This spring, my wife and I began leasing a new Ford. One of the incentives the dealership offered was six months of free SiriusXM satellite radio. I must admit, the appeal of listening to “E Street Radio” 24/7 had some allure. However, there were only so many shitty sounding bootlegs I could listen to before I was ready to change the station. It was after I’d grown sick of hearing “Waiting on a Sunny Day” sound like it was underwater for the hundredth time that I scrolled around the SirusXM universe. As soon as I came upon the country block – five stations dedicated to country music in its various forms and generations – I stopped scrolling.
For the past four months, I’ve been listening to these stations, which include “Willie’s Roadhouse,” “Prime Country,” “The Highway,” “Outlaw County” and “Bluegrass Junction.” My favorites are “Willie’s Roadhouse,” named after the outlaw patriarch, Willie Nelson, and “Outlaw Country,” which is a free form AOR country station, if you recall 70s era AOR FM radio.
“Willie’s Roadhouse” plays a wide variety of country classics , reaching back as far as the 1940s and extending into the late 70s. In any given hour you may hear Flatt & Scruggs, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens or Loretta Lynn followed by Kris Kristofferson, Tanya Tucker, Charley Pride or Willie himself. In every sense of the word, “Willie’s Roadhouse” is an oldies station for those country those music fans that feel the genre lost its soul at the turn of the 80s. Let’s face it folks, A LOT of music lost its soul in the decade of synth drums, Miami Vice and Gordon Gecko. “Willie’s Roadhouse” fills a void in the radio market, one that surprises have never been filled.
Since the 80s, rock music has had at least one oldies radio station in every major market. In Cleveland, where I grew up, it was Magic 105, WMJI. In L.A., where my kids are growing up, it’s K-EARTH 101. You can turn to these stations anytime and hear a steady stream of 50s and 60s pop/rock classics. Although the playlists have grown to include some questionable songs from the disco era, anyone starting their rock ‘n roll journey can begin their trip on Magic 105 or K-Earth an get a taste of yesteryear. Country music? Not so much.
It’s a shame that a country oldies or country classics format doesn’t exist anywhere besides satellite radio and fledgling Internet stations. Country music has roots that extend all the way back to the original thirteen colonies, when European folk songs and spirituals were adapted and molded to tell the story of America. As country pop culture has overlooked much of the greatness from the 40s, 50s and 60s in favor of the glitter and big drum sound of the current country scene, music fans lose out. “Willie’s Roadhouse” is a godsend for anyone starting on their own country music journey just like I am. When our SirusXM subscription expires, I’m really going to miss this channel.
If “Willie’s Roadhouse” looks to the past, “Outlaw Country” takes the fork in the road and barrels down the road less taken. The station features genre-bending country music that is heavily influenced by honkytonk and the outlaw era of the 1970s. The DJs on the station (including the rowdy Mojo Dixon), play such diverse music, you sometimes have to listen closely for the country connection. But it’s there.
“Outlaw Country” reminds us that country music shouldn’t be restricted to the sounds of Nashville. Besides Nixon, who sometimes seems from another planet, highlights on this channel include Elizabeth Cook and Dallas Wayne’s daily shows. Like those free form radio stations of yesteryear, the DJs will often play sound bites from television and movies, anything to create some kind of theme to the song sets.
Steve Earle has a weekly show that features just about anything the singer-songwriter can come up with, depending on his mood and his past week’s events. He once recounted being in England, which reminded him of one band. Earle then went on to play Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” The program I enjoy the most is a two-hour weekly show hosted by Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller, pillars of Americana music. These two old friends share stories, invite their peers and mentors to join them, and play a wide variety of music from every decade. I’m so glad “The Buddy & Jim Show” is available on demand because I’m never in the car long enough to hear the whole thing.
In my youth I would sit in my basement and listen to the radio, not just the music, but the DJs, as well. They were friends to the listeners, not just voices coming out of a speaker. This is the same feeling I get when I turn on “Outlaw Country,” that the hosts and the listeners are in a secret club dedicated to music off the beaten path. Man, it’s exhilarating to have this feeling again.
As for the other three channels in the country block, I do check out “Prime Country,” which plays hits from the 80s and 90s, and “The Highway,” which features current hits. However, “Bluegrass Junction” is more interesting to me than those other two. Bluegrass is a style I’m still becoming acquainted with, but I enjoy it. It’s also a style of country music that rarely, if ever, gets radio time.
In a few months my satellite signal is going to become static. While the absence of these channels may leave a small hole in my life, I’ve been inspired to really search out the kind of music that I won’t hear on the FM dial. My country adventure continues.