What makes some country songs remarkable?
Each year when I’d go to my Uncle’s farm to hunting (sadly, it has since been sold), there would be a country song that would stick out in my memory.
Why did one or even a couple songs stick out more than others?
When you’re doing work for your hunting business, inspiration can come from anywhere. I think it’s good to look where you might not expect for inspiration. A remarkable country song might be just the thing to spark that next great idea.
I’d like to review the 10 songs that I remember most from my 10 years of hunting at Rocky Ridge Ranch (my Uncle’s farm in Buffalo County Wisconsin – yes, that Buffalo County).
1997 – Imagine That by Diamond Rio (Co-written by Bryan White)
1997 marked my first year of hunting at Rocky Ridge Ranch. The state of Wisconsin, arbitrarily, requires humans to be 12-years old before they are allowed to hunt.
My Dad had taken me bow hunting the year before this and from that point on I was absolutely, 100% hooked!
I remember everything about this hunting season – everything was a new experience for me. I remember sitting at the kitchen table while the guys drank beer and told stories. I remember doing the dishes (because obviously the youngest of the group does the grunt work). I remember some friend’s of my uncle’s stopping by…hammered drunk.
And more than anything I remember the first time I listened to the replica radio that sat on top of the refrigerator.
It wasn’t the real thing, but it looked like it was right out of 1940. It was always turned to WAXX 104.5 out of Eau Claire, WI and it always played the best country music.
This particular year it always seemed to play the song Imagine That by Diamond Rio. I’m not sure why this song sticks out in my memory, It wasn’t Diamond Rio’s biggest hit by any means.
However, I’ve always been drawn to songs that are different from everything else that’s being played on the radio. And this song definitely fit that description.
I also liked the “So what, that’s supposed to impress me?” message. It was tongue-and-cheek and had some slight “So what” attitude. Plus it was also written by another one of my favorite artists – Bryan White.
Oh, and I shot an 8-point buck with my Dad on opening morning of gun season. Luck? Absolutely. A life-long memory of me and my Dad? Absolutely.
In the picture, I shot it right where it says “Farm House” down behind the barn. I also shot an 11 point buck down there in 2005.
There was no place quite like Rocky Ridge Ranch.
1998 – Wide Open Spaces by The Dixie Chicks (Remember them?)
Oh do I remember this song…
My second year hunting at Rocky Ridge included a deer tracking excursion I will never forget.
In Buffalo County there are bluffs and valleys. My Uncle’s farm consisted of three or four huge valleys. The farm house sat on top of the bluff and the farmland was on top as well. The valleys consisted of the woods where whitetail ran around like mice in a corn crib.
Anyway, in 1998 The Dixie Chicks were the biggest thing to hit country music since Garth Brooks and Alabama. They were selling more records than anybody except maybe Shania Twain and Garth himself. Their song Wide Open Spaces was striking a cord with Americans – and I was one of them.
The story begins during the second week of deer camp at Rocky Ridge Ranch.
We had hunting shacks (3 man ice shack-type structures on the top of ridges) overlooking a valley with my cousin. We heard a few shots ring out from across the valley where two other guys from our party were.
“Did they shoot something?” we wondered.
If only we had known.
Those shots soon turned into a 6 hour trek up and down this huge Buffalo County bluff and valley. We finally quit for the night at midnight (we started looking at 6pm).
We brought about six guys with us on that track and one of them kept humming Wide Open Spaces. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed, but you know you have a memorable song on your hands when hunters are humming it while tracking deer in the middle of the night in November in the cold of Wisconsin.
1999 – Something Like That by Tim McGraw
1999 was the first year that my little kid brother was able to hunt.
I remember it because it was abnormally warm all bow and gun season in Wisconsin. Us hunters actually looked forward to the cold this time of year (as much as we all grew sick of it by January).
It was about 50 to 60 degrees on opening day of gun season and my brother was the only one to shoot a buck on opening weekend. It was a decent seven point (we practiced QDM, but 1st time hunters were allowed to shoot any buck for their first one – to get them excited about hunting).
I’ve always liked country songs that reminisced about the past and this is when Tim was really starting to come into his own as a country superstar. He didn’t sound like anybody else. He didn’t look like anybody else and he really led the charge for country music into the 2000’s.
This song was played on the radio in the kitchen of Rocky Ridge Ranch many times in 1999.
2000 – My Next Thirty Years by Tim McGraw (Yep, he was that big – two years in a row!)
You might be wondering why I chose Tim McGraw two years in a row for remarkable songs. Well, Tim was HUGE in the late ’90s, early ’00s.
I was in middle/high school at the time and it seemed like the only country music on the radio was Tim and Faith.
And you know what – it wasn’t a bad thing.
The reason this song sticks out for me is that in 2000, there was road construction on the main two-way highway that took my Dad and I from our home to the farm. We had to take a different route all season. And My Next Thirty Years was always on the radio as we waited for the Stop/Slow worker.
