NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Dale Watson Secedes From Country Music

Patty Griffin Sounds Great, Flatt & Scruggs Return on DVD

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

So, maverick country traditionalist Dale Watson is seceding from country music?

“It would be more accurate to leave country out of it,” Watson was quoted as saying in the The Exponent, Purdue University’s campus newspaper in West Lafayette, Ind. “They own it now, and you can’t change it. They’ve stolen country. To me, it automatically means crap.”

On his Web site, he further elaborated, “And finally … the name for the genre. … I’ve been trying to come up with a name [that] best describes this music that me and folks similar do. When folks ask, I hesitate, down right embarrassed really, to say country. I didn’t used to be, but with the change in country, the term doesn’t mean the same as it used to. If you say traditional or old or Western swing, most folks think ‘retro’ and dismiss it without hearing it. I wanted a name that didn’t say country anything and didn’t give anyone a preconceived idea. I came up with … Ameripolitan. I even put it in Wikipedia defined as original music with ‘prominent’ roots influence. I hope y’all like it.”

Well, all right. Why the hell not? “Ameripolitan” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, though. I think there might be a better term for it. Perhaps you have some great ideas for alternatives. Why don’t you think on that, and send me suggestions. The best answers will be rewarded with some good stuff. Send your ideas to interact@cmt.com, with my name in the message header.

Which leads to this question: If you call country music by any other name, is it still country music? I submit that it is. Different wings of country have been called many different things over the years, even apart from bluegrass, Western swing, and honky-tonk. There’s been countrypolitan, the Nashville sound, town & country, new country, country pop, outlaw country, country rock, urban cowboy, young country, No Depression, Americana, alt-country, roots country, roots-rock, new traditionalists, etc., etc. And when the day is done, it’s still all country music.

Oh, and all this was to publicize Watson’s upcoming album release, From the Cradle to the Grave, due on April 24. And it’s a good album. I’ve always liked Dale, and it’s good to hear this from him. He recorded it at Johnny Cash’s Nashville cabin, which is now owned by Johnny Knoxville. Go figure.

Meanwhile, I’ve been listening to and enjoying the new Patty Griffin CD, Children Running Through, and I don’t know how you could or would categorize her. So I don’t. Listen to her harmonize with Emmylou Harris on the gorgeous, ethereal song “Trapeze” and you grasp how truly magical Griffin’s songwriting and clear, pure voice can be.

And I am really looking forward to getting new DVDs of several of the Flatt & Scruggs TV shows from the early 1960s, when that powerful group was running at full bore. Flatt & Scruggs, at the height of their popularity, were truly rock stars, especially on college campuses. The band was amazing, their energy level seemed limitless, and they were actually and truly hip for the time.

Their TV shows were once thought to be lost, but copies were found and donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. These episodes include historic footage of Mother Maybelle Carter picking her trademark guitar licks on “Wildwood Flower” and, on autoharp, playing “The Liberty Dance.” On March 27, the Hall of Fame and Shanachie records will release Best of the Flatt & Scruggs TV Show, Volume One and Volume Two. Each volume includes two 30-minute shows. Volumes three and four are due later this year. Further installments will follow. In all, 36 shows have been discovered.

Finally, the Merle Haggard-Willie Nelson-Ray Price double CD, Last of the Breed, coming on March 20 is a laid-back treasure. Twenty-two songs — some classic, some just really good — sung by three old pros who make it sound effortless. More on this later. Two new songs are included here, Nelson’s “Back to Earth” and Haggard’s “Sweet Jesus,” co-written with Kenny Vernon. The trio will be doing a limited tour of 15 dates in March with Asleep at the Wheel backing them. These guys really are the last of a breed and should be treasured.