Quotable Country – 01/25/15 Edition

Click the bullet after each quote to visit the source.

I mean, if there’s one thing that you know about me — and hopefully people watching at home — it’s I am absolutely comfortable with making a complete ass out of myself. I’m a natural at that.
— Blake Shelton, before hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

the Justin Bieber of country music, just a little trouble making cutie
— Blake Shelton, introducing himself while hosting “Saturday Night Live.”

But I’ve never really let myself call what I do “performing.” If I did, I’d probably have a panic attack and get out of it immediately. Writing and singing is something I can do that enriches my life and seems to do the same for other people, so why wouldn’t you go out and do that? I think of it more as a relationship when I’m out there. I’m relating, I’m giving and they’re giving something back, and hopefully we all leave the better for it. There was a stretch in my life when I started thinking about myself as an entertainer, and I became paralyzed. I almost quit. I’ve had to accept my limitations there and do what I can. I can be entertaining, but it’s an accidental thing.
— Iris DeMent while hosting “Saturday Night Live” on playing live.

And here he is in Vegas, for a gig like any other, only maybe not. In many ways, Las Vegas is a luminescent fantasyland designed to provide its visitors with an opportunity to escape their own heads. A Willie Nelson concert won’t allow that. Even when they’re light, Nelson’s songs pull us deeper into ourselves, with Nelson singing about the weight of yesterday and the uncertainty of tomorrow with the easiness of right now. His songs are essentially about time, which makes them about life, which makes them about everything. Older listeners remember. Younger listeners imagine. There’s a lot going on.
— From a lovely Washington Post feature by Chris Richards: “Everyday Zen: On the road with Willie Nelson at 81.

A lot of it’s spontaneous. It depends on who you’re playing with. The deal is, you don’t play all the time with the harmonica. It’s another voice, so you wouldn’t be talking all the time, when somebody else is talking. You have to pick and choose your spots to play, and that’s 60 percent of it, right there – knowing when to play and when not to play, which is just as important as knowing what notes to play.
— Mickey Raphael, whose harmonica is a defining part of the Willie Nelson sound.

Call it infantilisation or common laziness, but the middle-aged men singing popular country songs sure love to ogle young ladies while describing them as “little”. “Get your little fine ass on the step,” demands Chase Rice on Ready Set Roll. “Rockin’ little body and long tan legs,” Justin Moore gawks on Small Town Throwdown. “Sweet little somethin’ late night kiss,” Dustin Lynch sings on Where It’s At. “Pretty little mama lookin’ at you like that,” Brantley Gilbert imagines on Bottoms Up. “Little heartbreak queen rockin’ the jeans,” Eric Paslay says on Song About A Girl.
— In case you haven’t noticed, Grady Smith is on a tear with his country coverage for The Guardian.

I keep tabs on these guys that are kind of (like) ‘This is what I do. This is how I write, and it doesn’t sound like anybody else.’
— Jeff Daniels on Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.

We’ll see. When it’s all said and done, man, I may be back out on the rail yard. There’s a lot of aspects of this [music business] that, even at 36, 37 years old, I’m not sure that maybe a lot of it’s for me, to be honest with you. […] Being away from family is tough. But [otherwise] it’d be sitting on the couch, wishing you had a gig. It’s providing for my family. The adulation from some of the people who get an idea about you — at the end of the day, it’s about the songs, but sometimes it starts to feel like it’s about you. It’s really off target. That can get weird.
— Sturgill Simpson to Nashville Scene after topping the 15th Annual Country Music Critics’ Poll.

I’m puzzled by the Sturgill Simpson thing. That album has appeared on zillions of Top 10 lists, and he’s been lauded repeatedly as the savior of country. I don’t hear anything resoundingly new or different on it myself. So he mashed up Bakersfield and psychedelia — it’s not the first time someone backward-tracked cymbals, sang about ‘shrooms, threw on some twang and called it country, country-rock or whatever. Sorry, Sturgill. It’s good stuff, but it ain’t the second coming of anything.
— Lynne Margolis, in the voter comments on the Critics’ Poll. Friends of the site Blake Boldt and Sam Gazdziak were each quoted several times as well.

The women may be making more interesting records, but that’s not sustainable if we don’t start getting paid. The climate in the music industry has changed so much that you almost have to decide: Do you want to be an artist or do you want to be famous? If you don’t compromise and don’t follow the formula, you don’t get paid. But it’s worth it; I’d rather make history than make money. It’d be nice to do both, and Miranda has figured it out. Kacey has figured it out.
— Angaleena Presley, another Critics’ Poll favorite.

So this idea that country radio leans so steeply male because the men have hit on a formula that sells better doesn’t bear up under scrutiny. In fact, with a number of women outperforming men on a sales per spin basis, it looks more and more like country radio has deliberately chosen an audience that favors male voices, one that makes it more difficult for women at every level of career development to achieve the same level of airplay penetration as male counterparts at the same level of career development.
— Deb Bose (@WindmillsMusic on Twitter), in an ambitious debunking of the idea that country listeners simply prefer male voices: “Country Radio’s Gender Imbalance: Is It Due To Sales?