2001 – Right Where I Need to Be by Gary Allan
In 2001, I started to appreciate the different and non-popular side of country music. I liked Gary Allan because he wasn’t the typical country star. He seemed so laid back and cool.
Every promotional picture and video of him had him looking cool and badass.
In some strange way I related to this song because I know that the farm was “right where I need to be”. I put off hanging out with my friends back in high school on the weekends during the fall because I had better things to do 3 hours away at the farm.
I was learning things about life that are priceless now as I look back.
I was right where I needed to be.
2002 – Ol’ Red by Blake Shelton
Did this song stick out in 2002 or what?
I know it did for me.
Ol’ Red was one of those songs that comes along and slaps you across the face with its originality.
What Nashville Executive could have predicted that a song about a criminal escaping from prison by using a dog would be a huge hit?
From what I understand, Blake had to push hard to get this song played on radio and made into a video (which was great).
I don’t have any hunting stories for 2002, but I do remember that it seemed this song was playing every time I left the farm house en route to my tree stand.
2003 – Choices by George Jones
Now for those of you who actually checked the Wikipedia page, I know this song wasn’t released in 2003. But one of my fondest memories from my Uncle’s hunting farm was sitting out on the deck one night by a campfire.
There were about 5 or 6 of us just sitting out by a store-bought upright fire burner (it looked like a grill but was on wheels).
Anyway, we were all standing around kicking dirt and chatting about life, women, hunting, work and stories from years past. One of the guys pulled his rig around to the back of the house and put in a mix cd of George Jones.
Then he, my uncle and I started chatting about George when the song Choices came on. I mentioned the Alan Jackson tribute (I still get chills) at the 1999 CMA Awards and they talked about how the song reflected life when you get to reach middle age.
Side note: The CMA’s had asked George to sing his hit song, but they wanted him to cut it to a minute or so. He was insulted and refused. Alan – like the respectful man he is – took his set and turned it into Choices. He took no extra time from his own set – he simply paid respect to his hero. He did what was right.
That night at the farm was a great night. I’ll never forget it. And the background music was a 4-year-old George Jones song – although George will never go out of style.
2004 – In a Real Love by Phil Vassar
I had to include Phil Vassar in this post because I am a big fan of his. He had some huge hits as a songwriter for stars such as Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw (My Next Thirty Years). He also had some big hits himself.
I particularly remember this song because it was a big hit on one of his lesser known albums.
I feel bad when great songs get lost on less popular albums. I’ve seen it happen all too often.
In a Real Love is a song that makes me feel good to this day when I hear it on the radio or online. It has a positive message. It’s about young love. It’s about real life.
And that’s what I love about Phil Vassar – he sings about real life.
I don’t have any real hunting related stories for this song except that it stuck out while I was at hunting camp and I remember sitting in the kitchen listening to it.
2005 – Mama Tried by Merle Haggard
Again, I know you’re thinking that this song did not come out in 2005. This doesn’t matter to me. I’m talking about the effect remarkable country songs had on my hunting experiences.
In 2005, I was in college (I went to Eau Claire because it was the closest business college to the farm) and I still loved going to the farm every hunting season.
By this time, my uncle had brought his portable XM radio to the farm so we could listen to classic country music, which I was very much in favor of.
I had always (and still do) listen to the classics on my own, but I was happy to know I wasn’t the only one.
I remember when Mama Tried came on the XM one night after bow hunting – my uncle’s face lit up and you could tell that he immediately related to the song (my uncle fits the definition of a “hell raiser”).
He began talking about the song as if it where (his anthem) and I began to relate to the song (I have been a little bit of a hell raiser myself) and to the other guys at the ranch for the same reason.
2006 – Give It Away by George Strait (Co-written by Jamey Johnson)
This song was just fun. The subject is, of course, not fun, but hey, 50% of marriages end in divorce. And what better place to discuss divorce than a country song?
This was another song that really stuck out simply for its uniqueness from the other songs that were out at the time.
It sounded different. It took on a tough subject and its melody connected with young and old.
Nothing from this hunting season except that I still remember grabbing my hang-on stand for the last time from the valley down behind the barn.
I scooped up the stand during another unusually muddy/warm gun season and heading back to the farm house. I had a weird feeling as I left “my” hunting spot. I took a good look around because something inside of me knew that it would be the final time I ever laid eyes on the piece of property that had been such a huge part of my life.
Bonus (1996) – Strawberry Wine by Deana Carter
This season occurred before I was old enough to hunt, but I remember it both for the music and because the Packers lost to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving when their third string QB (now their O-Coordinator kicked our butt).
I had to mention this song because I vividly remember my Mom mentioned to my aunt if she had heard this song before. We were sitting in the kitchen at the farm for Thanksgiving and this song came on the radio.
It was like nothing I had ever heard. It was a slow waltz. It sounded like older country music yet it seemed more relevant than anything on the radio at the time.
It told the classic tale of a young girl (or boy) coming of age – something we can all relate to.
It’s a powerful song and it still has staying power today.
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