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Country Legend Ray Price Dead At 87

Ray_PriceRay Price, star of the 1950s honky tonk music boom, has passed away from pancreatic cancer, a family spokesperson has confirmed.

As one of country music’s early stars, Price helped transition the genre from hillbilly and cowboy music to the more danceable honky tonk variety, and set the stage for the rockabilly and outlaw country waves to come in the ’60s and ’70s. His band, the Cherokee Cowboys, included (at one time or another) future stars Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Buddy Emmons, and Johnny Paycheck. Price had a number of hit singles in the ’50s and through the ’60s (when he transitioned to the more commercial “Nashville sound”), and was the first artist to have a hit with “Release Me” (later a worldwide smash for Engelbert Humperdinck).

Price continued to tour and perform until his illness in 2012, releasing Last of the Breed, with Nelson and Merle Haggard, in 2007.

Enjoy some classic honky tonk and bid farewell to Ray Price.

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Honky Tonks Where Country Learned To Stomp

Exclusive Q and A: Josh Thompson Talks Sophomore Album, NRA and Just How He Stays 'Country'

Josh Thompson is only 34, but he’s looking at life through more mature eyes than he did just a few years ago. As he looks ahead to the release of his sophomore album Change, and reflects on headlining the Jagermeister tour, he talks about how he’s evolved since the release of his 2009 debut album Way Out Here, what music fans can expect next, and just how he stays centered in the ever-changing world of entertainment.

OS: So you’ve been on tour for a while. How is it going?

JT: The tour is going great. We just got back from Michigan and we’ll be back out next week. We are doing about four new songs to give people a sample of what’s coming on the next album, Change. We also do most of the “Way Out Here” record and some covers of Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show.

OS: So when can we expect to hear your new album?

JT: I was hoping that it would be out this year, but now I don’t know. We haven’t really discussed the scheduling.

OS: I read that it’s been a tough album for you to make, just logistically with the recording.

JT: It was. I was just trying to get in the studio whenever I was in town. It went on for about four months so it wasn’t one smooth process. It was a lot of little dates here and there.

OS: That has to be tough. How did you stay positive in the face of all of that turmoil?

JT: A lot of it is sitting down and seeing where the songs go and having faith in the musicians you use. The guys I use, I just love. I think if you keep those two things in mind, you’ll be ok. I use a lot of the older studio musicians. A lot of them toured with Waylon and George Jones and others.  (more…)

Your Country's Right Here: Janie Fricke Joins with the Roys for "The Country Side of Bluegrass"

Janie Fricke has once again added to her already hefty musical arsenal.

After going from a jingle singer (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Red Lobster are among the corporations that featured her vocals) to a back up singer for A-list hit makers including Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, to a duet partner with Merle Haggard and Charlie Rich, Fricke became an A-list singer herself starting with the 1981 solo hit Down to My Last Broken Heart. Now the singer, who has 18 No. 1 singles, is touring behind Country Side of Bluegrass and reintroducing her songs and voice to a new generation of fans.

At first when they asked me to do it, I thought it’d be pretty interesting, said Fricke of the album she completed with famed Nashville producer Bil VornDick. Then the whole plan came together that included [recording and some touring] with the Roys.

Combining the sound of the brother and sister duo of Elaine Roy and Lee Roy, two-time Inspirational Country Music Duo of the Year award winners, with the much-lauded Fricke whose awards include the much coveted CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award, give the album’s 12 tracks (plus the Ring of Fire bonus track) true distinction.

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Exclusive Q and A: Marty Stuart Talks New Album, "Forgotten" People, and Johnny Cash

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsGRAMMY Award winner Marty Stuart has been way off the radar as of late. We haven’t seen him at award shows. He isn’t on late night TV. And we don’t see him playing the big country musical festivals. Just last week, Stuart released his new, ten-song album Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down that is some of the most traditional country music released by a major artist arguably in years. The music is a pure joy with plenty of steel guitar, fiddles and harmonies. But just why has this member of Nashville royalty, who has played with everyone from Lester Flatt to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, purposely taken himself out of the eye of the mainstream public? Stuart took some time out of his busy schedule to tell us just that.

OS: Your last album, Ghost Train, was so well received. What was the plan with this album Tearing Down the Woodpile.

