“Texas Country” Apocalypse: Why we should retire the term
“I don’t wear no Stetson, but I’m willing to bet, son, that I’m big as Texan as you are.”
–Terry Allen, “Amarillo Highway” Lubbock (On Everything), 1979.
What the hell is this shit? Are we sure Waylon done it this way?
That’s it. I’ve had enough. I cannot live in a world in which the ever-vague term “Texas Country” is all-encompassing and all-inclusive. It cannot be. I will not stand for this (, man). The fact that people can and do call everything from Townes Van Zandt to Casey Donahew “Texas Country” is a complete insult, travesty, and criminal. People should be rioting in the streets. It’s inaccurate, often ignorant, and mostly lazy.
Josh Abbott is Texas Country. Old 97’s is Texas Country. Lincoln Durham is Texas Country. Wheeler Brothers is Texas Country. Turnpike Troubadours is Texas Country. Wade Bowen is Texas Country. Joe Ely is Texas Country. Ryan Bingham is Texas Country. Corb Lund is Texas Country. The Band of Heathens is Texas Country. Brandon Adams & The Sad Bastards is Texas Country. American Aquarium is Texas Country. Robert Earl Keen is Texas Country. Guy Clark is Texas Country. Wille, Waylon, and the boys are all Texas Country.
Enough already. Quit feeding the Texas Country troll. Quit engulfing the entire Red Dirt label. Quit trying to consume another lazy genre label in Americana (That’s another column, another day folks).
Seems like every conversation I have about “Texas Country” music, I end up spending time with a short disclaimer about calling certain artists, songs, and records “Texas Country” and why it’s ultimately wrong, but for the sake of easy conversation, will use the term in a way in which the average radio listening consumer uses it. Or misuses it if you will.
Don’t worry though, listener. You don’t get to take all the blame in this whole ordeal.
There’s really three major factors in the misuse of the “Texas Country” label.
1) The gradual, steady change in artists over the past 40 years.
This could be a book. In short, you can thank the birth of “Texas Country” originating from the Nashville outcasts of the ’70s who trekked back to Texas–primarily Austin–and began a music revolution with the start of Outlaw and Progressive Country. Folks such as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Billy Joe Shaver, and Jerry Jeff Walker really began things with a foundation of records such as Honky Tonk Heroes (1973), Red Headed Stranger (1975), Old No. 1 (1975), Old Five and Dimers Like Me (1973), and Viva Terlingua (1973).
That eventually turned into the next wave of artists headlined by Robert Earl Keen, Jr. Keen really had the largest impact on late ’90s/early ’00s singer-songwriter such as Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Wade Bowen, Kevin Fowler, Roger Creager, Charlie and Bruce Robison, and Jack Ingram for example. I’m sure you can connect the dots from Pat Green to Casey Donahew Band at this point.
But that doesn’t mean Guy Clark should equal Granger Smith.
(And remember, this is the Spark Notes version.)
2) Plenty of artists, labels, managers, writers, and radio personalities have muddied the water.
Call something something long enough and you’re bound to believe it at some point. Heard Texas Country used by all these talking heads and personalities takes a toll. You begin to believe everything they say. It doesn’t help when Texas Country became a great career move in the ’90s and ’00s. It’s a big booming business. With that, it’s not only muddied the water, it’s diluted it. The formula to create an average (but profitable) Texas Country band isn’t much different than “the shit” made in Nashville that you “hate” or anything you’ve heard on Top 40 Pop Radio in the last 20 years.
3) The Listener.
I said it wasn’t all your fault. But there’s certainly enough to spread around. Listeners end up buying into all the fantasy fairytale bullshit of redneck chic and dirt road castles in the sky. You’ve helped transition “Texas Country” from a cerebral, thought-out process of emotional release and replaced it with a bastardized caricature. You’ve let it be alright to rehash out the same old dirt road, pickup truck, Lonestar beer drinking, two-stepping, big hair, white t-shirt and blue jeans wearing, generic bullshit and cookie-cuttered into 1000 songs that all sound the same and get worse over time.
They’re just three-minute time stamps that dissolve. They’re Christmas trees on the side of the road after New Year’s. They’re high school yearbook quotes. Prom dresses and prom songs.
Don’t get me wrong– there are folks out there who are doing it the right way. Or they’re doing it their own way and getting sideswiped by the label and forced to play their cruel games. I’ve spoken with many a band who don’t want to be called “Texas Country” but also understand they have to call themselves that to get any radio play or to be able to book gigs at venues–and more importantly, be able to sell them out.
