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Valley Perspective | SECOND OPINION

If a Country Musician Performed in the Valley . . .

Who would know, given media attitudes toward this most American form?

October 11, 1998|RON CATT | Bassist and vocalist Ron Catt, who performs with Larry Dean and the Shooters, is a resident of Van Nuys

Bakersfield's Red Simpson penned those words years ago in his classic country shuffle. Then, it was a sprightly little lament about a woman who loved the night life more than she loved him. Now, however, the lyrics are more ominous because in Southern California, the honky-tonks are, indeed, closing up.

This is tragic, and the blame can be placed squarely at the feet of Southern California's myopic media. A massive subculture is being all but ignored and business is being deprived of a huge demographic. But most tragic is the fact that media snobbery has diminished Southern California's popular culture and made us poorer.

Country music locally has fewer and fewer venues. The Los Angeles area's embarrassing wealth of country musicians play the hottest licks in undeserved obscurity. Country music fans surf the channels, scan the radio dial, comb the printed media in vain, searching for one critic who is credible, one piece that is not patronizing and predictable. Just one complete, accurate list of who is playing where and when!

I'm a 50-year-old man. I spent my childhood in an apartment above my dad's truck stop, smack on Highway 40 on the outskirts of a small Indiana town. Every night I was lulled to sleep by the '78s spinning the songs of Hank Williams, the Weavers and Patsy Cline. For 29 years I have played, sung, and drank in honky-tonks. I don't have to wear the costume of the American archetype to exhibit my roots, because like tens of thousands of Southern Californians, I'm the real deal. We love country music, arrow-straight from the American heartland to the American heart.

We know that country is the most played music on American radio. And we resent it when the soundtrack of our lives is ignored by the local critics, reviewers and entertainment mavens. Meanwhile, on a national level, country artists consistently top the charts, sell out concerts and get the lion's share of air play.

In the Los Angeles area, the entertainment media are fixated on film and pop music. We like movies, too. But we know there is more honest emotion communicated in a three-minute Hank Williams song than can be experienced in any action blockbuster. As for pop music, isn't it largely made by kids, for kids? It's a little pathetic to witness grown men and women writing and talking seriously about the Foo Fighters and the Spice Girls. Especially when there is an enormously popular genre written, sung and played by adults, for adults.

On any given night John "the Groover" McDuffie will come off the road from his gig with Rita Coolidge, head straight for the San Fernando Valley and burn it up in some local club. But the fans will discover this only by accident.

When Cary Park has time off from touring with Bruce Hornsby, he doesn't sit in his Tarzana digs staring at his resume. He accepts local gigs and lights up the Valley honky-tonks with his fiery playing. But the local media will never tell us where or when.

Bob Metzger will take a break from producing Leonard Cohen, leave his comfortable Sherman Oaks home and bring his great steel and guitar to some Valley pub. He'll play consistently creatively for hours. For no cover charge. Just because he loves to play country music. But anyone who depends on L.A.'s radio, TV or newspapers for information will never know.

The legendary steel guitarist Leo LeBlanc loved to play country music so much that when his progressive blindness left him unable to drive, he would roll his equipment out of his Burbank apartment, down to the corner and ride the bus to his gig. Those who love his work on the Wallflowers' album--which was dedicated to him after his death--might wish they could have heard him in person. And they could have, if the media had paid the least attention.

Because of this, many great country artists, like Boy Howdy, Highway 101, Gary Allan, have gone elsewhere to have hit records and successful careers with barely a ripple of interest from their hometown. And our city is deprived of entertainment, pride and revenue. Do you think Nashville wants our media to support our country scene? Hell no!

I'm talking about just a few of the Valley's plethora of great musicians who happen to love and appreciate and play country. And I'm talking about country music itself, so elegant in its simplicity, so adult in its themes, so deeply rooted in the American experience.

And I'm talking about Southern California's media, so cavalier in attitudes, so entrenched in subjects, so careless of the harm in sins of omission. As careless as a child. A child who might listen to the Spice Girls.

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