There are some personalities who would embrace being called The Greatest Country Singer Ever or, at least, settle into the role once it became clear the brand was eternal. George Jones did not have one of those personalities. The fame and fortune generated by his talent made him want to run away, so he spent decades running... toward something even worse than what he was trying to escape.
Was there ever a chance of this story playing out any differently? Probably not, no. But what in the hell even happened here? Our search for answers takes us back to Texas for one Singing Marine's perspective on what it was like when lightning started flashing and thunder started clashing as he took the country music world by storm.
In North Carolina, way back in the hills, there's a centuries-old tradition of cooking illegal liquor. Whether you feel that's right or wrong, good or bad, may be determined by any number of factors but the objective truth is moonshine whiskey greatly impacted the course of United States culture on several occasions. Ever wonder why so many people will never trust the government or politicians? Press play. Ever wonder if the "moonshine" you can now buy in liquor stores is really moonshine? Press play. "White Lightning" was George Jones' first #1 country record, sure, but it's also the cork in a jug of profoundly strong history.
Now that we've established Owen Bradley as the single most important producer in the history of Nashville, let's take it further and acknowledge he's one of the most important figures in the history of all recorded music, even if for no other reason than assembling the first group of musicians to become known as the Nashville A-Team. Were we to erase their work from existence, every book about pop, rock or country music in the second half of the 20th century would need to be entirely rewritten. Just ask Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, 3 out of 4 Beatles, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, etc. And those are just the people who can speak from first-hand experience. If you want to start talking about the influence of the records, well, strap in.
What if the first serious books about country music contained a few massive errors which were then repeated by nearly everyone who's since used those books as a source? How long do you think it would take for society to build a fundamentally flawed history of an entire genre on top of such a foundation? Fifty years? Well, that's exactly what happened...
Owen Bradley's name means nothing to many country music fans. Some recognize it from the album credits of a few of their favorite country artists. Others manage to cast him as an enemy of country music. But anyone who hears the name Owen Bradley and thinks anything less than "he's the single most important producer in the history of Nashville, who made some of the greatest and most influential records of all time in any genre" simply has not been given enough information about the man or the music. That changes today.
The story of a little independent record label in Texas becoming "a force" in the Nashville country music industry brings an outsider's perspective to the anatomy of a machine. Going from backwoods honky tonks and roadhouse jukeboxes to stretch limos and private planes takes a lot of crooked deals and shameless hustle. When confronted by a powerful enemy, you'll do whatever it takes to survive the rock and roll. When the whole world acquires a taste for your strain of Kentucky bluegrass, you'll rake in the green. When they get their ears on for truckin' songs, you'll put the hammer down and stand on it. But don't let the stars get in your eyes, because this story only ever ends one way.
You might think, "How could anyone finish a season of a podcast like Cocaine & Rhinestones and have questions? That guy saturates every episode with details like he's getting paid by the fact." There's always more to know. Like, how does one even go about making a podcast on such a huge subject as the history of country music? Whose "fault" is pop country, really? Is this Merle Haggard song communist? Is that Merle Haggard song racist? There had to be more men banned from country radio, right? One at a time, people. One at a time...
The legendary pedal steel guitarist, Ralph Mooney, deserves the reputation he earned on his instrument. However, he deserves a lot more than that. This episode of the podcast backtracks to Bakersfield for a deeper examination of its "sound," a closer look at some people responsible for it and the story of a man whose story isn't told nearly often enough. It would be unacceptable to end the first season of a podcast on the history of country music without dedicating an episode to Ralph Mooney. After today, you'll know why that is. This episode is recommended for fans of: honky tonk music, the Bakersfield Sound, steel guitar, Wynn Stewart, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, The Maddox Brothers and Rose, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins, Skeets McDonald and road stories.
Rusty & Doug come from a long tradition of surviving against the odds, against a world that would just as soon see you dead as see you succeed. Starting from nothing but a houseboat in Louisiana, they fought their way through an unscrupulous industry, through honky tonk stages screened off with chicken wire, onto the biggest stages in the business, in order to create some of the greatest music ever made. Then, they battled themselves, their past and their addictions. This episode is recommend for fans of: Hardcore History, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and discovering unbelievably good music that you've never heard.
Some people think we have all these "authenticity tests" in country music. We don't. But, even if we did, Wynonna would pass them. From somehow surviving a childhood full of several types of abuse to a years-long reign over country music radio with her mother in The Judds, this path was not easy to travel and the end of it is only the beginning of another, much more treacherous road. This episode is recommended for fans of: Harlan Howard, Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Asleep at the Wheel, Ashley Judd, guns, dysfunctional families and liars.
