 deja vu all over again - john fogerty
7 nine volt heart - dave alvin
8 feather boa - marah
9 hollywood - remedy motel
10 lonely girl - ccragweed
11 state of grace - patti scialfa
12 lookout mt - dbt
lucky break- bottle rockets
Steve Graffunder's Cosmic Cowboy Top Tens
1. Slaid Cleaves, Wishbones
2. Two Dollar Pistols, Hands Up!
3. Moot Davis, Moot Davis
4. Chris Richards, Tumblers & Grit
5. Charlie Robison, Good Times
6. Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose
7. Eleven Hundred Springs, Bandwagon
8. The Flatlanders, Wheels of Fortune
9. Todd Snider, East Nashville Skyline
10. BR549, Tangled in the Pines
1. Wishbones, Slaid Cleaves
2. Horses, Slaid Cleaves
3. Honky Tonk Graveyard, Chris Richards
4. Hands Up!, Two Dollar Pistols
5. Play a Train Song, Todd Snider
6. Halls of Smoke and Wine, Moot Davis
7. Family Tree, Loretta Lynn
8. Gina from San Jose, Eleven Hundred Springs
9. New Year�s Day, Charlie Robison
10. Fame, Billy Joe Shaver
11. How Can I Be So Thirsty, Meat Purveyors
12. Nothin� to Say (Austin v. Nashville), Brian Burns
13. See The Way, The Flatlanders
14. Bluebird, Kasey Chambers
15. Home to Houston, Steve Earle
16. Wagon Wheel, Old Crow Medicine Show
17. Life�s a Freeway, The Greencards
18. Tangled in the Pines, BR549
19. Old Violin, Larry Cordle
20. Jones on the Jukebox, Johnny Bush
Jack's Top Twenty Country Disks of 2004
1. Loretta Lynn - Van Lear Rose
Somehow, Loretta did it bigger, badder and bolder than any woman in Nashville has in the past 15 years. She wrote all the tunes, and had the guts to say "yes" to Jack White's ideas and enthusiasm as the two paired on the best album of the year. My advice to you is to buy this and put it on your shelf, undisturbed for two or three years. Then get it down at a party late one night and give it a spin. This was a COUNTRY record for the ages, and those cowards on mainstream country radio are too damned stupid to spin it.
2. Eric Athey - Open House
This is a 70's Willie Nelson record in spirit and execution, without being an exact copy. It's basically a man blending all of the sounds he hears in his head down through his arms into his guitar, and making it into good old fashioned twang and guts masterpiece. It didn't occur to me until recently that "Open House" is a kind of modern day, introverted "Red Headed Stranger."
3. 1100 Springs - Bandwagon
This is one of those "turn off the damn TV" records. It can be background music for a backyard barbecue, a crossword puzzle during a snowstorm, or cruising for pretty girls on a Friday night.
4. Two Dollar Pistols - Hands Up!
The album I've been expecting from the Pistols for several years now. It's got old-fashioned songs, new-fashioned songs, weird songs, traditional songs, love songs, hate songs...just buy the damned thing.
5. Merle Haggard - Ol' Country Singer
I interviewed Max Stallings on the radio once and we both kind of realized that Merle is just the man, about mid-talk. His phrasing, the honey and booze in his voice. He just kind of sneaks up on you. This is a fantastic opportunity to discover or re-discover Merle, depending where you are on the Merle spectrum.
6. Richmond Fontaine - Post To Wire
A fantastic concept album of desperation, love, and murder...from Oregon. Country music is everywhere, go out and look for it, stop waiting for the cowards who run mainstream country radio to play it for you, they're too stupid.
7. Drive By Truckers - The Dirty South
8. Old Crow Medicine Show - O.C.M.S.
A travelling mess of beans, greens, and homemade shine. Fulfilled all the promise of "Eutaw" and surpassed expectations.
