Top 10 Country Breakups
On this day in country music history, Bob Dylan brought about the dissolution of one of the most influential bluegrass bands of all time. Well, that might be an overstatement. Read on.
Top Ten Country Music Breakups
Flatt and Scruggs, 1969 On March 11, 1969, after 23 years playing together and 21 as a duo, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs called it quits. With numerous Top 10 singles and a Grand Ole Opry membership under their belts, the two raised the bluegrass genre to a level of popularity it had not previously enjoyed. But in the late 1960s, the duo began experimenting with more popular forms of music, covering Bob Dylan - their 1968 album Changin' Times featured five Dylan songs, 1969's Nashville Airplane featured four and the post-breakup release Final Fling, seven - and planning to collaborate with notable Dylan producer Bob Johnston. Scruggs, a decade Flatt's junior, was growing sick of playing bluegrass every night in its original form, while Flatt had come to resent their more modern direction. It all came to a head in 1969 and the two departed, Flatt forming a traditional bluegrass band, the Nashville Grass, and Scruggs assembling a progressive group, the Earl Scruggs Review.
To see these changes immortalized, one not only need listen to the musical directions each of these Foggy Mountain Boys undertook after the breakup; check out the shaggy hair featured in early photographs of the Earl Scruggs review, as well as the cover art of Scruggs and Flatt's last album, Lester Flatt scowling bitterly at a smiling Earl Scruggs.
George Jones and Tammy Wynette, 1975
Tammy Wynette made a career of songs detailing the challenges of being a wife and mother like "Stand by Your Man," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," and "I Don't Wanna Play House," and fittingly so - she was married five times, and among other difficult relationships, she was from 1969 to 1975 married to country singer (and notorious abuser of alcohol, drugs and riding lawnmowers) George Jones. Though they divorced in 1975, in large part due to his alcoholism, the two continued to collaborate regularly until Wynette's death in the late 1990s.
Brooks & Dunn, 2010
Known for their high-energy live show, string of hits dating back to 1991 and popular - now immortal - line dance ("Boot Scootin' Boogie", 1991), Brooks & Dunn announced in summer 2009 that they would be breaking up amid rumors that Ronnie Dunn would be pursuing a solo career. After a barn-burner of a farewell tour, the two played their final show in Nashville on September 2, 2010.
Garth and Sandy Brooks, 1998
After 12 years of marriage, Garth Brooks filed for divorce from his wife Sandy, citing irreconcilable differences - a move that reportedly cost him $125 million in the ensuing settlement. Shortly after the divorce (it's always "shortly after" the divorce, right?), Garth began dating country singer Trisha Yearwood, eventually proposing to her in front of the thousands of fans gathered at Buck Owens' Crystal Palace in Bakersfield to see the unveiling of his 8 foot bronze statue, now standing in the foyer of the famous nightclub. Same story, new year. Sure. But check this out: Last year, Garth was named as "the other man" in a contentious divorce battle between a couple... in Connecticut... whom he'd never met. The husband claimed his wife used Brooks' name to make him jealous, leaving the house for long periods of time "to meet Garth." The woman, on the other hand, countered that she'd never met Garth. And that her husband had issues.
Dwight Yoakam and Producer/Bandleader Pete Anderson, 2002
In addition to producing everyone from Roy Orbison to the Meat Puppets, Pete Anderson is perhaps best known for his guitar work and production on a number of Dwight Yoakam's albums, as well as for acting as touring sideman to the legend dating back to his earliest days. However, when Yoakam opted against touring in 2002 to film a movie, Anderson was out, and two years later took Yoakam to court, claiming they'd shared a long-standing oral agreement with Anderson acting as bandleader for Yoakam's touring band and alleging a whopping $44,000 in lost salary. $44,000? Ladies, it may seem glamorous, but don't ever marry a musician. Most recently, the impressive Eddie Perez. formerly of the Mavericks, has helmed the guitar for Yoakam's projects.
Buck and Bonnie Owens, 1955/Bonnie Owens and Merle Haggard, 1978
You may have already known that Buck Owens and Merle Haggard shared a music scene with one another - Bakersfield. But did you know that they also shared a wife? Well, not in the polyandrous sense of the word, that we know of anyway.
