At the Root of the Music

Uncle Tupelo is the fulcrum of my ROOTS music universe. All things good, bad and ugly; happy, melancholy and sad, flow thru the music and the people and the places of the boys from Southern Illinois.

The melancholy is mine–youth is wasted on the young they say. While I was navel-gazing up at Urbana, potential contemporaries Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were finding their way with a guitar just a stone’s throw across Midwestern cornfields. If I would have got off my lazy, hair-metal-addled, butt and explored something off mainstream country/rock radio I coulda found these guys when they coulda saved my wasted youth. I took a move to Denver and a long drawn-out journey thru Rocky Mountain Bluegrass for me to find my musical Roots.

It just kinda hit me this week, listening to the Compadre Records podcast. They were bought out by an L.A. R&B outfit. The deal looks good on paper, I thought, more cashflow & distribution for Billy Joe Shaver & company. Then the podcast turns to sh*t this week. It’s all Beyonce, whose daddy pays the bills. It’s their choice to push that, but I don’t want no part of it. Don’t say you’re still ROOTS then pull that stuff.

Then again, who am I to say what “ROOTS” music is…. Where for me, I seem to throw a fairly wide lasso around the term. It’s likely ROOTS to me if it’s somehow connected, back or forth, through UNCLE TUPELO.

Most obvious example: Carter Family‘s No Depression (in Heaven) was the inspiration for a favorite genre tag, magazine, etc. UT brought the Carter Family music to a new generation, both faithful to the original and making it their own. Similar ex. can be found for Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. UT’s music is modern, grounded in the roots of original folk and country.

Less obvious example: Take the flip side, I’ve been arguing lately with teenage stepdaughter why Shania Twain & such are more a POP star than a TRUE COUNTRY (ie. ROOTS Country) star. I can argue song structure, songwriting, instrumentation, marketing, till I’m blue in the face, ain’t going to change her mind. There’s no context there. It’s not that I don’t like her Shania (much preferable to the above Beyonce ilk). She walked a hard road, but she’s a master of bubble gum and empty anthems, not the meat & potatoes and heartfelt gospel of the boys in Uncle Tupelo. They’re both masters of their craft, they just do different thangs.


Repost from, November 2007.  As far as I know, the last year was just more of the same.  Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression just scrobbled #80k on my

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