“We got to work for Peace / Peace ain’t gonna be free / Gotta go to war…” so often sang my late hero & artist-activist influence Gil Scott-Heron (but he was not a warhawk, he was singing of peace-waging), when I used to see him annually in NYC at venues such as S.O.B.’s downtown. And, while I listened to his tunes “B-Movie” (about Ray-Gun America in the 1980s), “Winter In America” (a reminder for #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth & due to escalated actions around the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance & halting other black snakes of Turtle Island) & “Gun” (for obvious reasons in trigger-happy America & upon Veterans Day), this week & then just spoke with my Pamunkey great aunt Ethel from Virginia, who is an activist/southern belle/church lady in the truest sense & at 91 would have been embedded all year @ Standing Rock were it not for ailments, I was reminded indelibly that we cannot despair at this hour of chaos after the presidential election. We must be strong, we must be prayerful if we follow Native tradition & other faiths, and we must seek to be united as possible in order to work for Peace in the coming days of a New Nation that does not honor nor respect the rights of all of its citizens.
( Caitlin Rose & Kandia Crazy Horse @ Mercury Lounge NYC (w/ photobomb by Roddy of Daniel Romano’s band – Follow @cactusroselovesyou on Instagram )
2016: A year of sonic loss, domestic terrorism against #NoDAPL water protectors & days of rage in newly-minted Trump America…I will not retire from my activism & I am feeling a renewed dedication to songwriting, illuminating the folkways of the postmodern New South, and collaborating with other (Native) artists that also follow the Way of the New World to work towards indigenous futures. So, instead of wallowing — although I was/am mighty weary — I went out into the fractious City, finding fellowship & even some laughs with other indigenous activists from near and far as well as musicians from Argentina (Nico), Canada (Daniel Romano & band), & my sistah-in-twang Caitlin Rose (Nashville via Texas). While we raised a toast of Tecate backstage @ Mercury Lounge in the East Village/Lower East Side to Canadian singer-songwriter icon #LeonardCohen & #MightyBaby’s Martin Stone who just passed & then I rotated sounds of my treasured record collection overnight in their memory + for Veterans Day (my step-great-grandfather Mr. Bridges of SW Georgia fought bravely in World War I & always remember him upon this day) — Elyse Weinberg, Stevie Nicks (who I mightily wish I could catch on her current tour!) & Fleetwood Mac, Jon Lucien, Rufus Wainwright — it was deeply impressed upon me that we must be thankful that #WeAreStillHere able to sing, play, laugh, dance & write songs, despite possible dark days ahead on Turtle Island and all of the many sad losses that have befallen the music world in 2016. As discussed with #CaitlinRose, I look forward to playing in Nashville, doing some festivals & sharing new songs in 2017, with my trusty band Cactus Rose holding me down. Some don’t like (colored) women who are brave & fly the freak flag high; there are concurrent wars against us of the #NoDAPL resistance and the collective body of black women in this society; and there are some entities that have tried/want to silence my Voice – but still I shine on. And I am going to stay #BlackHillbilly ’til I die. Here’s to #TGIF — as my great aunt would say — and looking forward to enjoying the remainder of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth
( Nico Bereciartua of Magpie Salute (from Argentina) & Kandia Crazy Horse of Cactus Rose band (in hat Karen Dalton) @ Henry Diltz’ Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo for “Midnight Rider” photography exhibit on Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band by Patricia O’Driscoll, NYC )
( Why I want to see Stevie Nicks (who I have never seen) live…She composed this song “Silver Springs” while on the Road in my homeplace of the #DMV. I used to spend special times with my late mother in Silver Spring in the brief period before she walked on & grew up going there often in my “Maryland is for crabs…Virginia is for lovers” shirt in the 1970s. Precious memories…& songwriting inspiration! )
( How I came to truly know/love Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – via my beloved & the best male Songbird of my generation #JeffBuckley (RIP) #ScorpioRising #ScorpioSeason – In Memoriam for all the Singers & Players & Freedom Fighters )
( & Leonard Cohen & Jeff Buckley’s acolyte who’s one of my most beloved contemporary artists: #RufusWainwright – This 11/11 tune comes from his double-LP masterpiece Want One / Want Two that was life-changing for me in the early Aughts. I still treasure getting to meet Rufus once backstage at a taping of the Jimmy Fallon Show in Manhattan, courtesy of my brotha Kirk Douglas of The Roots )
