George Jones, Merle Haggard & Lorrie Morgan Talk The Country Music Decline In The ’90s: “You Can’t Record Songs From The Heart Anymore”

Merle Haggard George Jones country music

George Jones, Merle HaggardTrace Adkins and Lorrie Morgan all in one room together sounds pretty damn incredible.

And it actually happened back in the late ’90s, when George had his own TV series, The George Jones Show.

He’d often invite on other artists to perform and talk, from up-and-comers to fellow legends, and while the music was great, the conversations they had in between were absolutely incredible.

On episode seven of the show, the four of them got into a discussion about how the industry has changed so much since Merle and George’s primetime touring the country in the ’70s and ’80s.

George talked about how much fun they used to have on the road together, and Merle chimed in, saying “we had so much fun in the ’70s that the people in the ’90s are paying for it.”

And I guess that was pretty much true, because Lorrie says it was nearly impossible to meet other artists and build a real connection with them, like Merle and George had with artists like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson over the years.

George noted that authenticity is a big part about why their music reached so many people and they all became such good friends:

“We were crazy, you know, back in those days, you know. It’s something that you can’t hide and there’s no use lyin’ about it. We did things our way, and nobody else’s.”

And Lorrie added that she felt like she had almost no control over her career and how things were done (sound familiar?):

“Well it’s a shame, because I don’t feel right now that we can do things our way. Even as far as the songs we record, everything is really dictated to us right now.”

Merle noted he didn’t even think legends like Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams would’ve ever made it in the industry environment at the time this episode was recorded because of that exact thing:

“This country couldn’t produce a Huckleberry Finn, and it couldn’t produce an Ernest Tubb or a Hank Williams because, first of all, they wouldn’t allow them to be themselves.”

Ain’t that the truth…

Lorrie continued, saying if an artist didn’t fit the labels mold or make songs that would get played on the radio, they would essentially have no record deal… and I’m not so certain this couldn’t be recorded verbatim in 2022:

“You have to fit the mold, and you can’t record songs anymore from the heart. They have to be what’s going to be played on radio, and they don’t wanna hear ballads, and you can’t sing every song uptempo because you lose your heart.

I mean, you gotta cry in the ballads, and you gotta touch people, and it’s kinda sad because you can’t get ’em played.”

George said that country music was built on those emotional ballads, and he ain’t lyin’:

“Country music, I think, was really based, to start with, on ballads. Even though we all throw the enjoyments in there with the uptempo things you know, because we’re having fun and I do, I enjoy doin’ the uptempo stuff.”

Merle summed it up best with his little side comment, though, saying:

“They don’t want anything that shows any emotion.”

It’s crazy to think that 20-plus years ago, these problems still existed within the industry, and if anything, have only gotten worse in some aspects.

We say it all the time here, but authenticity is the most important thing when it comes to an artists ultimate success or failure, and these legends had it totally right in terms of their take on the matter… and I think they know a little bit about what they’re talking about, so maybe we should heed a little bit of that advice.

You can check out their whole conversation here, it’s well worth a watch:


A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock