Tag Archives: country music

Surveying Sin in American Music

What a blast! But there’s danger in the air─someone on the dark floor’s got a gun, and everyone “does his best to act just right, ’cause it’s gonna be a funeral if you start a fight.” In [Billy] Hughes’s terms, folks “struggle and they shuffle” until the sun comes up, delicate diction for a Saturday of screwing and fighting. “Tennessee Saturday Night” hit number one on March 19, 1949, and remained on the Billboard country charts for nearly three months.

“Gonna push the clouds away, let the music have its way, let it steal my heart away, and you know I’m-a-goin’.” On Saturday nights, the journey is as jubilant as the destination. So affirms John Fogerty in “Almost Saturday Night, from his self-titled album, released on Asylum in September of 1975. This narrative is fractured, too: there’s a train bringing the rodeo to town, or is it bringing the singer home? A radio is playing outside the window (a bedroom? a train compartment?), but it competes with the bells at the train crossing, or from an imagined Gibson in the hands of a Chuck Berry wannabe. The story is embodied in the singing, exultant melody, and arrangement that praise and make passionate contact with the expectations of a long-awaited weekend night. Six years after Fogerty released the song, Welshman Dave Edmunds issued his own rollicking version (on his album Twangin), its joy elevating the song’s hopes and promises in the universal, trans-oceanic desire: bye bye tomorrow. The most powerful word in the song is “almost.” The taste of a Saturday night’s recklessness and exhilaration is more rousing at the brink of maybe, when anticipated, when prayed for.

Joe Bonomo, writing in The Normal School about the role sex, drinking, violence and catharsis play in American music, particularly country, blues and rock and roll, and the ways people sing about blowing off steam. Bonomo’s essay ran in Spring 2014.

Read the story

Four Stories About Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard, 1975. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Legendary country singer Merle Haggard died today at 79. Here are four profiles of the master, by four master writers, that follow him through the years.

Read more…

Come Hear My Song

Aaron Gilbreath | Longreads | June 2015 | 18 minutes (4,437 words)

I came here looking for something

I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Hey, I’m not tryin’ to be nobody

I just want a chance to be myself.

 ─Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens, “Streets of Bakersfield”

***

On North Chester Avenue in Oildale, California, an 83-year-old honky-tonk named Trout’s stands down the block from a saloon with an aged western facade, and across the street from a liquor store that sells booze and Mexican candy.

Trout’s opened in 1931 to give hard-working locals a place to dance and drink and unwind to live music.  During the 1950s and ’60s, local country music legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard played Trout’s, in their own bands and others, and kept people dancing while helping popularize the raw, propulsive style known as the Bakersfield Sound. Read more…