Footlights – Merle Haggard (from Serving 190 Proof)
A road-weary entertainer realizes – with a mixture of discontent and resignation – that living show-to-show, putting on a smile and trying to “kick the footlights out” again each night, is the only way he knows how to live.
A Showman’s Life – Gary Allan and Willie Nelson (from See If I Care)
Similar in tone and subject matter, this song chronicles the heartbreak and emptiness of a life lived in the spotlight. “A phony smile and a colored light is all there is to a showman’s life,” Willie Nelson sings with the wisdom of an old sage.
The Blues Man – George Jones and Dolly Parton (from Hits I Missed)
In this Hank Jr. classic, the love of a woman saves a singer from his own fast living and the havoc wrought by fame. This version is particularly affecting in light of George’s personal history. The combination of two of the genre’s (and music’s) greatest voices ever doesn’t hurt, either.
After I Sing All My Songs – Merle Haggard and George Jones (from A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine)
Going from the lovefest of a live show to the quiet of a tour bus makes for a jarring transition, night after night. Here, George and Merle voice the performer’s need for “someone to love me after I sing all my songs.”
Somewhere Down in Texas – George Strait (from Somewhere Down in Texas)
When George Strait titled his 2005 album after this seemingly autobiographical retirement song, many feared he was preparing to hang up his hat for good. Luckily, that wasn’t the case. Instead, as George continues to record and tour, this song offers a sort of pastoral dream of giving it all up and enjoying peace and tranquility on the ranch.
Electric Rodeo – Shooter Jennings (from Electric Rodeo)
Fleeting friendships, run-ins with loose women, loneliness, longing for home and family, the perpetual sense of being adrift, living for the next show. It’s all here. Shooter even treats his touring career like a no-good lover, pausing to promise that “this time will be the last time” (borrowing from his father’s “This Time”) before falling back into the same old pattern and heading out for the next big show.
Easy Money – Brad Paisley (from Time Well Wasted)
A lighthearted take on fame which serves to remind us that, all the songs about the loneliness of the spotlight notwithstanding, it’s still good work if you can get it.