The Gray Line Tour

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 5, 1999

Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / December 5, 1999

I’ve never really understood the attraction to country music by mainstream America. I admit, certainly, that there are far more fans ofcountry music than of most, if not all other musical genres. I just don’tget it.

Country music had its origins among the so-called “common people” of the South and of the hill country in Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Closely allied (then) to gospel music, it was also related to folk music of the time, some of which sustained the pioneers who populated the American West.

Which, of course, leads the discussion to “western” music. At one time,people referred to “country and western” music, lumping them together.

Both are closely related but definitely different.

However, the country music of today has more to do with pop or rock music than anything else. I can’t imagine Johnny Cash or Porter Wagoner orHank Williams in spandex outfits, dancing in the midst of light shows and explosions and sharing the stage with performers from (gasp!) Canada.

Country music, though, is huge. Look at the development of Branson, Mo.,the country version of Las Vegas. The Carter Family wouldn’t recognizecountry nowadays, neither the Sons of the Pioneers.

And I wish someone would explain a few things to me. Why do so manyfemale country singers affect a Tammy Wynette twang? They may have been born and raised in Ontario, but they sound like Tennessee.

Big hair has been big among country female performers for a couple of decades but thankfully, that finally seems to be fading.

And what is it with those huge, black cowboy hats and the boots? Hank Williams could get away with a cowboy hat. He looked as though he didmore than a few honest day’s work on a ranch somewhere. Garth Brooks? Idon’t get it. Most male country performers seem to wear these hats andlikely have never seen a cow in person, never mind stepped on a ranch.

Certainly, there have been and still are many gifted artists among the ranks of country music. At its best (and I’m a bluegrass fan, if anything),it’s music which speaks from the heart, without pretension or pyrotechnics. But when it looks like a bad lounge act or hyped-up Vegas, itloses me and I can’t take it seriously.

Doubtless, there are many who could take me to task on this. I grew uplistening to country music and blame the “Hee Haw” TV show for bringing country out into the mainstream and away from those Grand Ole Opry radio show fans who love their country pure.

People will tell me to just listen to the music, but if the music is good, you don’t need all the extras. Gigantic, sold-out arenas somehow don’tcommunicate “country” to me. Neither does Shania Twain’s revealingcostumes.

Next week, I’ll take on wrestling…

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