The art of storytelling through song is an important aspect of country music, and fortunately, I don’t see that going anywhere.
The types of stories that exist in country music songs are endless, but one the types of stories I find to be most interesting are those that deal with family feuds. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this has nothing to do with Steve Harvey, but instead more of the Hatfields and McCoys sort of thing.
The legend of the Hatfield and McCoys arose as the two families were at the center of a violent post-Civil War conflict on the West Virginia/Kentucky border that lasted for decades in the late 1880s and resulted in dozens of deaths between the two families.
Heavily documented, and perhaps glorified, through documentaries, TV series, literature, and countless references in popular culture over the years ever since, the Hatfield-McCoy feud has proved immortal in southern lore.
And as a result, along with other similar conflicts and tales that have made their way around rural America, many country music songs have been written about similar instances, both through completely fictionalized stories and based on true story accounts.
Most recently, Muscadine Bloodline, the powerhouse duo of Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton, took the family feud songs to another level with the release of their “Blood Feud” short film earlier this week in tandem with the songs “Knife to a Gunfight” and “Shootout in Saraland.”
Based off of a supposedly-true story of another post-Civil War feud between the Pruitt and Cochran families in South Alabama, where Stanton and Muncaster both have ties, these songs off of Muscadine Bloodline’s recent Teenage Dixie record are rich in deft lyricism and brilliant storytelling, and the accompanying masterpiece of a short film brings the songs to life.
But the Muscadine Bloodline boys aren’t the only ones keeping the story-centric songwriting tradition alive with tales of family feuds, so if you liked what you heard from them, here are a few other songs that tell stories of conflicts between families of various degrees.
“Blood Feud” – How the Mighty Fall – Charles Wesley Godwin
This tune from one of the fastest growing acts in country music follows a narrator setting out to avenge the death of his brother.
“I’ll tell you what, I might give him a chance
‘Fore we sign in blood and do this dance
I won’t kill him, just leave him broken and scattered
If he tells the whole damn world, he’s a coward
My brother’s back was turned and he was three sheets winded
When Mitch showed up and his life ended”
“Down the River” – A Pretty Good Guy – Chris Knight
Written by legendary Kentucky songwriter Chris Knight, “Down the River” tells the story of pool hall fight between two guys that leads to murders and revenge involving a couple of family members on both sides.
“And I ain’t done much fishing
I hardly wet a line
The death of my brother
Is still heavy on my mind
I’ve been thinking Wilson’s cousin
Better find a place to hide
‘Cause I’m going down the river”
“Rocky Ford” – Long Story Short EP – J.R. Carroll
And my personal favorite of these songs, J.R. Carroll’s brilliant tune “Rocky Ford” is narrated by someone falling in love with the daughter of a rival family who was at fault for the death of his own brother. I’ve heard this one’s up there for Carroll with his favorite songs he has written, and I don’t blame him.
See below for the whole story through Carroll’s lyrics.
“Well I come from a line of hard men who all died in their boots
Told me there’s worst things in life that a man’s got to lose
Said keep your head high point your nose to the ground
Keep in mind when the time rolls around
You better shoot straight ’cause the Forest’s are hearin’ this too
I remember the ribbons tied up in her raven hair
She was too pretty to breathe in that Rocky Ford air
And her pa saw me starin’ and he started my way
I didn’t care what he had to say
No Forest alive or dead tells me where to look
Now Jesse says she’s gettin’ tired of runnin’ around
She’s sick of the fightin’ says love isn’t chosen it’s found
And I think of my brother and if he’d feel the same
Layin’ there cold and stiff in his grave
With a .44 slug from a Forest boy still in his eye
Too much has been done and I think that the end’s drawin’ now
Jess says it’s more than just you now let go of your pride
And I think of my father and the words that he’s said
Better shoot straight boy or you’ll wind up dead
Layin’ here bleedin’ I’ve found out my daddy was right
Now my boy comes from a man who died in his boots
There’s worse things than life that a boy of his name’s got to lose”
And of course if you haven’t heard Muscadine Bloodline’s “Knife to a Gunfight” or “Shootout in Saraland” yet, and haven’t gotten the chance to watch “Blood Feud,” then check it out below. These guys struck gold with this one.