Music

Country Rewind: The Bluegrass Roots of Alan Jackson and George Strait's 'Murder on Music Row'

Ever since Alan Jackson and George Strait performed "Murder on Music Row" at the 1999 CMA Awards, the song has been a rallying point for traditional country music fans with no time for the pop-friendly country radio hits that have dominated Nashville for the past 20 years.

Yet Jackson and Strait weren't the first country artists to rail against the country music industry for trading steel guitars for rock and pop acceptance. Bluegrass group Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time first recorded "Murder on Music Row" as the title track of a 1999 album.

When performed by Jackson and Strait on such a huge stage, the Cordle and Larry Shell co-write began to represent the promotional and fiscal gap widening between traditional-minded stars and such pop-oriented peers as Kenny Chesney and Shania Twain.

The song's claims that music akin to that of Hank Williams and Merle Haggard wouldn't suit the charts anymore proved prophetic when Jackson and Strait's recorded duet, from Strait's 2000 compilation Latest Greatest Straitest Hits, barely cracked the Billboard Hot Country Songs' top 40. However, their collaborative recording did win the CMA's Vocal Event of the Year and Song of the Year awards.

Over the past 20 years, the song has been covered by the multi-generational pairing of Dierks Bentley and George Jones and drawn more attention to an actual "Murder on Music Row": the 1989 shooting death of Kevin Hughes at the hands of record promoter Richard D'Antonio.

'Murder on Music Row' Lyrics:

Nobody saw him runnin'
From sixteenth avenue
They never found the fingerprint
Or the weapon that was used
But someone killed country music
Cut out its heart and soul
They got away with murder
Down on Music Row

The almighty dollar
And the lust for worldwide fame
Slowly killed tradition
And for that someone should hang
They all say "Not Guilty!"
But the evidence will show
That murder was committed
Down on Music Row

For the steel guitars no longer cry
And the fiddles barely play
But drums and rock 'n' roll guitars
Are mixed up in your face
Ol' Hank wouldn't have a chance
On today's radio
Since they committed murder
Down on Music Row

They thought no one would miss it
Once it was dead and gone
They said no one would buy them ol'
Drinking and cheating songs (I'll still buy'em)
Well there ain't no justice in it
And the hard facts are cold
Murder's been committed
Down on Music Row

Oh, the steel guitars no longer cry
And you can't hear fiddles play
With drums and rock 'n roll guitars
Mixed right up in your face
Why, the Hag, he wouldn't have a chance
On today's radio
Since they committed murder
Down on Music Row

Why, they even tell the Possum
To pack up and go back home
There's been an awful murder
Down on Music Row

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Country Rewind: The Bluegrass Roots of Alan Jackson and George Strait's 'Murder on Music Row'