We have grown older in the four-plus years since No Depression began, and I do not mean to speak of my creaking knees, nor of my graying temples. No, those artists whose stories provide the core to each issue of this magazine are far less often newcomers to country music than I would have guessed four years ago.
When we began publishing, I felt as if I could wrap my arms around a whole batch of intriguing music, and it being made by rock and punk rock musicians exploring the boundaries and traditions of country music with fresh ears. It made sense to me, as an aging fan of rock and punk (and music in general), that others would be drawn to the nuance, honesty, and lyrical possibilities of country music; that, and an armload of bands headed in that direction, emboldened me to suggest the possibility of this magazine to Peter (or he to me; the memory grows hazy).
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. That’s not a complaint, simply an observation. Many of the musicians whose work initially inspired us have followed their muse elsewhere; more than a few have felt unnecessarily hemmed in by the description we placed ironically beneath our first masthead, “alternative country.” Some of them, as Peter reminds me, will drift back; some won’t.
Fair enough. There remain armloads of good music that I happily embrace in these (and other) pages; it is simply being made, for the most part, by people who are too old or too eccentric or even too country to be played on country radio.
But that begs the question we sought to begin to answer in this issue: Who’s next? Is country music, at least as I have come to understand it, simply a style in the twilight of its years, still glowing but visible only to an ever-shrinking audience?
Nah. There’s plenty of good stuff out there, it’s just not always where you expect to find it. Which is much of the fun, now isn’t it?
The five artists profiled in this issue’s cover stories were selected, in large part, by an e-mail discussion among No Depression’s contributing editors. We asked that they consider only those musicians who had not yet had full-length articles written about them in our magazine, but who had been covered to some degree here before. And we asked that they help us to select five artists who they (and we) believed had the potential to make music of lasting significance in the next few years.
The results are offered within these pages. Yes, Mike Ireland has been written about here at length before, but enough of us felt so strongly about his work that we made him the exception to the rule. Several other artists who might obviously have been included, well, it’s a fair bet that we’ll get to them in the near future. You are, of course, more than welcome to disagree with our selections; Peter and I made the final decisions, so hold us accountable and not our fine contributing editors.
Unhappily, in the midst of assembling such a forward-looking issue, we lost a legend when Doug Sahm was found dead of a heart attack on November 18 at a hotel room in Taos, New Mexico.
He was not next, he was now and forever, larger than life and twice as fun. And I only met him twice, at conventions.
Though Sahm’s 58 years already overflowed with musical accomplishments, he wasn’t one to sit idly by. He seemed ageless, still full of fire, still delighted by the yet-unexplored pleasures of his guitar and his friends. Go gently into the good night, hell; stay up and pick, morning be damned.
The trick, see, is to grow older without losing the hunger and curiosity of youth.
This issue is dedicated to Doug Sahm’s memory, for if any musician was wide open to the broad and powerful possibilities of music, it was he.