meta-scriptWillard Cox, Of GRAMMY-Winning Bluegrass Group The Cox Family, Has Died At 82 | GRAMMY.com
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Willard Cox, Of GRAMMY-Winning Bluegrass Group The Cox Family, Has Died At 82

The local bluegrass/gospel heroes were beloved for the vocal harmony they delivered while performing both hymns and original songs

GRAMMYs/Nov 9, 2019 - 12:47 am

Willard Cox, the father of GRAMMY-winning bluegrass/gospel/country group The Cox Family, has passed away at the age of 82. The sad news was shared on Bluegrass Today on Nov. 5.

The Cox Family—consisting of Willard, his late wife Marie, and their four children; Evelyn, Lynn, Sidney and Suzanne—began performing together in 1972. They first saw regional fame in the South, as they toured across their homestate, Louisiana, as well as Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas. The local bluegrass heroes were beloved for the vocal harmony they delivered while performing both hymns and original songs.

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In 1993, they worked with 27-time GRAMMY winner Alison Krauss, who produced their album Everybody's Reaching Out For Someone. The following year, Krauss and The Cox Family released a collaborative gospel album, I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, which earned a win for Best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel Or Bluegrass Gospel Album at the 37th GRAMMY Awards.

The family's acclaim began to spread across the country, and in 2000, they were invited to work on the soundtrack for the Golden Globe-winning Coen Brothers film, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Krauss also performed on the soundtrack, which won all of them the coveted Album Of The Year at the 44th GRAMMY Awards.

The Cox Family's song on the soundtrack, "I Am Weary (Let Me Rest)," is one of their most popular on streaming services and helped them reach international audiences. On the deluxe edition of the album, they had two more songs; "Keep On The Sunny Side" and and "In The Highway."

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Unfortunately, not long after the family finished working on the iconic soundtrack, Willard and Marie were seriously hurt in a car accident, leaving Willard with a severe spine injury. Despite the challenges, the family performed a limited number of shows with Willard in a wheelchair. Marie also fought breast cancer for several years and passed away in 2009.

The Cox Family's final album, Gone Like The Cotton, was released in 2015. 

Willard's funeral service is taking place today in Minden, La. The surviving family shared a kind message on the obituary: "The Family wishes to thank you all the thoughts and prayers shown during this time so far! Please continue to keep us in your prayers in the next few days as we celebrate his life!"

Alison Krauss On Her Many GRAMMY Wins, Working With Robert Plant & The Importance Of "Daydream Time"

Koe Wetzel Press Photo 2024
Koe Wetzel

Photo: Jody Domingue

interview

Koe Wetzel On How New Album '9 Lives' Helped Him Tap Into His Feelings

After establishing himself as an outlaw country act, Koe Wetzel wanted to dig deeper with his fifth studio album. The buzzy star details how new collaborators and unintentional therapy helped him show a new side of his artistry.

GRAMMYs/Jul 23, 2024 - 06:37 pm

The word "rabid" may often be tossed around in conversations about fan bases, but Koe Wetzel's die-hard followers truly deserve the distinction. A quick search of the Texas-born singer/songwriter's fans reveals videos of Wetzel breaking up audience fights, arguments over featured vocalists and many, many Koe-inspired tattoos.

So, what is it about the 32-year-old country star that gets people so riled up? For starters, Wetzel, like Zach Bryan or Cody Jinks, is an outsider in the genre. He found his footing and honed his unorthodox sound — which defies traditional genre conventions to include influences from hard rock and hip-hop — as part of the Texas music scene rather than on Nashville's Music Row, the genre's commercial epicenter. Wetzel debuted in 2015 with Out on Parole, an album released under the name Koe Wetzel and the Konvicts. That record and its follow-up, 2016's Noise Complaint, made Wetzel a star on the college touring circuit, and by the time 2019's Harold Saul High was released, he was charting on Billboard while fielding management and label offers.

Wetzel's rough-and-tumble persona is another draw. He's outlaw country in his music and in life, with the Feb. 28 date of his 2016 arrest for public intoxication now known as "Koe Wetzel Day." He's known for working hard and partying harder — though, as he tells GRAMMY.com, he hopes to soften that image with his new album 9 Lives, out now.