Words often fail to express the connection that can exist between two people. In the friendship of Don Rich and Buck Owens, our notions of reality itself may prove inadequate. With spacetime as our stage, we trip backwards for more tour shenanigans, supernatural mysteries and, as always, great music. Our narrative pays special attention to the Carnegie Hall Concert album, what Hee Haw did for country music on television and innovations that Don Rich and Buck Owens brought to country music. But don't forget what else we learned last week. There is never such a thing as a happy ending. It's going to hurt watching this one fall apart and we have to go there, too. This episode is especially recommended for fans of metaphysics, banjo, Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard, Tales from the Tour Bus, Easy Rider and Forensic Files.
Whatever else is true about Buck Owens (and some of it certainly is), he brought real country music to the world in a time when we desperately needed someone to do that. Sticking to that real deal honky tonk sound from Bakersfield made him a very famous man. Shrewd business practices made him a very rich man. Both of these things made him more than a few enemies. However, all you need to take on the whole world is one true friend and Buck Owens had that friend in Don Rich, his guitarist and right-hand man. Here in the first part of this story, we'll hear how everything came together, all those years ago... This episode is recommended for fans of The Bakersfield Sound, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart, western swing, guitar, David & Goliath stories and the Revisionist History podcast.
Behind any story worth telling, you'll always find another story. Maybe if we can get behind some of Tom T. Hall's best stories, we'll find the story about who he is and how he's able to do what he can do with the English language. Probably not but, worst case scenario, it will be an incredibly entertaining waste of time. Beginning with a condensed history of country music radio, we follow Tom T. from his early days as a young DJ into a seemingly effortless realization of his destiny to become one of country music's greatest songwriters ever. This episode is highly recommended for fans of songwriting, arguing about music, Net Neutrality, the music business, Bobby Bare, Dave Dudley, Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Cochran and songs for children.
Jeannie C. Riley's debut single sold over a million copies within ten days of being released but she never wanted to record the song. In the late '60s, Jeannie C. Riley became country music's most blatant sex symbol to date but she never wanted to wear those clothes. Small town girl with big dreams goes to the city and lets it break her in order to make her. Total cliche, right? Sure. Except Jeannie's choice to bury the story in lie after lie turns it into a mystery tale of obscured identity, infidelity and blackmail. In this episode, some truth sees the light of day, maybe for the first time ever. Recommended for fans of Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Russell, The Wilburn Brothers, Tom T. Hall, Little Darlin' Records and mystery novels.
You think all it takes to make a hit record is to find a good song and get a good performance of it? That's cute. Have a seat and let an old-school record man show you how it's done. This is Shelby Singleton. When it took driving a trunk full of records around the country to make them into hits, that's what he did. Then he became a producer. Then he became a VP at Mercury Records. Then he founded an independent musical empire in Nashville and really got to work making new enemies. This episode is recommended for fans of: marketing, publicity, controversy, rockabilly, Supermensch (the documentary on Shep Gordon), George Jones, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, David Allan Coe, Jeannie C. Riley, Margie Singleton and Roger Miller. Find a list of songs excerpted in this episode, as well as pictures and information/links to all sources at: https://cocaineandrhinestones.com/shelby-singleton-harper-valley-pta
The way Charlie and Ira Louvin could sing together is downright otherworldly. There's even a special term we had to invent for family (it's always/only family) who can sing this way: blood harmony. This episode delves in to exactly what blood harmony is and how the magic of it can't save you from beating the living hell out of each other at every opportunity. Here is the story of two dirt-poor brothers who fought for fifteen years to achieve their lifelong dream and what happened after that. (Hint: it involves whiskey and bullets.) This episode is recommended for fans of: singing, physics, the Radiolab podcast, mandolins and Roy Acuff. If you're enjoying the podcast, please leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts and, please, share this episode with one person. Find a full transcript of this episode with pictures, as well as a list of every song excerpted in the episode and relevant video clips at: https://cocaineandrhinestones.com/louvin-brothers-running-wild
The song was just what so many Americans needed at the time, in 1969. Conservatives needed someone to stand up and defend small town, traditional values. Politicians needed someone to justify America's continuing involvement in the Vietnam War. Oklahomans needed someone to redeem the meaning of the word "okie," a hateful slur that arose from The Great Depression. The only thing is, Merle Haggard wasn't doing any of those things when he wrote the song. Then what the exact hell was he doing, you ask? Maybe things will become a little bit more clear once you know what Merle Haggard knew about Herbert Hoover, The Great Depression, The Dust Bowl, okies and satire. Maybe. This episode is also recommended if you like: Gram Parsons, Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Revisionist History podcast. You can find information on songs and video clips excerpted or referenced in this video, as well as links to all books and articles used as a source, here: https://cocaineandrhinestones.com/merle-haggard-okie-from-muskogee
This episode is supported by drunkMall.com. Christmas is coming up and you need a place to find memorable gifts. drunkMall.com is the answer. Go check it out but wait until you're at home because the website is slightly unsafe for work.
