With a Rebel Yell: 10 Rockers Gone Country
Aaron Lewis at the Verizon Wireless Theater in 2010.
Photo by Matthew Keever
When Staind singer Aaron Lewis rolls into Verizon Wireless Theater tomorrow night, odds are he'll leave his mudshuvel back at the hotel. As modern rock radio turns to the next generation of angst, the former Fred Durst protégé is trying his hand at country. His debut single as a solo artist, "Country Boy," borrows some Nashville cred from legendary shitkickers George Jones and Charlie Daniels, so you know it's legit.
He might be the most heavily tattooed, but Lewis ain't the first thumper to try on a twang. Rocks Off has compiled the following list of rockers gone country to prove that sometimes the crossover works -- and sometimes it really, really sucks.
With the Cracked Rear View all but shattered at this point, the once and future Hootie now makes his living as a country crossover success story. After the Blowfish shockingly failed to replicate their monster year in 1994, frontman Darius Rucker took a weak stab at R&B before trucking off to Nashville to explore his Southern roots. He's released two country albums in the past four years, Learn to Live and Charleston, SC 1966. It wasn't an easy sell initially, especially with the white-dominated country radio establishment. Nevertheless, Hootie found an audience, becoming the first African American to win the New Artist Award from the Country Music Association in '08.
No doubt targeting the few female music-lovers who weren't already fans, Bon Jovi first crossed the country line with "Who Says You Can't Go Home," a 2005 duet with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles. The song made New Jersey's eternal heartthrobs the first rock band to score a number one single on the country charts, prompting a financially prudent full-length country follow-up. 2010's Lost Highway also went number one, and featured guest spots from pop-country superstars Big & Rich and LeAnn Rimes.
While the legendary folk hero had already dumbfounded fans and critics alike by going electric in 1965, Bob Dylan proved he had a few surprises yet up his sleeve with his '69 album, Nashville Skyline. Though Dylan had dabbled in steel guitar on the preceding record, John Wesley Harding, Skyline was straight country, even finding the spokesman for a generation dueting with Johnny Cash. Notably, the album featured a sweeter, warmer croon from the singer, rather than his trademark nasal style. The recording's modern Nashville twang was far from the prescient collection of protest anthems hoped for by many in that turbulent political moment, but it nevertheless became a commercial success, spawning the pop classic "Lay Lady Lay."
After demand for his glam metal outfit Keel waned sharply in the early '90s, former Steeler vocalist Ron Keel traded his poodle-do for a Stetson and became the hilarious poster boy for rockers-gone-country: Ronnie Lee Keel. The stark transition in both music and image edged a lot closer to absurdity than crossover success, but no list of this kind would be complete without this fearless (feckless?) outlaw.
Metallica has made something of a habit of pissing off hardcore metal fans with their genre-defying musical left turns over the past 20 years. No exploration, however, made metalheads run weeping to the sweaty bosom of Slayer faster than the song "Mama Said" from the infamous Load album. This steel guitar-drenched ballad featured tough guy James Hetfield in full country crooner mode, thoroughly shattering heshers holding out for another "Whiplash." Essentially a Hetfield solo jam, the track has never made it into Metallica's comprehensive live oeuvre -- disappointing approximately no one.
Released in 2001 at the tail end of the rap-rock phenomenon that made him a star, Kid Rock's Cocky album could have been the American Badass' swan song. After three consecutive singles from the record failed to break big, the countrified Sheryl Crow duet "Picture" crossed over, propelling Cocky to multiplatinum status. Nobody's fool, Rock went with it, phasing out many of the more overt hip-hop and metal elements of his sound in favor of more southern rock and country influences. Incredibly, the gambit proved so successful that Joe C's mentor has been invited to host the CMT Awards for two years running.
"Picture" became Sheryl Crow's biggest hit single since "All I Wanna Do," and, like the Kid, Sheryl totally noticed. Reveling in her new crossover fanbase, she joined Loretta Lynn and Miranda Lambert in 2010 for an update of Lynn's classic, "Coal Miner's Daughter," for a tribute album. The song was later performed at the CMAs that November. Last year, she reunited with Kid Rock for the country single "Collide," and her forthcoming 2012 album promises to be an unabashed pop-country affair.
When Soul pioneer Ray Charles announced that he intended to record an album of country music back in 1961, the idea was thoroughly shit upon by his R&B peers, his fans and his record label. The freedom to record and release any style of music that caught his fancy was mighty important to Charles, though, and he didn't hesitate to test that freedom with 1962's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The album was an unprecedented crossover hit, selling millions of copies to fans of R&B, pop and country alike. Yet another barrier-smashing wonder from a career chock full of 'em.
Brett Detar of The Juliana Theory
After making his name playing guitar with metalcore stalwarts Zao and fronting emo bastion the Juliana Theory, his first listen to the legendary Johnny Cash album Live at San Quentin sent Brett Detar in a new, homespun direction. Ultimately losing his passion for rock as the Juliana Theory crumbled in 2006, Detar quite the music biz altogether for a time before releasing a solo country effort, Bird in the Tangle, for free on his website.
Rock weirdos Ween don't take any half-steps when it comes to their musical adventurism. That's why it seemed to somehow make sense when the band rounded up the best session players in Nashville back in 1996 to record a straight-up country album featuring songs like "Piss Up a Rope." It was called 12 Country Greats, and it only included 10 tracks. If any of that sounds strange, you should probably listen to more Ween.
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