Classical Country

A no-name beer joint. Just off the highway. Somewhere outside Atlanta. Glowing Coors signs. Unlevel pool tables. I had been driving for several hours. I’d just hit town and my throat was dry.

I stepped into the dark room and made my way to the bar alongside the other hands. There was a kid playing music on a plywood stage. He had tattoos, a trendy mullet haircut and he wore his ballcap backward. He looked like a frat boy. He was singing what passes for country music in today’s melodically deprived America.

Then the kid started “country rapping.”

“Country music is dead,” said my bartender, who was pushing 70. Or maybe he was pulling it.

“The real cowboy singers have disappeared,” he went on. “I miss Willie Nelson, every day.”

He brought me a cold Pabst and asked what I wanted to eat.

“A burger,” said I.

He leaned onto his elbows. “We got vegan burgers, black bean burgers and chicken burgers.”

“Vegan burgers? I thought this was a beer joint.”

“New management.”

“But, I want a beef patty that’s bleeding so badly it needs Band-Aids.”

The bartender sighed. “Don’t we all.”

The barman looked like a real cowpoke. He had smoker’s teeth. His skin was crepe paper. He wore a tan so rich he looked as though he’d been born in the Mojave.

His hands were veiny and rough. I know this because we actually shook hands. Just the way real guys used to do before the “fist bump” made us all look like schoolgirls playing Patty Cake at recess.

The kid strumming the guitar was still rapping. It was hard to watch.

The bartender looked at me. “They call it redneck rap. It’s all over the radio these days. Kids eat it up.”

“But it ain’t music,” said the guy next to me. He was wearing a crumpled suit. He looked like Fred Mertz after a long day. “Just a bunch of stupid talk with a drum beat.”

When the kid finished rapping, he started singing a song by Taylor Swift, entitled “Shake it Off.” There wasn’t a middle-aged man in the joint who didn’t cringe.

The kid was singing to a pair of young lovelies near the stage. The two women wore lacy tops and $300-dollar boots. They were scrolling on their phones. And something was all wrong here.

Nothing about this place felt like the Great American Beer Joint. A small piece of me grieved. What happened to our honkytonks angels? What happened to our sacred music? I’m not against change. I understand that things must progress. But there is beauty found in tradition. And we’ve killed the traditions of country and western music.

The musical genre I grew up with was built on piercingly clever lyrics, witty storytelling, and interesting melodies. But today, our music comes from kids with iPhones.

I don’t mean to complain, but I’m not alone in my misgivings. The old school doesn’t like this new change any more than I do.

For example, some years ago Blake Shelton publicly called fans of classic country “old farts and jackasses.” Shortly thereafter, Willie Hugh Nelson renamed his national tour the Old Farts and Jackasses Tour.

So it just goes to show you. For some time, country music has been going downhill like a snowball headed for hell. And it’s no secret. The CMT Awards once cut short a tribute to George Jones, but staged a full performance between musical duo Florida Georgia Line and hip-hop artist, Nelly. Complete with strobe lights.

And all this begs the question, Did Roy Acuff use strobes?

Listen, I realize the days of Hank Sr., Ernest Tubb, and Loretta Lynn are over. But does that mean the whole convention of classic country must die?

There was a time when even the up-and-coming generation of country music was championed by stalwart guys like Randy Travis, Alan Jackson and George Strait. That’s all over now.

Today, people would laugh the Aquanet right out of Conway Twitty’s hair.

My burger came in a red basket. It was made of chicken. Mango chutney came on the side.

The singer took a break. The musician sat at the bar and spent his break playing with his phone and drinking blueberry-flavored beer.

While the kid was busy, the bartender looked at me and whispered suggestively.

“Hey, anybody wanna hear some Willie?”

Without waiting for our response, the old barkeep turned on the radio. The room filled with the rapture of a nylon-strung Martin N-20. I closed my eyes and smiled. If I’d had a BIC, I would’ve flicked it. The song was “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”

The bartender shook his head and said, “It’s a crying shame so many mothers followed Willie’s advice.”

53 comments

  1. Donna - July 21, 2022 7:06 am

    My musical flight took a deep nose dive the day I heard instrumental Metallica playing in an elevator. The emotion was a pitiful slurry of horror, anger, grief, then hopeless resignation.

    Reply
  2. Billie - July 21, 2022 8:05 am

    I understand your pain.
    Same thing happening in church, also.
    Folks yearning for “music.”
    It’s a cryin’ shame.