As Wetzel puts it, at the heart of his gritty, irreverent persona is "just a goofball" who "probably should" go to therapy more often. Accordingly, his songwriting on 9 Lives is his most vulnerable to date, mingling meditations on fame and mental health with party anthems and hardscrabble tales of life on the road. Produced by Gabe Simon (Noah Kahan, Lana Del Rey), the record takes the gritty, rough-hewn country rock of Wetzel's earlier releases and lets it breathe a bit, adding touches of pop and roots to his grunge-leaning, hip-hop inspired beginnings.

Highlights on the record include the gritty and groovy title track and "Bar Song," a hypnotically infectious ode to a wild night out; "Leigh" shows off Wetzel's comedic side, as he playfully laments falling for "girls with names ending in Leigh." He also includes two drastically different covers: "Depression & Obsession" by late rapper XXXTentacion, and "Reconsider" by Keith Gattis, a country singer/songwriter who died in 2023 — further proof that Wetzel is anything but your typical country artist. 

On the album's July 19 release, Wetzel chatted with GRAMMY.com about his switch-up with 9 Lives, from recruiting a new producer to covering a rap song and more.

It's rare to speak to an artist on an album release day, so I'd love to hear how your day is going and what the feedback from your fans has felt like so far.

I'm just glad that everybody's taken [the album] in the way I wanted them to, you know? I didn't know how people were going to react to it, because it is a little bit different from the sound that we put out before. But the reaction has been great. I think people are getting a little bit more of a feel for the stuff that we put out in our earlier years. 

Your fan base is so passionate, and it seems like they are also really open to you taking risks and hearing new sounds from you. Does that resonate with you?

Yeah, for sure. It's not that they were getting used to the same sound we had been putting out for the last couple of records, but I felt like they were wanting something a little different than the country rock stuff. And I think with this record, we give them that. We're giving them  something that they haven't heard from me before. 

Take me back to the early days of plotting this record. What got the ball rolling for you?

Well, we really didn't go into it expecting it to be a full record. We hadn't put out music in a while, so we went into it with [the goal of] get[ting] a couple singles out, just to get stuff going for a record, possibly, in the future. I hadn't put out my music in almost two years at that point. And so, the idea was to go in and write some newer stuff. I knew the direction that I wanted it to go — a little bit softer, more honest, vulnerable route. 

We got in [the studio] with Gabe Simon and Amy Allen and Carrie K and Sam Harris in El Paso, and we were there for, I think, two or three days. We wrote four songs: "Damn Near Normal," "Sweet Dreams" and a couple other tunes. We kind of sat back and looked at everything, and it all came really easy for us. 

We looked back like, "All right, man, this sounds great. We should do it again." So, we hooked back up in Nashville at RCA, and we knocked out a couple more. I think we did four or five more songs in a couple of days there. Before we knew it, we're like, "Man, we got a whole record in there." It wasn't planned at all.

It must feel good to go in without any major expectations and come out of the studio with music that fits your vision.

Yeah, for sure. Gabe Simon — he really brought that out. It was my first time working with him. It was kind of scary, going in to write and work with somebody that you've never met before and being so open and honest with them. He pulled out everything that made all those songs [right for] the record.

It sounds like the two of you have a special creative partnership. What do you think it is about your work with Gabe that made him the right fit for the record?

One thing is just us coming from two different worlds. I'm a Texas guy, and he's coming from Nashville. It's just those two worlds colliding, pretty much. And he really cared about me and cared about my life, — things that are going on in my life instead of just being about the music. He cares about my well-being. We're friends now, and he'll hit me up on any given day and ask, "How you doing? How you feeling?" It has nothing to do with music. That's the type of dude Gabe is. 

I think that played a big part in this record. Of course, he cared about the music, but he also wanted everybody to understand the stories that were being told. 

You mentioned earlier that you get into more vulnerable territory on this record. What was it like for you to open up in that way in your music?