MS: Just carry on because Ghost Train was part of a lineage. This whole traditional country music trajectory that I seem to be on right now, it’s where my heart led me. It was a long time coming. When I started [my current band] the Superlatives about eleven years ago now I knew it was the band of lifetime. We found ourselves in the role of cultural missionaries.

Other than the Grand Ol’ Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, we were kind of not part of the system of trying to chase hits or awards or [appear on] red carpets.

In the beginning we were simply looking for a place to play. My only request of our booking agent was to book us as far back in the woods of America as you can. I don’t want to mess with charts. I don’t want to see demographics. I don’t want to see numbers. I just want to play music. We will play ourselves right back to the light or as Merle Haggard said we have found ourselves right square in the middle of the forgotten land.

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Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Lana Del Rey’s SNL performance

There’s no arguing that Lana Del Rey has a beautiful voice, but there’s also no arguing that she is gangly as all get-out. The torchy chanteuse made her television debut on Saturday Night Live last weekend, and it turns out she’s quite a polarizing performer. Juliette Lewis initially dissed Del Ray, saying it felt like watching a twelve year old in their bedroom. But the next day Lewis woke up singing a different tune. Decide for yourself if Del Rey is fresh and yummy or wiggity-wack by watching her performance below.

Trent Reznor, Flaming Lips, Radiohead protest Internet legislation

Musicians are up in arms this week over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA)”two bills making their way through Congress that will allow the government to block access to sites accused of copyright infringement before their court date. The Lonely Island, Nada Surf, MGMT signed this online petition, while Radiohead and Flaming Lips posted anti SOPA and PIPA banners on their Web sites and Twitter profiles. We’ll see if star power can move mountains, or at least Capitol Hill.

The Bad

Jay-Z hasn’t retired the b-word after all

This week numerous media outlets reported that Jay-Z had released a poem announcing he’d given up the word bitch in honor of his daughter, Blue Ivy. Turns out, the whole thing is a crock of bitch (hey, if he’s not retiring it, then neither are we). Jay-Z will still be going H.A.M. when it comes to profanity, which gives us a sneaking suspicion of what Blue Ivy’s first word will be.

Kate Bush stalker breaks in to propose

When Kate Bush sang Let me into your window in her song, Wuthering Heights, little did she know one day a fan would let himself into her window in an ill-fated attempt at a marriage proposal. Police arrested Frank Tufaro after he broke into the reclusive singer’s home with a $4,500 engagement ring. Bush wasn’t home at the time, but we’re guessing her answer would have been no.

The Ugly

Elton John and husband get catty with Madonna

Madonna won the Best Original Song at the Golden Globes on Sunday, much to the dismay of Sir Elton John and his husband, David Furnish. John was nominated for his song, Hello Hello from Gnomeo and Juliet, but lost to Madge’s Masterpiece from W.E. That pissed Furnish right off, and he let everyone know it on his Facebook page. You can read the rant here, and see a screenshot of Elton John’s sourpuss during Madonna’s acceptance speech.

Diddy loses another battle in the vodka wars

Page Six is reporting that P Diddy lost his cool once again when patrons of a pre-Golden Globe party were prohibited from drinking his Ciroc vodka because the event was sponsored by Grey Goose. Not that anyone was asking for Circoc, mind you. Maybe that’s what he was really mad about. Get the rest of the gossip here.

Miscellany

Your Country's Right Here: The Roys Talk Family, Music and How Fans Inspire Them

The Roys may be the toast of bluegrass music, especially after having just won the prestigious Inspirational Bluegrass Artist of the Year award from the Inspirational Country Music Association, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their feet firmly on the ground.

The duo are hard at work writing for their next album, the follow up to the critically-acclaimed Lonesome Whistle that included the hot single “Coal Minin’ Man,” that went to No. 1 on Power Source’s Bluegrass Top 35 chart and HotDisc International Top 40 Chart.

They also recently announced that they will host the First Annual Christmas 4 Kids Celebrity Golf Tournament in April, soon after they return from their first ever Australian concert tour. The tournament is yet another facet of Christmas 4 Kids, that developed from the Christmas Caravan founded in 1982 by Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and the Oak Ridge Boys to help needy children over the holidays.

Siblings Elaine and Lee Roy took a few minutes to chat with OurStage about how they developed their passion for bluegrass, how they write such terrific songs and what their fans mean to them.

OS: Wow, you have had some year!

