Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

February 1959. Buddy Holly and the Crickets are touring with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Holly hires a four-seat airplane to take his band to Fargo, North Dakota. The Big Bopper has a cold, so one of the Crickets, Waylon Jennings, offers him his seat on the plane. A few minutes later, Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper would be dead, the plane crashing in snow shortly after take-off.

In 1965, after struggling a few years with grief and guilt, Jennings headed to Nashville, where he eventually made it as a country singer. But he grew increasingly frustrated with the stuffy attitudes and limited artistic freedom in Music City USA. Along with another rebellious Texan named Willie Nelson, he rejected the "rhinestone suits and new shiny cars" of the slick Nashville scene and began experimenting with a new sound.

By the early 1970s, Jennings and Nelson had started blending a rock and roll sensibility with the country tradition of Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Johnny Cash. It was an edgier form of country, musically stripped down and lyrically more complex, and it became known as "progressive country" or the Outlaw movement. One of the influences on the new sound was Johnny Cash's own friendship and musical exploration with Bob Dylan in the late 1960s. Dylan wrote "Wanted Man" for Cash, who included it on his 1969 live album, At San Quentin. (Real outlaw music.) And, of course, Dylan himself was greatly inspired by Hank Williams. So, it shouldn't have been a surprise when Dylan went country. Or when country went Dylan.

Or when one of Buddy Holly's Crickets dug back into his rock and roll roots to lament what Nashville had become.

Here's Waylon in 1975, singing what became a kind of anthem for the outlaw country movement: "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?"

Lord, it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It's been the same way for years
We need to change

Somebody told me when I came to Nashville
Son, you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here; we’re all sure that you will
But I don't think Hank done it this way
I don't think Hank done it this way

Ten years on the road, making one night stands
Speeding my young life away
Tell me one more time just so I'll understand
Are you sure Hank done it this way?
Did Ol' Hank really do it this way?

Lord, I've seen the world with a five piece band
Looking at the back side of me
Singing my songs and one of his now and then
But I don't think Hank done 'em this a'way
I don't think Hank done 'em this a'way


Liam said...

Great story, batman. As usual, you write well about these things.

Musicians should never get on small planes! Why do they do that? How many have we lost that way? Those three, Otis, half of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Harry Chapin (I think), Ozzy's guitar player... who else?

Garpu said...

I'm not a huge fan of country, but this was interesting. OK. I'm not a fan of *modern* country.

cowboyangel said...

Thanks, Liam.

Chapin died in a car crash on the Long Island Expressway, which, now that I've had to drive on the damn thing doesn't surprise me at all. You're probably thinking of Jim Croce. I remember when that happened. I was watching the Sonny & Cher Show when they announced it. Seems like he was on his way to their show or something.

Ricky Nelson also died in a plane crash. And if you include helicopters, you get Stevie Ray.

I'm pretty sure Paul McCartney died in a plane crash. But, of course, the government covered that up.

I just checked the fons veritatis, they have an entire list of how rock-and-rollers died. Many (all?) of the Bar-Kays died in the same planecrash as Otis. I didn't know that.

And I thought Ian Curtis was the only one who hung himself, but I see Richard Manuel from The Band also did. Along with some other people more recently that I've never heard of.

Guns (Marvin) seem to be popular. As is heroin. Lou Reed may have a lot to answer for.

cowboyangel said...


Thanks for the comment. I find the nexus between country, rock, folk and blues to be quite interesting. And jazz as well. Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, recording with Louis Armstrong in 1929. A lot of musicians don't seem to have any problem crossing the boundaries of these forms. It all get kind of blurry at some point. Ray Charles! What was he?

Liam said...

Interesting list. I'm surprised not to see spontaneous combustion or choking on vomit (one's own or someone else's).

cowboyangel said...

Bon Scott - AC/DC - 33 - February 19, 1980 - London, England . . . Asphyxiation on vomit caused by alcohol.

They just list Jimi as "barbituate overdose."

And how about the accidental drowning/heroin overdose combo?

Pete Farndon - The Pretenders - 30 - April 14, 1983. . . . Drowning in his bathtub after a heroin overdose.

Afterwards, hanging and shot by his wife. Before being placed in a car that burst into flames and crashed. The ultimate rock and roll death.

Jeff said...

Such a cheery post! :-)

Didn't Mick push Brian into the pool?

"Ooze band izit now, Brian? Moine, that's 'ooze.".

Garpu said...

Oh yeah. Things get really interesting, if you start tracing the history of some country songs. Not so much the newer stuff, but the older stuff that's still coming from folk and hillbilly music. For instance, certain strains of Appalachian folk music are purer strains of the same folk music they originated from.

My nieces referenced a Johnny Cash song (Streets of Laredo), and I started researching's the same tune as an Irish ballad, which was then used in a Dropkick Murphys song. (Think it goes ballad->Johnny Cash->Dropkick Murphys on influence, but the Dropkick Murphys do know their Irish/celtic stuff, too. Hrm. Might have to post on it.

Garpu said...

OK. Armchair ethnomusicologist time. Why, yes, I am an obsessive grad student in music...

cowboyangel said...


I was going to say "Streets of Laredo" was actually: ballad-Marty Robbins-Johnny Cash-Dropkick Murphys, but I just checked the All Music Guide, and though Robbins did it in 1960, they show a recording by Eddy Arnold from the year before.

then, most amusingly, in the middle of this enormous list of country singers, I see the name of John Cale. Here's what AMG says: John Cale first considered recording it in 1974, while producing Nico's album The End. Nico refused, snapping back, "I don't do cowboy songs."

God, I can hear her clearly. "I don't do cowboy songs." It's like asking Marlene Dietrich to sing it.

AMG continues: Cale never forgot the idea, however, and in 1981 took it for himself, including a stark, embittered rearrangement of the song on that year's Honi Soit.

So, I guess the blurry mix is something like Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings . . . and John Cale. ;-)

I do love music.

cowboyangel said...


More thoughts - the collision of cultures and how they play out in music is one of the most fascinating things in the world. I think being an ehtnomusicologist would be a hoot. You get these Scots-Irish down in the south, playing their folk songs, and the African-Americans playing early blues and jazz, and sooner or later they start jamming together and all kinds of interesting things occur.

One of my favorite examples, though, comes from Texas, where the Czechs and Germans start hanging out with the Mexicans and now you've got accordions and polka beats as a central part of Conjunto music. Beautifully weird.

Garpu said...

I know at least one person from Scotland, who'd vehemently deny any connection whatsoever with the Scots-Irish in the south, but when you start looking at their music, the link is pretty clear, even if culturally (now) they're very different.

I was wondering where the polka beats were coming from in Mexican music...

Liam said...

well, that's one less song messed up by Nico (otherwise known as Andy Warhol's worst idea ever).

pbwiener said...

"Mommas,don't let your babies grow up to be cowboyangels....."

crystal said...

Scots-Irish, many of them, ended up in appalachia playing banjos :) I can say this, being of (partly) Scots-Irish descent.

There was John Denver too who died in a plane crash, though a private one, I think.

Sorry I'm so late to comment. Computer woes.

cowboyangel said...

Liam and Paul,


cowboyangel said...

Crystal, sorry to hear about your computer woes.

Thanks, forgot John Denver, though I don't really think of him as a rock and roll singer.

Patsy Cline also died in a plane crash.