Nashville, TN. If you know anything about Country music then you know that this is where the careers of Country Legends like Hank Williams, Dolly Parton and Jonny Cash blossomed. However, one might say that in the last few decades Nashville has become the home of a schism between two groups, two polar musical opposites, both albeit descendant forms of first-generation Country heroes.
The first group: Music Corporation, USA. Home of chart-topping, money-making Country superstars like Garth Brooks, Toby Keith and Miley Cyrus. Home of an industry that produces watered-down, childish and irreverent hits deemed by producers to encapsulate the singular American culture one can be so proud of. This group isn’t interesting to talk about, nor is any of the music worth listening to. So I will not go any further.
The second: Music City Rebels. “Rebel” is quite a loaded word, especially in the South, but it happens to be what a lot of these types of musicians call themselves, not because they believe in secession, but because it’s a word tightly linked to their culture, which some of them feel is being corrupted. In this case, being a “rebel” would refer to going against the grain of the popular Country music industry based in Nashville. Some of the most notable Music City Rebels include Hank Williams III (Hank Williams’ grandson) and “Jason & the Scorchers.” These people are worth looking into if you don’t already know them. Nevertheless, this article will focus on Joe Buck, Country musician, Rebel, and self-nominated “Evil Motherf***er from Tennessee,” whose music has never been produced by any major label in Nashville and, already coming from the alternative current in Music City, is horribly underrated.
It’s hard to explain his style, which is in some ways very simple, yet draws from a lot of influences. This video, which documents the collaboration between him and producer Jack Endino (famous for producing Nirvana’s first album Bleach) probably describes it best:
What I find interesting about Joe Buck’s style is a few things. First of all, he embraces a beautiful simplicity that is hard to find in any music. He travels around with a guitar and a kick drum. He writes songs that he can perform himself. On “Piss and Vinegar” he adds a bass to round out the guitar and some toms to his kick drum, just to enhance his sound for the album. And sometimes he plays banjo. And that’s it. Here’s one of my favorite tracks of his:
I realize that my Toby Keith/Garth Brooks comment earlier may have sounded slightly invidious… This video should have proven my point more accurately; what commercial Country music has this much soul? Joe Buck calls it “heartache;” it’s an intense emotion, and it makes his music evocative and visceral.
He is also incredibly prolific: along with his solo career he has collaborated with numerous artists, including many of the Music City Rebels. He played bass and guitar for Hank III, and later formed a band with him called “Assjack,” and also had his own bands called “Gringo” and “Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers.”
Finally, Joe Buck is poetic. Some of his lines have stuck with me long after I heard them. He says things that are very honest: “My mind has grown weak, but my back is strong.” On “Music City’s Dead,” he has some of the most touching lyrics:
I’m heading back to the country,
To a trailer on the lake in the shivering pines.
In the woods there’s a song on the wind I’m swaying to.
And moonlight drifts like rays of smoke on the raging fire.
I’m leaving innocence lost in the city of the Country Star.
It begins as a loving description of his home in the countryside. It reveals itself soon after to be a song about leaving Nashville, getting out of the city that has become a harbor for everything Country music should not be.
However, Joe Buck, didn’t actually leave Nashville. It seems to be his current location, actually. What this tells me is that he is indeed disillusioned with the direction in which the music there has gone, but that he’s stubborn and will not surrender Nashville and everything it stands for to a business run by fake musicians and greedy opportunists.
If you’re interested in finding out more, here is a link to a great documentary made in Holland. It’s narrated in Dutch, but the interviews are in English, and Joe Buck himself has a prominent role as a tour guide:
Also, here are links to his websites (unfortunately much of the merchandise is sold out, but his music can be found on iTunes):