Ike Johnson and the Commercialization of Country Music

Ike Jonson was at the Troubadour Lounge and Park in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia Sunday to celebrate the 84th birthday of country music legend and Troubadour founder Jim McCoy.

When it comes to country music, Ike is a traditionalist. He’s maybe even a purist.

He lived in Nashville for a while and played with a group called Ike Jonson and the Roadhouse Rangers.

His concerts were a bit like a country music history lesson.

He also worked at the Ernest Tubb record shop in Nashville.

“What everybody conceives of as country music on the radio is not country music,” Jonson said on Sunday. “Real country is people like Jim McCoy and his generation and those who preceded him. People like Ernest Tubb. Porter Waggoner. Charlie Walker. Ted Daffan. Al Dexter. Floyd Tillman. I could go on a list as long as my arm.”

Jonson says he won’t play anything written after 1963.

“Right about 1963, RCA Records led the charge on what they called the Nashville Sound,” Jonson explains. “The Nashville Sound was completely contrived to attract people who were not country fans. It was all about money. After that point, it was all about money.”

“And then a bunch of folks from New York and Los Angeles realized — oh my God, there are hillbillies down there making money on this. We’re going to come down and contaminate this. We’re going to figure out how we can make this marketable to the 18 to 25 year old female demographic that still reigns supreme today.”

“Before that point, it had been about a bunch of hillbillies — people like Jim from the mountains of West Virginia, people like myself who are from the upper Ozarks of Missouri. We had always been about the rural experience, about what it was like to come up, working on a farm, working for a living, not having any money. What it was like when your woman walked off with another fella at a dance — or something like that.”

“It was all about what was in the heart. It was about what was true, what was real. But it became very commercialized after 1963,” Jonson said.

McCoy agrees with Jonson’s take on the situation.

McCoy has set up an internet country music radio station — Troubadour Radio — that plays only the classics. “We play nothing new on it,” McCoy said. “Like Ike said, up until 1963, there were songs written about people’s lives,” McCoy said. “The songs meant something. Today, there is too much vulgar language. Our kids don’t need to hear that kind of stuff.”

“They talk about country music today. It’s not country music. It’s rock. It’s pop,” McCoy said.

Jonson said that many of the greats of country music — people like Webb Pierce and Charlie Walker and Porter Waggoner — “saw their careers go right down the tubes because they remained true to their roots.”

McCoy said there is going to be a protest march in Nashville on April 17 to bring back the old country stars.

McCoy said that the protest was triggered when singer Blake Shelton “accused all of us seniors as being old farts and jackasses.”

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