Gone Country

A beer joint. In the sticks. A cinderblock building. There were beat-up trucks parked in a dusty parking lot. No sign. Only a small Pabst Blue Ribbon marquee indicated this was a place where a man could break a dry spell.

My companions were old enough to be my grandfathers. I accepted their invitations to attend their private waterhole.

“We don’t want anyone to know it’s here,” said one old man whom I will call Billy. Although that is not his name.

“Otherwise, people will ruin it,” said Billy’s cohort.

It was a dank place. A lot like the place where Miss Wanda sold me my very first beer when I was 14.

Yes, I realize 14 is way too young to consume libation. I also realize that if Wanda had done such a thing today, she would be rotting beneath Tutwiler Prison. But those were different times.

Wanda gave me an ice-cold Miller High Life in exchange for a song played on my guitar. She asked me to sing to the barroom because—how’s this for irony?— her mother heard me sing in church once.

I sang “Hello Walls.” I tried to make my voice do like Faron Young’s voice did.

Billy opened the door. The old men assumed their barstools. The place smelled like someone’s crawl space.

There was a tiny plywood stage in the corner. An old guy with a ponytail was picking and singing Vern Gosdin’s “Set’em Up Joe.”

I ordered a Miller High Life, just to see if the spirit of Wanda lived on.

“We don’t carry High Life,” said the bartender. She was young and full-faced. But in a pleasing way.

My two partners ordered Bud Lights. I ordered a Budweiser. The girl called out. “I need two Bud Lights and one beer!”

The other bartender was nicknamed “Tiny.” He weighed roughly 250 lbs., and his arms were the size of fire hydrants. He used to play high-school ball. He could have had a full ride to a State-U, but his girlfriend was pregnant at the time. He got our drinks.

The man on the stage was now playing a Jerry Jeff Walker train song. “Railroad Lady.

Pinch me.

The story of Jerry Jeff Walker is the perfect example of the articulate beauty of country music. Walker was a New York native. He was a musical kid who was interested in jazz at an early age. Of all things. He gravitated toward country. He was a lyrical prodigy. Waylon loved him. So did Willie. He died last year. God rest his pick.

Billy turned to me and said, “So, what do you think? Is this a real country beer joint or what?”

He’s referring to a column I wrote recently about visiting a bar outside Atlanta. It was supposed to be a beer joint. It wasn’t. A tattooed youngster in a cowboy hat shouted rhymes into a mic. “Redneck rap” is what they called it. Lots of cussing. Lots of mentions of human anatomy.

The young people at the Atlanta bar were digging it. Luke Bryan music played overhead. They wore expensive jeans, sipped fruity craft beers. There were strobe lights. I wrote about it.

The column got some feedback from some local newspapers. Mostly from middle-aged people who told me I was an “old fart,” that I should “go back to the nursing home,” and anyone who doesn’t like Luke Bryan can go straight to New Jersey.

One middle-aged reader from Oklahoma wrote to me and asserted that, “Luke Bryan is the the greatest genius country musical artist the world has ever did.”

Another: “Luke Bryan has more talent in his pinky than you have in your entire [nasty word] body, you [even nastier word].”

Hank wept.

I abhor the modern stuff. I firmly believe in the American tradition of country music. And I believe tradition made the genre great. Not innovation.

I’m not here to criticize any modern artists, but I stand by my words. I think country music is heading in the wrong direction.

Country music needs three chords, four at the max. Piercingly clever lyrics. A penitent singer. A steel guitar solo. And at least one mention of a truck. If Luke Bryan can do that, so be it. But I ain’t heard it yet.

The guy on stage starts playing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” He nails it. I’m closing my eyes. And I swear I am listening to Willie sing his bandanna off.

“So,” said Billy. “Do you still believe country music is dying?”

The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether the music of my forebears will still be here in the next, say, 50 years. I don’t know if we will still have young ironworkers who strum. Or workmen who write love songs and wear denim non-ironically.

Right now we have high-tech baby strollers that can push themselves. We have kids who can run the world using iPads. And next year, AeroMobil will make flying cars available for purchase. I feel like a brontosaurus. Where does Hank Senior fit into this brave new world?

I removed my wallet to pay my tab. The girl behind the bar took my money. She smiled and whispered, “I read your column. Luke Bryan sucks.”

There is hope for America yet.

