How I Learned to Like Country

The Hopdown Bilby Band

For as long as I can remember having ears, I’ve never liked Country Music.

Well, “never” is an unreasonable quantifier, I suppose. It’s not that I dislike Country music. Perhaps I should clarify: I loathe the twangy, line-dancing stereotype that we collectively associate with Country. However, at the core roots of Country music lies the same blistering swagger that shaped early Rock and Blues (which in turn, influenced all subsequent genres). Like it’s related genres, Country it is a form of human alchemy for translating pain into entertainment, tragedy into enlightenment and guilt into redemption.

For me, the Country artists who defined everything great about the genre are guys like Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson and the Charlie Daniels band. Taking it back further, you have cats like Merle Travis who wrote the timeless “16 Tons,” or Woodie Guthrie, easily Bob Dylan’s biggest influence. But if I were to judge by the radio, TV and most accessible music media, Country artists like this have not existed in a while.

The fact is, Country music, at its core, is exactly like Blues, Rock, Rap, Reggae and even Punk. To simplify my point without digressing too much, it originated as music of the people, the local downtrodden, the wanderers, the socially underprivileged and the working class.

Contemporary Punk artists such as Mike Ness of Social Distortion and Mike Herrera of MxPx have not forgotten the close ties between genres. In fact, if you have a chance to catch Mike Ness’ country set, do it. I regret not having my camera on hand for that show, although I do owe a debt of thanks to Terry Dipple of Ink’d Chronicles for inviting me to that show. The aforementioned Mike Herrera even has a rather rocking Country/Rockabilly side project called Tumbledown.

But what truly opened my mind and heart to country were not the endorsements of punk pioneers (in fact, I don’t really like MxPx at all to be honest, I think Tumbledown is wayyyyy better. No offense, Mike Herrera). Rather, I happened to catch two different shows, within a month of each other, in which an indie Country Artist shared the bill with various Rock and Punk bands.

The first, I had booked the band I manged, Shoppy, at a showcase at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood. At this same Showcase, this band of unlikely-looking individuals took the stage and played some of the rockingest Country that I never even knew existed in this decade.  Yes, “rockingest” is now a word. Try and stop me from using it. The band in question called themselves the Hopdown Bilby Band, and they were lead by a frontman in a ten gallon hat. To his left, a bassist with a nose piercing and an AC/DC shirt, and hippy with an acoustic guitar. To his right, a young lady dressed in her Sunday best and a lead guitarist who looked like he should’ve been in a Metal band. Let’s not even mention the drummer, who reminded me vaguely in appearance of Al Jourgenson of Ministry.

Never mind the eclectic appearance of the sextet; their energy was unbelievable, and everything about their performance was honest and true.

The second occurrence came when Mark Nardone at Music Connection asked me if I would review a show for an artist named Andrew Anderson. I knew nothing about this guy, but since I was going to be in town for that show anyways, and since Mark Nardone is awesome as far as editors go, I took the assignment. Upon arriving at the venue, I met Mr. Anderson and spoke to him briefly, expecting him to have a backing band with him. No backing band. Just an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, and a cowboy hat.

Typically, I don’t enjoy singer songwriters. Just one voice and one instrument and no beat is something of a frustration for me. However, the minute Anderson opened with his song “Necessary Casualties,” a room full of would-be punk rockers found themselves gazing in shock at the stage as this powerhouse of a performer passionately unleashed a fury of lyrical intensity over the accompaniment of his acoustic instruments. It was sweaty, raw and honest.

Andrew Anderson

The Hopdown Bilby Band

I’ve always advocated that music is a universal language, as universal as mathematics. Something as simple as key and rhythm can powerfully communicate any emotional subtlety in the Universe. However, in spite of this view, I have always been somewhat of a music snob. Only in recent times have I been able to thankfully drop some of those pretenses and open my mind up to genres I traditionally hate out of general principle.

While I may have been inspired to re-evaluate a genre, I still loathe line-dancing and that twangy pop shit that passes as Country today. I know music is music… but sincerity goes a long way, and regardless of the genre, when music is honest, it can open doors and minds alike.

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2 Responses to “How I Learned to Like Country”

  1. lespetitesperles Says:

    Hey there again!

    Your first post was great, you are a great writer. Although I love folk music I don’t particularly like country (maybe more for its associations than the acutal music), but you’ve convinced me to give it a second look. I’m looking forward to reading more!

    Best,
    La petite perle (no this is not in fact my name!)

    • Hans Says:

      Thank you, Perle, who is not really Perle! 🙂 if you like Folk and Americana, one of my favorite records in that vein is a side project by Greg Graffin, who is a the lead singer of the punk band Bad Religion (as well as a professor in Evolutionary Micro Biology). His side project is a solo album entitled “Cold as the Clay,” and on it, half the songs are traditional Americana folk tunes from waaaaaayyyyyy back in the day, and the other half are songs that he penned in that same style.

      As far as country… go old school, like Cash & Nelson, or independent like the Hopdown Bilby Band or Andrew Anderson. 🙂

      Happy listening, and thank you for reading and commenting on my blog!

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