The one regret I have right now is that we don’t have enough females. We should be embarrassed.
— Garth Brooks on the state of country music.

I think just sticking with it and playing it all the time, every day. Fool with it. If you fool with it like I do, I pick it up and find something that I haven’t seen before or something that’s related to something you’ve done that you can use. I gradually just keep piecing things together. Every time I pick it up, there’s some little something will come up that you haven’t done. You say, “Oh, that will work here.” I call it “time behind the box.”
— Guitar hero Norman Blake, 76, on understanding his instrument.

Risky? Like walking across a field laced with land mines? Or working in a poison gas factory? There’s nothing risky about making records.
— Bob Dylan to AARP Magazine, in his first interview in nearly three years.

Q: Do you think these songs will fall on younger ears as corny?
A: You tell me. I don’t know why they would, but what’s the word “corny” mean exactly? These songs are songs of great virtue. That’s what they are. People’s lives today are filled with vice and the trappings of it. Ambition, greed and selfishness all have to do with vice. Sooner or later, you have to see through it or you don’t survive. We don’t see the people that vice destroys. We just see the glamour of it — everywhere we look, from billboard signs to movies, to newspapers, to magazines. We see the destruction of human life. These songs are anything but that.
— Bob Dylan again. Same interview, promoting his standards album Shadows in the Night.

But one of the cool things that I really think is unique to me is the fact that you’re kind of growing up with me as I go through my music, which I think is pretty cool for myself to look back.
— Scotty McCreery on the appeal of Scotty McCreery. Especially to Scotty McCreery.

People were encouraging me to [compromise] just to kind of open the door. I looked back at Randy Travis’ career. He didn’t do that. He came out with, ‘Operator, please connect me …,’ and changed the way that radio was. I’m afraid if I act like somebody I’m not, I’ll just be the next guy walking through the radio station. So I stuck to what I believed in, and that’s the thing I’m complimented on the most is that I stuck to my guns.
— Mo Pitney, getting some buzz as a potential mainstream tide-turner a la Travis.

My goal is just to record the best music and make it available. As far as being homogenized, music always goes in cycles. Even if something were to drastically change, and something else became fashionable, eventually everything else would try to sound like that. It all goes like that. My goal is to be on the front end of something, instead of chasing something. There is more chance for artistry when you’re pushing yourself, making yourself uncomfortable and doing something that someone else is not necessarily doing.
— Chris Stapleton, whose solo debut Traveller finally has a release date: May 5. This might be an appropriate time to revisit our 10 Proofs That Chris Stapleton Is a Superhero.

It seems like something that I would say, like, ‘Ketch, I had this weird dream the other night. You finished a Dylan song and the guy from Hootie and the Blowfish finished it and made it number one and we were living in Nashville.’
— Critter Fuqua on the winding, near-hallucinatory journey of Old Crow Medicine Show.

The biggest thing she did was say, ‘I don’t think college is for you. You were born to be a singer, and you need to move to Nashville and pursue it 100 percent.’ To hear that from a teacher, at a time and point in society where it was thought, if you don’t get a college education, you can’t succeed in life, it was really significant for me, and gave me the freedom and courage to really dive in.
— David Nail on his high school choir director.

Once you can sit on a stool without all that production, the sky is the limit. You don’t have to rely on all the dancers and the singers and the horn players and the 15 trucks sitting outside with all your stuff in it. I’m actually going to rely on my gifts and I’m actually going to tell a story. It’s about being personal.
— Wynonna on playing in a more stripped-down format.

They make a record, we have singles, they tour and then they go quiet. Carrie was off the radio for a year and a half, and I think Kenny [Chesney] was off for a little over a year this past time. No new singles. We all know you just can’t keep giving people [music], even if it’s great. There’s a point where you have to get quiet. Let them do something else for a while and it builds up that demand again.
— Sony Nashville Chairman/CEO Gary Overton on building pauses into the cycle.

I didn’t have hardly any clothes, so (Patsy Cline) took care of me and gave me hers. She gave me a pair of panties that, I swear, I wore for four years. I don’t know what I’ve done with them, but they never did wear out.
— Loretta Lynn (to Juli Thanki, for The Tennessean!) on her early days in Nashville.

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  1. the pistolero says

    I get that not everyone’s going to get Sturgill Simpson, but at the same time I’d like to hear what, if anything, Lynne Margolis thinks was groundbreaking or at least worth paying attention to in country music last year.

    Blake Shelton isn’t just a tool. He’s an entire Harbor Freight store.

  2. Ben Milam says

    Hey, Margolis. Some people think cucumbers taste better pickled. Harbor Freight has a lot of cheap crap. Coincidence?

  3. says

    My 1st foray into the comments section here, I think!

    1st of all, I love these, I’m always discovering great interviews or columns that I missed over the course of a week, and I love your editorial comments to the quotes you excerpt. Thank you for doing these round-ups every week.

    2nd, if you’ll excuse me, I’m totally geeked to be included in 1 of these roundups again!

