Script for April 2005
The Return of Big Bad Bruce
Homophobia in Country Music
Steve Greenberg - Big Bruce (1969)
This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and you're in the middle of a special three-part series. Two weeks ago I brought you Part 1 of the History of Gay Country Music, and on my regular April show, in two more weeks, it will be Part 2, where I'll continue the history and feature many of the more recent gay & lesbian country songs and artists. But tonight I'm slipping in an bonus show that I'm calling "The Return of Big Bad Bruce: Homophobia in Country Music." This is where I explore all those comedy and novelty songs, done by straight artists, that have been making the most of gay stereotypes over the years, and I'll show how those musical stereotypes have evolved.
I started off with the song "Big Bruce," by Steve Greenberg, from 1969, and it obviously was a parody of the 1962 Jimmy Dean classic "Big John." For my younger listeners, that song went like this:
Jimmy Dean - Big John (1962)
"Big John" was a huge #1 hit and other than the Christmas classics, it's hard to think of a song that's generated more parodies. And to spoof butch John with the opposite was a natural. I know of eleven different parody versions, and in over half Bruce was the so-called hero. Someone should do a study on how the name Bruce came to represent the ultimate sissy in those years. And there were variations in these songs, several kept the name John; and Jim and Sidney were also used. Here's a quick medley of three examples, in order by country comedy singer Ben Colder, folk singer Casey Anderson and the comedy duo Faux Pas, all from the 60s.
Colder - Big Sweet John (1969)
Again, you just heard Ben Colder, Casey Anderson and the duo Faux Pas, who threw in an extra bit of homophobia at the end.
Of course the use of stereotypes in music is nothing new. In the mid 1800s minstral shows were very successful in embedding racism into American popular culture. As a result the image of silly, ignorant and exaggerated blacks in comedy routines were a theatrical mainstay well into the next century. And to a lesser degree there have been songs exploiting images of Jews, and Hispanics, and other groups. But it seems the last safe minority group to make fun of are gays, lesbians and transgender people. And this is nowhere more common than in country music. Even comedians or other acts that are not country based mostly choose country music as their format when musically making gay people the butt of their jokes. Is this because country music is viewed as the least tolerant of the differences of others, and therefore the contrast would heighten the humor? I can only pose the question.
But before I ask the next question I want to give some more examples. From 1951 is a song that, while the arrangement is not country, of course the song it's base on is. Bob Peck takes the song "Deep In The Heart of Texas" and changes it into one he called "Homo the Range."
Bob Peck - Homo the Range (1951)
And here are three more that utilize the worst in lispy, swishy images. First J. Curley Farrell brings us "Fruity Brucey," from 1978.
Curley Farrell - Fruity Brucey (1978)
Following "Fruity Brucey" was "Hopalong Sissy." That one was, at least according to the label, by Bruce Poose, from 1981. And also you heard one that got a bit of radio play in 1974 was "The Ballad of Ben Gay" by Ben Gay & the Silly Savages.
And here are two more quick examples. In 1967 comedian Peter Dana couldn't resist doing a parody of Roger Miller's "King of the Road"
Dana - Queen of the Beach (1967)
And that made-up commercial was for Faggo Root Beer, as done in 1973 by an obscure group called Rock's Gang.
I've got another strange record to share with you, and this is only for my internet listeners, because time constraints wouldn't allow me to fit this into the broadcast show. It's from 1970 and was released on a 45 on the Capitol label in Canada. Since you're already on the net you can see the very interesting picture sleeve they gave this 45. And what is almost as interesting is how tame the stereotyping is on both sides. Yes, the sissy voice is there, but the story lines are so ordinary, especially for that time period, you have to wonder why they thought enough of the record to give it a picture sleeve. It's a real collector's oddity. The artist's name of course is made up, and actually sounds like a porn name. Anyway, here's Rock Harding and both sides of his 45, "He Always Lets Me Down So Easy" and "You Ain't Done Better Than Me."
Rock Harding - He Always Lets Me Down So Easy / You Ain't Done Better Than Me (1970)
Rock Harding from 1970.
