Country Music

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John Williamson, Pixie Jenkins, Warren H. Williams, James O'Brien at ABC Studio, Tamworth
John Williamson, Pixie Jenkins, Warren H. Williams, James O’Brien at ABC Studio, Tamworth

In the last couple of months I’ve begun to reacquaint myself with my love of country music. It’s taken me back to the days of regular visits to the Tamworth Country Music Festival, which are now more than a decade ago, as my radio career has taken me in a different, more city-based direction.

Despite my inner-city reputation, I actually know a fair bit about country music, and I have lots of great “special experts” to draw upon to supplement the areas in which my knowledge is a little short. Having grown up in Lismore, I grew up with a lot of country music. Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynnn and the like were the soundtrack to my youth. And then having lived in a number of other country towns, I learned a lot more. I visited the Tamworth Country Musical Festival several times, as well as other festivals like Barmera and Gympie, and there was was even one year where I was a judge for Tamworth. For me, country music, the authentic stuff (I was never into anything cheesy) has been a strong part of “who I am”.

But having worked in “capital city radio” over the last decade, my attention has been drawn away from country music until recently when my attention has been brought back on a few levels. And so I’ve been listening to a lot of country music over the last few weeks, and revisiting some wonderful “old friends”.

It wasn’t intended. It was something which came out of the re-structure of the ABC announced back in November. As a result of the changes, the people looking after “ABC Country” were made redundant, which meant responsibility for keeping the station on air fell with me. Realistically, there’s not a lot of work required, as the station operates pretty much as an automated playlist station without presenters.

That said, it’s important for it to remain contemporary, which means adding in new songs, and it’s important that it should sound like a radio station, and not someone’s ipod!

So I took it on, and was determined to achieve a few things. First, we’ve changed the station identifications which I hope bring a little more “life” to the sound, especially as they feature “real people” who are country fans. Second, we increased the amount of Indigenous performers on the station to include some wonderful new performers like Dewayne Everett-Smith, as well as classic performers like Roger Knox and The Mills Sisters. Third, we’ve increased the amount of Australian content from around 25% to about 70% at the moment. Fourth, we’ve introduced a new category of music called “classic country” which pays respect to some of the great performers of the past. And I have a great team of “volunteers” (country music fans within the ABC) as well as paying for some people with expertise in the area to help with the transformation. Honestly though, it’s been for LESS than the smell of an oily rag :)

And for me it’s been a real passion project, mostly done “out of hours”. I genuinely love listening to the station, and I’ve re-developed my passion for country music. I love it.

And with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites I’ve discovered in the last few months…

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve even managed to sneak in a couple of Swedish tracks in, aas part of the desire to play more than just country from Nashville, but to feature performers from other countries also.

Oh, and one of my all-time favourites is by a Canadian singer-songwriter, Fred Eaglesmith, who I developed a major singer/songwriter crush on about a decade ago. I’ve met him a few times, have interviewed him a few times, and have seen him perform live. His songs display both a wonderful sensitivity, as well as a great sense of humour. This song, “Alcohol & Pills” is my all time favourite by Fred: telling the story of amazingly talented people whose lives were lost to alc…

Hank Williams, he came up from Montgomery
With his heart full of broken country songs
Nashville, Tennessee, didn’t really understand him
‘Cause he did things differently
Then the way that they were done
But when he finally made it to the Grand Ole Opry
He made it stand still
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Elvis Presley, he came up from Jackson
With a brand new way of singing, Lord
And a brand new way of dancing
And even from the waist up, Lord
He gave the world a thrill
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Alcohol and pills
It’s a crying shame
You’d think they might have been happy with
The glory and the fame
But fame doesn’t take away the pain
It just pays the bills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
Janis Joplin, she was wild and reckless
And then there was Gram Parsons
And then there was Jimi Hendrix
The story just goes on and on
And I guess it always will
They ended up on alcohol and pills
Alcohol and pills
It’s a crying shame
You’d think they might have been happy with
The glory and the fame
But fame doesn’t take away the pain
It just pays the bills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
Sometimes somebody
Just doesn’t wake up one day
Sometimes it’s a heart attack
Sometimes they just don’t say
They pulled poor old Hank Williams
Out of a Cadillac Coupe de Ville
He ended up on alcohol and pills
Alcohol and pills
It’s a crying shame
You’d think they might have been happy with
The glory and fame
But fame doesn’t take away the pain
It just pays the bills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills
And you wind up on alcohol and pills

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