    Reply
  3. Ann Thompson - July 21, 2022 8:18 am

    I’d have gone to the nearest convenience store and bought a tall boy, sat in my car a listened to a cd of my choosing. Life is too short for rap.

    Reply
  4. Trudy - July 21, 2022 9:23 am

    Sean, I totally agree with you. I love the old country music. I used to call “Alabama “ bubblegum country. They were even too modern country for me. I’ll take Conway, George and Willie any day.

    Reply
  5. Paul McCutchen - July 21, 2022 10:34 am

    It says “enter your comment here” but all I have is a shaking of my head and closing my eyes. There are no artist anymore………..

    Reply
  6. Ernie in River City - July 21, 2022 10:37 am

    The music goes where the money leads it. The country and western of our youth is now called “classic“ country. The people with money won’t pay to hear it. At least the young people with money. Happens to everything eventually.

    Reply
  7. Steve McCaleb - July 21, 2022 11:00 am

    Country music ( is there any such thing anymore ?) sucks. It’s like a lot of other things right now….it’s got away from what made it great. Exchanged for slick, stupid, inane garbage to be lapped up by brain dead young sheep who wouldn’t know a shoat from a goat. I feel better already. And you’re a better man than I…I can’t bring myself to listen to music ( no matter how classic, how terrific) by people who’s politics advocate ripping this country apart at the seams and setting up a socialist garbage dump. Sorry…nope…nix…nein…no way. Can’t wait for the next “ Billy Bob wrecked his pickup truck going to get Sammie Jo on the way to the Kountry Disco classic. Oh….I almost forgot, they were probably drinking premixed canned margaritas ( brand name prominently mentioned). The closest most of these clowns ever got to country was going within a half mile of Vern Gosdin’s house on the way to the Grand Ole Fopry. Whew….I need a nap.

    Reply
  8. c lyn burnette - July 21, 2022 11:23 am

    Amen, Brother! The Bellamy Brothers once said, & I’m paraphrasing, we’re country ’cause we don’t understand Rock & Roll anymore. Too often I have to google the lyrics to ‘get’ rhe words & I don’t mean the country rap ones! Don’t care enough to google!

    Reply
  9. Susan - July 21, 2022 11:33 am

    I feel your pain. As I was reading your post I was convinced that the bartender asked you to grab a guitar and hit the stage. Although your closing line was stellar, you wailing Willie on stage would have been a perfect closer.

    Reply
  10. Dale - July 21, 2022 11:48 am

    https://youtu.be/_5ARiB26Se4
    Nora Brown has you covered. She’s only 16- traditional music is her passion.

    Reply
  11. Bill in Montgomery - July 21, 2022 11:53 am

    When the rap started, I would have left my chicken burger, Pabst and walked out the door!

    Reply
  12. KristiD - July 21, 2022 11:58 am

    Only a few pay homage and carry the torch for the past . Marty Stuart does.
    I plan on visiting the Congress of Country Music in MS when it opens

    Reply
  13. David - July 21, 2022 12:06 pm

    I agree with you 💯🎯‼️

    Reply
  14. Teka Pierce - July 21, 2022 12:18 pm

    I love country music. I’m a George, Willy, Keith, Merle fan. However I am enjoying a few new ones that seem to be following storytelling that country is famous for. I’m liking Luke Combs, Morgen Wallen, Bret Young and Cody Johnson. My 22 year old grandson is in college in Ga. He sends me new artist he likes for me to hear. He is true traditional country. He sends some remarkable young guys coming up that have that tradition country story telling ability. So it is not dead and out there if you look for it.

    Reply
  15. Patrick Wolfe - July 21, 2022 12:33 pm

    Sean I haven’t frequented beer joints in lots of years now. For me back then the music was the gravy. Come to Texas. I bet you can find cold Pabst, thick smoke, a cowboy wanting to whip some ass, and for sure a strong dose of Willie, Waylon and the Boys.

    Reply
  16. Murriel W Scarborough - July 21, 2022 12:46 pm

    My sentiments exactly!!! I’m an ole Fart who keeps my car radio set on “ Willie’s Roadhouse” and I’m only 16 ( as I stated at the beginning “I’m an Ole Fart – age 78 so I have earned the right to say “ I’m only 16” – I’m delusional and “So proud to be here “ and actually know it ) Thanks Willie for saving that good ole Country Music Sound ! Me and Hank got a Good thing going….. from Murriel Scarborough from Dothan, AL – the Peanut Capital of The World – just up the road from Walton County Florida

    Reply
  17. Bobby Hamil - July 21, 2022 12:52 pm

    I guess we’re getting too old to cut the mustard anymore.

