Wars And Honky Tonks….

Classic Country Music started on front porches and under shade trees in mountain  people’s yards, just like the gut bucket blues of the Delta, and old time gospel in the backwoods churches. It was what those old timers did for entertainment of their families and neighbors.  In the Western regions, it was cowboys sitting around a campfire by the chuck wagon, telling stories and singing songs they made up.  That is why, for many years, it was known as country/western music.  Before that it was folk, or old time music, or, to some, hillbilly music.  Call it what you will, but it is pure American, born and bred.

Music has always gone to War.  War always has an effect on music because it brings people together from different regions, and their music always comes with them.  Probably as far back as the War of Independence and the following Indian Wars, music had a part.  First it was Old English ballads, Irish folk songs, a German Polka mixed in with maybe a Spanish or Cajun rhythm used.  It was all music from other countries and cultures.  As generations started being born, that had never been to the Old Countries, the music began to change also.  These were born free Americans, and they started making up their own music.  American Music.

The War between the States divided the music from the East and North, and the South and West.  The Yankee Soldiers had their music, they had learned the songs growing up, and the Southern Boys had their own.  The Campfires at night rang with music, mournful or peppy, kinda depending on how the day in the front lines went.

On one side of the battle line, you would hear a boy from Mississippi or Alabama, start with…”Oh, I wish I was In the land of Cotton, Old times there are Na’er forgotten, Look Away, Look Away, Look Away Dixie Land.”  A boy from Tennessee might start plucking away on a banjo, an instrument that he had learned to play from old Moses, the black field hand slave back home in Chattanooga.

Meanwhile, back on the other side of the line, sitting around their campfire, a boy from Pennsylvania, starts singing, his strong voice filling the cold night air, “Glory, glory Hallelujah….glory, glory hallelujah, His Truth is marching on”,  after awhile, the Company drummer boy, picks up his sticks and starts beating out a rhythm, and all around the campfire spirits are renewed.  Renewing spirits, that’s what music does.

World War Two, and the years just after, was a turning point in our country music.  Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Cowboy Copas, all had huge hits that were War themed, and went to the very hearts of the soldiers overseas.  “A Soldier’s Last Letter”, “Filipino Baby”, were hits, along with “There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” – Elton Britt, “Smoke on the Water” – Red Foley, “South Pacific Shore” – Cowboy Copas, “Deck of Cards”-T. Texas Tyler.

In the South Pacific Islands, the Japanese soldiers would holler insults about Roy Acuff to taunt the Americans.  When I got to Japan, in 1955, the Japanese bands, in the local clubs, could imitate Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, from growing up listening to Armed Forces Radio.

 

When I would sing, on board my ship, one of the songs that the sailors wanted to hear was, “Now Is The Hour”, a song that my Mother had taught me off of an old Bing Crosby 78rpm record.   “Now is the Hour, when we must say goodbye, soon you’ll be sailing, far across the sea, while you’re away, oh, please remember me, when you return you’ll find me, waiting here”.   And the homesick boys would get misty eyed, thinking about the girls they left behind.  It may not have been original country, but it sure was country when I sang it.

 

But, the real catalyst for the country music that we love, was Honky Tonks.  As early as the 1920’s and 30’s, string bands were playing in the Speakeasies and Juke Joints, and during the 40’s, in areas around the Army, Navy and Air Force bases, Honky Tonks sprang up and the music of choice was “country”.   In the 60’s it just exploded…clubs welcomed us with open arms.

 

Dewey Grooms, “Longhorn Ballroom”, in Dallas,  “Caines Ballroom” in Tulsa, both had Bob Will’s big band for extended periods, “Diamond Ballroom” in Oklahoma City, featured big country bands, then in the 60’s you had “Genova’s Chestnut Inn”, in Kansas City, Nick Nixon was the head hoss at ,The “Downspout” in St Louis, “The Flame Club” in Minneapolis, had Dave Dudley and band, Tampa had “The Imperial Ballroom”, that we all loved to work, Waylon was starting out playing joints in Phoenix, It was “The Playroom” in Atlanta, “Gilley’s in Houston, even George Jones got in the act, opening up “Possum Holler” in Nashville.  Soon, every major city and most not so major, had a country music band playing in some Honky Tonk, and the classic country music artists could survive, adding the Parks, Festivals, small auditoriums and finally the bigger Arena’s, and it was good to be a “hillbilly” singer in those years, when country music was inventing itself.

 

So, all in all, I am pretty dang comfortable, with my mornings on the front porch…after all, country music started on porches like this, log cabins in Appalachia and the Ozark mountains, Shotgun houses in Alabama and Georgia, Mississippi and South Caroline, dugouts and adobe patios in the Southwest, campfires and roundups in the West, two story farm houses in the North, and even some porches as far North as Maine.  It is the music of the common people. It started there, and it still remains so today.  In 1986, when I started doing Heart to Heart on CMT, I started it on the front porch of Wynnewood, the historic log stagecoach inn in Sumner County, Tennessee, the same front porch where Dr. Humphrey Bates and the Possum Hunters used to play in the early 1900’s, and who became one of the first string bands on the WSM broadcast of the Opry, before it was called the Opry.  I’m telling you, front porches are where it all started.