Honestly, it was kind of freeing. I don't go to therapy as much as I probably should. And I've said this a couple of times, that when I first met Gabe and Amy and all them, they all sat me down and picked my brain, just trying to get song ideas and [figure out] which way I wanted to go with the record. I always say that was my first real therapy session. And it was total strangers. 

I don't talk about my feelings and stuff as much as I probably should, so whenever I get to write this music and play this music, that's pretty much how I express how I feel.

On the other end of the spectrum, you're great at incorporating humor into your songwriting. On this record, I'm particularly thinking about "Leigh," which is just so clever. What role does humor play in your writing process?

I'm a goofball. [With] my persona, people want to think I'm just this hardass, kind of outlaw dude, but I'm really just a goofball. I like to have a lot of fun. I like my records to have a lot of fun. So throwing in songs like that to keep people on their toes, you know, it's just to let them know it's not always so serious. It's a lot of fun and games. 

We had a lot of fun making that song. At first, it kind of started off as a joke, and then we kind of sat back like, "Holy s—, this is pretty good. This is a fun song." We can't wait to play that one.

The two cover songs on the record fit so well, even though they are from drastically different artists, XXXTentacion and Keith Gattis. How did you choose those, and what made them fit the rest of 9 Lives?

Keith Gattis, I didn't really get to know him or do a deep dive into his music while he was alive. He passed away last year. And Charlie Robison was one of my favorite Texas artists growing up. They passed away pretty close to each other last year. 

Once I figured out that Keith wrote a lot of Charlie's songs, I really dug into his music a lot more… Something inside me was just like, "Yo, you gotta cut this song." I feel like it rounded out the record. We just tried to do it as much justice as possible. 

[It was] kind of the same with "Depression & Obsession." XX is one of my favorite underground rappers. I love that era of music. I love what he did. He was another artist that was gone too soon. There's no telling what more we could have gotten from him. So, I wanted to do it justice and give a nod to them by putting those songs on the record.

You have Jessie Murph joining you on "High Road." How did the two of you connect?

Ron Perry with Columbia, he signed her a couple years ago. When we signed with Columbia, he asked if I'd heard of Jessie Murph. I wasn't familiar with her at the time. Then I looked her up and instantly became a fan. She's a f—ing superstar. Her voice is amazing. 

We talked about having a duet on this record, but I couldn't find a singer that I wanted to have on the record. But it was kind of easy because Jessie worked with Columbia and, like I said, I was a huge fan. So, we hit her up. We let her put her own spin on it, and she absolutely crushed it. 

You're certainly busy enough, with a new record out and a tour coming up. What else are you looking forward to in the second half of 2024?

More new music. We're already trying to get more new music going. We've got a lot of songs that are still in the vault that probably should have made the record but it just didn't feel right at the time. I can't really say a whole lot, but we've got a lot of songs in the vault and I'm still writing. So, once the tour's over with, we're hoping to put on some new music pretty quick.

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HARDY Press Photo 2024
HARDY

Photo: Robby Klein

interview

HARDY On New Album 'Quit!!' & How "Trying To Push My Own Boundaries" Has Paid Off

On his third album, the self-described "black sheep" of country music proves he's here to stay.

GRAMMYs/Jul 11, 2024 - 04:04 pm

Haters take note: nothing fires up a country boy like HARDY more than a naysayer. And this redneck has a long memory.

Despite the coveted catalog of country music hits to his credit — tunes he wrote for artists like Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton and Morgan Wallen, plus his own work as a solo artist — HARDY's third album begins with a three-minute response to a heckler who once left a nasty note in his jar in place of a tip.

That moment may have occurred a decade ago, but it's key to HARDY's defiant persona. In fact, the album's title is exactly what that note read — Quit!! — and its cover art is the actual napkin the message was written on, which the singer/songwriter has held on to all these years.

HARDY laughs off the memory at first, but as the title track plays on, his olive branch soon turns to coal. "I'm not the GOAT, I'm the black sheep hell-bent to find closure," he barks as the song escalates. "I can't let go — a note somebody wrote like ten years ago put a chip on my shoulder. If you wanted me to quit, you should've saved it, bro."

