Stetsons to ball caps. What happened to real country music?

There is a very close legacy link between country music and the Cayman Islands. The Caymanian mariners who spent months (sometimes years) away from home on tankers and freighters could relate to the somber lyrics of George Jones or Hank Williams; their heavy-hearted three-chord recitals could melt the hearts of the manliest of men.

What happened to that music we love so much, those classic songs where a steel guitar interlude would raise the hair on the back of your neck? Clearly, something has gone very wrong for us country music buffs worldwide. Nashville’s industry movers have put aside the souls of country music lovers and with some marketing research (ginned up by guys in an expensive Brunello suit or trendy torn jeans), they have decided to move from “Folsom Prison Blues” to “American Idol” and from Stetsons to ball caps worn in reverse. Gasp!

What are the results? It’s now called Mainstream Country or “Bubble-gum Country” or “Hip-hop with a fiddle.” To most of us zealous (and yes, over-40) country music fans, this sucks!

The butchery of traditional country is not just confined to the U.S., Canada and Europe; like the invasive green iguana, it has found its way to our shores. We hear it on the radio, imported from our neighbors to the north.

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Of course, the justifications are endless. “That’s what’s popular in America” and “It’s on America’s Billboard’s Top 20.” There, my country music-loving friends, is where I believe it’s all gone wrong – the “in America” pretext. Just because they love corn dogs in America, that doesn’t mean we love them in Cayman. Just because we eat turtle doesn’t mean it’s popular in America. Then again, in my opinion, people eat whatever they’re fed. This goes for music. You feed them Florida Georgia Line instead of Willie Nelson, they’ll eat it – especially if you are not feeding them any Willie Nelson at all.

The founding fathers of country music are turning in their graves, hearing what their music has become. I guess we cannot put all the blame on radio program directors. After all, most of them have come here with years of programming experience that they learned – in America. Most have never heard of cow itch or cleaned a conch, so how can we expect them to know the DNA makeup of Cayman country? They come from urban towns in America or the U.K. where there are numerous stations competing with many others for the advertising dollar. So, if you do not follow the trendy settings or the U.S. Top 20 playlist, you could end up sweeping the floor instead of having a fan base. In Nashville and its surrounding suburbs there are more than 50 radio stations.

What they call country today is the most popular radio format “in America.” I know some of the younger generation in Cayman that love Jason Aldean and Dierks Bentley. In fact, not that long ago at Owen Roberts Airport I ran into a group of young local girls sporting cowboy hats and torn jeans on their way to a Luke Bryan concert. I did try to talk them out of it.

“Have you ever heard of Loretta Lynn and Jim Reeves?” I asked them.

“Oh, yes,” one responded. “My daddy used to bring home their albums after his stint at sea, but they don’t play those songs on the radio anymore.”

If you’re going to wear a baseball cap backwards like Dierks Bentley, it’s time to play pop music.

These days, pop-country is more popular than ever – but also more despised than ever. Anti-pop-country blogs, websites and Facebook pages are swarming with animosity against pop-country. “We Hate Pop Country” on Facebook is a haven for contemporary country cynics. Our one and only local country station, Rooster FM, may actually be catching on to the Caymanian taste for country music by devoting more play to the real stuff, rather than what Nashville wants to feed us.

Recently, Rooster has devoted an hour each day to true, classic, Caymanian-loving country music. Bob Moseley spins Nelson, Cash, Jones and even some local classics by Andy Martin. On Thursday, they toss in a classic every 15 minutes or so. Then again, there are 168 hours in a week – hopefully we can get more. Most pop-country scoffers seem to agree on one thing – it’s not the singing, or the over-amped drums and guitars, or the hokey overused lyrics and injects of hip-hop that bother them; it’s the fact that they call it “country” when it’s not country.

The day that Placido Domingo is strumming a banjo and sings in a language that a redneck can understand, it’s no longer opera.

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