Your Take: I’m With the Brand

Karlie Justus Marlowe | October 16th, 2010

On Wednesday’s News Roundup, Brody highlighted a Washington Post review of a recent Hank Williams Jr. concert.

In the article “Hank Williams Jr. flashes his own brand of charisma,” writer David Malitz thought Hank Jr.’s show seemed less about the music than celebrating the Hank brand:

Hank Williams Jr. kept up a torrid hat-per-song pace early in his Saturday night performance at Patriot Center. He donned new headgear for each successive tune, if for no other reason, it seemed, than to show brand support. “Monday Night Football” (for which he provides the theme song), the University of Alabama, John Deere and something called Dunn’s Sporting Goods are all Hank-approved. But the one brand that trumps all others is Bocephus himself.

He started the show with the personal anthem “My Name Is Bocephus.” He sported a New Orleans Saints “BOCEPHUS 58″ jersey all night. You can guess what it said on his guitar strap. Even his piano was emblazoned with “Bocephendorfer.”

Commenter Saving Country Music thought it was a shame Hank Jr. “has refused to settle into country music legend status and is still trying to be cutting edge and hip and push a brand that is tired,” while M.C. responded this type of showmanship isn’t all that unusual in country music:

SCM – I don’t think Hank Jr. putting his name on everything is anything new for him. He’s been doing that for more than 25 years, and the song “My Name Is Bocephus” is hardly new.

Country stars for decades have put their names on their straps, their guitars, their shirts, their buses, and most everything else. Waylon even sang about it in “Waymore’s Blues.”

“Branding” was how the reporter interpreted it, but I’m guessing he had never seen a Bocephus concert before and isn’t all that well-versed in common country star practices.

Are there country music performers past or present that you feel have become more of a brand and less of an artist? Do you agree with M.C. that this type of marketing is an age-old practice in the genre? Can across-the-board commercial branding peacefully co-exist with artistic integrity, or do the two practices fight with each other?

  1. BAMBI
    October 16, 2010 at 7:43 am

    “A redneck girl’s got her name on the back of her belt”

  2. WAYNOE
    October 16, 2010 at 8:50 am

    Trying to critique what Hank Jr. does is like a waterboy trying to tell a NBA basketball star how to play. And yes, most of these “writers” are teh waterboys. Leave the legend alone. He still packs in the arenas.

  3. Ian
    October 16, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Tim Mcgraw and his cologne line is a pretty good example…

  4. WAYNOE
    October 16, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I will say that the writer no doubt disagrees with what he thinks Hank’s brand is about. That is really the issue in my estimation. Simply what Hank stands for is not welcomed in the mostly liberal press.

    Call it what it is Mr. Malitz, your writing is no more about the music than what you accuse Hank’s concert to be about.

  5. WAYNOE
    October 16, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Ian,

    Correct. But McGraw is not a conservative so he gets a free pass from teh liberal writers.

  6. Lewis
    October 16, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Bocephus was a name given to Hank Jr. by Rod Brasfield when Hank Jr. was about 4 or 5 years old so why is everyone so up in arms about a nickname that was given to him well over 55 years ago and that Hank Jr. is proud to have as a nickname?

    Speaking of brands/nicknames, George Jones has been proudly called “Possum” and “No Show Jones” even as much as he even has sung songs about him being “No Show Jones” and “Possum”.

  7. Stormy
    October 16, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Waynoe: It would be rather odd to mention Tim McGraw in a Hank Williams Junior review.

    As for the branding itself, I don’t think slathering your name all over everything is branding so much as it is tacky.

  8. Mike Wimmer
    October 16, 2010 at 10:05 am

    I’m not sure how Tim McGraw’s politics fit into all of this.

    I suspect the writer commented on this, more because they thought it was something that was outside of the usual concert review column and would spice up the writing outside of “Hank Jr sang his hits” reviews that are fairly common and all bleed together.

    Do I think it’s a fair point to bring up in a review, not really, as noted Country Music has been doing this for decades and decades, but I’m not sure their is a clear liberal/conservative bias at work here. Hell, maybe I’m wrong, but it doesnt jump out at me.

  9. Lewis
    October 16, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Stormy – “As for the branding itself, I don’t think slathering your name all over everything is branding so much as it is tacky.”

