By Jhoni Jackson
The boundaries of country music are somewhat rigid. While the old-school outlaws like Haggard, Kristofferson and Coe are still kicking, these days it’s the shiny, bejeweled mainstream brand that serves as the genre’s spokesman. Alt-country staples like the Drive-by Truckers, Ryan Adams and Deer Tick, a band Fritz is pals with, shouldn’t be discounted, of course. But for Jonny “Corndawg” Fritz, none of the available categories really seems to fit.
The kind of country Fritz crafts finds its footing in the genre’s most beloved roots: the ‘60s-and-onward period that lasted until Garth Brooks and the like glossed over the ‘90s. The heyday of Tom T. Hall, Jerry Reed, Roger Miller and Billy Joe Shaver is the period from which Fritz readily names his influences.
“I was actually talking with Shooter Jennings the other day and he was talking about how Waylon, his dad, would always talk so much shit on Garth Brooks, and everybody just hated Garth Brooks when he was around,” Fritz laughs. “Now you hear him come on the radio and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is that stuff that isn’t around anymore.’ And it’s kind of funny, you know?”
Like his icons, Fritz is a candid storyteller. On his latest LP, Down on the Bikini Line, those tales range from wildlife (“Life of a Bear”) to self-deprecation (“Dog on a Chain”) to plain ole fun (“Chevy Beretta”), all to the tune of a traditional country sound. There’s plenty of twang, fiddle and foot-stomp-worthy, sing-along choruses.
Folks like to categorize, and since Fritz doesn’t quite fit the traditional country mold, he’s been mislabeled a number of times. He’s been called an Americana singer. He’s been called a singer-songwriter, too. The latter title is the one that chaps his ass the most.
“That’s definitely a big thing for me,” Fritz explains. “I guess singer-songwriter always left a nasty, disgusting taste in me. Aren’t singer-songwriters like Joan Osborne and Alanis Morissette and coffee-shop singers? I never wanted to be called one of those. There’s a big difference. I’ve never heard anybody call Willie Nelson a singer-songwriter, but he is. I guess it’s one of those weird things, by definition I guess it is singer-songwriter. But there’s something else, you know what I mean?”
Catch Jonny Corndawg with Tedo Stone and Anna Kramer and the Lost Cause at 529 tonight, Aug. 13, @ 529.