NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Got Red Dirt Music?

Oklahoma-Texas Fusion Kicking Up Some Dust

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

I’ve been hearing a bit lately about “Red Dirt Music” and “Red Dirt Country,” which are not terms I’d heard many times before. I do have long experience with red dirt itself from Texas to Oklahoma to Georgia — land where iron oxide turns the soil red. The kicked-up dust ruins the finish of your car and makes you regret wearing white trousers to any outdoor function. And I had heard that Georgia’s General Assembly recently voted to make red clay the official dirt of the state of Georgia.

Anyhow, to get back on point, Cross Canadian Ragweed just staged its first CCR Red Dirt Roundup at the Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas. The term “Red Dirt” as a musical tablet has been around awhile, as in the name of the Oklahoma group Red Dirt Rangers and in Emmylou Harris’ title song and album Red Dirt Girl and Brooks & Dunn’s hit song “Red Dirt Road.” When asked what the song meant, Ronnie Dunn said, “This is red dirt country. Red dirt road is just symbolic of those experiences. … There’s that end where you start, you end down there, and between here and there, is life.”

It seems that there’s a bit of an effort to group a particular loosely-connected bunch of bands and artists together under a banner, much as “Outlaw Country” did for Nashville and “Progressive Country” did for Austin.

On the surface, stuff on the Internet suggests something is happening. You see things such as a Wikipedia entry for Red Dirt.

Wikipedia, which I seldom, if ever, trust on such matters, says Red Dirt is a “rising genre of music based in and around Stillwater, Okla. Critics say that Red Dirt can best be likened to the indie genre of rock ‘n’ roll as there is no definitive sound that can be attributed to all the bands in the movement. It can be described as a mix of Southern rock, country rock, alt-country, outlaw country, folk and Texas honky-tonk with even a few Mexican influences.”

In other words, it’s the same Progressive Country music that’s been flourishing in and around Austin for more than 30 years. It’s just another mode of naming it and then marketing the name.

Maybe this new online itch about Red Dirt is just Oklahoma having some Texas envy.

Stillwater does have some genuine country history. Steve Ripley, who was later the driving force behind the Tractors, recorded an album with his band Moses in his studio in Stillwater on the Red Dirt label, with a sound that he called “Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, that blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll.” Later came Jimmy LeFave, who was influenced by Moses and who probably remains the most prominent Stillwater-identified artist.

Not surprisingly, there’s nary a mention of Red Dirt Music — apart from entries for albums and songs containing the words “red dirt” — on what I consider to be the main Internet site for Texas music, LonestarMusic.

The Randy Rogers Band, a Texas group I like quite a lot, is being mentioned online as a major component of the Red Dirt Music scene. An Austin-based video documentary producer who has been working with the group told me just this week that when she asked Randy Rogers about “Red Dirt Music,” he said he had never heard of it.

To see if I were missing some genuine cultural wave from my lofty tower here in Nashville, I contacted the dean of Texas music writers, Joe Nick Patoski. He said, “I’ve heard the term, but it’s not part of the vocabulary unless you can split hairs between Deryl Dodd and Brandon Rhyder (I can’t) and believe Cross Canadian Ragweed is the new Alabama.”

If you believe in what Internet sites preach, the new home of Red Dirt Music is actually in Missouri, on the outskirts of Mount Vernon. It’s the Snorty Horse Saloon, “The Best Little Texas Roadhouse in Missouri.”

Its owner, Steve Greene, 30, who is a true believer in this kind of music, told the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader, “It’s basically a bunch of artists that are kind of pissed off at Top 40 country. They don’t want to talk the talk and walk the walk. They don’t want people to tell them who to play with and how to wear their hair.’”

That musician thing and hair thing again? I thought Waylon settled all that long ago.

So I asked Patoski what he thought about Red Dirt Music’s significance.

His reply: “Significance? Can you say ‘Outlaw Country’? It’s Texas music minus the geographic specificity, a nice way of saying Oklahoma music, which doesn’t have quite the ring of Texas music, but sure is better than citing Eskimo Joe’s in Stillwater. It does remind me of my favorite edgy band name of the past five years, the Oklahomos. … Dang, it makes me miss progressive country.”