    Wonder if we should change Dolly Parton’s amusement park “Dollywood” or change Jimmy Dean’s sausage name since it implies the name of the artist and because according to Stormy naming something after yourself or a nickname is considered tacky.

  10. Stormy
    October 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Lewis: Dollywood has one sign. The Jimmy Dean Sausage packages have the name written one time on each side.

  11. Anna K
    October 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    No mention of Garth…the artist or the brand? I’m surprised. The lowercase “G” in the circle was quite prevalent on his album covers and in his stage show back drops when he was touring heavily.

    A brand has recognition and association to a customer. You say the name “Garth” and people still know who you are speaking of, without a last name or context references. Pretty impressive. Unfortunately, the artistry of Garth Brooks dropped when his brand began to gain popularity. Great example of “selling out”.

  12. Fizz
    October 16, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Uh, ever heard of Kiss?

  13. Mayor JoBob
    October 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Does Tim McGraw wear his own cologne?

  14. Paul W Dennis
    October 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Nothing new – I remember Minnie Pearl Fried Chicken, Twittyburgers, Roy Rogers Roast Beef and Po’ Folks Restaurants

  15. Lewis
    October 16, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    I just wonder if the writer of the article knows anything about Hank Jr. beside the fact he’s called Bocephus as a nickname like how he got started and the trouble of him being accepted by others who thought of him only as Hank Williams’ son and that he should be the clone of Hank Williams Sr. singing Hank’s songs and then the mountain climbing accident and his late 1970’s comeback to where he is now. This is the second article in so many days that someone has hated the fact that Hank Jr. is named Bocephus as a nickname which makes me wonder why there’s this hate all of the sudden of Hank Jr.

  16. SW
    October 16, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned the two biggest brands in country music today: Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift.

  17. K
    October 16, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I definatly consider Taylor to be a brand, but she’s equal part artist. Kenny Chesney? Pure brand, no artistry.

  18. Waynoe
    October 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    My comments stand. There are many other artists that brand, some of which were metnioned. I have a sneaky feeling that it is the type of brand, adn what ole Hank Jr. stands for that is more irksome to the writer than anything else.

  19. Barry Mazor
    October 16, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    People have been “branding” themselves in country music for as long as it’s existed. Mr. Jimmie Rodgers, for example, used his own name in songs, signed on to have Jimmie Rodgers brand guitars, and at one point owned an Orange Julius stand. And Rodgers meant one thing, the more domestic Carters another.

    I don';t see why the reviewer was all over Hank for that. And he never sings about Bocephus as much as Jerry Lee sings about Jerry Lee. And “The Killer” (another brand?) would never be called on that.

  20. Shawn
    October 16, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Every artist brands. It’s a necessary part of any business and, much as purists might lament, the music business is no exception. An artist who doesn’t brand is an artist you’ve never heard of. At its best, a brand doesn’t distract but simply brings to mind all that an artist is/stands for. A brand becomes the most efficient way to market oneself.

    There is a fine line, however, between marketing who you are and simply licensing your brand for a check. If Swift wanted to make her own line of sundresses (perhaps she already does), I would find that perfectly reasonable. If Yamaha paid her a million dollars so they could put her name on their new pink ATV…well, that would rub me the wrong way. If an artist cares about what their name/brand/image actually is, they’ll find a way to market themselves with integrity. If they don’t…well…hopefully no one will buy whatever they’re selling.

  21. sam (sam)
    October 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    I think Waynoe may be right that the writer was more turned off by the contents of Hank Jr’s brand than the fact that Hank Jr is a brand or that he plasters the word “Bocephus” all over the place.

    Of course, if the writer is a fan of Obama, it would be no surprise that the writer would object to Hank, Jr saying “…Keep the Change.” If Hank Jr is going to talk in ways that seem designed to anger or inflame liberals, then it would come as no surprise if some liberals (or others – not sure what the Post author’s politics are – take the bait).I don’t think one has to be a liberal to prefer to attend concerts that lack such commentary.

    Even people who side with Hank Jr on political matters might find his act unattractive. I am not a fan of Obama, and I am relatively conservative. But I find Hank Jr’s brand, persona, act or whatever it is to be obnoxious: When Hank Jr says, “If you don’t like it, you can kiss my [expletive].” I am turned off. Its obnoxious and close-minded to me. I think we owe those who disagree with us (or don’t like what we like) more respect than that.