 

The “common people” built this country, fought  its wars, tilled its soil and worked its mines and factories.  They deserve to have their very own music.  Yessir, I’m proud to be a “common man”, but it seems like we are just not that common, anymore.   We are a vanishing breed, and endangered species.   stan

 

Classic Country Music started on front porches and under shade trees in mountain  people’s yards, just like the gut bucket blues of the Delta, and old time gospel in the backwoods churches. It was what those old timers did for entertainment of their families and neighbors.  In the Western regions, it was cowboys sitting around a campfire by the chuck wagon, telling stories and singing songs they made up.  That is why, for many years, it was known as country/western music.  Before that it was folk, or old time music, or, to some, hillbilly music.  Call it what you will, but it is pure American, born and bred.

Music has always gone to War.  War always has an effect on music because it brings people together from different regions, and their music always comes with them.  Probably as far back as the War of Independence and the following Indian Wars, music had a part.  First it was Old English ballads, Irish folk songs, a German Polka mixed in with maybe a Spanish or Cajun rhythm used.  It was all music from other countries and cultures.  As generations started being born, that had never been to the Old Countries, the music began to change also.  These were born free Americans, and they started making up their own music.  American Music.

The War between the States divided the music from the East and North, and the South and West.  The Yankee Soldiers had their music, they had learned the songs growing up, and the Southern Boys had their own.  The Campfires at night rang with music, mournful or peppy, kinda depending on how the day in the front lines went.

On one side of the battle line, you would hear a boy from Mississippi or Alabama, start with…”Oh, I wish I was In the land of Cotton, Old times there are Na’er forgotten, Look Away, Look Away, Look Away Dixie Land.”  A boy from Tennessee might start plucking away on a banjo, an instrument that he had learned to play from old Moses, the black field hand slave back home in Chattanooga.

Meanwhile, back on the other side of the line, sitting around their campfire, a boy from Pennsylvania, starts singing, his strong voice filling the cold night air, “Glory, glory Hallelujah….glory, glory hallelujah, His Truth is marching on”,  after awhile, the Company drummer boy, picks up his sticks and starts beating out a rhythm, and all around the campfire spirits are renewed.  Renewing spirits, that’s what music does.

World War Two, and the years just after, was a turning point in our country music.  Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Cowboy Copas, all had huge hits that were War themed, and went to the very hearts of the soldiers overseas.  “A Soldier’s Last Letter”, “Filipino Baby”, were hits, along with “There’s a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” – Elton Britt, “Smoke on the Water” – Red Foley, “South Pacific Shore” – Cowboy Copas, “Deck of Cards”-T. Texas Tyler.

In the South Pacific Islands, the Japanese soldiers would holler insults about Roy Acuff to taunt the Americans.  When I got to Japan, in 1955, the Japanese bands, in the local clubs, could imitate Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, from growing up listening to Armed Forces Radio.

 

When I would sing, on board my ship, one of the songs that the sailors wanted to hear was, “Now Is The Hour”, a song that my Mother had taught me off of an old Bing Crosby 78rpm record.   “Now is the Hour, when we must say goodbye, soon you’ll be sailing, far across the sea, while you’re away, oh, please remember me, when you return you’ll find me, waiting here”.   And the homesick boys would get misty eyed, thinking about the girls they left behind.  It may not have been original country, but it sure was country when I sang it.

 

But, the real catalyst for the country music that we love, was Honky Tonks.  As early as the 1920’s and 30’s, string bands were playing in the Speakeasies and Juke Joints, and during the 40’s, in areas around the Army, Navy and Air Force bases, Honky Tonks sprang up and the music of choice was “country”.   In the 60’s it just exploded…clubs welcomed us with open arms.

 

Dewey Grooms, “Longhorn Ballroom”, in Dallas,  “Caines Ballroom” in Tulsa, both had Bob Will’s big band for extended periods, “Diamond Ballroom” in Oklahoma City, featured big country bands, then in the 60’s you had “Genova’s Chestnut Inn”, in Kansas City, Nick Nixon was the head hoss at ,The “Downspout” in St Louis, “The Flame Club” in Minneapolis, had Dave Dudley and band, Tampa had “The Imperial Ballroom”, that we all loved to work, Waylon was starting out playing joints in Phoenix, It was “The Playroom” in Atlanta, “Gilley’s in Houston, even George Jones got in the act, opening up “Possum Holler” in Nashville.  Soon, every major city and most not so major, had a country music band playing in some Honky Tonk, and the classic country music artists could survive, adding the Parks, Festivals, small auditoriums and finally the bigger Arena’s, and it was good to be a “hillbilly” singer in those years, when country music was inventing itself.

 

So, all in all, I am pretty dang comfortable, with my mornings on the front porch…after all, country music started on porches like this, log cabins in Appalachia and the Ozark mountains, Shotgun houses in Alabama and Georgia, Mississippi and South Caroline, dugouts and adobe patios in the Southwest, campfires and roundups in the West, two story farm houses in the North, and even some porches as far North as Maine.  It is the music of the common people. It started there, and it still remains so today.  In 1986, when I started doing Heart to Heart on CMT, I started it on the front porch of Wynnewood, the historic log stagecoach inn in Sumner County, Tennessee, the same front porch where Dr. Humphrey Bates and the Possum Hunters used to play in the early 1900’s, and who became one of the first string bands on the WSM broadcast of the Opry, before it was called the Opry.  I’m telling you, front porches are where it all started.

 

The “common people” built this country, fought  its wars, tilled its soil and worked its mines and factories.  They deserve to have their very own music.  Yessir, I’m proud to be a “common man”, but it seems like we are just not that common, anymore.   We are a vanishing breed, and endangered species.   stan

 

 

 

 

 

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