Move Over, Hank Williams

This might negate any chances I have of being hip, but let me confess that I love country music. It’s a secret indulgence of mine, warming me from top to bottom and soothing me no matter if my mood is up or down.

I’ve kept this secret because nobody else on the planet seems to like Country anymore, even horse people. And that baffles me, because where I grew up, horse folks were the only ones who actually did like country music. Nowadays, every horse person I know turns the dial when Randy Travis or Waylon Jennings comes on a radio. If cowboys of all people don’t listen to Country, then who does? Besides me, of course.

I’m worried that Country is going to disappear and this bums me out.

Maybe the problem is that we’ve become too urban, so tunes about ridiculously simple things just don’t pull any weight now. Who relates anymore to twangy songs about dogs or yodels praising pick-up trucks? A whiney guitar and a ditty about old men sitting around talking about the weather just don’t move people.

Fortunately for now, though, Country radio stations continue to exist. I can still hear Dolly Parton sing about her coat of many colors or Johnny Cash croon the Folsom Prison blues. For me, these melodies are somewhat synonymous with life with horses. Much of this has to do with the hole-in-the-wall Country station in my off-the-beaten-path childhood town in Vermont. Back before things like automated programming or satellite radio, this tiny station—WCVR—ran from a four-room clapboard shack, manned round the clock by deejays that were employable for no other capacity than what WCVR required of them: drink lots of stale coffee and burble into the microphone.

In the early days of getting our farm operating, my mother sold ads part-time for WCVR. Her ‘colleagues’ included one drunk and one parolee. She sometimes brought us along with her and let us peruse the stacks of tunes while she hawked air time to livestock feed companies, lumber yards, and tractor dealerships. All these establishments, the backbone of any rural economy, piped WCVR into their shops.

This meant that anyone with livestock had a steady daily diet of Country music. No matter what errands you ran, you would hear Hank Williams, guaranteed. Then, if you happened to be a single guy, you’d inevitably develop a crush on the afternoon deejay, “Rena,” and keep all your radios (truck, home, barn) tuned to WCVR so you didn’t miss an instant of her sultry voice. Rena’s smooth on-air persona defied her real-life stats. In person, she was neither smooth nor sultry. Rena was an exceptionally large woman, prone to sleeping in her clothes and forgetting to wash her hair. She told jokes without punch lines and then cackled and snorted at her own humor, sometimes stopping mid-joke to pop zits on her cheek. But if you only knew her on-air voice, you’d assume Rena was a real sex kitten. Thus the dozens of stalkers sending flowers to WCVR.

Then there was “Wild Willy,” the deejay that took over from 6pm to midnight, and gave painstaking monologues about his latest heartaches. Wild Willy refused to play “new school” Country and held instead to a playlist of strictly “old school” music, though no one else could tell the difference. Crooning, swaggering vocals all sounded the same to us.

We baled hay to Country, fed and trained horses to it. Like all farm families, our lives unfolded to a soundtrack of Country music. But now, apparently, the horse world has shucked off some of the attributes that always made it less cool than normal society (things like canvas clothes, chapped hands, maintenance-free haircuts—to name just a few).

Tunes about dogs and blue jeans and the weather have disappeared. It’s not that they’ve been replaced by anything. It’s more a matter of the horse world becoming more… well, maybe sophisticated is the right word. Nowadays, folks are busy with ipods and cell phones, email and digital cameras. There’s no room for a twangy soundtrack in the background of one’s life. Instead, we’re more modern now and arguably more hip. Minus me, of course, because I’ve replaced WCVR with a station here in California at 95.5 on the FM dial that plays old school and new school, whatever that means.