Rhythm & News: June 2022

Josh Abbott sinks his teeth into DQ's jingle, Lizzo's sudden alteration, State Fair of Texas lineup, Norah Jones' provocative reissue, Cody Canada's reboot, Black Music Month, Freddy Fender campaign and more

After 20 years of “That’s What I Like About Texas,” Dairy Queen is giving the tune a fresh new beat with country artist Josh Abbott. Abbott’s sound kicked off the “No Place but Texas, Nobody But DQ” campaign that launched June 13.

“Josh Abbott grew up in Idalou, Texas, enjoying the treats and eats at his local DQ restaurant,” says Lou Romanus, CEO of the Texas Dairy Queen Operators’ Council. “He loves the brand so much, he even shares an ode to DQ in the lyrics of ‘I’ll Sing About Mine.’ Texans are proud of their traditions, and DQ restaurants in Texas have been a fixture in this state for 75 years. Josh is a natural fit for this new sound.”

The original “That’s What I Like About Texas” campaign, featuring the now easily recognizable jingle, launched in June 2002. Abbott’s version, tied to the new campaign, is featured in television and radio spots as well as online and social media.

“As a kid, Dairy Queen restaurants were the place I went for a sweet treat or a Hungr-Buster or my favorite — steak fingers,” Abbott says. “When I was asked about recording the iconic jingle, I realized there’s a big responsibility to staying true to the roots while also invoking the sound of our band — you’ll hear a banjo and fiddle in this new version, for example. We’re excited for Texans to hear it, and maybe we’ll run into DQ fans grabbing a Blizzard while we’re on tour.”


Lizzo’s Lyric Change

It’s impressive that Lizzo is mature enough to listen and learn. On June 13, she announced she’d released a new version of her single “GRRRLS,” changing the lyrics to eliminate an ableist slur that had received some backlash. “It’s been brought to my attention that there’s a harmful word in my new song ‘GRRRLS,’ “she shared in a Twitter post. “Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language.” 

Courtesy HBO Max

“As a fat Black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me, so I overstand the power words can have (whether intentionally or, in my case, unintentionally),” she continued. “I’m proud to say there’s a new version of ‘GRRRLS’ with a lyric change. This is the result of me listening and taking action. As an influential artist, I’m dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world.”

Lizzo released the single, the second off her sophomore album, Special, released June 10, but instead of a rapturous response, the song was quickly lambasted for one of its lyrics. “Hold my bag, bitch,” the song goes, with Lizzo singing over a Beastie Boys sample. “Hold my bag / Do you see this shit? / I’m a spaz / I’m about to knock somebody out / Yo, where my best friend? / She the only one I know to talk me off the deep end.”

Twitter users called out the use of the word “spaz,” noting that its an ableist slur. “Hey @lizzo my disability Cerebral Palsy is literally classified as Spastic Diplegia (where spasticity refers to unending painful tightness in my legs),” wrote one Twitter user. “Your new song makes me pretty angry + sad. ‘Spaz’ doesn’t mean freaked out or crazy. It’s 2022. Do better.”

A litany of similar comments expressing dismay popped up over the next few days, leading Lizzo to post, announcing her decision to change the lyrics.

In other Lizzo news, HBO Max announced that an as-yet-untitled documentary about the noteworthy performer is scheduled for this fall. “This is the journey of a trailblazing superstar who has become the movement the world desperately needed just by being herself,” a press release noted. The documentary will be directed by Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Doug Pray.


Fair Fare

The State Fair of Texas, held at historic Fair Park in Dallas, has released its free music lineup for fairgoers to enjoy this fall. It includes 90 performers over the 24-day event.

Courtesy VisitDallas.com

The lineup ranges from country to electro-pop to R&B and features three festival-type stages.

Texas performers on the bill include the Vandoliers, Joshua Ray Walker, Lucinda Williams, Jamie Lin Wilson, Jamestown Revival, Brennen Leigh, Brave Combo, Rosie Flores, Jason Boland & the Stragglers, EJ Mathews, and Rob Roy Parnell. 

Non-Texas acts include Trace Adkins, the Chris Pérez Band, Ashanti, and the always-delightful Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

The State Fair runs from Friday, Sept. 30, to Sunday, Oct. 23. See the full lineup here.


Her Country

In her new book, Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be, journalist Marissa Moss chronicles the way the country music industry has proved inequitable for women artists, and especially women of color.

Though she provides a broad history of women in country music — including the ongoing influence of pioneers like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, and a fond look at the early-’90s heyday (think the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain) when women artists achieved near parity with their male counterparts on radio — she primarily looks at the contemporary scene through the careers of Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Mickey Guyton.

Despite their overwhelming talents, Morris is the only one of that trio of artists whom country radio has largely embraced — and even that embrace has at times been tentative in an atmosphere that can be bleak for women artists.