Well, since my sentiments about the state of Nashville’s country music establishment on and beyond Music Row tend to be unwelcome even amongst my former circle of rock critic colleagues, I wasn’t going to weigh in on this year’s CMA Awards, the 50th edition, which I did happen to watch. However, in my absence offline, an apparent controversy has been brewing on the subject of race and country music, due to the much ballyhooed performance of “Daddy Lessons” by Texan artists Beyonce (pop, urban) & the Dixie Chicks (once modern country royalty). Although I don’t wish to gas up TMZ, the site is one of the prominent places that has cited the CMA site & social media having scrubbed their entire online platform of images/references to said Beyonce-Dixie Chicks summit in response to copious racist reactions to the awards show appearance on Twitter & elsewhere: VIEW HERE
Now, I am no Beyonce fan nor “stan;” and I have no fear of the BeyHive in stating this — my backpages as a longtime music critic & editor for over 20 years clearly delineates where I stand on her & chronicles many of my thoughts on the history and contemporary scene of black artists who create in the overlapping country & western, bluegrass, hillbilly, Cajun, prewar stringband, mountain music, Americana, and roots genres. I also happen to have served on a panel @ CUNY Graduate Center in NYC earlier this year, holding forth on Black Banjo, my role in the country & western genre as an artist and touring fan, the Affrilachia movement, and the recent publication of scholar/banjoist Laurent Dubois’ book THE BANJO – America’s African Instrument. Talked about the fictional Darlings of The Andy Griffith Show a.k.a. The Dillards, and how Doug Dillard became my favorite banjo player and influence via Dillard & Clark. And I am a veteran of my friend Greg Mays’ annual Harlem Hoedown, where I always square dance as I learned as a babychile in rural Virginia to the sounds of my dear friends the Ebony Hillbillies. I was a “primordial” adopter, supporter, and then critic of the Americana scene in general, way back into the 1980s, and have watched successive waves of cowpunk, neo-southern rock, alt-country, y’allternative, insurgent country, progressive country, Ameripolitan, indie folk, etc etc come to consciousness and come to market; and always pondered about the African presence in all of these scenes and on the record business side up to this day where Americana is now on the Billboard chart — the year’s big news in music. The pop/urban mix with country as a featured event of the CMA Awards has obvious precedent; many of my former colleagues are still talking about Justin Timberlake (who’s in the process of going Country & recording a country album) performing with Chris Stapleton last year. Yet this year’s turn, especially at the 50 marker, is notable less due to Beyonce but rather down to the fact that at a time when Bro-Country is waning, Taylor Swift has defected for pop, and nigh every classic arena rocker has cut a country record/moved to Nashville to revive flagging careers, country (&western) still has a glaring race problem and its related business wing cannot develop or sustain virtually any artists of color not named Darius Rucker. Opening the show with a too-brief turn by black country icon Charley Pride underscored this issue; the fact that the CMAs chose to have Stapleton and Dwight Yoakam — great & skilled though they are — pay homage to Georgia R&B hero & country maverick Ray Charles, to illustrate the S-O-U-L of country music instead of even summoning their own recent hitmaker Mickey Guyton or Americana star Rhiannon Giddens who was present at the awards (backing up Eric Church) showed exactly where they stand. The citing of SOUL, as it always has been, is code for the blackness in twang; the modern country (&western) scene and business has never quite progressed beyond the early 20th century moment of Race Records and segregating sounds by racial and regional provenance. And all hell broke loose on social media yesterday and today, as country music fans of the dominant culture rushed to show their displeasure with the inclusion of a black (pop) artist on the CMAs, accusing her of trying to take away country music from whites who supposedly have eternal ownership of the genre — despite the patent & well-documented African and Native American origins of country besides the Scotch-Irish contribution. I myself am a Native Americana / cosmic country & western artist in no small part because I am of Native American, African, and Scottish descent, a rich hybrid made in America’s Southeast from which the Source of the music eternally springs. I am also just a fanatic of bluegrass, mountain music, and cowboy tunes — and I claim as much ownership of that Creation as anybody. Keen observers have known for a spell that one of the most vibrant bluegrass scenes in the world is in Japan, and that events and festivals like the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina, have been yielding a younger, new wave of twang talent of African descent.