The takeaway here? HARDY won't quit. Or, to quote another Quit!! banger, "I DON'T MISS," when a hit is in the crosshairs, he "don't hit nothing but the bull's eye."

No doubt, he has the numbers to back it up. HARDY linked up with Florida Georgia Line after moving to Nashville in the 2010s, and landed his first country No. 1 as a songwriter in 2018 thanks to the duo and Wallen, with the smash "Up Down." As he began building a solo career — releasing a pair of EPs in 2018 (This Ole Boy) and 2019 (Where to Find Me) — he continued delivering chart-topping hits for FGL, Shelton, LOCASH, Wallen, Dierks Bentley, and more. As Quit!! arrives, HARDY boasts 15 No. 1 hits: 11 as a songwriter, and four as an artist.

Along the way, HARDY also established his Hixtape series, a countrified version of a hip-hop mixtape now three volumes deep, bringing together friends and superstars like Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Thomas Rhett and a host of other stars to collaborate. Not only did Hixtape Vol. 1 land HARDY his first No. 1 as an artist in his own right — the Lauren Alaina and Devin Dawson team-up "ONE BEER" — but it put HARDY's shapeshifting musicality front and center.

"A lot of people ask, 'When did you decide to jump into the rock and roll thing?' HARDY, who uses his last name as his stage name, says. "I feel like I've always dipped my toes in it here and there, and a lot of my songs have been really close to it but not quite there. Hixtape, especially Vol. 1, I was definitely foreshadowing my sound, and I really didn't even know it at the time."

By now, modern country musicians regularly reflect influences from beyond Nashville's confines. But HARDY has played a big role in rock's country crossover, as he gradually showed more of his Mississippi-bred, guitar-riffing roots on his 2020 debut album, A ROCK. He fully embraced them on the 2023 double album, the mockingbird & THE CROW; while the first half has more country-oriented tunes like the Lainey Wilson-featuring murder ballad "wait in the truck," he lets loose on THE CROW.

"THE CROW will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am," he asserts. "It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record."

HARDY has not only been an architect of this genre blending, but also its chief proponent — so much that in 2023, the L.A. Times crowned him "Nashville's nu-metal king." On Quit!!, he cashes in that currency with the gargantuan guitar riffs and bombastic beats popularized by acts like Limp Bizkit, and leans deeper into the rhythms and playful lyricism of hip-hop, a skill he recently flexed at the request of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre on a hicked-up rendition of Snoop Dogg's G-funk classic "Gin and Juice."

Ironically, the further HARDY gets from straightforward country music, the closer he gets to who he really is as an artist. Below, the chart-topping star details the backstory of Quit!!, his conflicted relationship with the country-music formula, and how he'll continue pushing boundaries within the genre and beyond.  

You grew up in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. What role did music play in your upbringing?

My dad introduced me to rock and roll in general, but it was his era of rock and roll. Whatever you define as classic rock and everything under that umbrella. But music was a big deal in Philadelphia and it still is. There were tons of cover bands, and a lot of [my] buddies were into music. So that had a big influence on me. 

I, thankfully, was in that last era of kids that the only time they got to hear a song was on MTV or on the radio. And I remember hearing "In the End" [by] Linkin Park, and then getting Hybrid Theory on CD. I remember the first time I saw [Limp Bizkit's] "Nookie" video on MTV. I was heavily influenced by all that stuff. I'm very thankful that I grew up in the era before the internet was really big.

Were you into country music back then?

Surprisingly, not at all. Not until Eric Church, Brad Paisley, a couple of people started singing about stuff that really piqued my interest. But no, I didn't really listen to much country. 

I think the only country that I listened to, if you even call it that, was Charlie Daniels. He played at the Neshoba County Fair. I got to see him twice. But even he was more of, like, you'd almost call it more Southern rock. For some reason, country music at the time didn't do it for me. It took me a long time to get into it.

You recently re-envisioned "Gin and Juice." Were Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre big artists for you when you were younger?