Of course another question is what songs are homophobic? Who makes that call? It's a gray area and it's subjective. Even as a gay person there are songs that I might think are funny that someone else might find offensive. But even if you can appreciate a song's humor or cleverness, there's that underlying theme of perpetuating the stereotype, and that itself is damaging. A song about a swishy hairdresser is as demeaning as a song about a lazy Mexican or an Italian gangster.
As I studied the list of songs I compiled for consideration for this show, I started to notice a change in the style of the stereotyping through the years. And while of course there are exceptions, as we got out of the 80s there were fewer and fewer songs that depended on the swishy characters with affected, lispy voices.
This next song I think is interesting because if you think about it, while the mincing voice is still there, the approach is different, as we learn by the song's end that it's the narrators' own homophobia that was their downfall. This one got lots of radio play in 1977. Here's Rod Hart with "CB Savage."
Rod Hart - CB Savage (1977)
Through the 80s and into the 90s it seems transgender characters came into their own as subjects in country songs. They were pretty much absent before that and it probably reflects an evolution in the public's thinking and awareness. Where before the assumption was that a gay man wanted to become a woman, now they knew some folks were actually doing so. So there were songs about sex changes and songs about not being able to tell the difference.
I've got three quick examples of the not-able-to-tell-the-difference songs, and actually the first two are the same song but by two different artists. In 1982 Richard Thompson recorded his song "Woman or a Man." I'll play the first verse by him and then switch to a more cajun cover version of it by Michael Doucet.
Thompson - Woman or a Man (1982)
Richard Thompson and then Michael Doucet and Cajun Brew. But I think my favorite gender confusion song is by Rodney Carrington, called "Dancing With A Man."
Rodney Carrington - Dancing With A Man (1998)
"I Think I'm Dancing With A Man," from 1998 by Rodney Carrington. And now for a trio of sex change songs.
MacDonald - All My Exes Change Their Sexes (1996)
Wasn't that interesting? Comedian Mac MacDonald gave us the clever George Strait parody "All My Exes Change Their Sexes" in 1996, and from 1991 Howie Nave did "Your Father Was Once My Mother." It was from an album very appropriately called "I Can't Believe I Sang That Song." And I followed them with Ruthie & the Wranglers and "He's A Honky Tonk Man." From 1998.
Here's another bonus track for my internet listeners. It's from 1996 and is by country comedy singer Cledus T. Judd. He's released about a dozen albums and it's natural some gay songs would appear. This one is from an album called "I Stoled This Record." Here's "The Change."
Cledus T. Judd - The Change (1996)
Other gay parody songs by Cledus T. Jedd include "Stephon the Alternative Lifestyle Reindeer" and "My Cellmate Things I'm Sexy."
The next evolution I spotted in the treatment of gays and lesbians in country music also started in the 90s, with the revelation by the singers that their wives and girlfriends were lesbian. Okay, let's stop and think. I've covered about 40 years of country music and we finally hear about lesbians. I'm not sure if we should bemoan that lesbians seemed to have been invisible or be thankful we didn't get a lot of songs about butch dykes in cowboy boots. At any rate, the songs are much less critical and the men are mainly just complaining about the loss of "their women." We'll start with Pinkard & Bowden who in 1992 brought us "Since My Baby Turned Gay," and in 1997 the Bellamy Brothers compounded that loss with "My Wife Left Me For My Girlfriend."
& Bowden - Since My Baby Turned Gay (1992)
Following Pinkard & Bowden and the Bellamy Brothers was a much more obscure act, Dick Dietrick & the Nighstandards. Actually Dick Dietrick was the name of a character played by Tim Stack on a TV comedy show, and the song "She's a Lesbian" was released only as a CD single, in 2001.
And you just heard Pinkard & Bowden from the album "Cousins, Cattle & Other Love Stories" and the Bellamy Brothers from their album "Over the Line"
This is a good time to invite you to check out my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the play list and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Saturday night from midnight to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Okay, I'm sure you've noticed that as far as country music homophobia goes, things are progressing. The stereotypes are lessening and at the very end of the 90s straight performers starting releasing songs sung from the first person perspective. This meant they were comfortable enough to sing the song without the audience wondering if they were gay, just because they sang the song.