It happens all the time. Seeing a band post-show being told why they’re the greatest “Texas Country” band and how they remind them of [insert name here]. You see them biting their tongue just wanting to tell them “No, we’re not “Texas Country.” We identify more with [insert label here].”
All. The. Time.
Know why we’re “Texas Country?” Because we just so happen to have been born within the stretching borders of Texas. Hell, who am I kidding? Even if we were born in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, California, Washington, Oregon, or anywhere in the lower 48 for that matter, we must want to be from Texas, right?! It’s such a compliment!
So what are we to do?
Do we go even lazier and just call everything music? Ew. That’s even worse in my opinion. I mean, I have no problem with bands just saying they’re playing music and aren’t trying to fit into any genre labels. I can appreciate that, but as a writer, I just can’t do it. We must use something to call you to let people know what you sound like.
Continue living in “Texas Country” limbo?
I have the facts and vote no. Abolish it. Demolish it. Take it down stone by stone. Kill it. Start using terms that will not only be more accurate but also show you actually care. To help this transition into the Post-Texas Country world, we’ve created a simple, yet detailed key of what they probably should have been called along.
We’ve compiled a list of artists that we’ve heard called “Texas Country” multiple times. The term fit some artists better than others. Some artists and bands will fall into the “WTF” category on why anyone would ever call them “Texas Country” at any point. Try not to let it drive you insane.
As with any list, there’s sure to be some people left off–this one will be only 100 artists long and primarily be the first 100 we really thought about. Sorry if you or your favorite band was left off.
Face it, the genre’s dead. A dying star. A red giant. It’ll all come crashing down. And all we’ll be left with are the genuine songwriters not trying to commercialize on how redneck they are.
No to more Texas Country. Long live Singer-Songwriter Gothic-Country Blues-Folk, Red Dirt Songwriter Root-Rock Revivalist Country, and Outlaw Roots-Rock Revivalist Sepia-Folk.
“Texas Country” List*
Josh Abbott Band: Arena Dancehall Country
Brandon Adams & The Sad Bastards: Dark n’ Heavy Garage Rock Singer-Songwriter
Terry Allen: Alternative Flatland Storyteller Country
The Band of Heathens: Southern-Gothic Roots Rock Folk
Kyle Bennett Band: Southern Blue Collar Roadhouse Country
Ryan Bingham: Rustic-Outlaw Dark Roots-Rock Revivalist Sepia-Folk
Jason Boland & The Stragglers: Red Dirt Neo-Traditional Honky-Tonk
Wade Bowen: Dancehall Singer-Songwriter Country
The Cadillac Three: Southern-Swamp Cock-Rock
Danny Cadra: Neo-Traditional Country Revivalist
Hayes Carll: Grit n’ Groove Tone n’ Taste Blues-Folk Revivalist
Bob Childers: Pioneering Red Dirt Singer-Songwriter
Guy Clark: Quintessential Singer-Songwriter Storyteller Country
Slaid Cleaves: Traditional Singer-Songwriter Folk
Cooder Graw: Neo-Traditional Country Rock Revivalist
Johnny Cooper: Transitional Glossy Fraternity to Funk Country Rock
Roger Creager: Fraternity Dancehall Singer-Songwriter Country
Crooks: Spaghetti Western Truck-Driver Country Honky-Tonk
Cross Canadian Ragweed: Insurgent Alternative Southern Garage Country-Rock
Damn Quails: New Wave Red Dirt Singer-Songwriter Country
The Departed: Alternative Red Dirt Garage Country-Rock
Dirty River Boys: Outlaw Roots-Rock Revivalist Sepia Folk
Casey Donahew Band: Glossy Pop
Lincoln Durham: Southern-Gothic Country-Blues
Jason Eady: Neo-Traditional Singer-Songwriter Country-Revivalist
Fred Eaglesmith: Heartland Singer-Songwriter Country Rockhouse
Steve Earle: Hardcore Troubadour Country-Folk
Bleu Edmondson: Roadhouse Country Garage
Eleven Hundred Springs: Blue Collar Rowdy Truck Driver Country