70 comments

  1. Steve McCaleb - August 6, 2022 9:32 am

    Blueberry beer, country rap, Luke Bryan and Vern Gosdin mentioned in the same paragraph. Signs of the Pockyclips. Country music used to be written and performed by COUNTRY PEOPLE. Todays “country stars” learned everything thing they know from reading 10 year old copies of Homestead Magazine off the rack while waiting for their “Stylist “ and their “nail person” to style their hair and scrape the facial cream from from under their hygienic little digits. Makes me want to PUKE. Where’s Rodney Foster when we need him ? Anybody know the area code for Del Rio Texas ?

    Reply
  2. Steve McCaleb - August 6, 2022 9:39 am

    Durn spellcheck…..Radney Foster. That’s 1 more Stoopid Idea some goober inflicted on unsuspecting people.

    Reply
  3. Ann Thompson - August 6, 2022 10:25 am

    I’m with you! Thanks for the laugh to start my day. Enjoy your day.

    Reply
  4. Janette weed - August 6, 2022 10:51 am

    Over my very early morning coffee I read your column. You always tug at my heart! You know hurt and you know love and tenderness. I found my daughter in the bed dead suffering from a massive heart attack brought on by her heart doctor prescribing the wrong medication. I have not been able to cry and carrying around this profound hurt is hard. But sometimes reading and feeling your sensitive words bring a tear and a jolt to my heart. I always share your most thought provoking column to my husband, a songwriter in his younger days and always his comments are sincere! Thank you for being you !! Love you ,

    Reply
  5. Anne Arthur - August 6, 2022 10:56 am

    There’s hope in this country because of you, Sean. Keep speaking out.

    Reply
  6. Brad haase - August 6, 2022 11:22 am

    Sean, You and I are simpatico on the opinion of the degradation of “country music”. It’s almost parallel to the state of our “country”. I’m a Tennessean but have become ashamed of Nashville and the image it now portrays. Willie was far ahead of his time when he left and went back to Texas. You are spot on with this column, I couldn’t agree more.
    There is a glimmer of hope, however. If you’re not familiar give a listen to a song by Chris Stapleton “Nashville, TN”.
    Chris’s music is a rare bright spot in the darkness that is now called “country music”. Keep on keepin’ on.

    Reply
    • Micki - August 6, 2022 1:34 pm

      Chris Stapleton is amazing!

      Reply
  7. Roger - August 6, 2022 11:34 am

    Please tell me where this is!

    Reply
  8. APRIL BOATRIGHT - August 6, 2022 11:42 am

    I’m with the girl behind the bar….and Barbara Mandrell. I was country when it wasn’t cool and will remain with Barbara I suppose if the rest of society flocks to a Luke Bryant or Carrie Underwood concert. I’m from southeast Oklahoma and have always love old country. I don’t fit the stereotypical old country lover….I’m in my mid 30s (but old country music has and will always be my favorite genre), slender and educated. I also love old bar joints and old men (in a platonic way). I spent my tender years in a bar called called “Heidi’s.” Heidi was a German immigrant who spoke with a strong, raspy accent. She’d never smoked a day in her life, so they say, but the accumulation of 1000s of patrons enjoying their vices over 40+ years managed to do her in. The juke box didn’t work well, you just banged numbers and listened to what came on, but the shuffleboard table was slicker than snot. I’m glad you found one of the good places.

    Reply
  9. John - August 6, 2022 12:08 pm

    Favorite song “Red Necks, White Socks, and Blue Ribbon Beer”

    Reply
  10. Vivian Holmes - August 6, 2022 12:08 pm

    Long live Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Hank…and lots more. The new stuff can’t hold a candle to them. From another old fart….

    Reply
  11. Paul McCutchen - August 6, 2022 12:15 pm

    There were two places that I could go hear country music and drink cold beer when I was younger. One had a juke box, cold beer, pool tables and some of the best hamburgers around. The other was in the next county with a live band on week-ends, dancing, cold beer and also really great hamburgers. They are gone now. People kept wanting to be served mixed drinks and change the music. They both said their regular customers quit coming because they just wanted a bar stool to get a beer and relax but that went away with skinny jeans.

    Reply
  12. Teresa Blankenship - August 6, 2022 12:26 pm

    I love you. You make mama’s proud ❤️

    Reply
  13. David - August 6, 2022 12:31 pm

    I agree with you 💯‼️‼️, country music today anit no country music.

