Just as surely as leisure suits killed disco, cowboy hats are destroying country music. Everywhere you turn, there’s another wide-brimmed distraction. And they just keep on coming. What began as a fashion statement and a shield for baldness has now escalated to the level of UPS-like conformity. Looking at today’s faux wranglers, I visualize an endless line of young hopefuls threading through a cavernous supply depot, just like those high-spirited conscripts in World War II films. Along the way, each man is issued a pair of ornate boots, pressed jeans, an embroidered shirt, the inevitable cowboy hat and a copy of an all-purpose bio about learning to sing in church and listening to James Taylor albums at home. Now the lads are ready for combat.
I don’t know about you, but the whole matter has me teetering on the lip of nausea. Unless things change for the better, I may have to take Michael McCall’s advice and actually listen to records instead of getting all my country music through videos. Is that desperation or what?
My plea to country artists is simple: If you’ve never worn a hat, don’t start; if you’re wearing one now, stop. Like any other noxious habit, hat-wearing is a hard one to break. But there is a way. To all those afflicted, I propose this simple corrective regimen:
1. Upon awakening each morning, say aloud to yourself, “Vince Gill is from Oklahoma. He sells lots of albums. He never wears a hat.”
2. In the privacy of your tour bus, take your hat off, place it on a chair facing you, and address it thusly: “You are not me. You are not a part of me. And I don’t like your attitude one goddamn bit.”
3. To reinforce your separateness from your hat, give it an especially oafish namepreferably one not reminiscent of your own. Perhaps “Lecil,” “Garlube” or “LaToya.”
4. Sneak out of the house while your hat is still asleep and walk bareheaded around the block (or ranch). Try to stifle your natural feelings of abandonment.
5. Imagine that you have walked into your high school locker room just after the big game and are dressed exactly as you are in your publicity photos. Speculate on the spirited dialogue that might then ensue.
6. Cut out a picture of a cowboy hat and paste it onto a photo of Bruce Willis as he appears in 12 Monkeys. Now consider the very real possibility that you may look even dorkier.
7. To temper your Western fixation, remember that people chiefly associate cowboys with an unhealthy attraction to large animals.
8. Consider this: Stars rise and stars fall, while record executives just move on to other labels for larger salaries until they die. Do record executives ever wear cowboy hats? Might they know something about career longevity that you don’t?
9. Look at a 1976 publicity shot of Tony Orlando. Realize that your own be-hatted image will occasion the same sort of hilarity 20 years hence. Probably sooner.
10. Once you have gained sufficient emotional footing, go out for happy hour and continue to drink heavily until midnight. Then take your hat to the front lawn of the Country Music Hall of Fame and drive a stake through it.
♦ Hats off to Jerry & Tammy Sullivan. Long a favorite act in bluegrass and gospel circles, the father-and-daughter team has earned a Grammy nomination for its 1995 album, At the Feet of God, on New Haven Records. Marty Stuart produced the album and performs on it as well. Other guest artists include Amy Grant and Stuart Duncan. The Sullivans are vying for the best Southern gospel, country gospel or bluegrass gospel album award.
♦ Earl Thomas Conley is one of country music’s truly great songwriters and vocal stylists. Between 1975 and 1992, he dominated the charts and his fans’ affections with such classics as “I Have Loved You Girl (But Not Like This Before),” “Fire & Smoke,” “Honor Bound,” “Holding Her and Loving You,” “Love Out Loud,” “What I’d Say” and “I Can’t Win for Losin’ You.” All these and 13 other hits are brought together in the new RCA Records collection, The Essential Earl Thomas Conley. If you missed Conley his first time around, buy this gem and listen close. It’s a life-changer.
♦ Now that CMT: Country Music Television is increasing its international presence, the music video network has three separate weekly playlists: one for the U. S., one for Europe, and the newest one for Latin America. CMT recently reached an agreement for cable distribution in the Philippines. In addition to its penetration of Europe and Latin America, the service also extends into parts of Thailand, South Korea, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Brunei and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Closer to home, the network will sponsor Country Music Television’s Starfest ’96, May 9-12 at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds. The live music event, a counterpart to Nashville-based Fan Fair, is now in its third year and was originally called FanFest. Among the acts already scheduled to perform at Starfest ’96 are Joe Diffie, Tammy Wynette, Rhett Akins, Earl Thomas Conley, Ken Mellons, Tracy Lawrence, Ricky Skaggs, Confederate Railroad, Kenny Chesney, Bryan White, Jeff Foxworthy, Martina McBride, Doug Supernaw, Rick Trevino, Toby Keith, Tom Wopat, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Daryle Singletary, Jeff Carson, Johnny Paycheck, the Moffatts, Asleep at the Wheel and Pat Boone.
♦ Riders in the Sky will accept the “Outstanding Traditional Album” award for their Always Drink Upstream From the Herd collection during the annual Western Heritage Awards ceremonies, March 16 at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
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