Texas Outlaws

Outlaws Love Texas
By Jay Milner
Texas Music
May 1976

A Dallas businessman I’ve known a long time but see infrequently walked up to me at a party not long ago and said, “Hey, I hear you know Willie Nelson.  tell me about this music.”

I find myself cornered by such questions fairly often nowadays.  The so-called Texas music scene, or movement, has been spreading its influence beyond the borders of the Lone Star State — Willie wins a Grammy, Waylon wins the Country Music Association’s ‘Best Male Vocalist’ award, and so on and on, with the sort of things that attract the attention of folks who haven’t been paying close attention before.  Commercial success and success outside the state or region, it seems, is what it takes to convince a whole lot of people that you’re really good at what you do.  These days, if you watch it awhile with an ounce of objectivity, the artists who are taking over country music and beginning to make that coveted dollar-oriented crossover onto the top music charts are named Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, Rusty Wier, Michael Murphey, B.W. Stevenson, Jesse Colter, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Freddy Fender, Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffet, Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury, Tracey Nelson, Don Williams, and others who are connected one way or another to Texas and what’s been coming down musically lately hereabouts with its creative center in Texas during the past two, three or four years.  Those years, that is, when this creative material was revealing itself to larger numbers of people, in and out of the business. 

This Texas music everybody’s talking about (nowadays it’s usually referred to as Progressive Country — a misnomer, since so much of it actually reverts back to the greater realism of earlier country music as written and performed by the likes of Jimmy Rogers and Hank Williams and will be called outlaw music here, for want of a more precisely applicable term) did not, of course, spring fullblown from Willie Nelson’s brow.  This often appears to be the case as Willie’s starship rises higher and more fans outside Texas notice it, and once they’ve noticed, find themselves among the growing ranks of those who are increasingly fascinated, encouraged and all-around pleased by its uniquely simple satisfying fullness that they become so involved with its progress and spreading the word about it a stranger could get the idea they invented it, or , at least, discovered it first — which is one of several symptoms of its addictiveness. 

But no one person, group or school of music can rightfully be given full credit for this outlaw music.  It has become known relatively far and wide as Texas music because so much of its vital development happened to take place in Texas.  And Willie’s presence, as well as his music has played av ital role in that development, as it has in spreading the word about it and attracting attention to it outside as well as inside the state.

Henry Edwards, a writer for the New York Times, had this to say about Willie and Waylon back in the fall:  “… These two are considered the leading outlaws of country music because they are rebelling from both the traditional Nashville sound and its musical rigidity on the one hand and the slickness of Nashville produced country and pop on the other.  While they are unafraid of adding rock to their music, both dig deep to return country music to its true folk roots.  They also write lyrics that avoid typical country cliches.  these two outlaws are more honest than many of their musical peers.”

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