One of the things I’ve enjoyed about C2C over the years is they have attempted to address the gender balance which has been such a problematic area for country music over the years. If you think this is a new issue then it really isn’t. On this week’s AC we’ll play you the first ever female No 1 country song. It’s a great track by Kitty Wells but was possibly deemed a suitable contender for radio play as it answered (and borrowed from) Hank Thompson’s ‘The Wild Side of Life.’ In Kitty’s ‘It Wasn’t God Who made Honky Tonk Angels’ she sets out the plight of women who are married to men who ‘think they’re still single.’ That the next seventy years or so would do little to change the gender dialogue says something about country music that really needs to be addressed: Women are getting a bad deal.
Let’s return to my C2C point for a moment. I’ve been lucky enough to be at most of the festivals since its inception and have seen so many great women artists. From the top of my head I’m remembering great sets by Lady A, Little Big Town, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley McBryde, Cam and Miranda Lambert. I’ve missed out a few too, but essentially there is an attempt to make sure that on any given evening the audience will get to see almost as many women as men. (though it’s not totally balanced ….yet ….and there is a real need to embrace African American acts in the coming years). If I’m being kind to the promoters here however, it’s because they have made a far greater effort than the programmers of country radio stations who, in 2021, allowed female artists to take up 10% of airtime. Just hold that thought for a second.
All of this comes with the understanding that the more imaginative contributions to the genre have come from female writers and artists. It is also they who have managed to cross over into mainstream popular music more often and with much greater success. It is also sobering to reflect that this crossover has often been propelled by the wholesale snub they have received from the denizens of Music Row. Think of Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Maren Morris or Shania Twain and of course the great Dolly Parton and try to come up with names (in the last 40 years) from male artists who have managed similar mainstream success. I’m afraid I can’t.
On this week’s Another Country we will reflect on all of this with our good friend Marissa Moss, author of Her Country – How The Women of Country Became The Success They Were Never Supposed To Be. Marissa’s book is making waves since its release a few weeks ago and it is as good a testament to the state of country music over the last ten to twelve years as I know. We’ll be talking through why women have been airbrushed from airplay and also looking at why LGBTQ+ artists and writers are making their voices heard. Marissa’s book brilliantly sets out what happens when a great talent like Mickey Guyton attempts to break into country radio as an African American female artist. Spoiler alert: it took a while and there is still no happy ending.
I recorded the conversation with Marissa last week, so I can tell you, this is a great listen which is interspersed with many of the artists whose names come up in her book. As well as the ones we’ve mentioned you’ll hear The Highwomen, The Chicks, Suzy Bogguss, Brandy Clark, Margo Price and Tanya Tucker. It all starts at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland FM this Tuesday evening and at the time and place of your choosing on BBC Sounds thereafter. Join me if you can.