From the country music capital of the world... this is MUSIC CITY USA!

Welcome to the official website of MUSIC CITY USA, a weekly classic country radio show out of Nashville, Tennessee. On this blog you will find a wealth of information related to the radio show and to classic country music.

MUSIC CITY USA airs every Tuesday night from 8.00 to 10.00pm (Central Time) over WRVU Nashville 91.1 FM. You can also listen in online at

All your comments, questions, and requests are most welcome. There are three main ways to get in contact with the show:

(1) Post your comments on this website.
(2) Write an e-mail to
(3) Send a letter to Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin:

WRVU Nashville
Attn: Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin. Music City USA
P.O. Box 9100, Station B
Nashville, TN 37235 U.S.A.

Come on in, sit right down, make yourself at home... and enjoy some great classic country music!

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, we dug deep into the history of country music and played "The Butcher's Boy," an old-time ballad recorded in the late-1920s by Buell Kazee. After the show, one of our listeners sent us a message inquiring about Kazee, and that prompted us to do some research and write this little article about the Kentucky-born clawhammer banjo picker.

"The Butcher's Boy" is one of the many ballads of Anglo-Celtic origin about unrequited love with a tragic ending that became a part of American folklore. It tells the story of a woman who is scorned by the man she loves and winds up hanging herself in her room. The events in the story are mostly told from the woman's perspective, including the powerful last stanza, which is actually the text of the note that she had written before committing suicide and that her father finds hidden in her bosom:

"Go dig my grave
Both wide and deep,
Place a marble stone
At my head and feet.
And over my coffin
Place a snow-white dove,
To tell the world
That I died for love."

Born in 1900 in Burton Fork, Kentucky, Buell Kazee recorded "The Butcher's Boy" for Brunswick in January 1928. Growing up in an environment in which music had always played an important part, Kazee had taken up the banjo when he was five. As a teenager, he decided that he wanted to become a minister, subsequently attending Georgetown College to prepare for the ministry. His college years opened his eyes to the literary value of the old traditional ballads that he had grown up hearing in his rural community, and this sparked his interest in collecting and preserving folk songs. While at college, Kazee also received a formal musical education, which undoubtedly accounts for the rather polished singing style and the spotless diction found in his records. "The Butcher's Boy" is a good example of this: Kazee delivers the very dramatic lyric in a very smooth manner, almost as though he were trying to make sure that every listener understands and relates to the story. His singing style is consciously smooth, and in this it departs from that of other banjo songsters of the period, such as Dock Boggs, whose voice sounds decidedly untrained.

In the late 1920s, when Brunswick called Kazee for an audition, though, it seems that he misunderstood what the label was looking for: for most of the audition, Kazee drew from his extensive repertoire of sentimental and parlor songs, which he sang beautifully, but this did not impress the record executives as much as his folk ballads, sung in a deliberately more rural style. Although Kazee cut quite a few sentimental pop ditties, his most successful recordings were traditional tunes such as "Lady Gay," "The Wagoner's Lad," and "The Butcher's Boy." On these, he accompanied himself on banjo, proving to be one of the finest clawhammer pickers in country music history. To Kazee's astonishment, Brunswick producers advised him to concentrate on the folk side of his repertoire, making sure that his performances sounded country enough: "I had to make a record seven or eight times to get it bad enough to sell. They said, 'If you want to sound country, you sing with a tight throat'" (1). As we can see, the debate over how country music should and should not sound was already current in the early years of the commercial era.

Although his records were selling well, the Depression put an end to Kazee's career as a recording artist, causing him to devote himself to his duties as a clergyman. Kazee would not record again until the late 1950s, when the folk revival stirred new interest in old-time music, offering him a chance for a comeback of sorts. A couple of his 1920s platters were included in Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, and he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival, even making some new recordings for Folkways. Unfortunately, Kazee's records remain largely unreleased on CD, one of the reasons for his relative obscurity nowadays. Despite the fact that he waxed about sixty sides in the 1920s, only a few of them have resurfaced in various artists compilations, and of course, their quality and historical significance call for a thorough reissue. The only CD by Kazee currently available is the aforementioned Folkways album Buell Kazee Sings and Plays, which contains an informal session cut at Kazee's home in the late 1950s, during which he performed some of his best-known traditional ballads and also commented on their history and importance.