Yeah, especially Snoop. Snoop was in his later years when he started doing more pop stuff. I was a little too young for Doggystyle. I was 4 years old when Doggystyle came out, so my folks weren't letting me listen to that. But I will say, [Dr. Dre's 1992 album] The Chronic and especially [1999's] Chronic II, those records were huge. And anything that Dre touched after that, like all the beats he produced for 50 Cent, and obviously I'm a huge Eminem fan. I mean, all the way up to Kendrick [Lamar]'s early stuff.

I don't know how much they influenced me musically, but I definitely listened to both of them at the time.

You've got so many projects and co-writes and stuff going on, always. Is it easy to pinpoint where your journey to Quit!! began?

I can tell you for a stone-cold fact that "BOOTS" [from A ROCK] is responsible for the album Quit!! That was the first song that I ever wrote that had a breakdown in it. And when I played that live before it came out, people didn't know it, so it was a little different then. But once the song came out, and we started playing it live, it was bigger than "ONE BEER." It was bigger than "REDNECKER." It was the biggest song in our set, and to this day, it's still one of the biggest songs in the set. 

But because I love the rock and roll sound so much, that's the song that I was like, Okay, this is working, because these people are losing their s— when we go into this song. So, then, that inspired me to write "SOLD OUT," and once "SOLD OUT" came out, and we started playing that song, that song was even bigger than "BOOTS," and it was heavier than "BOOTS." After "SOLD OUT," it was "JACK," and it's just a snowball of writing heavier songs and having the courage to keep going. "BOOTS" crawled so that Quit!! could run, you know? That was definitely the song that started it all.

The new album builds on the mockingbird & THE CROW and the direction you were heading.

Yeah, I think it builds on it maybe in the sense that there's a lot more screams, and maybe more breakdowns, and it's a little heavier than the mockingbird & THE CROW at times. But it is also very different. There's a lot more, like, pop-punk stuff and, I don't even know what you would call it, post-hardcore-sounding s—. 

But all of the rock and roll stuff stands on the shoulders of THE CROW. It will always be that cornerstone moment that defined who I am. I mean, it definitely teed me up. It gave me the courage to do this Quit!! record.

I like that word, courage. It's not a word I expected to hear out of you based on your persona, but that's a very interesting way to phrase it.

No, I mean, the metal and country cultures are very, very, very different. There's never fear, but there's definitely, what's the right way to say that? You know, there's like when we throw like the goat horns and s— on the screen. Country has a big Christian background, and metal is like the exact opposite of that, and those can clash a lot, but there's definitely a little bit of some reserve — it seems to not get too much push back — mixing the two. My mom's not crazy about it, but what can you do?

And you have moments like "wait in the truck," where you're not writing for the party. Do you see yourself pursuing those avenues more often? Does the world want to hear HARDY reflect?

You mean like more of the deeper country stuff?

Correct, yeah.

I hope. That's the s— I love. I feel like they're so few and far between. Like, "wait in the truck," we just got so lucky. I feel like "ONE BEER" was kind of the same. Like, it's gotta be the right day, and the right time, and the right people in the room to really tell a story. It's tough. But I would love to continue to have those cool story songs. 

But what I will say is there's a lot of gray area between the black-and-white of HARDY country and HARDY rock and roll. I'm still going to put out country songs. The gray area is that to me and to a lot of people, they're all just HARDY songs. But I have so many songs that I have written that I wanna put out that are so, maybe if they're not storylines, they're even deeper down the rabbit hole of thought-provoking stuff, like "A ROCK," or maybe even "wait in the truck," or even a song I have called "happy," on the last record — just songs that are very, very thought-provoking. 

Just trying to push my own boundaries of country music, and not everything is right down the gut, you know, "let's go to radio with it." But just really trying to experiment with what I wanna say with country music. So, yes, there's definitely more of that coming.

You're playing your first headlining stadium gig in September. How has performing in those venues, and anticipating that, informed how you write? Are you writing for the stage?

