"Hey pretty boy in your cowboy hat, you couldn't hit country with a baseball bat. Country ain't just about where you're at. It's about bein' true to what's inside." -Shooter Jennings
It's 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday night (or Sunday morning, depending on your perspective). The aura of life takes on dream-like hues. This is the polar opposite of, let's say, Tuesday at 2 in the afternoon. The world is free, and the livin' is easy.
Cactus Jack is at the helm of one of Paducah's longest-running and most popular radio shows, crafting the soundtrack for these carefree hours of the week. This is the Outlaw Hours, the brainchild of longtime WKYQ disc jockey and program director Kent King.
"Kent had gotten a job in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 70s," says Jack, "and he went to a lot of concerts in Texas. This was right in the heart of the outlaw music era. Willie Nelson had left Nashville and gone to Austin, and some pretty neat things were happing down there. So when Kent came back to Paducah, he brought a stack of outlaw country albums with him; and he wanted to play them on the air."
The outlaw movement, just in its infancy, was so named because it operated outside of the Nashville establishment. "A lot of people who weren't around at that time take the name and think it means songs about murder or drunkenness or drugs," says Jack. "But the term outlaw really refers to the artists who couldn't get airplay on radio stations and had to do things their own way. They were outside of the mainstream."
Early country music, birthed by artists who performed in honky tonks, was raw and spoke of life the way they knew it. By the 1960s, Nashville producers had toned down the sound and message, making country music softer.
"Hank WIlliams, Sr. was really the first outlaw," says Jack. "And had his issues with the music scene. He had a song titled 'My Bucket's Got A Hole In It (I Can't Buy No Beer).' He often had to sing 'I can't buy no milk' in order to make the Nashville suits happy."
Other artists followed: Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, and others. And with a stack of albums in hand, Kent King wanted to get their songs the airplay he felt they deserved.
"WKYQ was playing the hits by people like Ray Price," says Jack, "so Kent had some arguing to do. They finally allowed him one hour on Friday nights from 11 to 12. It was simply The Outlaw Hour."
Kent's musical instinct proved to be correct. Waylon Jennings, an outlaw founder, had the very first million-selling country album soon thereafter. The Outlaw Hour was expanded into hours and on both Friday and Saturday nights. Many of the songs played on the program, songs that were once far from mainstream, were now hits. And the Outlaw Hours continued, growing into one of the highest rated radio programs in Paducah history. The show has even been featured in national trade publications.
"We still play a lot of those early, outlaw songs," says Jack, "but we are not an oldies show. There are still a lot of artists who can't get their songs on the air. There are still outlaws. We simply play good music that people will love."
The program also showcases local artists. "Our number one requested song was written by a guy who used to work here. The song is 'Kentucky Anthem' by the Craig Russell Band. It was written in the studio here."
Jack sits behind his control board, fielding calls and pulling from an ever growing playlist of songs. For many, The Outlaw Hours is a weekend tradition. For newcomers, it is a change from the top-40 world and a chance to discover new music. For others, it is the soundtrack to a late-night party.
So as you enter into the sometimes surreal late-nights of the weekend and look for the perfect, musical accompaniment, think outside the box. Listen to The Outlaw Hours with an air of freedom. Before long, you'll be singing along with Waylon: "Let's go to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys!"
The Outlaw Hours can be heard on 93.3, WKYQ on Friday nights 11 p.m. – 3 a.m. and on Saturdays 10 p.m. – 3 a.m.