Sturgill Simpson Blasts Lamestream Nashville Country Music Industry For Bastardizing Merle Haggard’s Name
County music is arguably the most decisive genre of music in America. You either love it so much that you get hopped up on cheap domestic beers and yell “truck yea!!!” with a hundred thousand people in a stadium all summer or it sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. If you hate country-pop and love authentic Americana music, singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson is a damn godsend — He literally left a job working for the Union Pacific Railroad in a freight yard to pursue his dreams in Nashville. This past year his third studio album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, became one of the most beloved American roots albums of the year. It’s a damn tremendous piece of musical art, but it’s not for country music fans who prefer songs about Dairy Queen and yeeehawing under the bleachers with your prom date like a corny, chicken-fried Norman Rockwell painting.
Today the Academy of Country Music pissed Simpson off. Last week the Nashville music industry institution announced it was launching a “Merle Haggard Spirit Award” to honor Haggard’s legacy to county music culture at large. Sturgill lit up Facebook today by firing shots at the Academy of Country Music for bastardizing Haggard’s outlaw country legacy.
Many years back, much like Willie and Waylon had years before, Merle Haggard said,
“Fuck this town. I’m moving.” and he left Nashville.
According to my sources, it was right after a record executive told him that “Kern River” was a bad song. In the last chapter of his career and his life, Nashville wouldn’t call, play, or touch him. He felt forgotten and tossed aside. I always got a sense that he wanted one last hit..one last proper victory lap of his own, and we all know deserved it. Yet it never came. And now he’s gone.
Im writing this because I want to go on record and say I find it utterly disgusting the way everybody on Music Row is coming up with any reason they can to hitch their wagon to his name while knowing full and damn well what he thought about them. If the ACM wants to actually celebrate the legacy and music of Merle Haggard, they should drop all the formulaic cannon fodder bullshit they’ve been pumping down rural America’s throat for the last 30 years along with all the high school pageantry, meat parade award show bullshit and start dedicating their programs to more actual Country Music.
While Im venting about the unjust treatment of a bonafide American music legend, I should also add, if for no other reasons than sheer principal and to get the taste I’ve been choking back for months now out of my mouth, that Merle was supposed to be on the cover of Garden & Gun magazine’s big Country Music issue (along with myself) a few months back.
They reached out to both of us in October of last year while I was on a west coast tour. Merle was home off the road so I took a day off and traveled up to Redding.
He was so excited about it and it goes without saying that I was completely beside myself along with my Grandfather who has always been a HUGE Merle fan. We spent the whole day of the interview visiting in his living room with our families and had a wonderful conversation with the journalist. Then we spent about two hours outside being photographed by a brilliant and highly respected photographer named David McClister until Merle had enough…he was still recovering from a recent bout of double pneumonia at the time and it was a bit cold that day on the ranch.
But then at the last minute, the magazine’s editor put Chris Stapleton on the cover without telling anyone until they had already gone to print. Don’t get me wrong, Chris had a great year and deserves a million magazine covers…but thats not the point.
Its about keeping your word and ethics.
Chris also knows this as he called me personally to express his disgust at the situation. Dude’s a class act.
The editor later claimed in a completely bullshit email apology to both Merle’s publicist and ours (Chris and I share the same publicist) that they didn’t get any good shots that day.
2 hour shoot..
no good photos..
OK buddy,..whatever you say.
Anyway, Merle passed away right after it came out.
Some days, this town and this industry have a way of making we wish I could just go sit on Mars and build glass clocks.
Damn. That’s some feistiness, Sturgill. But then he revised his message when it was announced that Miranda Lambert would be the first recipient of the award.
Shortly after I initially posted this it was announced that Miranda Lambert would be the award recipient.
Before people start chasing clickbait by putting words in my mouth I feel the need to clarify that I was not aware of this at the time of my original post and my words were in no way directed at her. I know that Merle liked and respected her so it’s good to see there is at least some blue sky in all of this.
I don’t know Miranda nor have I ever met her but something tells me that in her heart, she knows I’m dead on. I am also aware that the ACM is a West Coast organization originally created to recognize West Coast artists like Merle and they have handed Merle many trophies over the years,..even in the last 15 or so mind you. It’s also worth noting that the last one was handed to him by none other than Miranda Lambert herself.
But all of this is irrelevant as none of it has anything to do with the original point I was trying to make. My point was that all of these organizations don’t walk it like they talk it. I called The ACM out directly because they are simply the latest in a long line of organizations that have done the same since Merle’s death…and even before. Showing homage and handing lifetime achievement awards to the greats of yesterday while claiming to uphold and hold dear the original values and integrity of Country music’s legacy. Yet these are just hollow words…merely empty semantics. One needs only to look glancingly at the majority of the music that they, along with the CMA’s, predominantly choose to recognize and promote at their award shows.
I fully realize that as I type this, meetings and conversations are taking place on music Row to ensure I am blackballed from the industry and that’s perfectly fine with me. Im not sure how you can blackball somebody you don’t acknowledge in the first place anyway. Yet, even though they mostly go out of their way to ignore artists like myself and Jason Isbell, I assure you they are more than aware of our existence. They are also well aware that we don’t need them. Our last albums went to #1 without any help from the Mainstream Country Music establishment…and our next albums will too. With that said, I have no more need to make enemies with these people than I have a need to be their friends. If anything I’m trying to help them. Because more and more everyday, people are waking up to the situation and they are pissed. Perhaps Country Music, especially Nashville, should wake up too before it’s too late.
I should also go ahead and add here that whether or not I am nominated for a CMA award this year, I will not be attending the ceremony for no other reason than the fact I already have a sold out show scheduled in Des Moines, Iowa on the night of the awards ceremony and I have no plans to change that.
Mostly though, I just wish Merle was still alive.
I’d love for them to all hear his thoughts on the matter.
P.S. Fuck this town. I’m moving.
It’s pretty badass to see someone with Sturgil’s success give a healthy middle finger to the Nashville establishment and sit out the CMAs in favor of performing his own show. Restores my faith in music and humanity. And he’s not the only one to agree — His post has been shared over 10,000 times and fellow singer-songwriters like Jason Isabell are coming to his defense.
God bless original, creative country music.