Yeah, 100 percent. I would say, 75 percent of the time you're writing for the stage — even if it's not for myself, if I'm writing for somebody else — I'm definitely writing for the stage. I cannot tell you how many times I've sat in the room and been like, This s— is going to pop off live! And then try to put the other writers in that headspace.

Like on [Quit!! track] "JIM BOB," when we did the pow-pow-pow! thing, I'm like, just think about how cool it's gonna be live, and living in that headspace, because that's where it all comes to life. That's the end product.

Writing for the stage is something that a lot of people do. And that's why songwriters love going out on the road, is because they go out and they write songs with these artists, but they love watching the show because they get to see what really translates live, and then take that back to the writing room and try to recreate that.

Did that kind of experience have anything to do with you making the move to a marquee artist? Because not all songwriters can make that jump. Or was that always the plan?

Yeah, I mean, it was always that kind of thing. I was fortunate that I got to see Morgan [Wallen] perform "Up Down," and FGL perform a couple of their songs before I made the jump into an artist. I kind of already scratched that itch a little bit. 

The Nashville writing scene can seem like a 9-to-5 kind of boring thing. But it doesn't sound that way from the way you describe it.

It's a little bit of both. The funny thing about that is like, if you walk into a publishing company, 10:30, 11 o'clock, whenever people start getting there, it's a bunch of dudes or girls standing around drinking coffee, hanging out. It's like a break room, and then everybody's like, "All right, well, y'all get a good one." And then everybody goes into their own rooms. That part of it is very 9 to 5. 

But there is definitely — especially with our group of people, when you get on something that is so special, it's beyond, like, "We're writing a hit today." There's just something that transcends that. I don't know how to describe it, man. That's when it's really, really, really, really great. The Nashville process, that's what it's all about — having those moments in the room where you're like, "This is special," and, like, "We're witnessing something special that is going to affect people on a global or on a nationwide scale." 

I remember when we wrote "wait In the truck" and how we were all just gassing each other up because we were like, "Dude, this song is gonna help a lot of people." And that's when the 9 to 5 goes away. We're being creative together, and it's a special thing. 

There's been so many moments like that, where you're just so thankful to be a part of a great song, and how hyped everybody is. It's a feeling that's really, really hard to beat. 

More Of The Latest Country News & Music

Tom Petty
Tom Petty performing with the Heartbreakers in 2008

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

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How 'Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration' Makes Tom Petty A Posthumous Crossover Sensation

On 'Petty Country,' Nashville luminaries from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton and Luke Combs make Tom Petty’s simple, profound, and earthy songs their own — to tremendous results.

GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 03:42 pm

If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers landed in 2024, how would we define them? For fans of the beloved heartland rockers and their very missed leader, it's a compelling question.

"It's not active rock. It's not mainstream rock. It's not country. It would really fall in that Americana vein," says Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Label Group. "When you think about what his lyrics were and are about, it's really about the American condition."

To Borchetta, these extended to everything in Petty's universe — his principled public statements, his man-of-the-people crusades against the music industry. "He was an American rebel with a cause," Borchetta says. And when you fuse that attitude with big melodies, bigger choruses, and a grounded, earthy perspective — well, there's a lot for country fans to love.

That's what Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management bet on when he posited the idea of Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty, a tribute album released June 21. Featuring leading lights like Dolly Parton ("Southern Accents"), Willie and Lukas Nelson ("Angel Dream (No. 2)," Luke Combs ("Runnin' Down a Dream"), Dierks Bentley ("American Girl,") Wynonna and Lainey Wilson ("Refugee"), and other country luminaries covering Tom Petty classics, Petty Country is a seamless union of musical worlds.

Which makes perfect sense: on a core level, Petty, and his band of brothers, were absolutely steeped in country — after all, they grew up in the South — Gainesville, Florida.

"Tom loved all country music. He went pretty deep into the Carter Family, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and the folk, Americana heart of it," says Petty's daughter, Adria, who helps run his estate. "Hank Williams, and even Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline… as a songwriter, I think a lot of that real original music influenced him enormously." (The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Byrds' Gram Parsons-hijacked country phase, were also foundational.)

