What Happened To Real Country Music?By George Nowak (Barefoot Man)
There is a very close legacy link between country music and The Cayman Islands. The Caymanian mariners who spent months (sometimes years) away from home on tankers and freighters could relate with the somber lyrics of George Jones or Hank Williams, their heavyhearted three chord recitals could melt the hearts of the manliest of men. But what happened to that music we love so much, those classic songs where a steel guitar interlude would raise the hair on the back of your neck? Clearly, something has gone bad wrong for us country music buffs worldwide. Nashville’s industry movers have put aside the souls of country music lovers and with some marketing research, ginned up by guys in expensive Brunello suits or torn trendy jeans, have decided that what they needed to do was move from Folsom Prison Blues to American Idol, from Stetsons to ball caps worn in reverse. Then what are the results? It’s now called "Mainstream Country" or “Bubble-gum Country” or “Hip-hop with a fiddle”, and to most of us zealous (and yes, over 40) country music fans – it sucks!
The problem as we see it – the butchery of traditional country – is not just confined to the USA, Canada and Europe; but like the invasive green iguana it’s found its way to our shores. Imported DJ’s and Program Directors who control a majority of the airwaves in Cayman have their justifications for playing faddish Country and other genres of popular music exported from up north.
Their retorts are boundless: “That’s what’s popular in America”, “It’s on America's Billboard Top 20”, “We have software applications that rank core audiences across the country” (America), “software applications that track radio listening and trends in specific markets in the USA”, etc., etc.
And there, my country music loving friends, is where I believe it’s all gone wrong: the "in America" pretext. Just because they love corn-dogs in America that doesn’t mean we love them in Cayman…. Just because we eat turtle doesn’t mean it’s popular in America. Then again, people eat whatever they're fed. This goes for music. You feed them Florida–Georgia Line instead of Willy Nelson, they'll eat it – especially if you are not feeding them any Willy Nelson at all. The founding fathers of country music are turning in their graves seeing what their music has become. “In America” is a sad excuse – look outside your studio window…we are not in America.
I guess we can’t put all the blame on our imported Program Directors after all most of them have come here with years of programing experience that they learned – in America. Most have never heard of cow-itch or cleaned a conch so how can we expect them to know the DNA makeup of Cayman Country? They come from urban towns in America or the UK where there are numerous stations competing with many others for the advertising dollar, so if you don’t follow the trendy settings, or the USA top 20 play list, you could end up sweeping the floor instead of having a fan base. In Nashville and it’s surrounding suburbs there are over 50 Radio Stations.
Now one must concede that what they call Country today is the most popular radio format “in America”. I know some of the younger generation in Cayman who love Jason Aldean and Dirks Bently. In fact, not that long ago at Owen Roberts Airport I ran into a group of young local girls, adorned in cowboy hats and torn jeans, on their way to a Luke Bryan concert. I did try to talk them out of it.
“Have you ever heard of Loretta Lynn and Jim Reeves?" I asked them. "Oh, yes" one responded, "my daddy used to bring home their albums after his stint at sea but they don’t play those songs on radio anymore.”
I hear an echo – “people eat whatever they're fed”.
These days, pop-country is more popular than ever — but also more despised than ever. Anti-pop-country blogs, web-sites and Facebook pages are swarming with animosity against Pop-Country. WE HATE POP COUNTRY on Facebook is a haven for contemporary Country cynics. Our one and only local Country station, ROOSTER-FM, may actually be catching on to the Caymanian taste for Country music by devoting more play to real Country music rather than to what Nashville wants to feed us. Recently Rooster has devoted one hour each day to true, classic, Caymanian-loving Country music. Bob Moseley spins Willy, Cash, Jones and even some local classics by Andy Martin. On Thursdays they toss in a classic every 15 minutes or so. Then again, there are 168 hours in a week – hopefully we can get more. Most pop-country scoffers seem to agree on one thing – it’s not the singing, or the over amped drums and guitars, or the hokey overused lyrics and injects of hip-hop that bothers them: it’s the fact that they call it “Country” when it’s not Country. The day that Pavarotti is strumming a banjo and sings in a language that a red-neck can understand – it’s no longer Opera.