(My shot of superstar country artist #BradPaisley & #CharleyPride opening #CMAAwards50 – credit: @kandiacrazyhorse Instagram)
Here’s what I posted in response to the show on Wednesday night, while live-blogging portions of it on Facebook & Instagram: “I am watching #CMAAwards50 & pondering deeply about the African & Native American roots of the genre; plus how far Nashville & Music Row still have to go in honoring these legacies. Wonderful to see my hero #CharleyPride open the show with my fellow Virginian #BradPaisley (Yep, I’m a fan, despite the unwieldy “Accidental Racist;” I blame LL Cool J); but still tinged with some sadness and confusion. Someday, #NativeAmericana & #BlackHillbilly will take their proper place. For now, enjoying seeing all the 1960s & ’70s country women I grew up on that made me aspire to sing in twang, besides my Native American triumvirate (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Karen Dalton, Rita Coolidge): Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Barbara Mandrell (!!)…& Reba…Waiting for Dolly [Parton], of course…! #KandiaCrazyHorse #NativeAmericana #mountainmusic #AppalachiaSounds from #Virginia #countrysinger #southernbelle #countrygirlsdoitbetter #AffrilachianNation”
Quibbling about how pop or authentically country any given act is — that’s something I leave to the working music critics. Certainly, the Dixie Chicks’ reappearance on the CMAs was controversial due to their past & interesting to have that baggage reexamined so close to the presidential election. Some staunch country loyalists were always going to react negatively to that. Yet the main issue — just as a decade-plus battle for Country Music’s soul reaches its zenith (see the site Saving Country Music for consistent dispatches on this topic) — is that country (&western…& Americana) is the last frontier for artists of African descent — whether that be Virginia-bred me, Kandia Crazy Horse & my new band Cactus Rose, or Kenya’s leading country singer, Sir Elvis Otieno — and the country establishment and much of the genre’s audience still views it as their own private safe haven away from the predations of urban music/culture/style and technology-tied modernity. It is interesting that Bro-Country, which would often feature the likes of Florida-Georgia Line duetting with Nelly and Blake Shelton attempting to rap, is fading just as there is a rise and music industry push behind a range of country and Americana acts that claim rock and other musics as influences or stylistically and attitude-wise invoke 1970s Outlaw Country: Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Sam Outlaw, etc…and are hailed for restoring “true” country sonics and values […with nods to their precursors Shooter Jennings and Hank III (both of whom I often loved & covered as a critic in the past)]. Yet there’s still apparently little to no room under the twang tent for we country artists of color, cosmic or otherwise.
Hey, I love Tompall Glaser and Clarence White & Willie Nelson as much as any other ’70s babe of my generation; and as a singer-songwriter, I am clearly influenced by my most beloved Gene Clark and the Buffalo Springfield — hear my paeans “Quartz Hill” & “Americana” “Tula” (en espanol) & “Scene & Herd” etc — and the less-celebrated Ladies of the Canyon like Judee Sill, Claudia Lennear, and Essra Mohawk. Neil Young, I see you (& thanks for singing for Standing Rock). I spent the early 1970s toddling behind my dear lil’ Pamunkey mother from the Shenandoah Valley at the bluegrass tents of Folklife Festival, snuck viewings of my favorite show Hee-Haw (’twas grand to see Roy Clark pickin’ an’ grinnin’ on the CMA, yep?), dreaming of growing up to play the Grand Ole Opry (at the Mother Church Ryman, of course) just like Darius Rucker; he ain’t the only one! Sweetheart Of the Rodeo by The Byrds & The Notorious Byrd Brothers were always & still are major for me. I am talented, and I am well-versed in the breadth and depth of country; I am extremely proud of my southern roots. All we want, after so many moons of flying the freak-flag high for Black Hillbilly & Native Americana, is to have a permanent non-conditional seat at the (farm) table, per Mrs. Knowles-Carter’s great sister Solange.
As I go prepare to march for Standing Rock again this weekend through all of Manhattan, please note that the date for the Jalopy Theater water protectors benefit in Brooklyn has been changed to 25 November. Follow the new Cactus Rose band Instagram account at @cactusroselovesyou for more details as they are announced. I continue my personal commitment to ongoing activism on behalf of the Standing Rock water protectors, and the band & I are very much looking forward to playing with our friends from the Brooklyn Country scene! I expect this to be one of my treasured highlights of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth 2016
A portrait of We Three – Bold Soul Sisters @ #ProjectAmericana rehearsal last night in Gramercy (Photo by Ned Sublette). We look forward to seeing you out at our performance — The American Slave Coast: Live – at Symphony Space in Manhattan this Friday night!
My lil’ Cosmic Country act is enjoying a well-deserved Summer Break > Stay tuned for new sounds & all the way live adventures after Indian Summer! xoxo