    I enjoy some of Hank Jrs songs on the radio but I would not want to attend a concert peppered with the sort of commentary that seems to appear during a Hank Jr shows.

  22. Matt Bjorke
    October 16, 2010 at 10:18 pm

    It is probably fair to say that artists like Jimmy Buffett (Margaritaville products) and Kiss have made more money off of their branding than off of their actual music. It makes a lot of sense, quite honestly. Artists of every level have some sort of branding, once out on a tour because merchandise with their name (Their Brand) is for sale. The brand grows with the artist and in the examples given above, the brand becomes as big as the artist.

    To say that an artist has lost something because of their ‘branding’ is fallacy in my book as I don’t begrudge anyone from making as much money as they can, after all isn’t that the American dream (or at least part of it)?

  23. Shawn
    October 16, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    I certainly won’t begrudge anyone for being opportunistic and making money. I’ll be the first to admit that, given the chance, I’d do the same thing.

    On the other hand, an artist can’t contradict his/herself and still maintain credibility. If you market yourself (by singing songs) as one type of person, and then allow your brand to be used to sell something in direct opposition to that image, then all you’ve really done is devalued both your credibility as an artist and your worth as a marketing tool.

    How shocked would all of us be if we saw Jamey Johnson pimping some land developer’s new plan for a shopping mall to a group of farmers in some local 30-second TV spot. No, there’s nothing per se wrong with shopping malls, or commercials, or country artists making money. However, wouldn’t that change the way you viewed Johnson’s music?

    Of course, the easy solution to this tightrope walk is to sing songs that don’t stand for anything…that way you can sell everything…welcome to the future.

  24. Fizz
    October 16, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    To me, it depends on if the branding is done in a tasteful way. Signature model instruments and accessories are par for the course (musicians are whores, they’ll put their name on anything if you pay them). My 77-year-old aunt nearly swooned over a stack of Alan Jackson signature cowboy hats for sale in a Cracker Barrel gift shop. Fine, whatever. It kinda goes back to the discussion we were having a couple weeks ago, about country singers being spokesmen for products. It’s a longstanding tradition. It’s like Nascar meets the Golden Age of Radio. It’s what they do. On the other hand, Kiss embody the very height of tackiness with their shameless branding of anything and everything. The difference? Hard rock was supposed to be about rebellion and freedom and individuality; country has only occasionally embraced those values. Different strokes.

  25. Matt Bjorke
    October 16, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Shawn,

    The situation you mention there is more ‘political’ than branding.

  26. WAYNOE
    October 17, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Sam,

    I actually agree with your post and I myself have never been ot one of his concerts.

  27. Cutting the Treacle
    October 17, 2010 at 9:10 am

    I read some of the other reviews by the author of the article. He seems pretty fair. And having read the whole review, he seems right. It sounds like the concert was one extended series of product-placements from sports, to politics, to tractors, etc., all under the guise of “Hank, Jr. likes this and so should you”.

    In fact, of all the concerts I’ve ever been to, I think the only product that’s ever been pushed is beer (and that’s usually been by an artist who’s been knocking back a few too many).

  28. Barry Mazor
    October 17, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Any performer who, for whatever reason, actively SEEKS to be outspoken, politically provocative or even downright antagonistic and belligerent is going to find some chunk of the audience peeved–and that’s so whether the performer in question is Hank Jr or, say, Steve Earle.

    The thing is, they know that, they expect it–and in some sort of way (earnest belief? more posturing and branding?) they like it.

    So I wouldn’t sweat it, or the sort of push back that’s nothing more than talk–more free speech.

  29. Greg
    October 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I would probably put Reba in the brand name. Yes she’s a singer, but the name Reba is also known for charity, TV, movie AND music. She may not have the star power Taylor has now, but she has definitely built a brand name for herself.

  30. WAYNOE
    October 17, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Barry,

    May be true, but has the writer ever written about Steve Earle in similar manner? Seems like I rarely read any negative articles on him.

  31. Stormy
    October 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Steve Earle doesn’t slather his name on every object that stands still on his stage.

