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 Ruby's Road: Closet Country Girl

Ruby's Road

story and photo by Dawne Belloise

It's true, I was once the local rock n roll goddess slamming to crazed crowds at Kochevar's, the Coachlight, and Talk of the Town. But there was that dirty little secret that could never be admitted lest the smoke and mirrors of angst and spandex would fall away exposing the real singer beneath…I love emoto-schlock songs.

That southern twang in my singing voice wasn't inherently of the Bronx. It came from watching endless episodes of the Porter Wagoner Show. So when asked if I had ever sung or listened to a lot of country music, I feared alas, they've outed me. After all, country wasn't the hip genre among the new punk alternative. Chrissy Hynd. Patti Smith. Pat Benatar. Those were real women in music. But in truth, my inner rock star was a closet Dolly Parton worshipper. I adored Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Patsy Cline was the ultimate of smooth and hip. But it wasn't something admitted to if you were honing the image of tough.

Country music writing surpasses romance novels. Clever, vengeful, heartfelt, and notoriously comical, the lyrics span content ranging from d-i-v-o-r-c-e and the habitually jilted to countrified patriotism and redneck validation. There are love songs about pickup trucks, philosophy for raising children, memorials for grandmothers and odes to dogs.

Country music vocalists are basically soul singers. But what is it that makes country music lament in ways that are deeply rooted in the same stuff that makes the blues? Hardship…hard luck in life, love, and expectations. For country singers and writers, it's apparent that the song has to be real, and a story that listeners can relate to. Hence the well known question: what do you get when you play country music backwards?...You get your wife back, your truck back, your trailer back and your dog comes home. No other music genre does love songs, breakup songs, and hard luck songs better than country…except maybe Italian opera. Perhaps that's what the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville is based on. There are many similarities between Italian Opera and country music. Someone is always betrayed, lied to, murdered or foreclosed on, and with spectacular flair.

Some hardcore country sings of its own pride like a sectarian national anthem. Take Rhett Atkins: Tearin' down a dirt road, rebel flag flyin', 'Coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer, an' a cold one in my lap. Earnhart sticker behind my head, an 'my woman by my side. Tailpipe's poppin', the radio's rockin' "Country Boy Can Survive" …Well, if you got a problem with that, you can kiss my country ass. If you're a down home, backwoods redneck, c'mon, stand up an' raise your glass, but if you ain't down with my outlaw crowd, you can kiss my country ass.

With such exaltation of culture, where did country music get its roots? Throughout the nineteenth century, America's waves of immigrants brought with them their ethnic ballads, tunes and instruments. Music and stories handed down through generations celebrated life, in all its glory and hardship, in song. This is the true country music of America. The first country music artist to make a recording was Fiddler Eck Robertson in 1922, with Arkansas Traveler and Sallie Gooden. Then in 1924, WLS radio in Chicago airs the National Barn Dance. By 1931, Gene Autry, becomes America's favorite singing cowboy with That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine. The Grand Ole Opry airs on NBC in 1939 with the talented Roy Acuff as its host. From 1945, when Nashville was declared the capital of country music, things just gallop like a wild horse into mainstream radios and TVs.

Honky Tonk is not just a divey, smoky bar you go to find your true love of the evening…it was born in Texas during the 30s and 40s and played by country bands. More beat oriented than traditional country music, honky tonk is associated with uprooted rural people. Hank Williams wrote: Now you're lookin' at a man that's gettin' kind-a mad. I had lots of luck but it's all been bad My fishin' pole's broke, the creek is full of sand My woman run away with another man. No matter how I struggle and strive, I'll never get out of this world alive!

What's in a name? Country music has the most notably catchy titles that, like a good novel, make you want to hear the rest of the story… All My Exes Live in Texas... I Thought She Was Out Jogging, But She Was Running Around On Me… If the Phone Don't Ring, It's Me Not Calling You Up… At the Gas Station of Love, I Got the Self-Service Pump… How Come Your Dog Don't Bite Nobody But Me?... If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?... I Sent Her Artificial Flowers For Her Artificial Love… Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off…
...and the hilariously redundant: I Was Looking Back to See If You Were Looking Back to See If I Was Looking Back to See if You Were Looking Back at Me.

Yes, these are real songs for real people. For the entourage who arrive in Crested Butte this week to raise big money for cancer research during Country in the Rockies, giving their time and talent to help others in need probably comes as naturally as writing songs. It's no wonder, through hardships and pain of their own, that these talented musicians have risen to the caliber of country stars…with every heartfelt note they are real people.

Note: Editor: With the recent invasion of the Tampa Bay area by the Gasparilla pirates and all those who come to celebrate their festive arrival I thought this was a timely article. Music events of every kind accompany the annual invasion, with Country music stars almost equaling the number of pirate invaders .

Posted On Wednesday, February 1, 2006

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