Sometimes certain songs are so good they transcend the era when they were written and seemingly live on forever
“A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr. is one of those songs. The song is not only the ultimate hunting and fishing anthem but also a musical examination of American culture that celebrates a rural lifestyle and pays respect to country music fans across the country.
Ole Bocephus had eleven #1 songs in his career, and although “A Country Boy Can Survive” never made it to the top of the charts, it did reach #2 in March of 1982. Despite never making it to #1, it’s arguably the most popular song that Williams has ever produced.
The song was written in response to what Williams’ perceived to be negative changes in American culture as a result of increased urbanization and other widespread societal changes.
It also showcases how the sense of rugged individualism and self-reliance that America was built on is still carried on by truck driving, gun-toting, country boys who know how to hunt, fish, and still respect women.
There is also a message of unity in the song, though.
The lyrics contextualize the friendship between a hillbilly and a big city businessman who were able to put their differences aside and forge a friendship. However, despite being a great song, the song doesn’t have a happy ending, as lyrics showcase concerns for the rapidly growing crime rates plaguing large cities when the song was written. Hank also used lyrics to convey the fully committed dedication and ardent sense of loyalty that still exists between some folks today.
Despite being written almost 40-years-ago, the song somehow seems to ring more true today than it did back when it was first written. A deeper dive into the lyrics showcase the absolute brilliance with which the song was written.
So let’s dive in…
“The preacher man says it’s the end of time And the Mississippi River, she’s a-goin’ dry The interest is up, and the stock market’s down And you only get mugged if you go downtown….”
Such a powerful opening voice. With the fallout from the pandemic, poor leadership rocking the national economy, and political polarization at an all-time high, the preacher man would probably be more right about things feeling like the end of times today more so than in the early 1980s.
Although the mighty Mississippi is still going strong, the Western U.S. has been hit with some of the worst droughts in recorded history in recent years, and large-scale forest fires are becoming both bigger in scale and more dangerous.
It’s also hard to imagine the forecast for the interest rates, and the stock market looked worse 40-years ago than they do today. The price of everything is skyrocketing, and it’s hitting blue-collar Americans that resonate with this song the most, the hardest. Crime rates in major metropolitan areas are also skyrocketing at rates that have them on pace to turn some of America’s most vibrant and once-proud cities into dirty, dangerous hell-holes.
“… I live back in the woods, you see My woman and the kids and the dogs and me I got a shotgun, a rifle, and a four-wheel-drive And a country boy can survive Country folks can survive….”
It sounds like Hank was able to carve out a pretty damn good life for himself in the sticks. He’s still going strong and at 82 years old, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2020. Once all his rowdy friends settled down, he himself became a family man and raised them right.
A good dog. A good woman. A shotgun. A modern sporting rifle. And a beat-up old four-wheel-drive… what else could a man need in life? Talk about living the dream
“… I can plow a field all day long I can catch catfish from dusk ’til dawn We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too Ain’t too many things these old boys can’t do We grow good-ole tomatoes and homemade wine And a country boy can survive Country folks can survive…”
Sometimes, driving a tractor back and forth through wide-open spaces sounds like a pretty good alternative to being cooped in a cubicle all day, every day. There’s something good, clean, and honest about that type of work. It’s a thought that conjures up “So God Made A Farmer Vibes,”which is just old-school American nostalgia at its finest.
Not sure as many people make their own whiskey and roll their own smokes today as they did back in the good ole days, but it’s good to know plenty of folks out there still have a few tomato plants in their backyards.
Homemade wine isn’t as popular… that is, unless you count some of the incredible craft breweries, small-batch, distilleries, and hillside wineries that have gotten increasingly popular in a world full of people looking to get out of the cities on the weekend and catch a buzz somewhere where the air is a little more fresh.
“…Because you can’t starve us out and you can’t make us run ‘Cause we’re them old boys raised on shotguns We say grace, and we say, ma’am If you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn…”
Now we’re getting into the gritty parts of the lyrics. America was quite literally founded by people with a hunger for chasing their dreams and the powerful courage to stand their ground in the midst of adversity and whatever challenges life throws at them. The last two lines of that verse are some of Hank’s best work.
Two simple lines that show devout gratitude for the Lord, humble respect for the ladies, and a don’t give a damn attitude, because if Hank Jr. and Kid Rock taught me anything, it’s that in country music, you just can’t say the F-word…
That just might be the most respectful outlaw country song ever.
“… We came from the West Virginia coal mines And the Rocky Mountains, and the western skies And we can skin a buck, we can run a trotline And a country boy can survive Country folks can survive…”
Maybe the most beautiful thing about country music is that it truly is country-wide. When you look out over America, you can see country everywhere. Because country music isn’t just lyrics and music, it’s the entire human experience and life at its best, and worst encapsulated in about three minutes and shared with the masses.
The same attitude conveyed by Hank Jr. can still be found through power ballads like “Strong” from Charles Wesley Godwin, who hails from the coal mines of West Virginia, and “I See Country” from Ian Munsick, who hails from the western skies of Wyoming where the coyotes cry.
“I had a good friend in New York City He never called me by my name, just Hillbilly My grandpa taught me how to live off the land And his taught him to be a businessman He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights And I’d send him some homemade wine.”
This verse opens up on a positive note, with ole hillbilly Hank talking about a friendship he forged with a suit-wearing, Broadway show-attending businessman from New York City. Literally, the polar opposite of the guy Hank painted himself out to be throughout the song.
Finding common ground and focusing on the things that can bring people together is something people just don’t do enough of anymore.
There’s a lesson to be learned from those lyrics. It sounds kind of like Hank might have been getting the raw end of the deal, though, if he was sending off some damn good homemade wine and only getting some crappy polaroid pictures of Broadway in return, though. He probably should have just hid the wine from that guy.
“…But he was killed by a man with a switchblade knife For 43 dollars, my friend lost his life I’d love to spit some Beech-Nut in that dude’s eyes And shoot him with my old .45 ‘Cause a country boy can survive Country folks can survive Cause you can’t starve us out, and you can’t make us run Cause we’re them, old boys raised on shotguns We say grace, and we say, ma’am If you ain’t into that, we don’t give a damn….”
The song takes a tragic turn here, and unfortunately, the city slicker in the song loses his life to a violent criminal. For $43 dollars, his friend lost his life. The worst part is that because of insane gun control laws in New York City, that guy wouldn’t have even been able to defend himself. Never bring a knife to a gunfight…
If there is a positive consolation prize to that verse, it’s that Hank’s friend was lucky enough to have a buddy who had his back and was so willing to defend their friendship.
“… We’re from North California and South Alabam’ And little towns all around this land And we can skin a buck and run a trotline And a country boy can survive Country folks can survive A country boy can survive Country folks can survive….”
Ole Bocephus brings it on home to end the song. This verse really resonates with all the Modern Day Outlaws like us across the country, whether you’re from South Alabama like a couple of country boys who still know how to survive like Riley Green or Muscadine Bloodlineor North California like John Pardi then” A Country Boy Can Survive” should make you proud to be an American and more optimistic about the future of our country…