Ten years ago, my world changed.
First, though, my heart broke because radio god, Howard Stern, was leaving the regular air waves for something called Sirius satellite radio. Mornings without Howard seemed unimaginable, a step backwards in life, hollow. Love him or hate him. He’s the Ali, Jordan and Gene Simmons of talk radio. The best in his game.
Satellite radio sounded sketchy to me, though. I didn’t know much about home computers, let alone something you needed to rig up in your vehicle in order to get your daily dose of hilarity by the King and his crew. Unwilling to let go of Stern, I bought a satellite radio, paid the plan, and a tech at Best Buy wired my 97′ Honda Accord. Without missing a beat, Howard came out of the gate hot, and a decade later hasn’t let up on the gas, albeit working a much leaner schedule.
Must be nice.
After four hours of being entertained by Stern, well, the last thing I needed to hear was some plastic wrapped afternoon DJ trapped in a vapid conversation with a caller, dissecting the importance of the holiday season with this pungent exchange: “So, Sheila, I’m dying to know. What’s the worst Christmas present you ever got from your husband? Come on! Tell us!”
So, I started to do what I’ve always done. I’d flip off the satellite, go back to the AM dial and listen to some sports talk. When I was annoyed to the point of bending my steering wheel into the dashboard, I’d start fingering through my case of CD’s and let my tastes wander. Long burned out on the popular FM rock stations and their comatose inducing set lists, I faded into my own music.
Then, my tastes began to bore me.
“Scarecrow” by Mellencamp is a righteous CD, but how many times can you break down and cry to “Minutes to Memories?” The heartland songs were losing their punch. Dylan, Bruce, Van the Man. There was gold in all their music. But none of it felt new to me anymore. It felt, well, like a favorite pair of boots with a gnawed down heel tat’s starting to sag and all the comfort of being hit with a tack hammer. You don’t want to give them up, but they’re just not working for you anymore.
Then, like I said, everything changed. When Stern was done for the day, instead of playing old CD’s or torturing myself with hours of Patriots talk, I started trolling through space, seeing what all these other channels on this little contraption glued to my windshield had to offer.
And there she was. Hosanna! Channel 60, “Outlaw Country.” The Big O.C.
The first thing that caught my attention were the DJ’s. They weren’t DJ! They were musicians from all around the country that lived and loved outlaw country music. They shaped their shows around the heydays of late 70’s country, playing songs by Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, as well as countless other unsung studs that helped blaze that brand of country music.
Unhinged, loose, raucous with charm and depth, the outlaw songs played on the channel just shook my foundation. I had listened to some Cash, some of Willie and very little of Waylon during my 20’s. It was Bruce or bust. But these new songs I’d discovered with honky-tonk lyrics, folk chords and the hillbilly stories carried me to a place I could never have predicted.
I kept a notebook in my car and wrote down the names of these new artists whose name appeared on the radio screen that I’d never heard of, but was loving their sound. Names like Sturgill Simpson, Ryan Bingham, Scott H. Birham and Elizabeth Cook. I’d go home, Google their names and download that action.
Once, so enthralled with the music of an outlaw artist named Billy Joe Shaver, I drove to Albany, New York and sold tee shirts for free for him just so I could shake the rugged old man’s hand. He was playing a dive…brilliantly.
And it’s artists like Billy Joe and Sturgill that have risen up a whole new crop of outlaws in the Granite State. Guys like, Reverend Toddy Seely, Dusty Gray and the Rippin E Brakes. They would never refer to themselves as “outlaws,” but they bleed the outlaw spirit in their music. Less bedazzled than the fast food country music of today, these artist bow down to tradition and the brethren of artists who honor it.
Come join us this Saturday at New England College in Concord and listen to some of the very best artists from around the state sing songs from the new and old Outlaws. The show starts at 5:30 pm and it’s free. We have about ten artists ready to perform about twenty songs ranging from Townes Van Zant, Jerry Jeff Walker and Chris Stapleton.
It will surely be an Outlaw State of Mind.
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org