Saturday, January 14, 2012

Alabama: Heart of Original Music by Jerry W. Henry

A songwriter is a person of conviction and inventive capacity. When we speak of original music we use the words: create, new, novel and fresh among others. In other words, original music is opposed to any copy or imitation. Songwriters draw on their deepest emotions associated with their personal experience to create their songs.

Personally I truly believe Alabama songwriters are the world's best. Songwriters such as; W.C. Handy, Jimmie Rodgers, Erskine Hawkins, Nat “King” Cole, Zeke Clements, Lionel Hampton, Delmore Brothers, Hank Williams, Louvin Brothers, Hank Ballard, Sonny James, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Billy Sherrill, Curly Putman, Tammy Wynette, Bobby Goldsboro, Baker Knight, Freddie Hart, Earl “Peanut” Montgomery, Lionel Richie, Charles Hayward, Toni Tennille, Buddy Killen, Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, Hank Williams Jr., Mac McAnally, Walt Aldridge, Vern Gosdin, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Marty Raybon, just to name those most recognizable names that have had #1 Songs on Billboard Magazine's Charts.

Other names less recognizable that have had #1 Songs on Billboard Magazine's Charts: Cow Cow Davenport, Earl Nunn, Sidney Gunter, “Curley” Williams, Billy Wallace, Joseph Morris, Autry Inman, Calvin Lewis, Andrew Wright, Carmol Taylor, Fred Wesley, Lamar Morris, Fred Wesley, Al Turney, Jimmy Jones, Milton Brown, Frederick Knight, Randy McCormick, Sam Dees, Jim McBride, Jerry Gillespie, Tommy Brasfield, Sonny Limbo, Donnie Lowery, Roger Murrah, Terry Skinner, J.L. “Jerry” Wallace, Ken Bell, Stewart Harris, Latham Hudson, Mickey Buckins, Barbara Wyrick, Terry Skinner, Richard Page, Randy McCormick, Robert Byrne, Jim McBride, Greg Fowler, Gene Griffin, Danny Mayo, Anna Lisa Graham, Gary Baker, Mike McGuire, Craig Wiseman, Tommy Barnes, Steve Dukes, Mark Hall, John Calvert, Aaron Sain, Debi Cochran, Kim Tribble, Aimee Mayo, Anthony Smith, S.D. Jones and B. Toberlin.

Songwriters that have charted are much, much too long to list here. But I do want to mention a few: Jimmy Buffett, Steven Dale Jones, Bobby Tomberlin, Neil Thrasher, Phillip White, Brad Crisler, James LeBlanc, Mark Pyle, Billy Maddox, Jeff Cook, Mark Herndon, Jimi Westbrook, Mark Naramore, Billy Lawson, Allison Moorer, Shelby Lynn, Donnie Fritts, Spooner Oldham, Johnny Wyker, Buddy Buie, A.A. Bondy, James Harman, Melba Montgomery, Dan Penn, Butler Twins, Grayson Capps and Paul Thorn.

I asked my Facebook friends to give me their feedback on this subject. I received 36 comments on Facebook and 21 replies by email. Some went into what constitutes original music? To me original music is not something that has never been said or done before, as much as it is a matter of being ‘authentic’ in the songwriting. There’s not much that hasn’t been done before. Music as we know it isn’t supposed to be completely original. People respond to familiarity. Think about this: The Beatles produced sounds that were original, but nothing was entirely unique. Some of their music and lyrics were new, but not entirely unique.

I remember interviewing a music lawyer that made a statement that I have never forgotten, “Serious songwriters don’t worry about plagiarism. It’s really a matter of somebody thought enough of an idea to borrow it.” We then had a discussion about how people will over protect their works to the degree that their songs are never released. Songs can be different in many ways. After all, there are only 12 notes that are used in different variations of time, interval and harmonic combinations. Using the same chord progression as another song has nothing to do with whether or not a song is original. There are only so many scales and techniques. Songs are the sum of all their parts. Carl Gore wrote, “There are an infinite combination of chords and progressions as there are dimensions to feelings, moods, and passions. But what one truly feels is always original.”