And audiences already knew that Weird Al Yankovic is liable to sing about anything, so in 1999 when he included on his "Running With Scissors" album one called "Truck Drivin' Song," it was not a great shock.
Al Yankovic - Truck Drivin' Song (1999)
After Weird Al was one by the American Comedy Network, called "The Country Transvestite Song." Yes, those were both comedy songs and those two happened to be about transvestites. Well, I didn't say the stereotypes were all gone, just that it was interesting that the songs were sung in first person. But this next song does make you pause. It's a first person song that's not done for laughs. It appears to be fairly sincere, and it's called "Cowboy Love."
Reverend Horton Heat - Cowboy Love (1999)
That was by an artist calling himself Reverend Horton Heat. But I have to quickly say that Heat wasn't the first straight act to sing a serious gay song in the first person. To my knowledge that was done in 1988 by an act known for their social commentary, the Austin Lounge Lizards. From their album "Highway Café of the Damned" is the song "Cornhusker Refugee." It's about a gay man from Nebraska living in San Francisco and missing his homeland, but knowing he can't go back.
Austin Lounge Lizards - Cornhusker Refugee (1988)
I love that song. Again that was the Austin Lounge Lizards, and my friends the Therapy Sisters backed them up on that song.
Gay presence in country music has come a long way. But I dont mean that country music seems ready for a gay or lesbian country singing star. They still don't appear ready for that, just ask kd lang. What I'm talking about is just the subject matter of the songs. While of course it's still possible to hear a new country song making fun of gays and lesbians, the sources are mostly from comedy acts rather than from country artists themselves. So I'm going to head toward the end of the show with several songs from the last five or six years, done by straight artists, that I think deserve special attention.
Rodney Crowell was raised in Houston, and in 2001 he released his "Houston Kid" album to much acclaim, and like most of the reviewers, I was particularly taken by two songs from it that paralleled each other. "I Wish It Would Rain" tells the story of a former Houston kid who is gay and now works as a street hustler in California, and is dying of AIDS. "Wandering Boy" continues the story, from the perspective of his twin brother who overcomes his homophobia and now embraces his brother, who has come home to die. Here's a little of both songs, edited together.
Rodney Crowell - I Wish It Would Rain / Wandering Boy (2001)
Powerful stuff. This next song I discovered by doing an internet search on the words "gay cowboy song" and came up with an CD by a group called the Digglers, whose self-titled debut album has several songs with western themes. I emailed their lead singer, Mick Austin, for more info about the song "Eyes of a Cowboy." He wrote: " I come from a very red-neck background; Okies, depression, pickup trucks, bigotry, prejudice....you get the picture? I had a cousin Jimmy, who I realized, after I'd removed my head from my ass, was totally gay. To be gay in that environment must have been a miserable life for him, and the family has completely lost track of him. I got to thinking there must be lots more Jimmy's...and a song sprung forth."
Digglers - Eyes of a Cowboy (2003)
"Eyes of a Cowboy" by the Digglers, from 2003. And from last year Chris Difford released a solo album called "I Didn't Get Where I Am." And I phrase it that way because he's been more known through the 80s and 90s as one of the driving forces of the English act Squeeze. But how could I resist a song called "Cowboys Are My Weakness"?
Chris Difford - Cowboys Are My Weakness (2004)
Very Nice. "Cowboys Are My Weakness" by Chris Difford. And my friend Doug Stevens knows this next artist and verifies that he is very gay positive. Well, I believe it. His song is both positive and delightful. His name is Dale Allen and his album is called "Just For Fun," and you'll soon get the joke with his song "What Would It Take."
Dale Allen - What Would It Take (1999)
Again, from 1999, that was Dale Allen and "What Would It Take."
Well, I hope you've enjoyed traveling with me through the evolution of homophobia in country music. We made it through all those Big Bad Bruce songs, through the limp-wristed "Hopalong Sissy" and "CB Savage" and then through all those gender confusion songs. Did Rodney Carrington really know he was "Dancing With A Man"? And those Bellamy Brothers, who sang "My Wife Left Me For My Girlfriend" well, at least they got a good country song out of it.