9. The Gourds - Blood of the Ram
Devotees of the Gourds have been hearing these songs on the road for a couple of years, and the group may have finally captured their live spirit on a studio album. I think all their disks are great, but I think this one really feels like a live record made in a studio. I can't wait for them to hit Minnesota in 2005.
10. Neko Case - The Tigers Have Spoken
God I love listening to this woman. As one of my buddies is fond of saying, "she makes me full in the pantsal area."
11. Charlie Robison - Good Times
Charlie quite simply makes the best brazenly masculine, backroom poker game, country music in America today. It has a "shit, why not?" honesty to it, very reminiscent of the characters and scenery of Larry McMurtry novels.
12. Blaze Foley - Oval Room
This was one of those unearthed gems that we get every year. I'm still finding new things on this disk. I wish I had seen him live before he was killed.
13. Chris Richards - Tumblers & Grit
Sconni boy goes to Nashville, makes great country record, film at eleven.
14. Todd Snider - East Nashville Skyline
It's interesting just on how many levels this record says "Fuck you" to Nashville. It's a very personal record, but it captures an ethos that is both rebellious and apathetic to its surroundings, and makes fun of people who use phrases like, "an ethos that is both rebellious and apathetic."
15. Patterson Hood - Killers & Stars
Ever listened to a live suicide note from someone who didn't kill himself?
16. Old97's - Drag It Up
It's about goddamned time.
17. The Gibson Brothers - Long Way Back Home
I saw these guys early in the year down at an elementary school in the auditorium. It was an odd setting, but the show was blazing hot. This is not just crafty grass music. They write and record songs that transcend the traditional instrumentation, and if given some exposure, could help drag that sound into the 21st Century.
18. Ed Burleson - Cold Hard Truth
This is the kind of stuff Buck Owens used to release. Why waste your money on those Nashville black hat posers? THIS is a real honky tonkin' crazy bastard. Oh, he's got a dynamite voice too.
19. The Flatlanders - Wheels of Fortune
If there's any one thing we alt country posers have done that was positive, it's the fruition of our constant admiration for the almost-forgotten Flatlanders. True, these men are tireless musicians. But we begged and pleaded, and they listened and reunited to some extent, and we've gotten to see them live and hear new material on disk, and it has all been fabulous. Alt Country died in 1994, Long live Alt Country!
20. Terry Allen - Juarez (re-release on CD)
I'm a sucker for concept albums and Terry Allen enjoyed a temporary renaissance that encouraged the re-release of this outstanding poem of love and murder on the border. Just fabulous.
2004 was a very practical year for Minnesota twang until late in the year when it was assaulted in ink by the StarTribune's Chris Riemenschneider. A lot of folks took it personally, early on; but, his main point was that he expected better than what he got, and since he's a real live paid music critic, that's usually par for the course. For my own part, I was just hoping somebody would put out something, and that happened, so I was happy. As I hammer over and over again until Demko tells me to shut up, I'm a PROCESS guy; and, if there are people recording twangy music in basement studios in Northeast Minneapolis and trying to tell our story their way, it starts out with a 10 in my book and goes from there.
Jack's Top Ten Salt Truck Twang Records of 2004 in alphabetical order so I don't get killed
Anchorhead - Disaster
The Copperheads - This Train is Gainin'
The Gleam - The Chisago County EP
Bill Isles - The Calling
Mark Stockert - Chatelaine Saloon
Dana Thompson - OX
Ben Weaver - Stories Under Nails
Finally, I'd just like to throw my two cents in on Best Song and Best Gig of 2004. Back in October, The Drive By Truckers did a show at First Avenue when no one was really sure if the club would be around much longer. My review says all I can say about the show. It was just the right band in the right place at the right time. If you weren't there, that night was a total waste of time for you.
In my humble opinion, the Best Country Song of 2004 was "It Doesn't Matter Much To Me," by The Two Dollar Pistols. Great melody, great lyric, dark theme but you can still dance to it, tight recording. Should have been a massive hit and gotten all sorts of air-time. Oh well, play it ad nauseam on your own stereo.