It's 1981 and John Anderson has just released his third album, I Just Came Home to Count the Memories. It was a success at the time and remains one of the best albums of the so-called "New Traditionalist" movement of the '80s and '90s, an almost reactionary onslaught of traditional-minded country that rose up in the face of the success of Urban Cowboy.
I own the album on vinyl and one song stands out above the rest. It was penned by Bobby Braddock and was called "Would You Catch a Falling Star." Listening to it 31 years after the fact, it's impossible not to equate it with the careers of Anderson, most of his peers, and the movement itself.
Clint Black and Aaron Tippin played the county fair here several years ago. Tippin put on one of the best shows I've ever seen, but he has a God-given talent that should be displayed in larger venues. Black, from what I've been told, was inebriated during the show. I wasn't there to confirm or deny this.
According to Doug Stone's official website, one of his few shows last year was at a junior high school gymnasium in Utah. The rest of that particular story can't be found on his website but it's online for anyone who wishes to check it out. This isn't TMZ.
Rosanne Cash and ex-husband Rodney Crowell are both doing alright, but nobody in mainstream Nashville knows or cares who they are at this point. They've been embraced by the "Americana" community, a community which would never embrace many of the falling stars of country music's last stand in the mainstream.
To name one: Travis Tritt, who seems to be missing in action. Tritt's friend and former duet partner Marty Stuart released a new album last week, one of the best of his career, but unlike the rock stars of his generation (Petty, Springsteen, Mellencamp, etc) it got no coverage in Rolling Stone or Billboard, no fancy TV ads, no major label deal.
When the hits stopped coming for Randy Travis, he went the Tennessee Ernie Ford route and focused on sacred material. It seemed to have worked out well for him, but with recent incidents in his personal life his future as a gospel singer may be in question.
John Anderson paired up with the unholy alliance of Big and Rich. A man has to make a living somehow, I guess.
Ricky Skaggs realized that country music has no place for him and for the past 15 years or so has returned to straightforward bluegrass. His childhood friend and bandmate Keith Whitley has, of course, been dead for over 20 years.
Dwight Yoakam proved to be too country and too much of a true artist somewhere around 1995, so he became Steve Buscemi.
Garth Brooks, who made three great country albums, ultimately was a better businessman than an artist and we all know how he and Shania Twain changed the country scene. Chris LeDoux, the man Brooks name-dropped and catapulted to fame is, like Whitley, no longer with us.
The Dixie Chicks, one of the last of the New Traditionalist breed, were blacklisted for daring to use their Constitutional rights.
So now we're down to two.
The first, Alan Jackson, recently released his best song in over a decade. It's went nowhere on the country charts, probably because it's country. I'm not ready to write Alan off entirely as a hitmaker, but in the past two years he has been dropped by a label he was with for over 20 years and saw the failure of "So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore" in the marketplace. He may have many more artistic triumphs ahead of him, but who will hear them?
We're left then with one man: George Strait. It's a sad state of affairs that the fate of mainstream country music rests on the back of a 60 year old man. Miranda Lambert is a great artist, but her mainstream fans love her for her pop-influenced hits. And Jamey Johnson is the David Allan Coe of today, destined to remain a cult figure loved by hardcore country fans and unknown to legions of radio listeners beyond a song or two.
At what point does George Strait become too old to be marketable? Because as of right now, that is the exact point where you can mark the death of Nashville as the center of country music.
We'll be OK. People reading this site know that there is a ton of great country music still out there. But for future generations it will forever be known as pop with a fiddle unless somebody breaks through and encourages them to dig deeper into the genre than Rascal Flatts.
Who will be the next George Strait?