Now I don't pretend to think that homophobic country lyrics are gone from our culture, but in my review of this music I could sure see progress. As time went on the degree of stereotyping got less and less, until finally, in the last few years I can point to a group of songs by straight country artists, writing about gay subjects, that any gay artist would have been proud to write.
The choice of the last song I'm featuring on tonight's show seemed to me like a no-brainer. But before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and tell you about my next show, the last part in my series on Gay Country Music. That will be in two weeks, in my regular April time slot on the 4th Monday of the month. On that show I'll continue the history and feature many of the more recent gay & lesbian country songs and artists, and I've got some songs that have never been released. You'll hear artists like Jamie Anderson, David Alan Mors, Y'All, Mark Weigle, the Topp Twins, Jeff Miller, Lisa Koch, Mark Islam, Dena Kaye, several brand new artists, and of course one of my favorites, the late great Sid Spencer. I've got a lot to fit in, including some special interviews. You can view the playlist for tonight's show and see photos of all the artists and recordings at my site, at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
Okay, what song is strong enough to end a show on homophobia in country music? Well, one from a country superstar who's been brave enough for a lot of years to speak up for what he thinks is right. Garth Brooks did that in 1992 in a song called "We Shall Be Free," the first song, and certainly the first hit country song, to include gay people in the message that when we're free to love anyone we choose, we shall be free.
Garth Brooks - We Shall Be Free (1992)
No, not music related but they set off my gaydar...first, Brandon De Wilde showing a big gun and box in "Hud," and then Guy Madison perhaps putting the moves on Robert Mitchum, in "Til The End of Time," 1946.
FOR THE BONUS SHOW
This is JD Doyle, with a special bonus segment of Queer Music Heritage. This segment is sort of an addendum to my April 2005 show on Homophobia in Country Music. It's an internet only show, which will be very obvious before you get to the end of the first verse of the first song. While researching for country songs by straight artists that are using gay stereotypes I knew I had some that in no way I could play on the radio, but I still wanted to share them, as they are relevant to the subject I was exploring. So a separate sound file was the answer. Here's a warning, while in some of these songs it's just the language that would cause an FCC problem, in others, well, they are downright crude and tasteless. You are officially warned. Oh, and since there are no time constraints on this show you'll hear the entire songs. I'm not so sure you'll thank me.
First up is an act called the Pajama Slave Dancers from 1988 with "Homo Truck Drivin' Man."
Slave Dancers - Homo Truck Drivin' Man (1988)
Following the Pajama Slave Dancers were the Saddle Tramps, from their album from 2000 called "Whiskey Dick." Next are two tasteless songs by the Disturbingly Lonesome Cowboys, from their self-titled album from 1993. Get ready for "I Ain't No Okla-Homo" and "The Diesel Dykes of Dixie."
Lonesome Cowboys - I Ain't No Okla-Homo (1993)
I remarked on the main show that songs about lesbians were very scarce as far as country music goes. I guess that last song proves why we can be thankful of that.
Also on the main show I played a song by comedian Mac MacDonald called "All My Exes Change Their Sexes." Well, the other relevant song I have by him didn't quite make the cut, as far as language goes. From his 1994 cassette is the very mincing "Frisco Cowboy."
Mac MacDonald - Frisco Cowboy (1994)
One of those Big Bad John parodies that I couldn't play on the broadcast show was by the comedy duo Malone & Noocheez. Here's "Big Bad Jim"
& Noocheez - Big Gay Jim (1993)
The Malone & Noocheez CD was from 1993 and was called "Two Heads," and I followed them with Brian Weeks. He named his very self-produced CD "Stupid Songs," and from it we heard "All Them Cowboys," from 2000.
And closing the show is another dyke song, and it's one that I actually played on Queer Music Heritage, back in 2002. There's only a minor language problem, but it's just not worth chancing it in these times. Here's local Houston artist Mean Gene Kelton from his CD from 2000 called "Most Requested. " The song is "Texas City Dyke."
Mean Gene Kelton - Texas City Dyke (1999)
I just Love my cowboys in jockeys