Kazee died in 1976, leaving behind a handful of great recordings, several books on religious themes, and even an unfinished autobiography. Until some label finally decides to undertake the reissue of his classic records from the 1920s, the general public will be spared an essential part of the delightful artistry of a unique man.

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

(1) Barry McCloud (ed.). Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers. New York: Berkley, 1995: 434.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The other day, while looking through our record collection, we stumbled upon a compilation of Mel Street's hits from the 1970s. His was a story of short-lived success and of a fatal gunshot that tragically ended the career of a magnificent country vocalist.

There was a time when a totally unknown singer could come to Nashville, cut a song backed by the finest musicians in town, and make it into a hit. This was the case of Mel Street and his 1972 hit "Borrowed Angel," one of the best cheating songs in country music history. It did not happen overnight, though. Mel Street's road to success was long and rocky: in order to provide for his family, he had to combine singing in nightclubs with several different jobs as an electrician and auto repair man. Before coming to Nashville, he lived with his family in places like Ohio, West Virginia, and upstate New York (for a while he was employed by the Niagara Power Project), singing on radio stations and TV shows.

It was through the help of businessman Jim Prater, who caught one of his television broadcasts out of Bluefield, WV, that Mel got to record "Borrowed Angel," one of his own compositions. The record, steeped in the country-pop-cum-honky-tonk tradition of George Jones and Billy Sherrill, made it to the Top Ten in 1972. It not only showcased Mel's gift for songwriting, but also his very personal style of singing, which was perfect for delivering all the pathos of a cheating song. This is the kind of theme that Leroy Van Dyke had explored with so much success in "Walk On By" and "If a Woman Answers (Hang Up the Phone)" and that would prove equally successful for Moe Bandy in years to come. Mel's follow-up to his first hit, "Lovin' on Back Streets" (which peaked in the Top Five in 1972) treads on similar ground, being another take on the subject of extramarital affairs, which would actually become a leitmotif of many of his subsequent releases.

The vast majority of Mel's records were released on small independent labels, and songs like "Lovin' on Borrowed Time," "You Make Me Feel More Like a Man," and "I Met a Friend of Yours Today" all made the charts in the mid-1970s. They are the work of a master stylist who, like George Jones or Ray Price, understood the meaning of song lyrics and made them believable, turning them into country masterpieces. In 1978, following a short stint with Polydor Records, Mel signed with Mercury, one of the majors. Thus, his professional career was taking an upward turn, yet his personal life was quickly deteriorating: Mel plunged into depression due to the pressure derived from the committments of his career and began drinking heavily. He wound up shooting himself on the day he turned 45, tragically ending a six-year run of hits and leaving us to wonder at what could have been had he not made that drastic decision. George Jones, the man on whom Mel modeled his style, showed his admiration for the Virginia-born singer by singing at his funeral.

In spite of his short career, Mel Street ranks high among 1970s country stylists. His approach to country singing is very engaging, and although we can spot touches of George Jones here and of Lefty Frizzell there, his style sounds all his own. Unfortunately, although his life and career are well documented in Dennis Schuler and Larry Delp's Mel Street: A Country Legend (Mountain State Press, 2002), a great deal of his recorded output is not available on CD yet. Hopefully some reissue label will right the wrong and restore Mel Street's legacy to the place where it really belongs.

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


California-based singer/songwriter Dave Gleason is coming back to Nashville and will swing by the WRVU studio this Thursday, October 9, at 10:00am to guest on Music City USA. Gleason, a veteran of the West Coast country-rock scene, will talk about his life, career, and taste in country music, as well as playing some live music accompanied by his own guitar.

Gleason's third album, Just Fall to Pieces (Well Worn Records, 2007) showcases his Bakersfield Sound-derived approach to country music, mixing the classic honky-tonk of Wynn Stewart, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, and Buck Owens with the country-rock sound of Gram Parsons and The Byrds. Among the record's highlights are the haunting "Train of Blue," the Texas shuffle-infused "Take Your Memory with You," the Tex Mex-flavored "Neon Rose," and the imaginative instrumental "Campin' with a Cat." Overall, the music on this CD makes for a very enjoyable listen, and many of the songs are tinged with an undeniable country sound that harks back to the twanging tradition of the Bakersfield Sound. The record is further embellished by guest appearances by great musicians such as guitarists Albert Lee and Jim Campilongo, and steel guitar wizard Joe Goldmark.

