RCA released his first single in 1965 without the obligatory publicity photo -– unheard of for a new artist. But, Pride was unheard of -- an African-American man singing country music. However, it wasn’t before long that Pride quickly became one of the biggest stars in the format. He won the 1971 Entertainer of the Year award from the CMA, and his sales eclipsed everyone else on the RCA label for a time in the 1970s -– even Elvis Presley.
There’s nothing really flashy to say about the career of George Strait. He didn’t really break any musical ground nor did he become a trend-setter in how his music was made or marketed. But, he proved that there has always been a market for knowing what you do –- and doing it well. To this day, he has had more singles top the charts than any other country performer, and his recent string of sell-outs in Las Vegas for 2016 shows prove that audiences are still clamoring for hits like "All My Ex's Live in Texas."
Attempts to combine punk and country had been pioneered by Nashville's Jason and the Scorchers, and in the 1980s Southern Californian cowpunk scene with bands like the Long Ryders, but these styles merged fully in Uncle Tupelo's 1990 LP No Depression, which is widely credited as being the first "alt-country" album, and gave its name to the online notice board and eventually magazine that underpinned the movement. They released three more influential albums, signing to a major label, before they broke up in 1994, with members and figures associated with them going on to form three major bands in the genre: Wilco, Son Volt and Bottle Rockets. Bottle Rockets signed, along with acts like Freakwater, Old 97's and Robbie Fulks, to the Chicago-based indie label, Bloodshot, who pioneered a version of the genre under the name insurgent country. The bands Blue Mountain, Whiskeytown, Blood Oranges and Drive-By Truckers further developed this tradition before most began to move more in the direction of rock music in the 2000s.
Country rock is a genre that started in the 1960s but became prominent in the 1970s. The late 1960s in American music produced a unique blend as a result of traditionalist backlash within separate genres. In the aftermath of the British Invasion, many desired a return to the "old values" of rock n' roll. At the same time there was a lack of enthusiasm in the country sector for Nashville-produced music. What resulted was a crossbred genre known as country rock. Early innovators in this new style of music in the 1960s and 1970s included Bob Dylan, who was the first to revert to country music with his 1967 album John Wesley Harding (and even more so with that album's follow-up, Nashville Skyline), followed by Gene Clark, Clark's former band The Byrds (with Gram Parsons on Sweetheart of the Rodeo) and its spin-off The Flying Burrito Brothers (also featuring Gram Parsons), guitarist Clarence White, Michael Nesmith (The Monkees and the First National Band), the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Commander Cody, The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Poco, Buffalo Springfield, and Eagles, among many, even the former folk music duo Ian & Sylvia, who formed Great Speckled Bird in 1969. The Eagles would become the most successful of these country rock acts, and their compilation album Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) remains the second best-selling album of all time in the US with 29 million copies sold. The Rolling Stones also got into the act with songs like "Dead Flowers" and a country version of "Honky Tonk Women".
Alternative country is a term used to describe a number of country music subgenres that tend to differ from mainstream or pop country music. The term is sometimes known as Alt. country and has included country music bands that have incorporated influences ranging from american roots music, bluegrass, rock & roll, rockabilly, acoustic music, americana, honky-tonk, punk rock and alt auctioneer.
Prior to the development of the gramophone, Canadian songwriters' works were published as sheet music, or in periodicals in local newspapers such as The Montreal Gazette and Toronto Empire. Most recordings purchased by Canadians in the early days of the gramophone were made by American and British performers, behind some of these international hits were Canadian songwriters. Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943) was among the first Black Canadian composers during the early years of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. His works often appeared among the programs of William Marion Cook's New York syncopated Orchestra. Dett himself performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Boston Symphony Hall as a pianist and choir director. Following quickly on the gramophone's spread came Canada's involvement in the First World War. The war was the catalyst for the writing and recording of large numbers of Canadian-written popular songs, some of which achieved lasting international commercial success. The military during World War I produced official music such as regimental marches and songs as well as utilitarian bugle calls. The soldiers had a repertoire of their own, largely consisting of new, often ribald, lyrics to older tunes.
