Country music is no stranger to the shocking, horrifying and scandalous.
Today’s squabbles may seem insignificant in comparison to country’s former bad boys and outspoken musicians, who weren’t afraid to steal corpses and set fires. Here are the 11 most shocking moments in country music history.
11. Blake Shelton calls classic country fans “old farts” and “jackasses”.
During a Great American Country special in 2013, Blake Shelton voiced his controversial opinion about country music moving away from its roots. His comment sparked a continuing debate over traditional country music versus pop-country and led to artists from both camps firing insults at each other. Jason Aldean famously told Zac Brown, “Nobody gives a sh*t what you think,” after Brown called a Luke Bryan song the worst he had ever heard. Aldean and Shelton were also recipients of criticism for their vapid pop songs “1994” and “Boys ‘Round Here”, respectively.
10. George Jones is arrested for drunk driving.
“No Show Jones” had problems with alcohol, which were well documented. When a video was released in 1980 of the Possum struggling with police officers during his arrest, his problems were revealed to the public eye. Jones looked disheveled and pissed off, bringing light to country’s long-standing problems with drug and alcohol abuse. Jones also famously rode a tractor to a bar when his wife hid his car keys.
9. Hank Williams, Jr. compares President Obama to Hitler.
In 2011, Hank Williams, Jr. made an appearance on a talk show to discuss politics. He wasn’t shy about voicing his opinion as he stated that a golf outing between President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner was like “Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu.” He continued to claim Obama was the enemy. After the show, ESPN quickly dropped Williams from his famous gig as the singer introducing Monday Night Football.
8. Faith Hill tells fan not to grab her man’s balls.
Faith Hill was touring with husband Tim McGraw in 2007 when a female fan reached out and grabbed McGraw’s crotch. Hill called the fan out on stage, telling her, “Somebody needs to teach you some class, my friend. You don’t go grabbing somebody else’s, somebody’s husband’s balls.” The incident came during the same tour when a fan allegedly stole McGraw’s wedding ring right off his finger.
7. Charlie Rich lights fire to John Denver’s Entertainer of the Year award ballot.
Reigning Entertainer of the Year Charlie Rich was asked to hand off the award to his successor in 1975 during the CMA award show. Rich didn’t think too much of the winner, John Denver. As Rich announced Denver’s name, he took out a lighter and set fire to the ballot. Rich was apparently protesting Denver’s pop sound. Rich’s son later blamed a combination of prescription medication and alcohol for Rich’s erratic behavior.
6. Cash smashes the footlights at the Grand Old Opry.
Johnny Cash was one of music’s original bad boys. Like Hank Williams and George Jones, Cash struggled with substance abuse throughout his life. One night in 1965, the Grand Ole Opry informed Cash they didn’t need him. He became violent and smashed the floor lights with a microphone. His behavior caused the Opry to ban him. Cash eventually made peace with the Opry, but the Man in Black set the stage for future country music bad boys.
5. Kayne steals the mic from Taylor Swift.
At the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Kayne West grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech for Best Female Video. West apparently disagreed with the verdict for the category, as he claimed that Beyoncé “had one of the best videos of all time.” He then shrugs and returns the mic to Swift to deal with that bomb. Swift recovered nicely and gave a fun performance in the New York subway. The mic grab, of course, didn’t derail her career at all.
4. Phil Kaufman steals Gram Parsons’ corpse. Then burns it.
Singer-songwriter Gram Parsons died from a drug overdose on Sept. 19, 1973. The former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers star was instrumental in launching the careers of Emmylou Harris and The Eagles. When he died, his manager, Phil Kaufman, stole his body from the Los Angeles International Airport. He drove it to Joshua Tree National Park, where he doused it in gasoline and burned it. Kaufman was honoring a pact that he and Parsons had made. He was never charged but fined $750.
3. Dixie Chicks tell the world they are ashamed of President Bush.
Dixie Chicks had garnered controversy since their feud with Toby Keith over the content of his song, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”. The final straw came when lead singer Natalie Maines told the audience at their London show they were ashamed President Bush was from Texas. The comment sparked a backlash against the Dixie Chicks, including death threats and the Chicks were slowly forced from country music. They refocused their music to reflect their political sentiments.
2. Loretta Lynn declares her sexual independence.
When Loretta Lynn released her single “The Pill” in 1975, it was immediately banned from a number of radio stations for its stance on birth control. Lynn sings she’s tired of constantly popping out babies and not having a chance to enjoy herself, so she’s taking the pill. The song’s earnest take on birth control inspired other women across the nation to stand up for their reproductive choices.
1. Hank Williams dies.
One of country music’s earliest and most influential stars, Hank Williams was only 29 when he died in the back seat of his Cadillac on New Year’s Day 1953. Williams, who suffered from a disorder of the spinal column, had been injected earlier in the night with B12 vitamins and morphine. He was also drinking alcohol and chloral hydrate. Sometime during the ride to his next show, Williams’ heart stopped. His driver found him dead in the backseat, launching a renewed interest in Williams’ music and a life-long legacy.