40: I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool

40: I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Country Music

I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool

Story by Dennis Morgan

Song written by Dennis Morgan and Kye Fleming

Recorded by Barbara Mandrell

We were writing in a building that was owned by Charley Pride. I lived and breathed music and my writing partner, Kye Fleming, and I worked all the time, morning and night. We were always looking for ideas, and Kye had the idea for this song written down in a book of hers.

Even though we wrote the song with Barbara Mandrell in mind and thought it would be a perfect song for her, every line in the song is locked into our backgrounds. When it says, “I was listening to the Opry when all my friends were diggin’ rock ‘n roll and rhythm and blues,” that was certainly my life. There is a line in the song about “putting peanuts in my Coke,” and it’s funny because I remember talking to Kye about putting peanuts in my Coke when I used to hang out at Craig’s Pool Hall in Tracy, Minnesota. She grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but she said she used to do it, too. I’m not sure why. Maybe it made the Coke fizz or made it taste saltier or whatever, but we both did it.

This was around 1980, about the time of the Urban Cowboy craze. Country was getting more exposure. We went to play the song for Barbara while she was in L.A. taping her weekly television show. She fell in love with it, and she cut it there, too. A lot of people don’t know this, since the record sounds like it was recorded in front of a live audience, but it wasn’t. That was all overdubbed later.

There is the line in the song about “circling the drive-in and turning down George Jones,” so George came in and sang the last verse on the record. I think he did one take and he nailed his part perfectly.

Another funny thing happened. When we were recording it, the bass player didn’t show up. I think he was working with Ray Charles or another artist and was held over at that session. So the song was recorded without a bass player, and we overdubbed that part back in Nashville, too, at Woodland Studios.

It won the ACM Song of the Year for Barbara in 1982. Since then, Reba McEntire cut it with Kenny Chesney, and Martina McBride has covered it, too. It’s a song that has had some pretty good legs over the years, which is nice.

I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool

I remember wearin’ straight leg Levis

and flannel shirts, even when they weren’t in style

I remember singin’ with Roy Rogers

at the movies, when the West was really wild

And I was listenin’ to the Opry when all of my friends

were diggin’ rock ‘n roll and rhythm & blues

I was country when country wasn’t cool

I remember circlin’ the drive-in

Pullin’ up and turnin’ down George Jones

I remember when no one was lookin’

I was puttin’ peanuts in my Coke

I took a lot of kiddin’, ’cause I never did fit in

now look at everybody tryin’ to be what I was then

I was country when country wasn’t cool

CHORUS:

I was country, when country wasn’t cool

I was country, from my hat down to my boots

I still act, and look the same

what you see ain’t nothin’ new

I was country when country wasn’t cool

They call us country bumpkins, for stickin’ to our roots

I’m just glad we’re in a country, where we’re all free to choose

I was country when country wasn’t cool

CHORUS (George Jones part)

Yeah, I was country when country wasn’t cool

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