Between radio consolidation and consultants insisting that listeners don’t want to hear women with any frequency on terrestrial radio stations, women artists still lag far behind their male counterparts. In 2021, women were played on country radio just 16% of the time — on a good day — and only two solo women topped Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart. (Two others reached No. 1 as part of male-female duets, and one as part of a co-ed trio.)

Moss’ book was released May 10 and is published by Henry Holt.


Call for Latino Representation

Freddy Fender is at the center of an effort to get more Latino representation in the Country Music Hall of Fame. The “Wasted Days, Wasted Nights” and “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” singer from San Benito voiced his hopes of being the first Mexican American to enjoy the honor, which he called “Hillbilly Heaven,” in 2004, two years before his death.

Freddy Fender (Courtesy Backporch Records)

Veronique Medrano, a Tejano artist from Brownsville, is leading the charge for more equitable representation by the Country Music Association. Medrano launched a Change.org petition on June 7, days after what would have been Fender’s 85th birthday. She said this has been in the works since 2017, when she was “shocked” to realize Fender, who performed for 60 years, wasn’t recognized. “You start to notice a very clear conversation about who can be memorialized and who cannot,” Medrano says of the lack of Latino  representation by the CMA. 

Medrano says now that she’s finished graduate school, she’s dedicating her extra time to memorialize and preserve the impact of her fellow musicians. She says Fender, born Baldemar Huerta, is just the start. She points to Johnny Rodriguez, the Texas Tornadoes, Los Super Seven, and Rick Trevino as some whose work deserves recognition and preservation.

“This is a conversation, this is a point to say ‘How long are we going to let these organizations devalue our impact in the arts?’” Medrano says. “Enough is enough — they’ve had enough time.”


Canadian Reboot

When it comes to the Red Dirt music scene, Cross Canadian Ragweed and its lead vocalist, Cody Canada, were the kings in the early 2000s, quickly garnering a rabid, cult-like following that spread like a wildfire across Texas, Oklahoma and beyond.

And when you look at some of the performers now succeeding on the country rock scene in Texas, like Koe Wetzel, Kody West, Dylan Wheeler, Read Southall and more, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t reference Ragweed as a major influence on their music.

Although Cross Canadian Ragweed had a number of stellar hits across their 10 studio albums, their 2004 Soul Gravy album, recorded during their brief stay with Universal South Records, was their most popular work. The album saw widespread success, rising to No. 5 the Billboard Country Albums Chart and featuring smash hits like “Sick and Tired” and “Alabama,” both of which charted on the Hot Country Charts.

Photo of Cody Canada courtesy of the artist

With that being said, Canada and his current band, the Departed, are putting together a reboot of Soul Gravy that’s slated to drop July 1. The purpose of the reboot is to record the album the way Canada originally wanted to, which wasn’t a possibility back in the day due to Ragweed’s strenuous tour schedule. The band brings the sound back to its roots with a return appearance from Lee Ann Womack and performances from key folks who helped shape the original album.


Norah, 20 Years On

Considering how much of a ruckus Norah Jones’ mellow brand of standard-bearing and cosmopolitan jazz/soul/country caused 20 years ago, it’s surely important to see how the raw silken pianist/vocalist got there — and what she left behind, as 22 previously unreleased tracks fill a new super-deluxe version of her debut, Come Away with Me.

Made and remade by top-tier producers Craig Street (who oversaw this package’s demos collection) and the legendary Arif Mardin, with jazz session superstars such as drummer Brian Blade and guitarist Bill Frisell, as well as Tony Scherr on bass and Jesse Harris on guitar, Come Away with Me was designed, from the start, to be a melancholy, modern Beat classic. Often accused of being the height of middle-of-the-road fare, the full-bodied anniversary collection paints a wilder portrait. No one will ever confuse Norah Jones with punk rock, but Come Away with Me: 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition displays a surprising angularity and nervous energy.

Released on the storied Blue Note Records label in 2002, the original album went from selling 10,000 copies in its first week to moving over 27 million and counting. It also won eight Grammy awards, including in the categories of Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year. In the two decades that have followed, Jones has steadily built an oeuvre of remarkable consistency. Whether at her jazziest on Day Breaks, released in 2016, or experimenting with alternative pop on 2012’s Little Broken Hearts, Jones’ music is tasteful, elegant and emotive, broadcasting the reality of Wynton Marsalis’ assertion that often the best music is “soft, but intense.”

Hearing the songs on Come Away with Me again in several versions, they still enchant with their seamless, genre-jumping musical mix and their lyrical emotional wellsprings sung in Jones’ slow-bubbling, lava-like simmer. In particular, the Street demo efforts provide an airier, less conventional approach to Jones and Harris’ tones and tunes. Had this not originally been rejected by her label, Jones may never have been a multi-Grammy winner from the start, but who’s to say what adventures she might have had, or what detours she may have taken?