If you enjoy this episode, make sure you're subscribed for future episodes, leave a good review wherever you listen to podcasts and, please, share this episode with just one person. Thank you.
In 1967, Bobbie Gentry's recording of a song she wrote, called "Ode to Billie Joe," directly influenced the future of every major musical genre in America. In the early '80s, she disappeared. What happened in the decade between? Why did Bobbie Gentry vanish? Who was she, even? Since we can't ask Bobbie for answers, these are mysteries we either have to learn to live with or try to solve for ourselves. This episode of Cocaine & Rhinestones examines every little thing we know about Bobbie Gentry, her life and her music. Today's story takes us from the cotton lands of Mississippi to the music scene of Los Angeles, from a legendary recording studio in Muscle Shoals to the white hot lights of Sin City. We'll explore major label music marketing, the concept of celebrity personas, the state of American pop/rock in the '60s, and just what exactly the hell a MacGuffin is. People you'll hear about in this episode: Glen Campbell, Elvis Presley, Jim Stafford, Nick Lowe, Kanye West, Eminem, Drake, Lauryn Hill, Snoop, A Tribe Called Quest, Jody Reynolds, Rick Hall, Lou Donaldson, Sheryl Crow, kd lang, Lucinda Williams, Alfred Hitchcock, Barry White, Bobby Womack, Burt Bacharach and, believe it or not, more. Also, you may not like what you hear if you're a fan of Jim Ford.
Spade Cooley came to California in the early 1930s, as poor as everyone else who did the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only, Spade became a millionaire. And all he needed to accomplish that was a fiddle, a smile and a strong work ethic. If it sounds like the American Dream, stick around to hear how it became an American nightmare of substance abuse, mental illness and, eventually, sadistic torture and murder. If this episode doesn't screw you up, you're already screwed up. Recommended if you like: Western Swing, murder ballads, My Favorite Murder, True Crime Garage (or any other "true crime" or "murder" podcasts, really), Tex Williams, Bob Wills, fiddles and having nightmares. Please subscribe to the show if you enjoy the episode and share it with one person. Just one person. Submit any questions about the show to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may be featured in a Q&A episode at the end of the season. Information on the audio and video clips used in the episode, as well as all information on sources used, can be found at: https://cocaineandrhinestones.com/spade-cooley-murder-ballad
This episode of Cocaine & Rhinestones briefly examines the history of contraceptive laws in America (Trigger Warning: abortion is discussed) before moving on to uncover the staggering inequality of morality applied to women in country music versus that applied to men in country music. Tyler Mahan Coe takes you on a deep dive of songs banned from radio in the United States, outlining a strong case against the country music establishment's lopsided attitude toward its artists based on their gender. If your mind isn't blown by the evidence laid out here, then it's only because you're jaded, because, on some level, you've always known this is true and grown resigned to it as a reality in this world. Even then, your capacity for amazement may surprise you Recommended if you like: Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, Jimmie Rodgers, Dixie Chicks, Conway Twitty, KT Oslin, Garth Brooks, Sunday Sharpe, Lorene Mann, Jeannie C. Riley, Hank Thompson and feminism. Also recommended if you don't like: Barbra Streisand. The companion blog post for CR 002 The Pill - containing information and links to songs, video clips, books and articles used for the episode - can be found at: https://cocaineandrhinestones.com/loretta-lynn-pill-ban You can always visit cocaineandrhinestones.com to run a search for you favorite country artists to see if they appear in an episode of Cocaine & Rhinestones. (This will be more accurate than relying on a search in your podcast app.)
Please, if you're a fan of country music, tell your friends that there is a new podcast about country music. If they don't like podcasts, the post for every episode on the site has a full transcript they can read instead. I don't believe there are any country music podcasts out there telling these stories but they deserve to be heard.
Everyone loves Ernest Tubb. So when he straps on a gun belt one night to head across town and snuff out a character named Jim Denny, well, you might guess that ol' Jim had it coming. Maybe he didn't, maybe he did. For you to make up your own mind, we'll need to go behind-the-scenes of 650 AM WSM in Nashville, The Grand Ole Opry and the world of country music publishing companies. This episode is highly recommended for fans of Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Paycheck, Justin Tubb, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Matlock. Yes, Matlock.
Relevant Pictures, Music, Books/Articles, Video Clips and a Text-Version of this story can be found directly at: http://cocaineandrhinestones.com/ernest-tubb-texas-defense
Visit cocaineandrhinestones.com to search for episodes with your favorite characters from country music.
If you enjoy the episode, I would love it if you gave me a good review in your podcast app and told one friend that there's a new country music podcast. Just one friend. Thank you.