Ken Burns’ “Country Music” documentary showing now on PBS is full of interesting details and is a pretty thorough timeline for what fans of country have always called American music .
A short segment from Wednesday night’s show pretty innocently describes a moment in time when the business part of the country music business got serious. The creation of the Country Music Association draws a line for many who were making the music, writing the songs and vying for radio and stage time in the country music universe. The CMA was formed as a trade organization to promote — and protect — country music’s profitability.
It’s founding president was Connie B. Gray.
While Gray was responsible for creating the Country Music Hall of Fame, the documentary states — almost in passing — that Gray had never visited the Grand Ole Opry. I believe the creation of the CMA led to artists such as Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and even Johnny Cash being chased out of Nashville. And I believe we’ll be hearing more about that.
Also, some personal history/memories come burbling up to the surface. I grew up in the early 1960s listening to my step-dad’s favorite country radio station as we drove to and from town. Like most American families, we all gathered around the TV on Sunday night to watch Disney and sometimes “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Ed Sullivan introduced my family to The Beatles, and everything else got swept into the storage closet of my developing cranium.
Fast forward to 1982. The Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, the Eagles, the Sex Pistols and the Penetrators had mostly all come and gone. Pen’s drummer Dan McLain, who later became known as Country Dick Montana, shocked the San Diego music scene by introducing them to his deep bass vocal stylings with his band the Pleasure Barons.
But McLain had bigger fish to fry. He recruited guitar shop salesman and authentic hillbilly Robin Jackson, Puppies bassist Nino Del Pesco, ex-Fingers guitarist and songwriter Paul Kamanski and myself to join his newest project, Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies. Richard Banke (aka Skid Roper) was a highly respected guitarist, and after witnessing one Snuggle Bunnies show, he decided he had to be in the band. Country Dick decreed, “Three guitars were enough!” Undeterred, Banke arrived at the next show with a mandolin and glockenspiel.
Now, country music had taken a lonely back seat to most of popular music in the 25 years since the British Invasion, and I was not sure what in the world Dan/Country Dick had in mind. But it all became evident when Robin Jackson tore into George Jones’ “The Race is On” and a substantial satchel of country gems he’d brought with him.
These were songs I remembered from my early childhood. I was able to bring a few more into the song list, including my previous boss John Stewart’s “Never Goin’ Back to Nashville.” Kamanski brought in a bunch Woody Guthrie tunes, and we played them all as fast as we could manage — lovingly torturing these oft times comedic gems into faster, louder versions.
Rockabilly was already a secret religion practiced in every major city. It really never went away. But this wasn’t that. A lot of the songs we played inspired a few of the girls in the crowd to teach their bashful boyfriends to swing dance. But this was before the big swing revival of the late 1980s/early ’90s. No this was country western music lovingly deconstructed into punk rock.
The Snuggle Bunnies played all the punk shows in town, and I’m here to proclaim, Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies invented cow punk! Weeeee-hoooooooo!
— Author Joey Harris has a San Diego band Joey Harris & the Mentals. He is a former member to the Beat Farmers and Country Dick and the Snuggle Bunnies.