  32. idlewildsouth
    October 17, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    We’re talking about a genre of music that really got it first national power through a radio show. A radio show that still does live commercials for products, in fact. I don’t see anything wrong with it, and I think if someone is actually an artist, they will probably not run into the problem “selling out” for the sake of putting their name on something.

    As far as artists being branded, that’s something that has to be done. The fact of the matter is, if I’ve never heard a band before, what their album cover looks like is going to play a big role in my giving them a chance. I like southern rock, with a hint of blues. The reality is, if I see a band with a bunch of beards and plaid shirts, sleeves rolled up, that’s going to make me think “Hmmm…maybe I should listen to them.”

  33. Jon
    October 17, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    And having read the whole review, he seems right. It sounds like the concert was one extended series of product-placements

    In other words, he seems right because what he wrote says what he wrote. Seems a little circular, doesn’t it?

    A right-wing nutcase will see “liberal bias” in everything that irritates him, whether it’s there or not; in this case, it’s clearly not, and the explanation for Malitz’s tack can be found easily enough by looking at other pieces he written; it’s not surprising that he was put off by the “branding” in Hank Jr.’s show.

    By the way, note that Karlie uses “branding” in two different ways.

  34. sam (sam)
    October 17, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    It does “seem a little circular” to say that someone seems right because they wrote what they wrote.

    But it might not be so circular to say “he seems right’ because he “backed up his points with relevant and convincing examples.” I interpret Cutting The Treacle’s post as closer to the latter than the former, but others might reasonably disagree.

    Even the “he is likely right because he wrote what he wrote” argument might not be circular if interpreted this way: “This reviewer has made many valid points in his past work. I trust this reviewer to fairly and accurately describe the concerts he attends. Thus, if this reviewer says Hank Jr plasters his name all over the place, then I have good reason to believe that Hank Jr in fact plasters his name all over…” Cutting the Treacle didn’t state such an argument explicitly though Treacle did note that other reviews from this author seemed “pretty fair.” Perhaps that line of thinking influenced Treacle on some level even if it didn’t make it into the posting.

  35. Cutting the Treacle
    October 17, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Jon: “In other words, he seems right because what he wrote says what he wrote. Seems a little circular, doesn’t it?”

    Me: No. Reviewer gives many examples of Hank-Promoting-Things-Hank-Likes. Accordingly, assuming the reviewer is accurate in his statement of the facts, then I conclude that the concert was essentially product placement. The fact that I reach the same conclusion as the reviewer isn’t circular reasoning, Jon. It just means two rational people looking at the same evidence reached the same conclusion. It happens all the time. Ask a jury.

  36. WAYNOE
    October 17, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Steve Earle promotes what he likes and believes in but just in a different way.

  37. txcountryfan
    October 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    It’s not a secret Hank Jr. is very partisan. Probably a reason why his son Hank III has produced better stuff in the past few years.

  38. WAYNOE
    October 17, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    And Steve Earle isn’t? Remember he has son who sings to. It’s always one-sided with liberals.

  39. Jon
    October 17, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Look, the key part of the quote from Cutting The Treacle is this:

    It sounds like the concert was one extended series of product-placements.

    And it would be pretty remarkable if it sounded like something else, wouldn’t it? Because that’s what Malitz said: the concert was one extended series of product placements. That’s where the circularity lies.

    Accordingly, assuming the reviewer is accurate in his statement of the facts, then I conclude that the concert was essentially product placement.

    And do you think that juries should assume that prosecutors who present their case – that is, their selection of the evidence, designed to make their case as strongly as possible – without any kind of conflicting evidence, or any kind of rebuttal or opposition at all, are accurate in their statement of the facts? I mean, because you did bring up the trial metaphor, and I’m just pointing out that it would be a pretty unusual trial.

    Elsewhere on the WaPo site one can find plenty of pieces which suggest that the aesthetic outlook Malitz brought into that show was one that’s much closer to what Fizz describes as a “hard rock” approach; he’s suspicious of commercialism, he uses terms like “selling out,” he’s at least occasionally snarky. His review reads to me like one from a guy who was turned off just about right away by what he viewed as excessive commercial tie-ins and self-reference, and his view of the entire show was shaped by that initial reaction. I mean, really, he’s going to complain because Hank Jr. had “Bocephus” on his guitar strap?! And frankly, “Bocephusdorfer” is pretty funny, at least to me.