So tune in this Thursday morning as Dave Gleason joins us for some conversation and some fine classic country music!

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Dear Music City USA listeners,

After our switch to Tuesday evenings during the summer, Music City USA returns to its usual morning time slot this Fall on WRVU Nashville 91.1 FM. The show will air live every Thursday morning from 10:00am to 12:00pm, and as always, we will be bringing you the best of classic country music, along with some of the present-day artists that still carry the torch of traditional country music. We will keep our usual segments, such as Hymn Time around 10:55am, and our Top-of-the-Hour Instrumental at about 11:00am. And, of course, we will also make every effort to unearth some of the most obscure, unknown recordings in the history of the genre as we Dig Real Deep into the History of Country Music at around 11:30am.

Music City USA is ready for a comeback to its usual time slot this Fall, so we hope that you are ready for the country and that you will meet us down at the corner!

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


After their excellent previous CDs, Swinging Broadway (2003) and Thanks a Lot (2004), John England & The Western Swingers just released a new album, Open That Gate (Lickety Split Records 2008), one of the freshest, most engaging records to come out of present-day Nashville.

If we were to compare this new album by John England & The Western Swingers to the previous two, there are two elements that call our attention. On the one hand, the band sounds a great deal more experienced, and their sound is much more polished and mature. On the other hand, the band members have definitely grown as songwriters. In fact, the CD only includes three covers; the rest are songs penned by the Western Swingers, especially by John England (gtr, vcl), Gene "Pappy" Merritts (fdl, vcl), Neil Stretcher (pno, vcl), and Tommy Hannum (st-gtr, vcl). Only David Spicher (b, vcl) and Walter Hartman (dms) do not contribute any originals, although Spicher sings and acts as leader on two of the tracks, while Hartman does a fantastic job on drums, always making the band swing at the right pace. Moreover, a great deal of care has been taken with the packaging of the album, which makes for a very attractive product.

John England, whose western swing band appears every Monday night at Robert's Western World, on Nashville's Lower Broadway, describes his music as "lively and happy," two adjectives that are absolutely necessary when it comes to western swing. From its inception in the early-1930s, western swing has been mainly a dance-oriented mixture of country, jazz, blues, and pop -- good-time music meant for dancing and foot stomping, seasoned with hot solos and Bob Wills' trademark a-ha hollers. A western swing band cannot be a true western swing band if the musicians are not enjoying the music that they are playing. And John England and The Western Swingers are the perfect contemporary example of this -- an outfit made out of excellent musicians who have fun on stage and make the audience have a blast as well. Open That Gate is an album that epitomizes this idea.

John England, lead guitar and vocals

The CD opens with a brief drum solo by Hartman that introduces "Open That Gate," a John England original written in the vein of classics such as "Oh Monah" and "Sleepy-Eyed John." It is an enjoyable little tune, highlighted by a call-and-response scheme that is to be found in many unforgettable recordings by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys and countless other legendary western swing combos. This first track lends its title to the album and exemplifies the kind of music that the Western Swingers have envisioned for this record as a whole: contemporary western swing that shows a profound respect for and knowledge of the roots of the genre. As England states, "the songs are so well written that most listeners can't distinguish the standards from the originals", and this is undoubtedly an asset of an album that is full of tunes that are directly inspired by the classic western swing sounds that shape the repertoire of the band.

Open That Gate showcases the songwriting abilities of the Western Swingers, as well as their versatility as pickers and vocalists. England is the author of two outstanding instrumentals, "Neely's Bend Quick Step" and "Big Boy Strut," which betray his love of classic jazz, an inescapable influence of good-quality western swing. "Right There With Me," also written by England, features some clever lyrics and a very catchy tune, something that it has in common with "The Closer I Get," which England wrote with Tommy Hannum, the steel guitarist in the band. Hannum, whose playing can be heard on records by Tammy Wynette, Steve Earle, and Mary Chapin Carpenter, offers ample proof of his great talent as a songwriter with two very different tunes. "Old Town" oozes with class and his highlighted by a very soft, swinging rhythm; "She's Comin' Home With Me" is a fine honky-tonk composition, with a very intelligent, playful lyric in which Hannum fits the names of legendary singers such as Ernest Tubb, Mel Tillis, and Ray Price.

