There is no denying that country radio has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Those who have been listening for much longer or all of their lives are astounded by the transition of the format. Fiddle and steel are often replaced with drum loops, crunchy guitars and super-thumpy basslines, and lyrics have become a little less heartfelt, unless what you’re feeling is moonshine, tailgates and Daisy Dukes. Good or bad, love it or hate it, no finger pointing or name calling, it simply is the evolution of country music, and it’s undeniable. Just ask George Strait.
After a career that boasts 95 singles, including 45 No. 1’s starting in 1981 with “Fool Hearted Memory,” the King of Country Music has started to see a decline in the chart-toppers. In fact, his last single, the groovy “Cold Beer Conversation,” barely cracked the Top 40. It has die-hard George Strait fans and country music purists shaking their heads and fleeing to satellite radio to satiate their appetites for tradition.
And it has George putting pen to paper with his good buddy and equally alienated country star Jamey Johnson for a track on the King’s new album, “Strait Out of the Box: Part 2.”
During his recent performance at iconic Texas dance hall Gruene Hall, George explained how “Kicked Out of Country” came about. He told the VIP guests that Jamey approached him at a celebrity golf tournament and asked if he could send George some songs to consider for recording. The quiet Texan agreed, but also told Jamey that radio probably wouldn’t play anything. The bearded mega-hit songwriter agreed and said, “Yeah, they kicked me out of country, too.”
That line stuck with George. He called his friend and told him that if they didn’t write the song together, he was writing it without Jamey. Of course, Jamey jumped on the opportunity to sit down with the icon and the big, waltzy tune is getting a lot of attention from the media with some calling it a jab at country radio.
Now, in George and Jamey’s defense, the song doesn’t hate on country radio or any of the new artists that are occupying the spots that George once held. It does not do that at all. What it does do is name check some of the legends of country — Willie, Waylon, Merle, Johnny and George Jones — and explains how they, too, were kicked out of country, but eventually, their value was realized as they influenced a new generation of country stars. The song wraps with the lines:
“They lived what they wrote and they wrote what they sang/So getting kicked out of country didn’t hurt a thing/It don’t really matter because I ain’t gonna change/Cause getting kicked out of country don’t hurt a thing.”
This isn’t the first time that an artist has addressed the massive transformation in country music. Recently, popular Texas artist Kevin Fowler released the tongue-in-cheek “Sellout Song,” with a hilarious video enlisting the help of Texas traditionalists Zane Williams, Casey Donahew and Randy Rogers. And Randy, with the help of his little buddy, Wade Bowen, penned the equally hilarious “Standards” for their “Hold My Beer: Vol. 1” album. The twang-filled tune bemoans:
“Record man came and sat me down and said I’ve got some songs for you/Yeah, there’s one about a dirt road I really think you ought to do/So, I gave it a listen and it wasn’t all that bad/But it ain’t me, so I just shook my head, that’s all there is to that/I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.”
Then, all the way back in 2001, Brad Paisley’s album, “Part II,” included a collaboration with legends Bill Anderson, Buck Owens and George Jones called “Too Country,” that questioned why some country icons were considered “too country” for the evolving country landscape.
In radio’s defense, there is a trend turning back to traditional country sounds. If that’s the music you lean toward, do yourself a favor and check out Kevin, Zane, Randy, Casey and Wade, along with Jon Pardi, William Michael Morgan, Mo Pitney, Cody Johnson, Aaron Watson and for sure don’t forget Brad, Josh Turner, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton.
Also don’t forget to pick up your copy of “Strait Out of the Box: Part 2” and check out “Kicked Out of Country” for yourself. That may be the only way you hear it!