A key architect of Petty Country was the man's longtime producer, George Drakoulias. "He's worked with Dad for a hundred years since [1994's] Wildflowers, and he has super exquisite taste," Adria says.

In reaching out to prospective contributors, he and fellow music supervisor Randall Poster started at the top: none other than Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. "Having Willie and Dolly made people stand up and pay attention," Dreakoulias told Rolling Stone, and the Nashville floodgates were opened: Thomas Rhett ("Wildflowers"), Brothers Osborne ("I Won't Back Down"), Lady A ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"), and so many others.

Each artist gave Petty's work a distinctive, personal spin. Luke Combs jets down the highway of "Runnin' Down the Dream" like he was born to ride. Along with Yo-Yo Ma and founding Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Rhiannon Giddens scoops out the electronics and plumbs the droning, haunting essence of "Don't Come Around Here No More."


And where a lesser tribute album would have lacquered over the songs with homogenous Nashville production,
Petty Country is the opposite.

"I'm not a fan of having a singular producer on records like this. I want each one of them to be their own little crown jewel," Borchetta says. "That's going to give us a better opportunity for them to make the record in their own image."

This could mean a take that hews to the original, or casts an entirely new light on it. "Dierks called up and said, 'Hey, do you think we would be all right doing a little bit more of a bluegrass feel to it?' I was like, 'Absolutely. If you hear it, go get it.'"

"It had the diversity that the Petty women like on the records," Adria says, elaborating that they wanted women and people of color on the roster. "We like to see those tributes to Tom reflect his values; he was always very pro-woman, which is why he has such outspoken women [laughs] in his wake."

Two of Petty Country's unquestionable highlights are by women. Margo Price chose "Ways to Be Wicked," a cut so deep that even the hardcore Petty faithful might not know it; the Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) outtake was buried on disc six of the 1995 boxed set Playback.

"Man, it's just one of those songs that gets in your veins," Price says. "He really knew how to twist the knife — that chorus, 'There's so many ways to be wicked, but you don't know one little thing about love.'" Founding Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell features on the dark, driving banger.

And all interviewed for this article are agog over Dolly Parton's commanding take on "Southern Accents" — the title track of the band's lumpy, complicated, vulnerable 1985 album of the same name. "It's just revelatory… it brings me to my knees," Adria says. "It's just a phenomenal version I know my dad would've absolutely loved."

"It's one of Dolly's best vocals ever, and it's hair-raising," Borchetta says. "You could tell she really felt that track, and what the song was about."

Adria is filled with profuse gratitude for the artists preserving and carrying her dad's legacy. 

"I'm really touched that these musicians showed up for my dad," she says. "A lot of people don't want to show up for anything that's not making money for them, or in service to their career, and we really appreciate it… I owe great debt to all of these artists and their managers for making the time to think about our old man like that."

Indeed, in Nashville and beyond, we've all been thinking about her old man, especially since his untimely passing in 2017. We'll never forget him — and will strum and sing these simple, heartfelt, and profound songs for years to come.

Let Your Heart Be Your Guide: Adria Petty, Mike Campbell & More On The Enduring Significance Of Tom Petty's Wildflowers

Johnny Cash performing in 1997
Johnny Cash performing in 1997

Photo: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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'Songwriter' Highlights Johnny Cash's Mighty Pen: Inside This Seldom-Heralded Aspect Of The Man In Black

A new archival release drawn from 1993 sessions, 'Songwriter' illuminates Cash's skillful way with a lyric and melody — apart from simply being a great interpreter.

GRAMMYs/Jun 26, 2024 - 04:03 pm

When you think of Johnny Cash, what comes to mind? Perhaps it's the penitentiary serenader. The Rubin-retrieved elder statesman. The Man in Black who walked the line and fell into a burning ring of fire. Maybe even Homer's chili-pepper-hallucinated coyote on "The Simpsons." But what about Cash, the songwriter?

Certain hits of his — like that aforementioned mariachi-powered classic — were by outside writers. And an inarguable component of Cash's genius is how he could take a song by Merle Travis ("Dark as a Dungeon"), Bob Dylan ("It Ain't Me Babe") or Nine Inch Nails ("Hurt") and utterly inhabit it.