Carrie Underwood was one of several country stars produced by a television series in the 2000s. In addition to Underwood, American Idol launched the careers of Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington, Kristy Lee Cook, Danny Gokey, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery (as well as that of occasional country singer Kelly Clarkson) in the decade, and would continue to launch country careers in the 2010s. The series Nashville Star, while not nearly as successful as Idol, did manage to bring Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Young to mainstream success, also launching the careers of lower-profile musicians such as Buddy Jewell, Sean Patrick McGraw, and Canadian musician George Canyon. Can You Duet? produced the duos Steel Magnolia and Joey + Rory. Teen sitcoms also have influenced modern country music; in 2008, actress Jennette McCurdy (best known as the sidekick Sam on the teen sitcom iCarly) released her first single, "So Close", following that with the single "Generation Love" in 2011. Another teen sitcom star, Miley Cyrus (of Hannah Montana), also had a crossover hit in the late 2000s with "The Climb" and another with a duet with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, with "Ready, Set, Don't Go." Jana Kramer, an actress in the teen drama One Tree Hill, released a country album in 2012 that has produced two hit singles as of 2013. Actresses Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton began recording country songs as part of their roles in the TV series Nashville.
The Governor General's Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement are the foremost honours presented for excellence in the performing arts, in the categories of dance, classical music, popular music, film, and radio and television broadcasting. They were initiated in 1992 by then Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, and winners receive $25,000 and a medal struck by the Royal Canadian Mint.
More important than recordings for the growth of country music was broadcast radio. Small radio stations appeared in the larger Southern and Midwestern cities in the 1920s, and many devoted part of their airtime to live or recorded music suited to white rural audiences. Two regular programs of great influence were the “National Barn Dance” from Chicago, begun in 1924, and the “Grand Ole Opry” from Nashville, begun in 1925. The immediate popularity of such programs encouraged more recordings and the appearance of talented musicians from the hills at radio and record studios. Among these were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, whose performances strongly influenced later musicians. These early recordings were of ballads and country dance tunes and featured the fiddle and guitar as lead instruments over a rhythmic foundation of guitar or banjo. Other instruments occasionally used included Appalachian dulcimer, harmonica, and mandolin; vocals were done either by a single voice or in high close harmony.
If Cold Roses, his double-disc gatefold set, was Adams’ Exile on Main St., Jacksonville City Nights finds the singer back in his tear-stained Gram Parsons duds. As always, Adams does a smashing job recreating Parsons’ heartrending lyrical and tonal nuances—the strained crack in the voice, the sobbing plea, the sweet, melancholic sigh. He doesn’t so much return to his Whiskeytown roots here as he canters straight past them into sad-eyed, Bakersfield barroom shuffles. Add a touch of post-acid-test Grateful Dead acousticism plus Adams’ breathtaking lyrics and you got a modern C&W classic.—Paste Staff
In the 1930s and 1940s, cowboy songs, or Western music, which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. Some of the popular singing cowboys from the era were Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Roy Rogers. Country music and western music were frequently played together on the same radio stations, hence the term country and western music. Cowgirls contributed to the sound in various family groups. Patsy Montana opened the door for female artists with her history-making song "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart". This would begin a movement toward opportunities for women to have successful solo careers. Bob Wills was another country musician from the Lower Great Plains who had become very popular as the leader of a "hot string band," and who also appeared in Hollywood westerns. His mix of country and jazz, which started out as dance hall music, would become known as Western swing. Cliff Bruner, Moon Mullican, Milton Brown and Adolph Hofner were other early Western swing pioneers. Spade Cooley and Tex Williams also had very popular bands and appeared in films. At its height, Western swing rivaled the popularity of big band swing music.
Country influences combined with Punk rock and alternative rock to forge the "cowpunk" scene in Southern California during the 1980s, which included bands such as The Long Ryders, Lone Justice and The Beat Farmers, as well as the established punk group X, whose music had begun to include country and rockabilly influences. Simultaneously, a generation of diverse country artists outside of California emerged that rejected the perceived cultural and musical conservatism associated with Nashville's mainstream country musicians in favor of more countercultural outlaw country and the folk singer-songwriter traditions of artists such as Woody Guthrie, Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan.
Sometimes it takes an ‘American Woman’ to break into the US charts, and that’s what Canadian powerhouse rock group, The Guess Who did in 1970, being the first Canadian group to have a US chart topper since 1954. Powered by the soulful vocals of Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman’s driving guitar and sardonic songwriter, the Winnipeg-based band found international success throughout the 60s and 70s, until disbanding when Bachman left the group and went on to form the hugely successful, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, with their hit single ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’.
With a name like The Tragically Hip, the bluesy-Canadian rock outfit sealed their fate by being cool to Canadian audiences but never cracking the US and world markets. They’ve been called “Canada’s R.E.M” (only by Americans, we suspect) for their clever lyricism and their roots-rock meets alt-country sound. With a staggering amount of hit songs and albums under their belt from the past 30 years, they are part of Canada’s cultural identity, so much so that when beloved frontmen Gord Downie performed his last concert with the band in 2016, 11.7 million Canadians tuned in to watch.
