Notes from the Road by Jeremy Mackinder: On Charlie Daniels and Country's Elders


June 21st, 2011 by Rami

Once a month-ish, Jeremy Mackinder, the bassist of Whitey Morgan and the 78s, checks in with us to regale a tale from the road …

Country music is not dead.  It’s alive, kicking and pretty much right where it always was—with its elders still leading the way.

We got the distinct privilege of opening for the legendary Charlie Daniels over Memorial Day weekend. I’d never seen him perform, and honestly, didn’t know quite what to expect.  Mr. Daniels has had his own share of health struggles and is over 70 years old, so it would’ve been easy to forgive a toned down show full of great songs.  Quite the opposite, the performance was nothing short of amazing.

It was slick and polished—but didn’t really feel that way, it felt more like an experienced showman giving it everything he had.  He came out waving his fiddle and the energy and playing was spot on.  The show flowed well, the guitar work between himself and his two other pickers never failed to hit the mark. If not for the age in their faces and the white in their hair, you could have easily felt transported back to his heydays.

Daniels isn’t the only one effectively doing this. Merle Haggard’s last record, I Am What I Am and Willie Nelson’s Country Music record are excellent.  I sat at dinner and drinks with a couple of friends one night and compared those two records to a couple of mainstream modern country albums that were laying around.  The legends are still blowing away the competition.  It wasn’t even close—and that isn’t just coming from me, the old time country music fan—it was obvious to everyone in the room, no matter what their particular tastes were.

The sad part is that these are not the records that companies promote.  They spend a ton of money and effort to make sure you hear the watered down brand of modern country music out there, while Haggard’s and Nelson’s albums still sell to their long time fans, they are basically not heard by the general public. If they were, it could start a whole “new” revolution to a kind of music that never really left the building.

I used to feel like when I heard the statement from people at shows, “Man, I don’t really like country music, but you guys are great!” that I might just explode if it was said to me one more time.  I’ve kinda turned on that sentiment.  Where I used to feel frustration, I now try and make sure to turn them on to something I think they might like to see as well.  I’ll tell them about artists like Wayne Hancock, Rachel Brooke, Justin Townes Earle or Dale Watson (amongst others), and tell them to pop one of them into their Pandora stations and likely they’ll get to hear something else they like too.  It’s out there.  The artists might not be pretty and doing clothing ads on the side, but the music is what the fans are looking for, whether or not they know it yet.

There’s also avenues to go see these acts all together. There’s the Honky Tonk Throwdown in Detroit, MI, a festival we’ve done the last two years.  Muddy Roots in Tennessee is in its second year now, gets an amazing and diverse lineup and will certainly continue to grow. Twangfest in St Louis is an annual event.  Pickathon in Oregon is another and Shooter Jennings is working towards throwing his first “XXX” genre festival.   You can also check out Sirius/XM’s Outlaw Country channel which has shows hosted by Mojo Nixon, Elizabeth Cook, Shooter and Don Was’s Motown Hoedown—the support network is there for those looking for real country music.

As we lose more of our legends, it becomes more important than ever to make sure to see them perform—and maybe hope to catch some of that magic and pass it on.  I was so thrilled to see so many kids at the Charlie Daniels show—and they were having a great time and will certainly carry it forward with them.

After a long, tiring month of May full of broken vehicles, long drives and even an injury/accident or two, seeing Charlie Daniels outplay my expectations as the month came to an end,  I was inspired.  We have 10 days off in a row at the end of June, a rarity in our schedule.  I spent a few hours the other day looking to see who was playing in my area that I could go check out. While performing is my job, and I could use a vacation, I started doing this because I am a fan—and am proud to say after all these years, that its still what makes my blood boil.  Found three or four shows in driving distance during that break.  I may not be able to afford to go to all of them, that’s the reality of the world right now.  But, I don’t think I can afford to not go at all.  It’s part of the life support that country music needs—the support of its fans and friends going to breathe energy into it.  I’ll see you at the show, singing along and loving every minute of it.