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Keith Whitley's legacy

Mike Sudhalter  |  May 9, 2007

Is Keith Whitley the Hank Williams of this generation?

Simply, put the answer is yes. The singer died of alcohol poisoning at 33, and today is the 18th anniversary of his death.

Here's an excellent video that chronicles Whitley's career from bluegrass prodigy to rising country superstar.

I was first introduced to Whitley's music in the mid 1990's when I heard classics like "I'm No Stranger to The Rain", "Don't Close Your Eyes" and "When You Say Nothing At All"

Like Hank before him, many of Whitley's songs had a haunting aura to them, which could give you chills. Even on songs with upbeat subjects like "Somebody's Doing Me Right" have a melancholy feel.

"Miami My Amy" and "Homecoming '63" are two of my favorite Whitley tunes; they both have a very sentimental feel to them.

It's difficult to predict how Whitley's career would have turned out if he'd loved until today. Unfortunately, many of today's country listeners, especially the young ones, don't remember him.

That's why it was refreshing to see Chris Young name-check Whitley in his latest single, "You're Gonna Love Me". Stylistically, Young is one of the few contemporary country artists who appears similar to Whitley in any regard.

Would Whitley still have a place on country radio in 2007? I don't think so. And that definitely has to more to do with the pop-oriented flavor of country radio than Whitley's exceptional talent.

Let's put it this way: Ricky Van Shelton was a great country artist during the same time period, but country radio ignored him soon after the Class of '89 came along.

George Strait is the only male country artist who's been consistent since the early 1980's in making hit records.

Perhaps, Whitley would have stayed on the charts, thus altering the course of country music. Or maybe, he would have impressed us with his post-commercial success. If his commercial success was so traditional-based, imagine how excellent he would have been without the commercial pressures of Nashville?

Regardless, country music lost one of its great entertainers 18 years ago today, and Nashville will be hard-pressed to find an artist with the musical background that Whitley had.

If you watched the video, you'll know what I'm talking about.

:: Posted at 5:04 PM by Mike Sudhalter ::
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