    Reply
  14. bubbastubbs - August 6, 2022 12:33 pm

    Two thumbs up, Sean! This modern so-called “country music” really STINKS! Give me Johnny Cash, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Waylon, Willie and the boys any day!

    Reply
  15. James e inman - August 6, 2022 12:45 pm

    Thank ya! Thanks to the Man in Black, Okie from Muskogee, Possum Jones and the Hillbilly Shakespeare. Thanks to Patsey, Kitty, Mother Mable, Emmylou and the Coal Miners Daughter, and all those who provided the soundtrack for my life. Let’s have a cold one and I’ll put on Willie singing “Stardust.”
    Bob Will’s is still the King of Swing

    Reply
  16. Judy - August 6, 2022 12:47 pm

    Jerry Jeff Walker, you just warmed my heart mentioning that man. Can’t say how many times I have borrowed his lyrics, I’m not a bad girl I just do bad things. Still have my t-shirt from Jerry Jeff’s concert where he forgot to show! His New York name was Norm Crosby. So glad he came to Texas and became our BoJangles hero, Jerry Jeff Walker.

    Reply
  17. Randy Baker - August 6, 2022 12:48 pm

    Indeed!

    Reply
    • Roy J. - August 6, 2022 3:03 pm

      Great story. I remember helping dad and gramps wrestle calves late into the dusk, headlights of that 1970 Chevy pointing at the pen and Conway, willie and Roy Clark playing on the AM radio. Good music, good times. I still at times think of Roy Clark’s song about right or left at Oak street, the choice I make every day.
      Responsibility or run away. Good memories, love your columns. We should campaign to bring back 8-track players, the newer music wouldn’t be able to play on those.😊😉

      Reply
  18. Sean of the South: Gone Country | The Trussville Tribune - August 6, 2022 12:49 pm

    […] By Sean Dietrich, Sean of the South  […]

    Reply
  19. Dolores - August 6, 2022 1:03 pm

    Give Mo Pitney a listen. Or Tony Jackson. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    Reply
  20. Trudy - August 6, 2022 1:07 pm

    I’m so country i used to call what Alabama sang, “bubblegum country.” I didn’t know what to call the “country” music of today, but I think “redneck rap” works.

    Reply
    • James Thomas - August 7, 2022 9:29 pm

      I call it CRAP, for country rap.

      Reply
  21. AJ Dodds - August 6, 2022 1:08 pm

    Like most everything else, definitions are evolving. Country music has become Pop Music (Taylor Swift) and Bluegrass has become Country (Alison Krauss). Next thing you know Indie music will become Country (Old Crow Medicine Show) Hank is safe, he’s just Roots music now.

    Reply
  22. Tom - August 6, 2022 1:15 pm

    I like Mr Bryant and Ms Underwood, they’re great singers but their music ain’t country. Hank Williams was the greatest country music artist, writer and performer. There are other greats: George Jones, Tammy, Loretta, Willie, Johnny and Alan Jackson. Country has to have fiddles, steel guitars, and an occasional bango. When they scrapped them, “Murder Was Committed On Music Row “. There is a station in North Alabama that still plays Real Country – 105.7 on your radio dial, listen to it all the time.

    Reply
  23. Tom Salter - August 6, 2022 1:21 pm

    Amen and Amen.

    Reply
  24. Micki - August 6, 2022 1:31 pm

    I agree with you about country musinc changing. I prefer older stuff, but I also like some of the newer “pop country” stuff. The redneck rap is awful!
    One new guy I was told about just yesterday is Kyle Fields, from Greenup, KY. Give him a listen, I think you’ll like him!

    Reply
  25. Allen Snively - August 6, 2022 1:33 pm

    Yea, for the old farts! I love country music, “old style”. Love Johnny Cash and Vince Gill(more modern).
    Thanks for your column. It starts my day.

    Reply
  26. Michael M Mack - August 6, 2022 1:47 pm

    Love it!

    Reply
  27. Mitch - August 6, 2022 1:48 pm

    Sean, you have so eloquently put into words what I’ve felt about country music for a couple of decades.

    I was at the doctors recently and was asked if there’s any mental illness in my family. I replied, “I’m not certain, but I do have a cousin who likes Luke Bryan”.