    Reply
  18. Pingback: Sean of the South: Classical Country | The Trussville Tribune

  19. Ed (Bear) - July 21, 2022 1:22 pm

    You don’t talk much about your drawings but you are also a very talented sketch artist!

    I enjoy your drawing as much as your writing. Very nice cowboy rendering today!

    I hope you don’t mind but I borrowed (stole) a text clip from your inspiring The Holy City column yesterday for my website. https://www.eds-art.net/#forward

    Reply
  20. Sonny - July 21, 2022 2:04 pm

    Amen

    Reply
  21. Sue Adams - July 21, 2022 2:28 pm

    AMEM!!

    Reply
  22. Patricia Harris - July 21, 2022 2:32 pm

    Exactly right last line

    Reply
  23. Cynthia Russell - July 21, 2022 2:58 pm

    GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  24. Tom - July 21, 2022 3:04 pm

    YES!!!

    Reply
  25. mac blair - July 21, 2022 3:15 pm

    I loved it, I grew up in Ky. listening to Little Jimmy Dickins, Flatt and Scruggs, Roy Acuff, people like that. It was great. Thank you for today.

    Reply
  26. Ruth Ann - July 21, 2022 3:23 pm

    I feel the same way about church music. Sure miss singing hymns. The band is so loud I have to take my hearing aids off. Yeah that’s how old I am . Stuck in the past I guess .

    Reply
    • John - July 21, 2022 8:11 pm

      You got that right. All the new Ministers of music use the 7 words, 11 times songs.

      Reply
  27. Deacon Nick - July 21, 2022 3:41 pm

    Sean, well said! Our entire culture has drifted away from true beauty in every aspect of our lives; a true darkness we must overcome! When people can support and promote abortion, no evil is beyond them, and they seek to call evil good and good evil. Christ alone can lead us to the Light!

    Reply
  28. Pilgrim Jax FL - July 21, 2022 4:54 pm

    Not quite country but similar scenario.
    Still remember a Friday in ’94 when I was at my bank to cash my paycheck.
    An instrumental cover of Bob Dylan ‘s “The Times They are a Changing ” was playing through the Musak.
    The bank teller looked at me and we both shook our heads.

    Reply
  29. Patricia Gibson - July 21, 2022 5:30 pm

    I know. It is sad that country music isn’t country anymore! I know I am old and I like some of the new stuff. I like Blake Shelton. Didn’t know he said something so stupid.

    Reply
  30. Kathy Saunders - July 21, 2022 5:31 pm

    It’s either sad that I am reading your post and texting you from the top of Cornucopia Mountain in Oregon or a symbol of just how much I appreciate you and your writing, wit and love of our country and God. I truly appreciate you and now my phone is going off😁

    Reply
  31. L.grimes - July 21, 2022 5:48 pm

    So true! The times they are a changing! Definitely not for the better. Old days of respect for others, manners, and music you could hear the words in the songs. Don’t we all miss this ?

    Reply
  32. Joe - July 21, 2022 6:45 pm

    Sad that those controlling the media feel obligated to force feed us what they think we need to hear, even country Music in a beer joint. You write it good but it’s still a pity

    Reply
  33. MAM - July 21, 2022 6:49 pm

    I laughed at Ruth Ann’s comment. I, years ago, took my mother to her 60th college reunion. At the final banquet, a loud boisterous Gospel choir served up the entertainment. Mom and I had to squelch our laughter as we watched almost everyone in the audience, including her, putting their fingers in their ears to turn down or off their hearing aids. Rap is just unpleasant noise. I’ll take any classical music, from Mozart to Willie, over some of the awful sounds emanating from radios these days.

    Reply
  34. Anne Robinson - July 21, 2022 7:10 pm

    I love real country music. I read a piece recently about a young, popular country star who went to Europe and said some nonsense she had no reason to think of to return here. Bye Bye! If she thinks the way the world is is going to be lollipops and unicorns over there, boy is she clueless, George Strait and Alan Jackson were the last of the true country music personalities. Leave pop at pop. Country at country and on and on. We watch old TV series too and Andy Griffith and Earl Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies can sure pick! Sigh…

    Reply
  35. Stan Marsh - July 21, 2022 7:24 pm

    Amen

    Reply
  36. John - July 21, 2022 8:08 pm

    Good old country music gone, just like old rock and roll. I HATE THE NEW STUFF!