But simply a master interpreter he wasn't. From "Cry! Cry! Cry!" to "I Walked the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues," Cash had a hand, in part or in whole, in writing some of his most monumental tracks. So why didn't this descriptor ever quite stick?

"Bob Dylan said he is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He didn't say 'songwriters'; he said 'poet laureate,'" John Carter Cash — the only child of Johnny and June Carter Cash — tells GRAMMY.com. "So, I think his contemporaries knew it, but not as many as the fans, because I think his image overshadows all that somehow."

With this in mind, John Carter helped bring a posthumous Cash project to life — one that celebrates his sometimes undersung facility in this department.

Welcome to Songwriter: An 11-track collection of previously unheard Cash originals from across the decades, like "Have You Ever Been to Little Rock," "I Love You Tonite," and "Like a Soldier." The album was recorded in 1993 at LSI Studios in Nashville, as songwriting demos.

John Carter always knew about the existence of these sessions — after all, he played guitar on them.

"Dad didn't really have the intention of releasing these as a body of work at that time, because he was sort of changing his mentality about his records," he explains. "I think he wanted to look at his old albums that had been successful — and this was right before he did the American Recordings stuff."

Read more: 10 Ways Johnny Cash Revived His Career With American Recordings

Despite existing in this liminal zone, the songs Cash tracked are superb. Opener "Hello Out There," which John Carter believes to be about the Voyager launches, is essentially Cash's "Space Oddity" — a cosmic statement from a typically boots-on-the-ground artist.

The following track, "Spotlight," finds the Man in Black singing to, well, the spotlight: "Don't let it show/ That my heart went with her when I let her go/ Don't let anybody see deep within the soul of me/ Or they will see that something there is not quite right." The highlights just roll on, from the entrancing psychedelia of "Drive On" to the spare, poignant "She Sang Sweet Baby James."

Wisely, John Carter and co-producer David "Fergie" Ferguson, who'd worked with Cash since the 1980s, stripped away some dated production, and centered Cash’s hypnotic performances. They also brought in musicians who'd worked with Cash: guitarist Marty Stuart, now-departed bassist Dave Roe and drummer Pete Abbott.

In the original session, Waylon Jennings sang on "I Love You Tonite" and "Like a Soldier"; in the 2020s, Vince Gill added vocals to "Poor Valley Girl," and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach added some simmering, bluesy guitar to "Spotlight."

When Ferguson heard the material for the first time, he was floored — by his voice, for one thing. "And what a good job they did recording it," he tells GRAMMY.com. "It could have just as easily been screwed up — been distorted, or had a big hum in it. Nowadays, you can take care of a lot of that, but a lot of it can't."

Then, there are the songs; Ferguson calls "Spotlight" "poetic in a lot of ways," and singles out "She Sang Sweet Baby James" as "kind of folky Johnny, storytelling Johnny. That was one of the first I heard where I said, Man, that's so good. I've never heard that. I was really surprised."

He's excited for the fan reaction to "Hello Out There." "When he does those echoes — 'Calling, calling, calling,' those are not digital echoes," he stresses of that recurrent hook. "He wanted them there. That ain't something we chose to do, but I really like those."

Ferguson also hails its lyrical timeliness: "It's kind of him singing about the world going to s—. He had a naturalist part of him. He loved Mother Earth."

John Carter is thrilled about the dynamism, and variety, of the material on Songwriter. "There are silly, fun songs. Ther are songs of faith, there are songs of his love — specifically for my mother," he says. "There's songs of loss and sadness. There's songs of mystery and eternal yearning that happen to also be gospel songs.

"It's a bright time in my memory of my father, even though he did have his ups and downs through his time period," John Carter concludes. "I hear his personality when I look through these songs. I hear his depth that he was a deep thinker and that he believed what he believed, and that's what it was. I hear the mystery that he perceived."

But one mystery should be cleared up right now: Johnny Cash was a great songwriter, on top of everything else he's famous for — and here are 11 colorful, memorable points of proof.

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