Eli Young Band: Glossy Soccer-Mom Pop-Country
The Flatlanders: Cosmic Flatland Country Singer-Songwriter
Radney Foster: Neo-Traditional Singer-Songwriter Country-Billy
John Fullbright: Next Townes Van Zandt Singer-Songwriter Folk
The Great Divide: Pioneering Red Dirt Heartland Garage Country
Pat Green: Standard Fraternity Dancehall Country
William Clark Green: Texland Singer-Songwriter Country Rockhouse Revivalist
Green River Ordinance: Anthemic Alternative Pop Roots-Rock
Phil Hamilton: Shooter Jennings Country
Will Hoge: Alternative Heartland Singer-Songwriter Revivalist
Honeybrowne: Sappy Sorority Country-Pop
Adam Hood: Southland Singer-Songwriter Country
Ray Wylie Hubbard: Grit n’ Groove Tone n’ Taste Blues-Folk
Jack Ingram: Singer-Songwriter Country Mistaken as Standard Fraternity Beer Drinking Country
Brandon Jenkins: Rustic Red Dirt Revivalist
Shooter Jennings: Refined Outlaw Country Rock
Waylon Jennings: Pioneering Outlaw Country
Cody Johnson: Redneck Ballad Dancehall Country
Jamey Johnson: Ragged-Contemporary Neo-Outlaw Country
Brian Keane: Heartland Singer-Songwriter Country-Folk
Robert Earl Keen, Jr.: Pioneering Texland Singer-Songwriter Folk-Country
Drew Kennedy: Underrated Singer-Songwriter Country-Folk
John David Kent & The Dumb Angels: Indie Country-Tinged Rock-Pop
Chris Knight: Organic Heartland Singer-Songwriter Grit-Folk
Kris Kristofferson: Classic Singer-Songwriter Storyteller Country
Stoney LaRue: Heartland Red Dirt Roots Revivalist
Lyle Lovett: Progressive Singer-Songwriter Alternative-Country
Corb Lund: Earthy Cowboy Poet Singer-Songwriter Roots-Folk
Mike McClure Band: Red Dirt Singer-Songwriter
Sean McConnell: Singer-Songwriter Blues Soul-Rock
James McMurtry: Cerebral Heartland Country Singer-Songwriter
Micky & The Motorcars: Alternative Garage Country-Rock
Doug Moreland: Western Swing Revival Singer-Songwriter Revivalist
Cory Morrow: Fraternity Country Singer-Songwriter
Kacey Musgraves: New Age Classic Country Pop
Gary P. Nunn: Pioneering Progressive Country Singer-Songwriter
Old 97’s: Alternative Twang-Country Punk-Rock
Rich O’Toole: Fraternity Dancehall Country
Rodney Parker & The 50 Peso Reward: Sharp Indie Country Rock
Kyle Park: “Honky-Tonk” Fluff Pop Country
K. Phillips & The Concho Pearls: Alternative Garage Roots Country-Honk Rock
Quaker City Night Hawks: Electric Texas Boogie Garage Blues
Reckless Kelly: Alternative Garage Country-Rock
Red Dirt Rangers: Pioneering Red Dirt
Sam Riggs & The Night People: Roots Country Rock Revival Singer-Songwriter
Charlie Robison: Fraternity Country Singer-Songwriter
Randy Rogers Band: Universal County Fair Dancehall Country
Charlie Shafter: Underrated Singer-Songwriter Folk-Blues Revivalist
Billy Joe Shaver: Outlaw Honky-Tonk Singer-Songwriter Country
Six Market Blvd.: Garage Country Rockhouse
Sons of Fathers: Classic Country Beatles Revivalist
Granger Smith: Luke Bryan Country
Todd Snider: Cerebral-Freewheeling Singer-Songwriter Folk
Grady Spencer & The Work: Blues-Rock Singer-Songwriter Soul
Max Stalling: Blue Collar Singer-Songwriter Country
Larry Joe Taylor: Texland Songwriter Country
Thieving Birds: Garage Roots Roadhouse Rock
Thrift Store Cowboys: Gothic Indie Spaghetti Western Singer-Songwriter Country
The Trishas: Chamber Pop Singer-Songwriter Country-Folk
Turnpike Troubadours: Red Dirt Songwriter Root-Rock Revivalist Country
Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights: Rock and Roll
Uncle Lucius: Gritty Roots Rock-Blues-Soul
Townes Van Zandt: Singer-Songwriter Gothic-Country Blues-Folk
Jerry Jeff Walker: Progressive Cosmic-Singer-Songwriter Country
Aaron Watson: “Honky-Tonk” Fluff Pop
Josh Weathers: Rock and Roll Blues Soul
Wheeler Brothers: Hip-Indie Roots-Rock Folk
Whiskey Myers: Southern Swamp Garage Rock
Walt Wilkins: Traditional Country-Folk Singer-Songwriter
Zane Williams: Singer-Songwriter Country-Folk