It is fair to say that when we look back on certain times of our lives, there are always going to be songs or genres of music that stamp it.
Every time I hear “Mama Tried” or “The Roots of my Raising” by Merle Haggard, I think about my days as a youngster working on my grandpa’s Christmas tree farm.
The influence Haggard’s music had on my life was strong, and his death on April 6 has left a hole in my heart too large to explain.
Merle Haggard boasted 38 No. 1 hits throughout his career, which ranks third most in country music history, just behind George Strait and Conway Twitty, according to Gary Trust’s Billboard article “Merle Haggard notched 38 No. 1s on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart.”
When I started to think about what a great country music artist he was, I couldn’t help but ask myself the same question many people are asking: Is traditional country music dead?
In my opinion, the country music industry is facing a battle between traditional and “bro-country” artists, a battle that traditional country seems to be losing.
Traditional country music, however, is distinct for two reasons: its sound and lyrics.
One reason I think traditional country music is dying is because you rarely ever hear the steel guitar or fiddle anymore. These two instruments propelled country music to its greatest heights. It made the music distinct from other genres, and it gave the music an identity.
“It’s not that I’m against all that’s out there. There’s some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there’s really no country stuff left,” Alan Jackson said in Billy Dukes’ Taste of Country article “Alan Jackson: ‘There’s really no country left.'”
Jackson is completely right. There are plenty of country music artists out there doing their best to keep traditional country music alive; however, they just cannot seem to break through in the industry.
Country music has prided itself on being the genre of music that the everyday, hardworking person can relate to for a very long time, Sterling Whitaker said in The Boot article “Is traditional country music dead?”
“It’s still the music of people’s real lives — it’s just that those real lives are more and more about partying with your friends and cruising around town showing off in your truck, as opposed to losing your crop to an early frost, or burying your brother because he died from tuberculosis,” Whitaker said.
The rawness of traditional country music is something that shaped me as a person. Now the only thing I am learning from new country music is how to handle a breakup or what type of cup to use when I drink.
These artists are insulting all the legends who paved the way for their success today. These artists are making country music look shallow, which is something traditional country never was.
Some artists, however, are defending the “bro-country” movement and claim they are only making the genre more appealing.
“I feel the initial term ‘bro-country’ was created to be kind of a little degrading to what’s popular, to what country artists are doing right now,” Luke Bryan said in the Cleveland.com article “Luke Bryan: ‘Bro-country’ label offensive, says star who plays FirstEnergy Stadium on Saturday.”
That’s where Bryan and I have a fundamental disagreement.
I understand that music progresses over time; however, it is important that we keep traditional country music alive. Traditional country music offers benefits to a lot of people that modern-day country cannot. Artists like Merle Haggard have been too influential to have their music replaced by red Solo cups and beer.