Even if it is an older gentleman’s prerogative to complain about the popular music of the day I will refrain from doing that. Though I don’t understand (or enjoy) most contemporary music my ears still ring with old guys’ grousing about the music of my youth.
I remember watching one of Elvis’ first performances on the Ed Sullivan Show. My uncle and father ridiculed the swivel-hipped greaser but I thought Elvis was cool.
By age 10 I had fallen in love with the radio and the music of Elvis as well as Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker and Connie Francis.
My father didn’t care much for my music. I smile when I recall Dad’s frequent admonition: “Turn that crap down.”
My appreciation for pop music continued for a few years but somewhere in my teens my buddy, Scott, introduced me to the music of Hank Williams. Hank had died a decade earlier but his music remained popular and I loved it along with the other country music of the era.
When I got a job at the county seat radio station the music format could loosely be described as adult contemporary. The first hour after our 6 a.m. sign-on, however, featured country music and when I was assigned the sign-on shift I was excited.
I jumped in head first and began following the Nashville music scene so could adlib intelligently about the records I played.
This was the era of Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, Sonny James, Loretta Lynn, Bill Anderson, Jan Howard and Buck Owens. Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Jim Reeves had died a few years earlier. This was back when Willie Nelson still had a barber.
Through my work at the radio station I became acquainted with Smokey Smith, the country music singer, DJ and promoter from Des Moines. For many years Smokey booked Grand Ol’ Opry stars at the former KRNT Theater in Des Moines.
In 1968 Smokey gave me free tickets to a performance at KRNT Theater along with a back stage pass to visit with the performers. I had four tickets and invited some friends to go with me. Country music was still so unpopular I could find no takers.
I went by myself, met Little Jimmy Dickens and George Morgan and had a great time.
Smokey’s next KRNT show featured Johnny Cash, The Statler Brothers and others. I convinced a friend to accompany me this time. On this trip I met Mama Maybelle Carter and the Statlers and had another good time. Johnny Cash was still working through a very dark time in his life and when I approached him backstage I could see his hands were shaking so badly I passed up the opportunity. He needed that cigarette much more than he needed to talk with me.
Fifty years later country music is highly popular, particularly with younger people and I’m happy about that. I’m sure if I had free tickets to a big name country concert today I would have no trouble finding takers.
Meanwhile, most of my favorite country singers are gone and country music has morphed into something I don’t enjoy as much. While I still enjoy listening to early rock ‘n’ roll my favorite “oldies” are the country hits of the ’50s through the ’70s.
The magic of country music, particularly early country music, is the ability of the songs to reach the listener’s heart. Though my long-ago dating experiences were relatively uneventful, when Jim Reeve’s sings “He’ll Have to Go” my heart breaks for the guy being two-timed. I gave up alcohol years ago but when I hear Webb Pierce sing “There Stands the Glass” I get a little thirsty.
On a more positive side, my heart is stirred every time I hear Kris Kristofferson sing “Why Me Lord.” The song is rooted in Kristofferson’s own confrontation with the Gospel and its simple, raw lyrics honor God as much as our favorite old hymns.
Harlan Howard wrote dozens of country hits including Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.” He summarized the magic of country music in eight words: “Country music is three chords and the truth.”
Arvid Huisman can be contacted at email@example.com.