As a music fan, this question is now more than a George Jones song title. It appears that we're living in a rare musical age, where we are now in the position of saying goodbye to the musical greats who have helped to shape music in all genres. The page, for better or worse, is turning.
It's a thought that crossed my mind first with the passing of George Jones, but struck me again with the recent passing of singer-songwriter J.J. Cale. The world itself lost a treasure with the most recent passing of "Cowboy" Jack Clement. Where Mr. Jones helped define country music with his voice, Mr. Cale helped define music with his words and musical styling. To give an idea of the diversity of Mr. Cale's recorded catalog, look no further than these three classic recordings: "After Midnight" by Eric Clapton, "Clyde" by Waylon Jennings, and "Call Me The Breeze" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. All three are signature offerings from those artists ... all three are written by J.J. Cale ... and all three couldn't sound more different from each other.
When considering these works (and this is but a small sample of Mr. Cale's catalog) and their musical diversity, one has to wonder where is the next visionary? There are many great storyteller's out there and this is not to discount their work, but where is the next songwriter to exert his or her influence to the extent that J.J. Cale has? My guess is, that it will be a long time before we see the likes of Cale again.
The passing of "Cowboy" Jack Clement cannot be understated either. A virtual music historian, one cannot begin to imagine how many stories involving Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride and so on, passed on with Mr. Clement. The Tennessean's Peter Cooper wrote an excellent essay on the passing of Mr. Clement, beautifully showing the diversity, spirit, talent and wit of this man. I encourage you to read it. There is one phrase that sticks out in my mind from Mr. Clement, and I keep it in focus every time I start to feel stressed out about how this blog is working out: "Remember, we're in the fun business. If we're not having fun, we're not doing out job." How many people can claim that attitude?
I say this as it seems the music business, by and large, has changed. Profits are the number one priority in most circles, creativity is an afterthought except in the most rare of circumstances. With record labels being focused on the next big fad and/or trend in order to maximize profit, diversity of material becomes a victim. Having said that, I would suggest that with the rise in popularity of Americana, it should be clear to the recording business that people will always come back to what is real. Fads and trends will come and go, but authenticity is forever. People will ultimately come back to anything that is authentic. It can then be argued that if creativity and musical diversity becomes the priority, the profit margin will take care of itself. One can only hope that the business side of the music business will recognize this fact sooner rather than later.
Which brings us back to the original question: Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes? At this time, there really isn't an answer, at least not an easy one. The 1960's and 1970's, when Mr. Jones, Mr. Cale and so many other great artists were at their creative apex was arguably the greatest period is music. The list of influential musicians, vocalists, groups and songwriters from all genres is fairly exhaustive. But as I noted above, it was a different time. Artists were allowed to develop and create, today this is not the case. Perhaps the more appropriate question to be asked is "How do you replace the irreplaceable?" which certainly describes Mr. Jones, Mr. Cale and Mr. Clement. I think the clear answer is, you don't. You appreciate the gift of their time, their talent and their incredible body of work that is their legacy. And carry it with us as we move forward.