In Market: Country music rides high with Strait, Cash

Milestone honoree George Strait performs at the 50th annual Academy of Country Music Awards at AT&T Stadium on Sunday, April 19, 2015, in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Robert Francis

It was a big couple of days for country music on Sunday and Monday. First, it was George Strait’s birthday, the King of Country Music was 68 years old. He’s a Fort Worth favorite for several reasons. For one, he kept the flame of Western Swing alive in country music when Nash-Vegas producers tried to drown Bob Wills musical style in sappy strings and too-simple chord progressions. For another, Strait helped open the Dickies Arena back in the days when we had concerts – ask your parents.

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He also had a hit with ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’. When I was playing in bands semi-regularly, that song was a staple around here. Since I usually played piano, I was lucky since the song has some great piano parts. It’s a blast to play. I’ll never forget the time a band I was in played the song on a cool spring night outside at the Lost Oak Winery in Burleson. The band enjoyed it as much or more than the audience. The wine didn’t hurt. And, oh yeah, at least in Fort Worth, the audience always sings along. Not just the chorus. The entire song.

On Sunday, Rosanne Cash, daughter of legend Johnny Cash, received a medal and honor previously awarded to Toni Morrison, Stephen Sondheim and Georgia O’Keeffe, among others. Pretty high cotton for a country singer.

The singer-songwriter is this year’s winner of the Edward MacDowell Medal, presented by the MacDowell artist colony. In a statement issued through MacDowell, Cash said she was “profoundly humbled” to receive an award that Morrison and others had been given.

 “I do not place myself in any way equal, but I accept this honor with deepest gratitude, as an encouragement to do my best work, and in the service of future inspiration. My heart is full with this precious recognition,” she said.

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Cash, who turns 65 on May 24, has won four Grammys and is known for such albums as “Interiors,” “Seven Year Ache” and “The River and the Thread.” The award committee was chaired by the critic Greil Marcus, who in a statement cited her long history of achievements and her background as the daughter of Johnny Cash.

“From the shockingly intimate timbre of ‘Seven Year Ache’ in 1981 to the reflective darkness of ‘She Remembers Everything’ 37 years later, as a composer, singer, and someone who can, in a sense, summon ambiance, Rosanne Cash has distinguished herself from her contemporaries as she has escaped the weight of her celebrated forebears,” Marcus said.

One of her albums is The List, released in 2008. The List referred to is one given Rosanne by her father when she was 18 years old. It is a list of 100 essential country songs. He gave it to her to expand her knowledge of country music. On the album she re-interprets 12 of the songs and its obvious that Johnny Cash knew how to give gifts from the heart.

Except for Willie Nelson, I was pretty much out on country music while I was in college. When ‘Seven Year Ache’ came out in 1981, I realized there was something more there than just beer-drinking and weepy steel guitars – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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‘Seven Year Ache’ wasn’t a giant hit and when I was playing in bands, we only played it a few times. Lots of singers didn’t get it and couldn’t really sing it. Also, lots of country bands have rhythm sections that don’t really get the more rock-influenced songs like ‘Seven Year Ache.’ But when it did work, the women hit the dance floor like Lone Star bottlecaps behind the bar.

More recently, someone asked me to play Rosanne Cash’s song ‘God is in the Roses.’ I loved the song – which she wrote as she mourned the death of her parents.

God is in the roses
The petals and the thorns
Storms out on the oceans
The souls who will be born
And every drop of rain that falls
Falls for those who mourn
God is in the roses and the thorns

Yeah, it’s that kind of song. At the time, there was no music for the song, not even a half-assed chord progression on the web. But there was a YouTube video of someone playing the song. I slowly learned the song and taught it to my bandmates. As you can see by the lyrics, dry eyes in the house were few and far between.

So congratulations to Rosanne Cash, who helped me realize that country music had a true, heartbreaking soul if you look – and listen – closely enough. – a few things from the Associated Press