About fifteen years ago, while most of the music-loving fans in the world had discarded the poodle perms, black leather pants and the gaudy turquoise and silver baubles associated with hair metal to embrace the slackerisms and flannel workshirts associated with grunge, a different sort were looking at huge belt buckles, cowboy boots, and pedal steel guitars. These folks were encountering, then hopping aboard the alt.country trend, a musical sub-genre championed by the likes of Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks, Eric Ambel, Blue Rodeo and many other lesser-known acts. While grunge was known as bare-bones, meat-and-potatoes rock with no frills, the purveyors of the alt.country trend took “bare bones” a bit further, with most adopting a sound best described as Johnny Cash on meth as performers and devotees yearned for the perfect blend between traditional country circa 1958-1965 and rock and roll derived from the days of Sun records revved up with a post-punk modern feel. Though grunge also had a primitive feel, it had it’s own sound. In contrast, while the best alt.country and roots bands filtered their music through the prisms of punk and post-punk, an equal amount were enamored with simply striving to emulate their ’50’s and ’60’s heroes down to the bent notes on their paisley Telecasters. Though bands of this nature were found mostly on the second-tier, even the edgiest bands such as Uncle Tupelo showed their indebtedness to their heroes from Nashville on their sleeves and were careful not to stray too far from their country inspirations. It was the same catch-22 which modern blues players find themselves. How much do they honor their past and provide a touchstone to fans, while still blazing a trail and progressing their music so new generations will find elements to enjoy?
While listening to The Other Side, the fine new album from emerging country rock singer/songwriter Eldon Johnson, I began to think back about what I found interesting about country music when I was younger and why I despise a lot of it now. Country music played a big part of my childhood and was the catalyst for some of the best times of my younger years. My parents were big fans of country, though I must say my dad was (and continues to be) very open to all sorts of music, something I admire and strive for myself. My mom was a little different and pretty much hated the “noise” of most rock and roll and thought the lyrics mostly nonsense but loved country music as most songs tended to be stories about life. Now, I understand country and rock and roll are pretty much the same. Sure, country came first – but I love my rock and roll and most country music on the radio sounds like the Eagles anyway so what’s the difference really? Y’know? As a child, well, that’s another story.