What’s your favourite song on the new Luke Combs album, ‘Gettin Old’? Mine swings between ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘You Found Yours’. One of my favourite songs on the album is ‘Back 40 Back’ but when I first heard it I didn’t know what a ‘Back 40’ was. You can kind of guess from the lyrics and the meaning of the song but I had to Google the exact meaning to really get the gist of the song fully. It made me think – just how many other Country music references and terms are there that UK and European crowds are singing along to without really knowing what they mean?
Here’s 10 common references and terms explained and demystified.
A common way of dividing land up between farmers was to allocate 160 acres to each person to build a house on. Land was commonly spilt into the 2 front 40s and the 2 back 40s so when Luke Combs refers to wanting his ‘Back 40 Back’ he’s talking about missing home, missing the size of the back garden and also referencing the creeping tendency for people to sell off their land for other purposes. It also became a reference to nipping out for a sneaky cigarette at one point as well.
I first heard this reference many years ago in Chris Janson’s ‘Buy Me a Boat’ song when he sings:
‘But it could buy me a boat
It could buy me a truck to pull it
It could buy me a Yeti 110 iced down with some silver bullets’
I had no idea what he was referring to however the company that makes the ice boxes and other products that Janson was referring to in that song does now have a UK and European presence so it might not be as obscure a reference as it was a decade ago. You can see what Yeti have to offer here
Many Country artists have odd nicknames. Did you know that Blake Shelton’s is ‘The Toad’? One of the most widely known modern nicknames is that of Hank Williams, Jr. When he was just a boy, Williams was given the moniker of Bocephus by his dad, Hank Williams, after the elder Hank saw a Grand Ole Opry performance by comedian Rod Brasfield, who used a ventriloquist dummy named Bocephus in his act. Williams Jr. has truly embraced his unique nickname over the years, even naming a 1987 hit song “My Name Is Bocephus.” It is also probably the most widely quoted nickname in Country lyric history.
Often used as a put-down or a slight against a particular song or artist’s style. In the early 1960s, the Nashville sound began to be challenged by the rival Bakersfield sound on the country side and by the British Invasion on the pop side. Nashville’s pop song structure became more pronounced, and it morphed into what was called Countrypolitan: a smoother sound typified through the use of lush string arrangements with a real orchestra and often background vocals provided by a choir. Countrypolitan was aimed straight at mainstream markets, and its music sold well through the later 1960s into the mid-1970s. It saw the rise of artists like Kenny Rogers and John Denver, whose music crossed over into mainstream Pop markets too.
When Florida Georgia Line released ‘Cruise’ back in 2012 I had no idea what these lyrics meant:
‘In this brand new Chevy with a lift kit
Would look a hell lot better with you up in it
So baby you’re a song
You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise’
A lift kit is a collection of parts installed on a vehicle to raise the body and create more separation between the body and axles. Most often, a lift kit applies to a truck or SUV. Lift kits take the form of a leveling kit, a body lift kit, or a suspension lift kit. The trucks are raised so high in some instances that you need a step to get into them!
Walk the Line
Inspired by the 1956 Johnny Cash song ‘I Walk the Line’, the phrase seeped its way into the American lexicon as a way of saying you were staying faithful but it also means maintaining a fragile balance between one extreme and another. i.e.: good and evil, sanity and insanity, decency and decadence. There’s also some thought that Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ from 1968 was also ‘walking the line’ as he criss-crossed Kansas fixing telephone lines in a resilient and lonely way.
Bass Pro Hat
The references to Bass Pro and their hats appear in a multitude of songs but perhaps is most obviously referenced in the Thomas Rhett song, ‘Bass Pro Hat’ from his 2022 album, ‘Where We Started’. Bass Pro shops were founded in 1972 and are a chain of fishing and outdoors shops that have a particularly celebrated place in the hearts of the southern hunters, fishers and farmers. Their image is iconic and references to them too many to count. The Bass Pro hat is almost like a piece of uniform for a particular type of southern person.
The references to denim short-shorts are everywhere. Indeed, Katelyn Page released a song in 2020 called ‘Daisy Dukes’ with the following lyrics:
‘U can’t handle these Daisy Dukes
already know what you’re trying to do
big ole truck trying to slide through’
Named after the iconic TV character of the same name from the hit 70s show ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’, these skimpy denim shorts are an iconic look for concert goers across the south of the USA and have even been sighted on cold, wet March Saturdays at the C2C festival in London too!
It was probably Tyler Farr’s 2015 banger ‘Better in Boots’ that introduced me to the phrase ‘lucchese’ and I guess the title of the song and the content of the lyrics was enough to guess.
We ain’t gotta worry ’bout getting dirty
We can do whatever we want
Baby, put your Luccheses on
You know you want to
‘Cause we got a full moon
And it’s Friday night
However I still needed a bit of help from Mr Google to make sure I knew what Farr was talking about. Boot makers since 1883, Lucchese are a treasured and much sought after brand – here’s their official website
Biscuits and Gravy
Neither of these terms mean what they mean here in the UK. Biscuits and gravy is a popular breakfast dish in the United States, especially in the South. The dish consists of soft dough biscuits covered in white gravy (sawmill gravy), made from the drippings of cooked pork sausage, flour, milk, and often (but not always) bits of sausage, bacon, ground beef, or other meat. If you ask for a biscuit in the UK you are going to get something sweet, maybe chocolatey and full of sugar. That’s certainly not the case in the southern states. Buyer beware!
Most notably referenced in Kacey Musgraves’ 2015 song ‘Biscuits’
‘Just hoe your own row and raise your own babies
Smoke your own smoke and grow your own daisies
Mend your own fences and own your own crazy
Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy’
Extra 11th term – Holler
This is a term rooted in Kentucky / Appalachian origins. Obviously over here in the UK it means to shout and there is something of that origin in the USA too but a lot more besides.
Most of Appalachian Kentucky is a deeply eroded plain: the ridgetops are mostly the same elevation, but the valleys are very deep (500 feet or more in many areas) and the sides are very steep. Creeks or rivers flow through the valleys. A branch is a creek that feeds into the main stream and rises up to the ridgetop. The valley that surrounds the branch is the holler: it’s (relatively) wide at the end where it empties into the larger stream but narrows as it rises up the ridge.
Hollers are thus deep and secluded, and there’s only one easy way in or out. “When I’ve visited people at the top of a holler,” says Quora user Robert Hill, “they’re usually waiting for me because someone at the bottom of the holler has seen my car and called up the mountain to let them know visitors are coming.” In a holler you often needed to shout out to bring the kids in for dinner and everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Most recently this was referenced in Stephen Wilson Jr’s excellent song ‘Holler from the Holler’ from his ‘bon aqua’ EP.
What Country music terminology and references do you think we’ve missed? Let us know on our social media platforms.