Tommy Hannum, steel guitar and vocals

Ray Price might actually be the reference for pianist Neil Stretcher's classy "One More Time," a lovely ballad that harks back to the best ballads of the great honky-tonker from Texas. The Stretcher-penned "Brownsville" is a wonderful shuffle embellished by a magnificent blend of fiddle and steel guitar. Bassist David Spicher gives his own personal touch to two classic songs that mix western swing and old-time jazz. First, he offers a rollicking reading of the oft-recorded "Bring It On Down," mostly associated with Bob Wills. The CD is brought to a close with Spicher's version of "Yes, Sir," a tune by Andy Razaf, co-writer of countless Fats Waller numbers.

But the veteran fiddler Gene "Pappy" Merritts, who has collaborated with country greats by the likes of Bill Monroe and Benny Martin, is the author of one of the most compelling tracks in the album, a delightful waltz entitled "Waltz for Sue Ann" and dedicated to his wife. Originally devised as an instrumental, "Pappy" finally got around to writing a beautiful set of lyrics for the tune, and on the recorded version, his voice shows all the wisdom and authenticity of a man who has devoted his whole life to country music. His version of the Floyd Tillman classic "I'll Keep On Loving You" is another treat for the listener.

Gene "Pappy" Merrits, fiddle and vocals

In short, Open That Gate is an almost unique album in the present-day Nashville scene, which is usually dominated by highly commercial, unexciting country pop. On their new CD, John England & The Western Swingers capture on record the sheer fun and dynamism of their live act. The album clocks in at around forty minutes, and it is the perfect proof that in spite of all the decades that have gone by, there are certain things that never change. And the heel-kicking, foot-stomping, all-around fun sound of western swing is still very much alive.

Cowboy Antón García
Nashville, July 2008.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Dear Music City USA listeners,

We are back in town after a wonderful three-week stay in Spain, where we enjoyed a well-deserved, though mighty short, vacation. We are happy to announce that Music City USA is going back on the air this Tuesday night (July 8) at 8pm. As always, we will be featuring the very best in classic country music, including some new releases and re-releases that we just received.

We'll be walking down the lane, spinning country music, and hope to meet y'all at the corner.

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


It is with great sadness that we woke up last Thursday, May 8, to the news of Eddy Arnold's passing at 89, just a few days shy of his 90th birthday. One of the most respected country music legends of all time, the Tennessee Plowboy leaves behind an invaluable recorded legacy that spans six decades.

In the 1940s, when country music was not yet part of the mainstream, a string of artists set out to bring the genre to a wider audience. People such as Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, or Gene Autry were adamant that their music not be dismissed as hillbilly music and insisted on its being labeled country & western. Their contribution to country music, then, goes beyond their hit recordings and their vocal mannerisms, as they sought respectability for the genre. Chief among this group of performers is Eddy Arnold, whose warm, caressing voice allowed him to cross over to the pop field, as well as dominating the country charts during the forties and early fifties. In fact, no other artist in the history of country music has spent more weeks atop the charts or has had more charting singles. Eddy's chart appearances, although far more numerous in the early years of his career, spread out over five different decades, and that is a feat that very few artists have accomplished.

Eddy Arnold's career began with a stint on radio station WMPS in Memphis, where he honed his skills as a singer and where he soon became very popular. In the early forties, he spent some time as the featured vocalist with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys before recording his first solo single, "Mommy Please Stay Home with Me" in 1944. Arnold was a very versatile singer, which enabled him to evolve with the times, and his career reflects the many changes that country music has undergone throughout the years. His earlier hits ("Each Minute Seems a Million Years," "Bouquet of Roses," and "Just a Little Lovin'," to name but three) have a rootsy, classic country sound, always embellished by the rippling notes played by the great Little Roy Wiggins on steel guitar. However, his voice sounds always polished and betrays the influence of great crooners by the likes of Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Eddy must have also listened to a great deal of records from the twenties and early thirties, as echoes of vaudevillians such as Emmett Miller can be heard in his style, especially in his reading of Miller's "Anytime," which became a million seller for Eddy in 1948. A year before, he'd had his first crossover hit with "I'll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)," and around the same time, even Frank Sinatra recorded a jazzy version of one of Eddy's compositions, "That's How Much I Love You."