    Malitz is certainly entitled to his view, though in my opinion it’s usually better to send someone out to see a show who isn’t constitutionally averse to some widespread practices in and values of the genre being presented (and prominent commercial placements go way, way back in this world – Light Crust Doughboys, anyone?). But like I said, the particular comment – that the review was right because “it sounds like the concert was one extended series of product-placements” – is pure tautology. The evidence supporting Malitz’s contention is, well, Malitz’s contention; if he’d enjoyed the music, all of that stuff would have probably gone down pretty much unnoticed.

  40. Matt Bjorke
    October 17, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Waynoe,

    Where does TXcountryfan say they’re “liberal?”

  41. Barry Mazor
    October 17, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Waynoe, Earle lived with the whole John Walker Lynde song business, which brought plenty of criticism in the media. Others went along with his point–but it can’t be said there was no criticism. And I’ve personally seen tons of online commentators complaining about (and supporting) the politics in his and Hank’s cases both.

    My friend Chris Willman’s book “Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music,” took a pretty detailed look at this sort of stuff. It’s got Willie Nelson and Toby Keith, who’ve tended to express pretty different views on a lot of things, singing together on the cover.

  42. Stormy
    October 18, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Waynoe: What does Justin Townes Earle have to do with Steve at this point?

  43. Cutting the Treacle
    October 18, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Jon: “Look the key part … would have probably gone down pretty much unnoticed”

    Me: Like I said, different people can look at the same evidence and reach the same conclusion. That’s not circular reasoning.

  44. Jon
    October 18, 2010 at 8:45 am

    Dude. You and Malitz aren’t different people independently looking at the same evidence. You are looking at what he’s showing you – and only at what he’s showing you – and saying yup, that looks like what you’re showing me, all right, so you must be right that that’s all there is to see. Sheesh.

  45. Fizz
    October 18, 2010 at 9:13 am

    “It’s always one-sided with liberals.” Uh, you might reember a formerly “can do no wrong’ bunch of girls called the Dixie Chicks? Folks trying to organize boycotts, radio stations yanking their records, talk of Steve Dahl-style record-burnings, remember all that? Quit whining about what the mean wittle wiberals do, grow up, and realize there’s plenty of it to go around.

    As for the rest of this, Sam’s second interpretation was what I instinctively assumed Treacle to mean, with or without Jon analyzing it with an electron microscope.

  46. Cutting the Treacle
    October 18, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Jon: “You are looking at what he’s showing you – and only at what he’s showing you – and saying yup, that looks like what you’re showing me, all right, so you must be right that that’s all there is to see. Sheesh.”

    Me: I said above that I assumed the accuracy of the facts in the review. I didn’t say “that’s all there is to see”.

  47. Jon
    October 18, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Me: I said above that I assumed the accuracy of the facts in the review.

    You did – and I asked you:

    And do you think that juries should assume that prosecutors who present their case – that is, their selection of the evidence, designed to make their case as strongly as possible – without any kind of conflicting evidence, or any kind of rebuttal or opposition at all, are accurate in their statement of the facts? I mean, because you did bring up the trial metaphor, and I’m just pointing out that it would be a pretty unusual trial.

    Still waiting on an answer…

  48. Cutting the Treacle
    October 18, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Jon: “Still waiting on an answer . . .”

    Me: O.k.

  49. Fizz
    October 18, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Juries? Prosecutors? Evidence? It’s an article about a goddamn Hank Jr. concert!

  50. SHORESLADY
    October 18, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Hank Jr has an unusually good reason to promote his “brand’ which few other artists of any genre face. As we all know, his early career (pre-teen and teenage) was specifically about his identity as his father’s son. Any individualism on his part was denied and submerged by the authority figures selling him as Hank’s Boy. His mature coming of age was vitally connected to casting off that yoke and presenting himself as himself. Thus the brand “Bocephus” is the sign of a phoenix who rose from his own ashes, so to speak. His brand is about claiming himself, and as such encourages us to do the same with our lives. (and to boogie on during the process).

  51. Fizz
    October 19, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    And to boogie on in the process, while drinking Bud Light, riding John Deere, and patronizing all his other corporate sponsors too, right?

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