ER: We are very excited. In one year, our lives have changed a whole lot.

OS:  How did you come to play bluegrass? I’m sure your high school friends were playing rock and pop, so that couldn’t have been cool.

LR: Our mom and dad listened to nothing but traditional country and bluegrass. Our grandpa was playing the fiddle and mandolin and banjo and our aunts and uncles played music all the time. We were around that so much, I remember, from the time we were really, really young. I can remember mom and dad playing Merle Haggard, George Jones, Bill Monroe. That’s what we were around, that’s what we listened to our whole lives.

(more…)

Your Country's Right Here: Jason Boland & the Stragglers Band Relish Red Dirt

Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Sugarland and other big-name country musicians makes it easy to overlook some of the considerably less flashy but incredibly substantive performers”and that’s really a shame.

Consider Jason Boland & The Stragglers that surely embody the heartfelt country sound”for lack of a better term”and spirit of such artists as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jamey Johnson.

Ever notice that the myriad of country music award shows almost never even give a nod to the aforementioned artists, despite their virtuoso playing and heartfelt, often profound, musical offerings?

Perhaps that’s a conversation for another day, but the point is that only the drive-by fan should turn to such all-star entertainment extravaganzas to completely guide their music choices.

Before readers throw up their hands in disgust, please note the term “completely.” I enjoy mainstream artists as much as the next person, but I’m likening them to exclusively eating one type of food”such as meat. Aren’t you glad you also know about grains?

That’s where Jason Boland and his band, perhaps one of the best-kept secrets out of Texas, come in. Although he and his band are well known on the Texas circuit, they are hoping to expandbeyond with their latest album Rancho Alto.

“We went in there and tried to get live tracks,” said Boland of the eleven-track album. “A lot of current music today is overdone. We try to get live drums, live bass, and [other live instrumentation] in there.”

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Your Country's Right Here: Joey and Rory Invite Fans to a 'Farmhouse Christmas'

Joey & Rory make no secret that they’re as country as their music.

Although the married couple, Rory Lee Feek and his wife Joey Martin Feek, came to prominence on a reality television show”CMT’s Can You Duet”they are the real deal as far as country life and values are concerned. Not that the two don’t have bona fide music chops, such as Rory’s songwriting credits for a host of hitmakers including Blake Shelton.

“We kind of look at our careers a little differently [than some other artists],” said Joey. “What we do is unique and we’re not afraid to step out of the box. Our faith is ultra important to us.”

One way the duo is setting its own course is to record and tour behind their new Christmas recording A Farmhouse Christmas, the third album of their career. Although some artists wouldn’t consider releasing such a niche album so early in their career, Joey & Rory didn’t hesitate .

“Christmas is Rory’s favorite holiday. What gets him in the spirit are classics like [a holiday movie featuring the television family] The Waltons and [songs by] Nat King Cole,” said Joey.”People record the same songs over and over and there’s nothing unique. How often can you sing ‘Jingle Bells?’ Rory being the songwriter that he is and bieng so talented and loving holiday and music, he has always wanted to record a Christmas record. When I asked him what would make it different he said ‘Well, we will write solely for this project.'”

The couple are proud that they have recorded an album that is full of what Joey calls “new standards for the holiday.” Besides the new songs such as “Let it Snow (Somewhere Else), which Rory co-wrote in Key West, FL, the duo recorded songs that aren’t traditionally associated with the holiday including Merle Haggard‘s “If We Make It Through December.” A few traditional Christmas songs like “Away in a Manger” are also included.

Joey and Rory, whose honors include the 2010 Academy of Country Music award for Top New Vocal Duo, have planned a special tour behind the album when it kicks off November 25th in Joey’s home state of Indiana.

The stage will be set up like the living room of the couple’s 1870s farm house in Tennessee and the duo will mix their personal stories in with the music they play.

“I feel like we’re trying to bring elements of fun and orneriness and seriousness and heartfelt love into it,” said Joey of the tour and music. “Even though our [personal] faith is ultra important to us, we all have to be reminded of what Christmas is [beyond the] hustle and bustle and stress. It’s about much more than that.”

For album information and tour dates, check the duo’s Web site.

Honky Tonks Where Country Learned To Stomp

Take a look at this alley right here.

Unassuming, a little grimy and out of the way, it looks like any other alley in any city on the planet. Really, based on the surface features, what more can you say?