One reason I think Alabama is the Heart of Original Music is our music community. Peggy Chambers said it best, “...I don't know of anyone in my family tree that doesn't sing! And to tell you the truth, I don't know that many people from here that can't either.” Joseph Winsett added, “…I can count 7 folks as songwriters who have had hits played in the past 3 years that have major impact on Country Music. That's not counting all those that won the Idol thing and all the pickers that are playing for everybody or on albums.... Alabama is a very artistic state and that (is) a big fact. We Rock…”

Steve Gaither tells us, “ I've given it a lot of thought. I think the reasons are many. I've taught music in Alabama for 43 years and I think many musicians are genetically inclined to be good songwriters. We've had our share of pain and heart ache and have the literary skills to put those experiences into interesting songs. For every published songwriter there are many more unpublished who are just as good. The day of being famous means you are the best is over. Fame is not everyone's goal…. Singers, pickers, musicians (are) under every rock. I'm all about helping and encouraging others to write their own songs.”
Georgiana Thrasher tells us, “I was named after that town in Butler County, Alabama...I have lived in many different towns/cities in Alabama and I agree there is Much Talent in Alabama...Muscle Shoals is the Mother of it ALL...Music is ALL Around us and I LOVE it!”

Donnie Garvich provided us with more or less scientific proof of Alabama’s original music roots and if migration through out the world. Donnie provided us with a link to an infographic that offers a view of the journey different genres of music have made throughout history in a nice timeline format. Do yourself a favor and check this one out: Donnie also said, “…It's an awesome info graphic which attempts to show where all popular genres of music "came from". According to it, Alabama has been highly influential if nothing else. I agree with it but feel as if we are losing our musical heritage every day.” Donnie that is one of the main reason’s for Alabama Music being, to preserve our musical heritage and let the world know about Alabama music.
That infographic supports Dana Tatums comments, “ I don't know if its the "Heart" of Original music but out of much talent and original musical style from many southeast regions, I’d say Alabama, specifically the Shoals, Mobile and Birmingham, would definitely be a main chamber or artery in the heart of the musical originality of the southern rock and delta blues style of music.”

Tommy Graham contributed, “Alabama has certainly been a hotbed of original music through the years. I visited the Hank Williams home site in Georgiana and was blown away at the amount of songs he had written. There were hundreds of them. If you look through the Alabama Music Hall of Fame you will see multitudes of successful songwriters. Even our old friends from Georgia decided to label their song “Sweet Home Alabama”…”

Jilda Watson adds, “I believe that there is a wellspring of incredible original music here in Alabama. That talent and creative energy flows from the Shoals to the Gulf of Mexico, and sadly much of it will never be recognized. It is as much a part of who we are as the heat and humidity. I think religion, politics, and our culture is a breeding ground, or maybe it's just the red clay and cotton.”

Pamela Mays Decker contributes, “W.C. Handy - Father of The Blues... Jimmie Rodgers & Hank Williams - fathers of country music... That list goes on & on (and on and on, etc.). When it comes to music, inspiration, talent and real, authentic, homegrown soul, there is a real magic here that can't really be explained; it can only be felt. I know that I am very proud to tout my state's musical heritage to those from outside the state... and they are always VERY surprised when I explain just how much music either originated here or the artists who hail(ed) from our great state. The music is what I am most proud of when it comes to Alabama.” Check out Pamela’s wonderful article, “Why Southerners Love Elvis” at: “…insights about why folks from the rural South connect so deeply with music and how/why we are inspired by music and to make music. It is not only a way to rejoice, but also a way to express our emotions about our hardships.”

Mick Moore sums it up with, “You look into who wrote what and you will find that Alabama offers more to the world of music than any other state. Some might live in Nashville but are from Alabama. It’s just like you say Jerry, Alabama music is everywhere.”

I have been all over God’s green earth and have found Alabama music and Alabama musicians virtually everywhere. From opera to the Grand Ole Opry and all genres in between, Alabama is well represented.

I want to thank all of you for your feedback.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! once again, I appreciate all you do for music and musicians in Alabama!