By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
After accounting for Hag, Buck and Dwight, the whole remaining schmeer has to be broken into various categories: For starters, there’s the five-nights-a-week, meat-and-potatoes Top 40 bands like Larry Dean & the Shooters, the Tony Ryan Band, Cosgrove-Rushing, all solid outfits with a dusty trunkful of originals and who are compelled to slave away performing cover tunes. They travel an endless circuit of ramshackle joints, from Pico Rivera to Chatsworth, and, baby, that kind of gig is work with a capital W. There’s a valiant clutch of honky-tonk heroes — people like Cody Bryant, Paul Marshall, Patty Booker, Rick Shea, Brantley Kearns, Kathy Robertson, veteran musicians battling it out for an uncompromised stage on which to perform their own original songs. Many have recorded and released a series of fine CDs, strictly independent efforts that are almost invariably overlooked by both record distributors and the press.
While it’s a bruising grind for those actively pursuing a career in straight-ahead country, the popular perception of country music has in the last several years been slightly broadened by a thriving if artistically limited community of nightclub mutants, the retro-hillbilly set. Vintage-gear- and wardrobe-reliant acts have managed to win national reputations with fetishistic replications of established style. Operating on the periphery of the country idiom and aimed squarely away from country fans in favor of the 20s-ish nostalgia crowd, these cats have yet to write a song even half as good as the sources that inspired them. Stretching even further, one comes to the “Americana” market, a post-Dylan/Parsons cadre of wordy tunesmiths who owe far more to Neil Young and the Eagles than classic California-based balladeers such as Wesley Tuttle, Tommy Duncan and Wynn Stewart.
Still, it’s undeniably part of California’s way to embrace such disparate elements, a wild pool of often-conflicting sounds and attitudes. Fifteen years ago, Cal country and its heritage was underdocumented, scarcely appreciated and on the verge of extinction; the forceful campaigning of performers like Dwight Yoakam, authors such as Gerald Haslam and a handful of journalists has managed to re-introduce the legacy. Even Music City has, at long last, grudgingly conceded the vital role California played in the development of modern country.
It’s a wide-open field, not exactly lucrative, but still kicking. As Merle Haggard once said, “Country music doesn’t belong to Nashville, and it doesn’t belong to California — if you like it, get onboard.”