Sunday, April 06, 2008

California: Birthplace of Punk Country

dave alvin
Dave Alvin

That's right, yes.... while Nashville and Texas and other points in the South claim "country & western music" as their own... some of county music's most influential founders are native Californians... and the punk'd version of country, whether you call it alt.country or punk country or country punk was born in California too.

Picture above is native Californian Dave Alvin, a founding member of the Blasters and member in good standing of The Knitters which is comprised mainly of members of X, with whom Alvin also played.

exene live band post 96
X - Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka and John Doe

But it goes way farther back than that... on this date, April 6 in 1937, Merle Haggard was born in Bakersfield, California. Bakersfield was known for its own "sound" - a kind of country western music that was rough around the edges, unlike Nashville's smooth, polished and tidily produced fare. Bakersfield, if you will, was the punk version of country music... just like punk was the roughed up and raw version of rock n roll... both are a lot less cleaned up and closer to the source (with absolutely no insult to the "cleaning up" and "polishing" of music!)

Merle Haggard has always been an iconoclast, even though his songs of love, loss, regret and redemption resonate for Everyman, his path to love and redemption are marked by a much more serious and dark kind of loss and regret than Everyman or Every Songwriter, for that matter. And that's what earns him the special place he has in the history of music, songwriting and popular culture.

I'm not alone in believing that Merle Haggard should be named California's poet laureate.

dave alvin 4x

Southern California had The Blasters, X and the Knitters saluting the country flag, and a heartland transplant to Los Angeles, future "new country" star, Dwight Yoakam was hanging out on the scene, taking it all in and making the most visibly successful career of folks in that era from that influence... but up north in San Francisco, The Dils essential members, founding brothers Chip and Tony Kinman and Alejandro Escovedo of the Nuns would soon join forces to form Rank and File, which they based out of Austin, Texas in the 80s. Rank and File are considered to be the first of the bands that would be labeled alt.country, or even country punk.

dils on stage peoples temple

Dils on stage in San Francisco, 1977 - above and below

dils tony foreground

As the 80s progressed, other bands emerged from all over the nation that not only felt but acknowledged both the roots of American music and country and the energy of punk rock... with Jason & The (Nashville) Scorchers on the leading edge of that new hybrid genre.

rick price & warner hodges
Rick Price of the Georgia Satellites and Warner Hodges of the Scorchers

Soon after the 80s were over, in another part of Tennessee, The Compulsive Gamblers combined the best of country, punk, rock n roll and R&B.

Greg Cartwright - Southpaw
Greg Cartwright

They spawned the Oblivians and later Greg Cartwright and Jack Yarber would go on to front bands of their own, The Reigning Sound and Tennessee Tearjerkers respectively.

jack live 9
Jack Yarber


For the record - out of Merle Haggard's phenomenal body of work, the song I keep coming back to is Sing Me Back Home. Three years ago, when Hag was on tour with Bob Dylan, one night in Chicago (in a multi-night stand in early April, including a gig on this date, Hag's birthday), Dylan performed Sing Me Back Home as his encore. A fitting tribute - one legend covering another's song...

One of my most cherished possessions is a recording of Keith Richards performing the song, accompanied only by himself on piano... the song holds up to a lot of interpretations because it simply holds up. Merle Haggard is a songwriter for the ages, the generations and the genres... Happy Birthday Merle!

KEITH
Keith Richards

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