Outlaw Politics: Can Doug Jones Unite the Hippies and the Rednecks like Willie Nelson?

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U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones rides with organized labor in the Veterans Day Parade in Mobile, Alabama, Friday Nov. 10, 2017: Photo by Glynn Wilson

The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson

GULF SHORES, Ala. — It is common knowledge in the bar rooms along the golden sands of the Redneck Riviera that Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and other country music artists are modern day American poets. They are just as important to understand as the English playwright William Shakespeare.

The snarky Ivy Leaguers of the New York Times might scoff at such an assertion.

But down here in a land where people attend church services on Sunday after partying Saturday night in a mega-bar called the Flora-Bama Roadhouse Lounge, they know this for a fact.

Even if they have never seen the documentary on Outlaw Country on the Country Music Channel, they can identify with what Hazel Smith of Glaser Studios says on the subject. She is credited with coining the phrase Outlaw Country to describe what happened when Willie Nelson left Nashville and started the musical revolution in Austin, Texas, from the Armadillo World Headquarters.

“Willie Nelson is as good as Shakespeare,” Smith says. “Good as any Shakespeare that ever walked Willie Nelson is.”

To these folks there is no contradiction between tossing back a few brews and shots on Saturday night and believing in Jesus on Sunday morning. They went along with the “conservative revolution” in politics just like they worshiped everything coming out of Nashville, until Willie Nelson took a chance and told them a different story. In other words, he provided an alternative narrative, sort of like what we’re doing here.

So when a politician-preacher like Judge Roy Moore comes along and claims he’s with them, there is a tendency to go along.

But when it comes to light that he may be a false prophet and a sexual predator of young girls, they know there is a special place in hell and prison for the likes of him. Y’all know from the movies what they do to child molesters in prison.

The challenge for Moore’s opponent in what might be Moore’s final run for public office is to overcome a long-held bias against Democrats, who are suspected of being “tax and spend” liberals. Race is not such a factor here as it is in the Appalachian foothills of North Alabama or the suburbs of Birmingham. It’s just that people feel they have been burned so many times that they no longer trust the government.

Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, who is running neck and neck with Moore in a special election for the United States Senate, may need to do what Willie Nelson did when he moved back to Texas. That is, get the rednecks and the hippies together and unite them in the cause of good music, good story telling — and good government.

In the 1970s in West Texas and Northeast New Mexico (and all over the South), it was dangerous to be a long-haired hippie rock musician until Willie Nelson made it cool. I know. I was one of them. My critics like to call me biased. It’s true. I had a bias against the country twang growing up in Birmingham. But I came to appreciate the value of a good story.

Don’t just believe me. Listen to Ray Wylie Hubbard, the author of Redneck Mother, tell the story here.

Music has not come up yet in the Senate campaign, what with all the talk of judge Moore chasing teen-aged girls around the Gadsden Mall and all over town.

So I decided to interview Doug Jones and get him on the record. His musical tastes seem to align pretty well with those of the people along the Gulf Coast.

“I love music and I like a lot of different music,” Jones said. “I’m a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s so classic rock ’n’ roll is my favorite — the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, Creedence, the Allman Brothers, Hendrix, Joplin – the list goes on and on.”


Doug Jones with folk singer and activist Joan Baez by the 16th Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: Facebook

He also enjoys more contemporary rock: Train, Ed Sheehan, the Avett Brothers.

“There’s lots of good country stuff out there too,” he says, “but I am still partial to Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker. I am a big fan of both Jimmy Buffett and John Prine, both of whom are hard to categorize. And I should never, ever forget Joan Baez.”

So when voters go to the polls on December 12, they will have a tough decision to make, especially in Baldwin County, Alabama, a place that went Republican early on. I watched it happen in the 1980s and early ‘90s working for the newspapers there.

This is a new day, however, and there are far more signs urging a vote for Doug Jones than Roy Moore along the backroads of Daphne, Fairhope, Foley and Orange Beach.

Could it be that there is a new country song-poem to be written about this infamous saga in Southern gothic political history? I suspect there is one already in the works.

Study Material

Outlaw Country Wikipedia

Ray Wylie Hubbard Wikipedia

Songs you will hear every Saturday night at the Flora-Bama.

Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother, Jerry Jeff Walker

Misery and Gin: Merle Haggard

Okie From Muskogee: Merle Haggard

David Allan Coe: The Perfect Country Song

Oak Ridge Boys: Elvira

Charlie Daniels: Long Haired Country Boy

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings: Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Live at Farm Aid 1986)

A few extra links I can’t resist throwing in.

O Brother Where Art Though: The Soggy Bottom Boys

A Man of Constant Sorrow: The Soggy Bottom Boys

Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris: Pancho and Lefty (2000)

Bobby Bare: Dropkick Me Jesus (Unedited Version)

Mac Davis: It’s Hard To Be Humble (1980)

Gretchen Wilson – Redneck Woman

Things you should know about that you may not see at the Flora-Bama on Saturday night.

Joan Baez: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez 1963 March on Washington

Then there is the final song at Woodstock in 1969, a prayer at 2 a.m.

Joan Baez: We Shall Overcome

I pray that people will take this into account and help turn things around. Haven’t we been divided long enough?

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

  1 comment for “Outlaw Politics: Can Doug Jones Unite the Hippies and the Rednecks like Willie Nelson?

  1. Maureen Plunkett
    November 19, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Love this!!!!!! Great read 👍👏👍

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