by David E. Petzal

I had wanted to write on this subject, but figured that it was too far afield from guns, so Phil got there first, but now it’s my turn. Country music, as I understand the term, no longer exists.

I started listening in the late 40s to what was called “cowboy” music, and got sucked into country. Country music, in the 40s, 50s, and some of the 60s, did not cross over. It was not listened to in polite society. It was southern, and it was rural. Its performers were plain-looking folks, many of whom had Depression-era childhoods of desperate poverty. It was not show-biz. Country musicians were not paid huge amounts of money, and with a very few exceptions, were not seen on the TV variety shows of that time. Patsy Cline, an incomparable singer, could not get on the stage today because she was not pretty enough, and because she would not flash her body parts at the audience.

What these people were, however, were musicians., distinctive and original. You could not mistake one for another. Their audiences regarded them as family, and the really good ones could expect careers that were numbered in decades. But not any more.

I lost interest in country music when I saw Garth Brooks and one of his halfwit band members smash two guitars together on stage. All I could think of was how much some kid would love to have one of those guitars, and how far these clowns had come from reality.

But enough of my whining. Here are my nominations for the greatest country musicians back when it really was country.

• Hank Williams–simply the greatest. He will never be equaled.

• Hank Snow–Fine singer, great songwriter, and one of the first hot-s**t guitarists.

• Johnny Cash–Could sort of sing, never learned the guitar, but he came up with a new sound, and he survived Elvis, bigger than ever.

• Patsy Cline–in a class all her own.

• Hank Locklin–so good he makes the hairs stand up on your neck.

• Willie Nelson–I include him because he goes back to the 60s, and because he’s a genius.

• Eddy Arnold–made it sound easy…for 40 years.

And of the current crop, I think only three will be remembered longer than Boy George or Shania Twain.

• Alison Krauss–a musician down to the soles of her shoes. A fine singer and great fiddler.

• Ricky Scaggs–like Alison Krauss, a child prodigy. Great bandleader, super musician on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin, and a good singer.

• Vince Gill–The male version of Alison Kraus. Fine, distinctive voice, incredible guitar and mandolin player.