Country music, as we know it, has been around for roughly 100 years. The music has changed but the backwoods feel of the music has still remained. The music has been the anthem for the working-class and the rural class. It has bemoaned the grief and tribulations of outlaws and the downtrodden. It has been a vehicle for folk music transfigured by the American twang and Southern state drawl. It has been re-envisioned for pop music listeners while also embracing spiritual, singer-songwriter troubadours. Along with Blues, Jazz, and Rock&Roll; it is one of the truly American styles of music, and ambassador to our ethos and pathos. It is, along with those other national genres, a part of our souls as Americans.
When talking about Country music, it’s hard not to mention Bristol Tennessee, especially after it was recognized by Congress in 1988 as the “Birthplace of Country Music” It’s also not surprising to discovery that Bristol was the birthplace of Tennessee Ernie Ford. This mecca has made its name for being the location where the country music had its first commercial recordings, including the first recordings of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family.
Jimmie Rodgers had a couple of nicknames during his career as a performer—“The Singing Brakeman,” and “America’s Blue Yodeler”—but the name that was used to frequently describe him was “The Father of Country Music.” Rodgers’ success peaked in the 1950’s with several memorable singles including “Honeycomb,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” and “English Country Garden.” Rodger career slowed down in the 1960s after a bizarre in encounter with an off-duty police officer, which Rodgers couldn’t remember, that left him with serious head injuries. During his career he was considered the most successful artist of the genre and influenced countless of other country artist.
The Carter Family, along with Jimmie Rodgers, was one of first country music acts to become successful. Their influence on the genre was prolific as the group incorporated hillbilly instrumentals with vocals. The group sold 300,000 records in the U.S. by the end of the 1930s. Their sound helped influenced and inspire many other artist like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. In 1970, after many members of the group had left and been replaced, the Carter Family became the first group voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Hank Williams was a legend of country music who garnered esteem, respect, and awe by artist a part of and outside of country music. Recording 35 singles that reached the Top 10 in Billboard Country chart, Williams was well recognized as “The King Of Country Music.” He was a member of the of the Grand Ole Oprey until 1952 but, due to problems with drinking, he left and passed away in 1953. He has been cited as a major influence to a many singer-songwriter, including Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan who both recognized his genius as fundamental inspiration to their own music.
Nashville has been known as the capital of the Country Music as much as Washington D.C. capital to the United States. Home to the Grand Old Opry; Nashville, Tennessee has been known as Music City. Nashville helped create the careers of many country music artist as well as artist from other music genres. The city has also been harbor to been burgeoning talents in numerous genres including Gospel, Blues, and many more. The culture of the city revolves around music and has fostered the creation country music for decades.
Johnny Cash is a country music legend, spawning from the 1960s to become spiritual guru to he demoralized and desperate in and out of country music. Always a sympathetic champion to underdogs everywhere, his songs reflected on the troubles of convicts, Native Americans, and many others. Marrying a later member of the Carter family, Johnny Cash and June Carter would sing duet in many of his songs, most notably “Jackson.” Cash would have a popular and artistic revival in the 1990s and 2000s with his collaboration with Rick Rubin, creating his American Recordings series.
Outlaw Country became popular in the 1970s and 1980s as a counterpoint to the Nashville sound, which by the early 1970s became laden with polished productions and pop music formulas. This sub-genre made stars of many country artists including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Tanya Tucker. Rooted in Honky Tonk and Rockabilly, Outlaw has been noted to have begun when Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson secured recording rights and bucked the Nashville sound to record with producers and studio musicians of their own picking.
Merle Haggard was not only from Bakersfield, California but the troubadour of what became known as the Bakersfield Sound. With his rougher sound contrasting the more polish recordings of Nashville, Haggard made a career singing about the working man. Some of his early songs were counter to the counter-culture of the 1960s. Coming from a difficult childhood and spending time in San Quentin, he sang about the downtrodden working men burdened by alcohol abuse and outlaws un the thumb of an oppressive legal system.
Willie Nelson is a country music legend and maverick—an avatar of Outlaw Country—who has been both an ambassador to the music genre and spiritual leader to his fans. Critical success in his early recordings in the 1970s along with partnership with the likes of artist like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings has made Nelson a poster cowboy for the genre. Nelson’s songs focus on broken hearted characters, outlaws, and outsiders, incorporating sounds of Traditional Country and Blue Grass. Aside from music, Nelson has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been earnestly involved in activism—whether biofuels or the marijuana legalization.
The dirty secret about the Grand Old Opry was that it was an insurance building before it became a Mecca for country musicians. In 1925, it began as a one hour radio show called the “barn dance” on WSM radio. It has continued and become the longest -running radio broadcast in US history. The Opry, as it stands now, has become a showcase for a mix of mostly country artists and a variety of artist from other genres. Attracting thousands of visitors, it has hosted many music legends including Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, The Carter family, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, and Brad Paisley.
When Reba McEntire was in college, she sang the National Anthem at the National Rodeo in Oklahoma City, catching the attention of Red Steagall who brought her to Nashville. This was the beginning of her career. After her first album with MCA Nashville Records in 1980s, McEntire would take full creative control of her music with My Kind of County, which focused on a more traditional country sound. This made McEntire a big star than she was and eventually led her to being dubbed “The Queen of Country.” McEntire has made the jump in the late 1990s to film and eventual Broadway with the revival of Annie Get Your Gunn. McEntire has also had success with her sitcom “Reba.”
This article is part of GROM’s Music Genre series for 2017. To read more about other genres like Rock, Blues, Classical, check out here: http://gromaudio.com/blog/2017/02/grom-music-genre-2017/