    Reply
  28. Billy Moore - August 6, 2022 1:53 pm

    Give me Sean, Willie, Waylon and the boys!

    Reply
  29. hiwayflyer - August 6, 2022 1:54 pm

    “Two Bud Lights and one beer” !!! And yes, Jerry Jeff was a genius, God rest his soul.

    Reply
  30. Lee Henderson - August 6, 2022 2:05 pm

    Sean, you nailed it…Speaking of Jerry Jeff listen to the Guy Clark channel on Pandora when you get the chance ,you will hear a lot of Jerry Jeff and other great not to often heard of song writers

    Reply
  31. Patricia Gibson - August 6, 2022 2:33 pm

    Well I do Like Luke Bryan but I know what you mean about modern country. It really isn’t country music. I am a George Strait girl myself, Eddie Arnold and more.

    Reply
    • Anthonydare@cox.net - August 6, 2022 5:11 pm

      Thanks for mentioning Eddy Arnold

      Reply
  32. Leigh Amiot - August 6, 2022 2:43 pm

    Watched the ACM Awards on Amazon. A lot of the music would be classified as pop/rock crossover back in the ‘70s when I was coming of age. Some of the newer voices have a country twang to them, but mixed genre music (to my ears, anyway)—Kane Brown, Cade Foehner come to mind.

    I remember “making” my mother listen to rock music, the Eagles Greatest Hits in the late ‘70s. She said it sounded like bluegrass to her. 😂

    One thing I’ve learned in life, nothing, nothing, but nothing stays the same. Dolly keeps rolling with it, still cute as a button on the ACM Awards singing “Big Dreams and Faded Jeans”.

    BTW, found Luke Bryan in my music library, “Buy Dirt”. It has a vintage country message, but a modern crossover beat to it. I like it. Poor fellow has taken a beating from this column, just had to defend an underdog a little bit. 😂

    Reply
  33. Priscilla Rodgers - August 6, 2022 2:47 pm

    I listen to a few of the new singers but the country golden oldies are always close by.

    Reply
  34. David Trewolla - August 6, 2022 2:58 pm

    There should be Willie Nelson Memorials in Nashville and Washington while he’s still living.

    Reply
  35. Brad - August 6, 2022 3:12 pm

    Yup. I’ll put work like Patsy’s “Crazy” and Willie’s “Always On My Mind” up against ANYTHING today.

    Reply
  36. Sam - August 6, 2022 3:18 pm

    Long time JJW fan. Actually played golf with him a couple of times. UTube his version of the Randy Crowell classic “Song for Life”; may have been his last studio set. Age and illness obvious but a perfect rendition of the song and his life.

    Reply
  37. Melissa Carpenter - August 6, 2022 3:21 pm

    I LOVE Jerry Jeff! I mean LOVE him. Not too much compares to good ole Outlaw music by the greats but there are a few newbies that are serious contenders! Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, and Chris Stapleton!

    Reply
  38. Anne McDaniel - August 6, 2022 3:28 pm

    I agree with everything you said!

    Reply
  39. David Abbott - August 6, 2022 3:34 pm

    Just found out about you this morning and now follow you until the God lord gets tired of all this and gathers up his children! Agree with you totally about country music.

    Reply
  40. Teka Pierce - August 6, 2022 3:50 pm

    Like Does a fine job as a human and an artist. He is a really good guy. His music fits him perfect. I like him. But traditional country today with new artist you will have to search. There want be another Waylon, Willy, Merle, Vernon or Randy and never another George Jones.

    Reply
  41. Teka Pierce - August 6, 2022 3:52 pm

    Should have checked spell ck lol

    Reply
  42. Stephanie - August 6, 2022 4:31 pm

    Check out independent folk (country) singers for great lyrics and simple cords. Zach Bryan, Charles Wesley Godwin, JR Carroll are a few of the singers that I’ve added to my playlists. The stories in the songs really remind me of the country I was forced to listen to as I grew up in the 70s (aka one car radio, long drives, parents controlled the dial).

    Reply
    • Stephanie - August 6, 2022 4:32 pm

      … chords ….

      Reply
  43. Kathy - August 6, 2022 4:34 pm

    I like to believe there’s room for all of us. I also believe people have a right to say Luke Bryan sucks. Especially in his own column. I do miss Stroh’s, which was my first beer.