To that end, her covers of vocal jazz classics “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “Hallelujah I Love Him So” — to say nothing of her spare tabla version of “Something Is Calling You” — offer, quite frankly, a weirder, wearier alternative version of Norah Jones, one you would never accuse of being laid back.


Honoring Black Artists

June is a month of many annual holidays and celebrations — from Father’s Day to Pride Month to Juneteenth to even Flag Day. But June is also Black Music Month, created in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, a month-long celebration that pays homage to past and present Black artists who’ve made an impact on the music industry.

“Formerly called National Black Music Month, this celebration of African American musical contributions is re-established annually by presidential proclamation,” the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., notes. In 2009 the celebration was renamed African American Music Appreciation Month by President Barack Obama.

Since then, Black music continues to evolve but also traces back to its original — sacred — roots. “Gospel music was the beginning of the African American music industry,” says Gloria Washington, executive director of the Texas African American Museum in Tyler. “From gospel music, different types of genres have emanated — rhythm and blues, jazz, hip hop. All of that goes back to gospel.”

Painting of Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime, by Don Locke. Used with permission.

One of the leading outlets that put many famous Black artists and entertainers on the map was Black radio, dating back to the 1940s. “Black radio has always been at the forefront of charge for black music,” says Melz, host of Melz on the MIC on KISS 107.3 FM in Tyler. “It was out of necessity that Black radio was born in the first place. We didn’t have outlets for our music to be heard because of the racist standards of the time.”

Those standards didn’t stop legendary artists from flourishing and becoming household names in the music industry. From Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Michael Jackson to Beyoncé, Black music has evolved over the years, becoming a leader in mainstream music. Texas, of course, has made enormous contributions to a variety of genres, producing the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Scott Joplin, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ornette Coleman, Geto Boys and, more recently, Beyoncé, Robert Glasper and Megan Thee Stallion.

Those contributions aren’t lost on the new generation of performers. “From the early days of gospel,” says Nancy Taylor, an aspiring singer, “past artists have paved the way for those of us who are up and coming.”


Happy to be Sad

At 38 years old and with the help of her husband, Brendan McLoughlin, and a long stretch of pandemic-forced time at home, Miranda Lambert has learned she doesn’t have to be miserable to write sad songs.

Courtesy YouTube

Lambert documented much of the couple’s at-home lockdown on social media. There was cooking and laundry and relaxing — and all of it was lighthearted and happy. “It’s a very good place to get to,” Lambert says. “It taught me that you don’t have to be tortured to write great songs or sad songs.”

She believes that’s a common misconception and an awful way to live. “I think a lot of us, especially when we’re young, live every sad thing we write, which is a terrible way to go,” she explains. “After a while, you go, ‘I can still put myself in places and be characters without having to live it.’”

Lambert says artists often live in darkness because they use it for art. But she’s learned it doesn’t have to be that way. “At some point, it’s like, ‘I can actually be happy and be functioning and laughing and get in a writing room and go somewhere else in my mind or my heart,’ you know?” she adds. “I think I’ve finally learned that over the last couple of years.”


Country Move

The Texas Country Music Association has announced that it’s opened a corporate headquarters office in Carthage in East Texas, about 150 miles southeast of Dallas. Thanks to a joint effort with longtime sponsor SkyPine Roofing, which occupies part of the building, TCMA has been able to establish its headquarters and is in the build-out and development stage of opening a podcast and recording studio at the location on West Panola Street.

“This is the very first time in almost 12 years we’ve been able to actually have a corporate ‘office,’” TCMA president Linda Wilson says. “All this time we’ve worked remotely or out of my home office. With all the growth and activity TCMA has experienced, this will enable us to hire staff to help the programs and plans we have move ahead quicker.”

Says Cody Bowley, owner of SkyPine Roofing, “We’ve supported TCMA from day one, and we’re excited to be able to help the organization move forward.”

Courtesy Texas Country Music Association

At present, TCMA is looking forward to the 2022 Texas Country Music Awards, set for Nov. 13 at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth as part of the popular Texas Country Music Weekend. Headlining this year is Roger Creager, with performances by McBride & The Ride, Bailey Rae and TCMA spokesperson and Carthage native Brandon Rhyder, as well as each Emerging Artist finalist.

According to Ethan Cartwright, vice president of marketing with Stockyards Heritage, TCMA’s Texas Country Music Weekend in 2021 brought a record 107,000 visitors to the Fort Worth Stockyards, second only to Red Steagall’s Cowboy Gathering. 

“It’s a busy time of year for us at TCMA with all the projects we have going on and planning the 2022 Texas Country Music Awards,” Wilson says, “and this headquarters and new studio will help us do what we do in supporting and promoting the Texas country music industry.”

Cover photo of Josh Abbott courtesy Dairy Queen.