It’s an alley.

But looks can be deceiving. This alley, as pedestrian as it looks, holds a bit of importance, at least in the history of country music. This particular stretch of concrete, found in Nashville, TN, runs alongside the famous Ryman Auditorium, perhaps better known as the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the most famous institution of country and western musical performance. The alley storied history comes from it’s use as a designated safe haven for country music fans. Coming from the Ryman or one of the bars  along 4th and 5th avenue in Nashville, the alley was a place for folks to “whoop and holler”. Revelers, intoxicated by the music and the libations they may have just consumed, could come out to this alley and make all the noise they wanted without really bothering anyone. And this alley, recognized as a historic location, is getting a facelift.

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Your Country's Right Here: Sunny Sweeney Talks Brad Paisley, Real Tears And Treadmills

Sunny Sweeney is poised to be the next big break out star in country music. Just consider that her debut single “From a Table Away,” zoomed into the Top 10 almost as soon as it was released. That makes Sunny the first new female artist to hit the Top 10 since 2007 when Taylor Swift did so.

Now Sweeney’s single “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” is on the charts. Plus, she  has signed on to tour in support of Brad Paisley H2O II: Wetter and Wilder Tour, that begins July 22.  As many recall, it wasn’t long after Carrie Underwood came to national prominence that an opening gig on a Paisley tour helped skyrocket her into the major musical leagues. As if Paisley’s star power isn’t enough, Blake Shelton is also on this latest tour.

Sweeney took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to tell us a bit about upcoming album, her thoughts about performing on the same stage as Brad Paisley and just how she stays healthy as she adjusts to life on the road:

OS: Your debut album will be released in August. Who were your main influences for the songs?

SS: Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, all the artists I loved growing up. There are ten songs on the album and I wrote or co-wrote seven. There are three covers I heard that I was just so excited about I had to do.

OS: What were some of the personal inspirations behind the songs?

SS: I have just been through a lot in the last couple years in my personal live. As I was writing, I would add stuff in my personal drama that was going on.

OS: That has to be difficult, to put your personal turmoil out there and share it with audiences over and over again.

SS: You have to put it out there. When you do, people respond to it. Those are the best songs that you can write. When we chose the songs for the album, I was saying “may the best song win.” I’m really excited because [this album has] a really good collection of songs. I am really, really proud of them.

OS: But how do you deal with the myriad of emotions that must swell each time you play such a personal song?

SS: The most emotion I experienced in the “song” process was the actual writing of the songs. Each time I sing them, it reminds me of the lessons I’ve learned in my life. For me, it’s easier to sing songs of a personal nature. In my video for “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” my tears were real tears because I was asked to draw upon emotions from my past.

OS: So many of your influences are traditional country yet the trend for many artists seems to be toward country rock or country pop. Where do you fit in?

SS: Just probably right in the middle. I definitely have a lot of old country influences, but some of my songs are more rocking. They are all mixed into my shows. The record is very reminiscent of the shows.

OS: It’s got to be tough to adjust to life on the road. How do you stay in shape?

SS: I do work out every day, usually on a treadmill. I also drink tons of water and sleep as much as I can, which typically isn’t that much.

OS: You say you are very close to your parents and whole family. What do you do when you go home to visit them?

SS: I see them as much as I can and try to get as much family time as possible. We just hang out, and eat, and talk. I have three sisters and a brother. We are probably weird, but we just like to get beer and sit on the back porch and listen to music.

OS: What was your first thought when you had the opportunity to tour with Brad Paisley?

SS: HELL YEAH! Let me check my schedule. OK, I checked. I’m free, just tell me what time I need to be there.

OS: When you perform on the H2O tour, what are the two or three things you want audiences to take away from the show?

SS: I want them to walk away with the sense that they were told a story set to music and I want them to realize that traditional country music is cool and entertaining.

OS: You were around for a while and then we didn’t hear from you for a bit. What were you doing?

SS: It’s only been a year since we finished recording my CD, and for the last twelve months, I have been on a radio tour, which was grueling but very rewarding and it’s starting to pay off. This Brad Paisley tour is an awesome opportunity and it’s only the beginning of bigger things to come hopefully. I couldn’t be luckier ¦ somebody pinch me.

Find out more about Sunny Sweeney, including upcoming concert dates, on her Web site.