    Reply
  44. David Britnell - August 6, 2022 5:47 pm

    Sorry but I like some of the “Pop Country” music.

    Reply
  45. William Stocks - August 6, 2022 6:54 pm

    After this writing of yours, I’m beginning to have a bit of faith that my memories of honky-tonks and cold beer may be surviving. As one of my Grandsons says “Grampa you’re not one of the old ones anymore, you are an ancient one now!” Sean, some of your writing grates but once in a while I love it!

    Reply
  46. Joy Dollar - August 6, 2022 7:13 pm

    Spot on, Sean! My husband totally agrees with you, and I guess I do, too. Some of what I’ve heard some of these upstarts sing is definitely far removed from REAL country music!!!!

    Reply
  47. Linda Moon - August 6, 2022 9:45 pm

    Look at them boots! And, this new world ain’t brave, Sean. It takes courage to be low-tech and original!

    Reply
  48. Chris Spencer - August 6, 2022 10:09 pm

    Sean, one night this past week I happened to watch the CMT Fest on TV. And after 3 hours of that I’d say there are maybe 5 current so-called country singers worth listening to, and Luke Bryan ain’t one of them. And of those five, they are hanging onto real country music by a thread that is badly frayed and about to break.

    Reply
  49. Doug Robertson - August 6, 2022 11:00 pm

    Country Music evolved to its high point in the ’80s and ’90s, and since has devolved into what I call Current Nashville, which is just soft rock. Much of it not even GOOD soft rock. Sorry, Nashville. Thank God for recordings, and thanks for the column, Sean.

    Reply
  50. Slimpicker - August 7, 2022 2:37 am

    Like Harland Howard said in the 1950s, “Country music is three chords and the truth”.

    Reply
  51. Melanie - August 7, 2022 3:13 am

    Don’t ever change, Sean. There are far too few old souls in this country. We need every one of them to keep the place from going to Hades in a hand basket.

    Reply
  52. Debby Haddock - August 7, 2022 3:53 am

    I love your writing, I like Luke Bryan’s music, but it isn’t real Country. It is pop country, which has its place. Went to see Vince Gill last night at the Ryman. Vince plays both types of music: Country and Western. That Bakersfield twang, heartstrings stretched, tear my heart out Country!

    Reply
  53. Gloria Van Nostrand - August 7, 2022 4:09 am

    Where would I find your Luke B column? Would enjoy reading it. Thank you.

    Reply
  54. Dee Thompson - August 7, 2022 2:38 pm

    All country music sounds alike now, bland and boring. Give me Loretta or Waylon or Willie any day.

    Reply
  55. Bones Crosby - August 7, 2022 6:50 pm

    My theory: commercial country music started a terrible decline when grunge music mortally wounded arena rock. A lot of arena rock fans came over to country, and Nashville studios gave them arena rock Lite. Old school country is alive, but I don’t think it will have a strong presence on the mainstream/popular stuff like it once did.

    Reply
  56. James Thomas - August 7, 2022 9:32 pm

    i call it Crap, for country rap.

    Reply
  57. Jo Kathryn Maddox - August 8, 2022 1:17 am

    Country isn’t dead, you just have to search really hard for it!

    Reply
  58. Matt Ovaska - August 8, 2022 1:10 pm

    The sun is going down!

    Reply
  59. Bob Abdich - August 9, 2022 2:34 pm

    In the immortal words of Harlan Howard, “Country music is three chords and the truth.”

    Reply
  60. denise allan - August 10, 2022 11:36 am

    Luke who?

    Reply
  61. johnallenberry - August 10, 2022 2:49 pm

    Aw, thank heavens. Ortn’t to make Hank Weep. If here were here today, He’d say “Luke Bryan? Never heard of her.”

    PhDude

    Reply
  62. Anita S Johnson - August 12, 2022 12:37 pm

    Preach it brother!

    Reply
  63. Carol - August 17, 2022 8:52 pm

    Good One! A friend of mine died recently; he requested his casket be taken from the church to the cemetery in “Old Blue” his pick ’em up truck and the route include a final role past his favorite watering hole… The Elm Inn…were the bar buddies who weren’t at the church for service congregated to watch the procession…Later that evening everyone met for a potluck picnic at the farm one last time to celebrate an incredible life….

    Reply
  64. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - August 17, 2022 10:18 pm

    ❤️

    Reply

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