It’s been rewarding to have hip people falling all over themselves, infatuated with American “roots music,” having put in my time as a kid in the back seat of cars without seatbelts, subjected to sonic brainwashing from the old country radio my dad would blare: all that Hank and Merle, Willie and Waylon–the long trips to Tammy Wynette concerts, the all-day music festival in muddy second rate fairground with Roy Clark and The Statler Brothers at the top of the bill. The countless hours of Hee Haw, The Grand Ol’ Opry, and even Pop! Goes The Country–how I hated it all, how I yearned for the King Biscuit Flour Hour, how I cursed Buck Owens and that bitch, Loretta Lynn.
After an embarrassing daliance with moribund art rock (I own several Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer LPs on vinyl) I turned to punk, new wave, even a little bit of proto-goth (I own all the Siouxsie & The Banshees up to Tinder, also on vinyl) although I was an unkempt, wool and flannel rural kid who would have slit his wrist before wearing eye shadow.) I’d give anything a chance except hard metal, twinkly R&B, and country.
I guess it was Stockholm Syndrome. My dad, long estranged, got into oldies and I fell in love with pedal steel guitar. When, after close to two decades out of touch, we found common ground, I was excited to share with him infatuations like Uncle Tupelo, Lone Justice, The Cowboy Junkies–and my full blown love for Gram, Emmylou, Johnny Cash–and don’t even get me started on Townes Van Zandt. I thought I cold burn him some discs, you know, but he’d given up country for Sha Na Na. It was hard to blame him–there’s little in the world more cloying, more bile-inducing than mainstream radio country. When it comes down to it, my dad didn’t turn on Nashville–Nashville gave up on him. I might have shown him the light, but he died before I burned those discs, or conned him into seeing a Lucinda Williams concert. Man, he would have loved Lucinda Williams.
There’s an old song–not that old–“I lost you but I found country music.”
And all of the sudden the Avett Brothers are the biggest band around, selling out shows wherever they go. Old Crow Medicine Show got inducted into the Opry, and the Lumineers are on magazine covers. Banjos are cool. Kids are agog over Mumford & Sons.
It’s against this backdrop that I want to introduce you to The Maddox Brothers and Rose–not a roots music band, they ARE roots music, and they’re incredible. A hard-driving, pure and wild and unsophisticated, boot-stompin’ blur of attitude who billed themselves as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band,” not necessarily because of their penchant for brightly colored, highly ornate costumes. The group ripped it up some and Rose Maddox, known for her “reputation as a lusty firebrand”, which in pre-feminist days likely meant she had a mind of her own and didn’t take any shit from the country music patriarchy, was one of the most unapologetic in-your-face lead singers in the history of country music. She was, by all accounts, an absolute force of nature compared to her contemporaries. She was also a fashion trend-setter, one of the early musical customers of legendary rodeo tailor Nudie Cohn–whose work would become popular with many of the greatest
names in music and who deserves his own post.
The Maddox Brothers weren’t incredible musicians, and they weren’t middle class kids finding themselves while trying to find something to do with all those violin lessons foisted on them when they were in Montessori school. The progeny of failed sharecroppers, they turned to music because their wasn’t much else, and they had that rare illusive quality so many more refined acts have lacked–they “rocked.” Or, as I’ve put it in posts about other bands, “they got it.”