Country music is undergoing a transformation.
The simple “three chords and the truth” structure has been replaced with a product that fuses rock 'n' roll with elements of rap and reggae to create a sound that hardly resembles the genre from a decade ago.
Luckily, the life hasn't been completely stomped out of traditional country music. The pockets of activity may be shrinking, but as long as they have a pulse, Dave Clark and Max T. Barnes will be cranking out the hardcore country sound.
The 48-year-old Clark has been carrying the torch for true country music for more than two decades as a solo act and lead singer for bands like Jackson Junction, Small Town, Crenshaw Crossing, Last Resort and new local supergroup The Deplorables. The Herrin native recently completed a stretch of performing 13 shows in 11 days.
Barnes, 54, is one of the leading songwriters in Nashville. He has inked classics like “Love Me,” for Collin Raye, “Storms Of Life” for Randy Travis and the vivid Rockwell picturesque of “How Your Love Makes Me Feel” by Diamond Rio.
Since first meeting in 2014, Clark and Barnes have forged a partnership that creates a tour de force honky-tonk attitude chock-full of timeless tunes.
The duo will make three Southern Illinois appearances this weekend, starting at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Timeout in Herrin, then at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Just One More in Marion and completing the trifecta at 2 p.m. Sunday at Blue Sky Winery in Makanda.
Clark will tune up with a solo gig tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Pin Oak in Carterville.
“We have been working together on and off for about three years now, playing shows whenever we are able to get on the same page,” Clark says. “The last couple years have been extremely busy for both of us. It gonna be fun to get back on stage with him. He has an incredible resume. You start bouncing songs off of each other, then it sinks in that Max and his dad wrote some of the biggest songs in country music history.”
Max's father, Max D. Barnes, died in 2004, but left a legacy that will live forever. He captured the prestigious Song Of The Year Award from the Country Music Association twice, first in 1988 for Vern Gosdin's timeless “Chiseled In Stone” and again in 1992 with “Look At Us” by Vince Gill.
Songwriting was the natural vocation to pass on to his son. And Max T. didn't miss a beat., accumulating seven ASCAP and two BMI Awards, including a co-write with Thompsonville's Kendell Marvel on “Tougher Than Nails” by Joe Diffie.
Like Barnes, Clark was born into the music business. He started singing in church at an early age and the family band Horizon won the Illinois State Quartet Convention title at the Marion Cultural & Civic Center in 1987.
Clark would eventually successfully audition for the lead singing role in Jackson Junction and has fronted numerous popular area groups.
“I got married and had kids at an early age and wanted to be around my family,” Clark said. “Taking a shot at Nashville, like Kendell and Lance (Miller), was always in the back of my mind. Maybe I didn't have the drive to wholeheartedly sell out to it. It's a rough life. The road is brutal. I'm too much of a homebody. When I go on vacation, I'm always ready to come back home after a couple days.”
After rejoining Jackson Junction, it was a chance meeting at a fundraiser at Pyramid Areas at the Lake of Egypt that connected Barnes and Clark.
Barnes tagged along to the event with his buddy Craig Curtis, a popular performer on Nashville's Lower Broadway since 1996. Taking a break after performing a set, they heard a classic Merle Haggard tune coming from a pavilion where Clark and Jackson Junction were on stage.
“We hit it off from the start. I could tell right away he was good people. He is laid back with a good sense of humor and is great to work with,” Clark says.
Clark says he is disappointed by the lack of traditional music being promoted by Nashville's major record companies and played on mainstream country radio.
“There is a lot of good stuff out there, but you have to look for it. Artists like Cody Jinks, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton are thriving,” he said. “There was room for George Jones and Kenny Rogers in the past, they should be giving equal time to Luke Bryan and Mo Pitney today.”
Clark says he just inked a gig with The Deplorables for May 28 at the HerrinFesta Itialiana beer tent, next to the main concert piazza, prior to the Halestorm concert.