(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Recently, a young, new female country artist was asked something about Maybelle Carter. New young female country artist’s reply was, “Who’s that?”
Who’s that? I wish I had been there. I would have said something to this effect, “Well, little darling, if it weren’t for Maybelle Carter, you wouldn’t have this wonderful opportunity to make a good living off of country music fans. Go find out who the hell Maybelle Carter was and what she means to your life and career and music. Or else get your ass over to pop music, where you belong.”
Now, I’m not insisting that all aspiring country artists become country music scholars. But, for God’s sake, if you’re at all serious about country music, you’re going to know something about its history and traditions and heritage. Record labels and managers — in addition to running these young Tim-and-Faith wannabes through charm school — should also sit them down and take them through Country Music 101. Although I cannot imagine that any aspiring artist who is serious about country wouldn’t learn about it on their own. I mean, otherwise, why the hell are you here? Because it seems an easy career path these days? How could you possibly write and create credible country music without knowing what came before?
I personally would be glad to teach an introductory country music class to young aspiring artists, if they would listen and be serious about it. There’s any number of people who cover country music that I know would be equally willing to conduct country history classes. Robert Oermann, Bill Malone, Michael McCall, Alanna Nash, anyone at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — there’s a long list of country music scholars who would be happy to do this.
It’s just a shame this seems to be necessary. But I have seen several instances recently of young people other than the Maybelle-deficient young woman who are equally clueless. I suspect it’s the drift over from pop music that is the culprit. Young artists I know who are truly serious about country know their stuff. When I met Jamey Johnson, he showed me in about two minutes that he knows Hank Williams backward and forward. Catherine Britt is equally knowledgeable on history. And, course, guys like Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley know their country music. That’s because they love the music and what it stands for.
Surely any serious country music aspirant would know who the Carter Family were, would know about Jimmie Rodgers and his significance, would understand Ernest Tubb’s role, would know who Fred Rose was and why he is so important, would know Hank Williams’ history and music — and Faron Young’s and Ray Price’s and Webb Pierce’s and Roger Miller’s and Bill Monroe’s and Tammy Wynette’s and George Jones’ and Willie Nelson’s and Waylon Jennings’ and Merle Haggard’s and Conway Twitty’s and Loretta Lynn’s and Dolly Parton’s and on and on.
Get with the program, or get out of town. Love it or leave it. I don’t really care for opportunists who see the country music market as a quick and easy place to make a fast buck with what are essentially pop acts and pop songs. We don’t really need strip mining in country music. No names named, but you know who I mean.