NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Circa) - Since its creation country music has served as a voice for the downtrodden. Born out of a need to give a voice to those who didn’t have one. The genre is best known for taking the experiences of working class, and often poorest Americans and turning them into songs. For some people, country music is the anthem of America.
Songs For The Working Class
Country star Lee Brice has written hits for Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw, as well as his own. One of his most famous songs is “Drinking Class,” the second single off of his 2014 album, 'I Don’t Dance.' The lyrics are less about drinking and more about the day to day life of an American worker.
"We're up when the rooster crows / Clock in when the whistle blows / Eight hours ticking slow / And then tomorrow we'll do it all over again / I'm a member of a blue collar crowd / I belong to the drinking class / Monday through Friday, man we bust our backs / If you're one of us, raise your glass / I belong to the drinking class"
In an interview with Billboard in 2014 Brice explained the lyrics further. “’Drinking Class’ is not really about drinking,” he said. “It’s more about the working class and everybody in this world who works their tails off. You know, if they wanna have a beer, it’s like they deserve that moment, they deserve that freedom, and it’s really kind of a symbol to me more than it is a party song.”
When we caught up with Brice at CMAfest in Nashville last month and asked him how he can still write songs that speak to the lives of working class Americans after he’s reached such a life-changing level of success and fame.
“I know nothing but that,” he said. “My daddy dropped me off one day to dig a ditch. It was only like a 20 foot ditch and I went to go dig and the shovel bent and broke off. It was 105 degrees in July and I was like ‘Daddy it’s making sparks when it hits the clay’ and he was like ‘Sorry be back in however long it takes for you to dig this ditch. Bottom line the ditch has to be dug.’ It’s something that I haven’t forgotten. It’s how I live my life."
How Country Music Became Linked To The Military
According to Department of Defense data, 44.3 percent of all military recruits came from the southern region of the U.S. in 2015 despite having only 36 percent of the country's 18-24 year-old civilian population.
Which is likely part of the reason the genre has become so intrinsically linked to patriotism and the military. It personally impacts the lives and experiences of its audience.
Tyler Farr’s latest single ‘Why We Live Here’ is a tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces.
"Right now there's a man serving overseas / Seeing things he wished he didn't see / Picture of his wife tucked in his vest / Fightin the fight we aint finished yet / That's why I live here / Damn right we aint going anywhere / Home of the brave, baseball and cold beer / It's pretty clear / That's why we live here"
Some country singers themselves, including Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, George Strait, Craig Morgan, and Luke Pell have served in the military.
Pell, who graduated from West Point, served in the military for 9 years. He told Circa that his time in the military and all the challenges good and bad have influenced his song writing. The war veteran has also partnered with the non-profit Creativets, which help pairs other combat vets who suffer from PTSD with songwriters to help share their story.
Country Protest Songs
Country music has deep roots in patriotism, but that doesn’t mean only singing love songs about the red, white, and blue. Some of the most genre’s most famous artists wrote the most post powerful protest songs of the last century.
In 1971 Tom T. Hall released "Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a chicken)" a devastating song about a Vietnam vet coming home.
"People staring at me as they wheel me / Down the ramp toward my plane / The war is over for me / I've forgotten everything except the pain / Thank you sir, and yes sir / It was worth it for the ol' red, white and blue / And since, I won't be walking / I suppose I'll save some money buying shoes"
The following year Johnny Cash visited President Richard Nixon at the White House to discuss prison reform. Nixon asked Cash to play a few songs, Cash played “What Is Truth?” an anti-war song about being young, “The Man in Black,” a song explaining how his fashion preference represented his solidarity with the oppressed, and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” about the plight of Native Americans.