Bonnie Campbell, born in Oklahoma City, met Buck Owens when she was just 15. The two played in a band together in Mesa, Arizona, married in 1951 and moved to Bakersfield, California, where Bonnie worked as a waitress, Buck as a DJ, and both worked their way into successful music careers. Her first recording was a duet with Fuzzy Owen (no "s" - no relation), who is known for recording Merle Haggard's very first song and acting as his longtime manager.
Bonnie and Buck divorced in 1955, and in 1965, the year the ACM named her "Female Vocalist of the Year," Bonnie married Merle, who was about eight years her junior and was at the time acting as her opening act on tour. The two divorced in 1978. Bonnie passed away in 2006, just a month after Buck's death.
These breakups are notable because, well, they weren't breakups after all; Bonnie continued performing with both her ex-husbands after their relatively amicable divorces.
Kristen Hall and Sugarland, 2005
Sugarland is one of the most popular duos in popular country music today. The band started as a two-piece, but grew to three when Jennifer Nettles joined Kristian Bush and Kristen Hall and the group released its multi-platinum debut, Twice the Speed of Life in 2004. The trio shrunk back to duo in 2006 with the release of its second album, Enjoy the Ride, as Kristen Hall left the band to focus on songwriting. Well, wouldn't you know it - the band got superbig (and is now superbigger), and in 2008 Hall filed a lawsuit for $1.5 million against her former bandmates, stating she'd been excluded from sharing profits as agreed upon after her departure. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court, and we doubt Sugarland's come out any worse for the wear.
The Louvin Brothers, 1963
The story of the Louvin Brothers presents us with perhaps the most confounding of all country music conundrums. Born in Alabama, elder brother Ira Loudermilk and his younger brother Charlie adopted the name Louvin Brothers in the 1940s as they began a career singing gospel music. However, with their notable close harmonies and proficiency on mandolin and guitar, they quickly gained a popular following, and in 1955 joined the Grand Ole Opry. While gospel themes continued to figure largely into their music, it was in their secular lives that they were destined to claim notoriety - well, Ira anyway.
Though their songs were informed by their Baptist faith, Ira didn't exactly practice what he preached. Known widely for being quick to drink (and even quicker to throw a tantrum) Ira was married four times - his third wife shot him three times in the back after he tried to strangle her with a phone cord. Showing a penchant for strangulation, Ira also allegedly tried to strangle Elvis Presley, who was opening for the brothers at the time, abusing him also using a racial epithet that was probably fairly popular among Elvis' audiences at the time. Ira was known to smash his mandolin on stage when enraged, but at one point bitterly put away the instrument he had mastered when producers urged him to move to guitar, mandolin seeming out-of-date and uncool for the time, one would suppose.
By 1963, Ira's cruel behavior led to the dissolution of the musical partnership. As the story goes, Ira taunted poor Charlie by saying that he'd be nothing without him, and that Charlie would likely have to get a job as a gas station attendant. Fittingly, the song "Must You Throw Dirt in My Face" is the last single the brothers recorded together.
The Byrds and Gram Parsons - 1968
Gram Parsons was never an "official" member of the Byrds. The band had him on salary, a move perhaps necessitated as much by the need to pay Parsons a strict salary in order to get him to actually show up (per bassist Chris Hillman), as by record label legalities. However, when the band brought him on board in 1968, his fascination with country music caused their album in-the-works, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, to take a radical new direction away from Roger McGuinn's initial vision of a comprehensive musical history of American popular music, ranging from bluegrass to country to jazz to R&B to R&R and finally, to electronic (!) music. Gram was at the same time turning on the Stones to country music, so it couldn't have been too difficult for him to charm the Byrds into turning the album into one of the most important country-rock pieces of all time.
After a disastrous performance on the Ryman stage, regulars heckling and booing these boys who'd attempted to buck the unwritten Opry rule of "no longhairs," the album was released, but tensions between Parsons and the band were high. Many of Parsons vocals had to be overdubbed with McGuinn's on the final version, as Parsons still had legal obligations to Lee Hazlewood's LHI label. Furthermore, the politically-savvy Stones had convinced Parsons that the Byrds ought not follow through on their plans to tour South Africa, and citing his protest over the country's policies of apartheid, Parsons refused to go. By the end of the South African tour, Parsons was out of the band. He died five years later.
The White Stripes, 2011
Sure, the White Stripes ain't country, but we worry their 2011 breakup will leave Jack White more time to record Tammy Wynette's zombie zydeco album. Mark my damned words - it's gonna happen.
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