    3rd, I want to pick up on a discussion you & Anon started having in response to that Calvin Gilbert CMT column in last week’s edition of Quotable Country. I obviously agree with the points you both made – about passive/unconscious sexism, about radio listeners gravitating towards the familiar, and about the importance of making a normative commitment to redressing an imbalance.

    I accept as a starting point that country radio programmers are playing what they believe will maximize ratings for their audiences. As I’ve argued before, 2011-2013 marked the explosion of a growth demographic for country radio – former rock radio listeners, largely but not exclusively in the male 18-34 demo. As rock radio listeners, this demographic is neither accustomed to nor interested in female voices, and so I can believe that to some degree, the deepening gender imbalance at country radio is an unintended consequence. But we’re at the point of willful neglect, and it’s past time to get past the rah rah “Yea, we need more women” talk to figure out what needs to change in order to make that happen.

    One thing to keep in mind is that many if not most of the major breakthrough mainstream country acts between 2005 and 2011 (Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift for as long as that lasted in country, Miranda Lambert to an extent, Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry) are considerably stronger on young female appeal than male appeal. This followed a period of so-called “soccer mom”-friendly breakthroughs by crossover acts like Shania, Faith, the Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts and core country acts with some pop influence like Martina McBride, Sara Evans and to an extent, Lee Ann Womack. So this recent movement that saw the surges of Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line could be seen as a balancing out of demographics.

    But now there’s consensus that the “bro” movement has played itself out, at least when it comes to moving the ratings needle. To the degree that radio trends are based on demographic cycling, we should be entering a period in which country radio seeks to woo back core female listeners and adults in general, and it’s a matter of time before the right song/right artist combinations come along (and maybe they have in Maddie & Tae or Mickey Guyton and/or RaeLynn).

    Still, even the more female demo-friendly years weren’t all that much more friendly to solo female acts at radio…after all, 2007 is the last time a new solo female country act scored consecutive t20 singles. So there’s something going on here that goes beyond cyclical demo-chasing.

    There was also another qualitative difference between what has happened to country radio from 2011 onwards and what preceded 2011. The female demo-friendly times at radio were still characterized by far more diversity than we’ve seen after 2011. The so-called “soccer mom” friendly breakthroughs, for example, were offset by a macho surge (led by Toby Keith) that took place after the September 11 terror attacks on the U.S. (in fact, female representation on country radio started to decline after 2001, perhaps as corporate conglomerates decided to align country radio with a more socially and politically conservative audience – a point that Chris Willman has explored in much depth). The pop/country days of Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum, etc. were offset at radio by Josh Turner, Brad Paisley, George Strait, Alan Jackson, etc.

    Billy Dukes of Taste Of Country (yea, I know – but I think he may have a point here) has speculated that, beginning in 2011, a rash of job cuts in radio as the big conglomerates started ditching local talent in favor of syndicated national names has caused programmers to be a lot more risk-averse in their playlists. Basically, everybody’s in fear for his/her job, and it’s resulted in tighter playlists that favor the hit songs that attract channel surfers at the expense of less familiar songs and that favor male songs that blend in over female-led songs that stand out more (& often sell better) but may result in a bit more tune out. I think that’s why it has taken a built-in fanbase to get most females even a little initial traction at country radio over the past 10 years – country programmers need to believe that female acts will bring at least some “tune in” to offset the “tune out.” There’s also been a trend at country radio of playing the top songs twice as much as they used to 10 years ago (80-90 spins per week instead of 40-45, an approach you see on CHR/Pop stations), so you can see how that would result in less variety.

    That lack of variety has adversely impacted the gender balance at country radio, but it has also adversely impacted the musical variety at country radio. We already know that George Strait and Alan Jackson have been ushered off country radio despite being stronger album sellers than a whole host of bros. That’s an active choice by country radio programmers, although the post-“Lookin’ For That Girl” singles from Tim McGraw suggest that radio loves him stepping into the elder statesman, 90s country role.

    Anyway, what I’m hoping to do, piece-by-piece, is take on these general arguments country radio people have made about what the numbers tell them, and then assess those arguments in a broader data landscape. I just feel like while there may have been a defensible basis for country radio trending as it has since 2011, the overly narrow approach that has resulted is ultimately self-defeating. I’m hoping to highlight the country market success stories that country radio has been ignoring, to illustrate the active choices country radio’s made to restrict its reach.

    Last point: I’m focusing on the market not because I think the market reflects quality (I really don’t think it does), but because I think there’s unexplored room to criticize country radio’s choices on its own terms. Maybe, ultimately, that’s the way for our dissenting voices to eventually cut through.

    • Jill says

      Not RaeLynn. Please, just no. Her voice sounds like 2 cats fighting to my ears. Sonia Leigh is so much better than RaeLynn. I wish someone would get behind her a little bit. (ZBB was for a while but she seems to have fizzled)

  4. CraigR. says

    Scotty McCreery doesn’t seem to have a tight grip on the reality of dumb music- it doesn’t last Scotty. Just like your cross doesn’t make me see you as a Christian, and your voice doesn’t make me think of Josh Turner’s. When Teen Beat is done with you then, and only then, will we be able to see anything grown up about you.

    And I am in love with Loretta Lynn. I am sure I am in a long line of suitors.

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