Through his continuous appearances on television, Eddy Arnold soon achieved nationwide popularity and kept his impressive streak of hits well into the 1950s, when the arrival of rock'n'roll began to hurt the sales of most country performers. It was then that his career took a decisive turn, as he started to favor a softer style that leaned more toward pop than country, though not totally doing away with the country elements of his music. Just like many other singers of his generation (Jim Reeves, George Morgan, even Ray Price), he became a country crooner and helped popularize what became known as the Nashville Sound. Replacing fiddles and steel guitars with full-blown orchestras and choirs in the background, this brand of country music was geared to a wider market, hoping to spark the interest of record buyers who would not usually listen to country music. Eddy's voice was perfect for the style, and so he returned to the charts with smash hits such as "What's He Doing in My World," "Make the World Go Away," and "I Want to Go with You."

Throughout his long, outstanding career, Eddy Arnold made records that are not only legendary, but that ooze with class and savoir faire. Along with Jean Shepard and Johnny Cash, he was one of the first country artists to realize that albums did not necessarily have to be just a collection of hit singles, and in 1963, he released Cattle Call, a delightful concept album devoted to cowboy songs (it has been reissued by Bear Family together with Thereby Hangs a Tale, another LP of a similar kind). Both the number of awards that he received over the years and the figures of his record sales are impressive, and as one of the most successful entertainers of all time, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. His death leaves us saddened because we have lost not only a legend of country music, but also a wonderful man whose music has touched many generations of dedicated followers. His hit-studded body of recordings is an invaluable legacy to both country music and world music in general.

Cowboy Anton -- Nashville, Tennessee.

For more information about Eddy Arnold's life and career, check out Michael Streissguth's outstanding biography Eddy Arnold: Pioneer of the Nashville Sound (Da Capo Press, 1997).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


This Friday morning (May 9th) is graduation day at Vanderbilt, and we will be having a very special Music City USA show, as our good friends Ike Jonson and Scott Icenogle join us live in the studio. Ike (upper picture; rhythm guitar, vocals) and Scott (lower picture; upright bass, vocals) are leaders of the Roadhouse Rangers and the A-11 Band respectively. These are two of the best bands in present-day Nashville, playing country music the way it sounded in its glorious heyday in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, and occasionally venturing as far back as the 1920s. Ike and Scott will be sharing their deep knowledge about classic country and exploring the roots of the music they love. We will also be playing a few tracks recorded live during some of their personal appearances at Lower Broadway's Robert's Western World, and they will bring their acoustic guitars and sing some of their own compositions in the studio.

Ike's Roadhouse Rangers and Scott's A-11 Band appear regularly at Robert's Western World (416 Broadway) on Tuesday nights (6-10pm) and also on Saturdays (10am-6pm), and on any given show, they are likely to delve deep into the history of country music, offering classic hits as well as unearthing rare, forgotten gems. Their own compositions also have a decidedly classic country feel. They are revivalist bands, but in the most positive connotation of the term, that is, bands led by people who really enjoy, know, and respect the music they play. And their knowledge of country music --and classic American pop of all kinds-- shines throughout any of their live performances.

So we hope you join us this Friday morning from 10am to 12pm on Music City USA, as we journey through the roots of American music with Ike Jonson and Scott Icenogle.

Cowboy Anton & Cowgirl Erin.

For more information about Ike Jonson and Scott Icenogle, visit:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Spring 2008 schedule is out on WRVU Nashville, and this semester Music City USA is moving to Friday mornings from 10 am to noon. This makes me extremely happy because it means that the show will be following my good friend Pete Wilson's fabulous, Nashville Jumps, which always serves up a wonderful selection of good vintage r&b.

As always, Music City USA will be offering the very best in classic country music, as well as some of today's artists who still keep the flame of traditional country music alive. All the greatest hits of yesteryear will be mixed with some present-day singers who still haven't forgotten what genuine country music sounds like. We will also do our best to dig real deep into the history of the genre in order to unearth some long-lost gems that you may not have heard in a very long time or that perhaps you didn't even know that existed. So tune in to Music City USA this semester every Friday morning on WRVU Nashville 91.1 FM!