    Reply
  37. mmaloney51 - July 21, 2022 8:16 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  38. nancy marie davis - July 21, 2022 8:58 pm

    yep

    Reply
  39. Irma - July 21, 2022 9:53 pm

    Sean, I feel your pain about the country music. I have seen Ray Price, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Dwight Yoakum, Charlie Daniels and other greats in concert, but there are few today that I’d walk out the door to see.
    Don’t know if you’re aware or not but church music has gone to hell too! Oh but we have to stay current… Lord, if we were to sing a hymn or even a Gaither classic, I’m sure the cornerstone would crumble! Churches are catering only to the youth now. I’m afraid that after they have run off all the elderly they’re going to figure out who was paying the bills!

    Reply
  40. Linda Moon - July 21, 2022 9:55 pm

    Yep. The Mavericks said and sang it well: “Oh What a Crying Shame”. I’m with the bartender…who wouldn’t want to listen to Willie???

    Reply
  41. Irma Turnipseed - July 21, 2022 10:07 pm

    Sean, I feel your pain about country music. I have seen Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakum, George Jones, Charlie Daniels and other greats in concert, but there are few today that I’d walk out the door to see!
    Don’t know if you’re aware or not, but the church music has gone to hell too! God forbid we sing a hymn or even a Gaither classic, the cornerstone would probably crumble! Oh but we have to stay current… The churches now cater only to the youth. I’m afraid that after they have run off all the elderly, they’re going to figure out who was paying the bills!

    Reply
  42. Melanie - July 22, 2022 1:13 am

    Amen Mr. Sean.

    Reply
  43. Matthew - July 22, 2022 1:20 am

    Best closing line ever

    Reply
  44. Anita B Denney - July 22, 2022 1:50 am

    You are So Right…..Just can’t hear that great music much anymore, “Except on Sirus in my car, tuned into “Willie”s Road House”

    Reply
  45. Heather Miller - July 22, 2022 2:10 am

    Vince Gill appeared in concert here in Mobile last week. He called his music “hillbilly country”. Wonderful songs and great guitar music. His steel guitar player is the best I have heard. Ever. Vince sang Go Rest High on the Mountain, a beautiful tribute to George Jones, sung at his funeral. Vince sang nothing but country songs, except for When My Amy Prays. Wonderful concert!!

    Reply
    • H. J. Patterson - July 22, 2022 1:10 pm

      Vince is playing the Gouge in Auburn on 8/27. Really look forward to it.

      Reply
  46. Floyd Williams - July 22, 2022 2:47 am

    Where are you Bob Wills ….”sing it boys”?

    Reply
  47. Slimpicker - July 22, 2022 2:53 am

    Sean,
    For someone that drinks Pabst, I surprised you have better taste in country music, unless that is all they serve.

    Reply
  48. pdjpop - July 22, 2022 10:58 am

    PBR: Professional Bill Riders and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. That’s Country two ways in three CAPITALIZED letters. Cold beer by many names is Country, The blueberry beer is out of place but tasty here at a microbrewery. It’s a stretch in a REAL Country Bar.

    The Real Country Bar
    TRADITION! Country Bar: Ice cold Beer, Country music before 200-AD, names like George, Johnny, June, Merle, Loretta, Dolly, Hank, Willie….
    Song titles: Ring of Fire Trashy Women, Folsom Prison Blues, Midnight in Montgomery, Jackson, Amarillo by Morning,
    Country Bar food: Greasy Burgers, Fries, pickled eggs, hot chicken wings, fried bologna sammiches
    Musical instruments: Guitar, banjos, upright piano, a drum and cymbal, steel guitar, fiddle
    Bartender: Ruggedly handsome male OR female that will dish out the BS as well as take it.
    Bathrooms: not a place you want to stay long unless you’ve had all of your shots
    Oh, don’t forget to have on Ropers for two stepping….

    There’s a lot more but these are basics….
    Oh, and one more thing; don’t be too “judgey” about your Country bar pals. Sometime they drink too much.
    PJ

    Reply
  49. Dan - July 22, 2022 1:45 pm

    To compare rap to music is like comparing diarrhea to chili. Yeah, they may look the same, but they are most assuredly not…..and one of each is crap…..

    Reply
  50. Mac Blair - July 23, 2022 2:42 pm

    Have not been able to get Sean the last two days and cannot figure out how to get him back, can anybody help me at my email address. I am lost.

    Reply
  51. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 2, 2022 4:26 pm

    Reply

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