The most successful British country music act of the 21st century are Ward Thomas and the Shires. In 2015, the Shires' album Brave, became the first UK country act ever to chart in the Top 10 of the UK Albums Chart and they became the first UK country act to receive an award from the American Country Music Association. In 2016, Ward Thomas then became the first UK country act to hit number 1 in the UK Albums Chart with their album Cartwheels.
The 1970s saw the growth of the “outlaw” music of prominent Nashville expatriates Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. The gap between country and the mainstream of pop music continued to narrow in that decade and the next as electric guitars replaced more traditional instruments and country music became more acceptable to a national urban audience. Country retained its vitality into the late 20th century with such diverse performers as Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett. Despite its embrace of other popular styles, country music retained an unmistakable character as one of the few truly indigenous American musical styles.
The Kentucky band’s sprawling major-label debut did nothing to alter the independent spirit of singer-songwriter Jim James and his cohorts. The country-rock base retained elements of Memphis soul, classic ’70s rock and neo-psychedelic sounds, all drenched in salubrious washes of reverb. Besides, nothing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length, many of which were recorded in a grain silo to give the reverb more reverb. Styles mix wantonly, songs meander but never go quite where you expect them to. What begins as an acoustic-driven folk song (“Magheeta”) morphs into a hard-rocking power ballad; a funkified homage to R&B clubs (“Dance Floors”) becomes an Exile on Main Street-era block party, powered by a propulsive horn section straight out of “Tumbling Dice”; and the minor-key melancholia of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse epics (think “Cortez the Killer”) forms the backbone of “Run Through” until it mutates at the chorus into the early ’80s Manchester sound reminiscent of New Order. Is it alt-country? That’s as good a descriptor as anything else.—John Schact
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the hugely influential Canadian alt-rock collective, Broken Social Scene. Since forming in 1999 with core members Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, the duo recruited the best of Toronto’s indie scene to perform on their ambient record and a burgeoning super-group was born that included drummer Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin, violinist Jessica Moss, Bill Priddle, Evan Cranley and Amy Millan from The Stars, Jason Collette and most famously Metric’s Emily Haines and Leslie Feist. The super-group would serve as the springboard for many famous alumni who started their own bands. Drew would go on help start the Arts & Crafts label as a vehicle for Broken Social Scene releases and all of BBS’s affiliated acts – effectively shaping the sound of Toronto from 2003 ‘til today.
Alternative country drew on traditional American country music, the music of working people, preserved and celebrated by practitioners such as Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and The Carter Family, often cited as major influences. Another major influence was country rock, the result of fusing country music with a rock & roll sound. The artist most commonly thought to have originated country rock is Gram Parsons (who referred to his sound as "Cosmic American Music"), although Michael Nesmith, Steve Earle and Gene Clark are frequently identified as important innovators. The third factor was punk rock, which supplied an energy and DIY attitude.
Country musicians began recording boogie in 1939, shortly after it had been played at Carnegie Hall, when Johnny Barfield recorded "Boogie Woogie". The trickle of what was initially called hillbilly boogie, or okie boogie (later to be renamed country boogie), became a flood beginning in late 1945. One notable release from this period was The Delmore Brothers' "Freight Train Boogie", considered to be part of the combined evolution of country music and blues towards rockabilly. In 1948, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith achieved top ten US country chart success with his MGM Records recordings of "Guitar Boogie" and "Banjo Boogie", with the former crossing over to the US pop charts. Other country boogie artists included Moon Mullican, Merrill Moore and Tennessee Ernie Ford. The hillbilly boogie period lasted into the 1950s and remains one of many subgenres of country into the 21st century.
Fourth generation (1970s–1980s) music included outlaw country with roots in the Bakersfield sound, and country pop with roots in the countrypolitan, folk music and soft rock. Between 1972 and 1975 singer/guitarist John Denver released a series of hugely successful songs blending country and folk-rock musical styles. During the early 1980s country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. In 1980 a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized. During the mid-1980s a group of new artists began to emerge who rejected the more polished country-pop sound that had been prominent on radio and the charts in favor of more traditional "back-to-basics" production; this neotraditional movement would dominate country music through the late 1980s and was typified by the likes of George Strait. Attempts to combine punk and country were pioneered by Jason and the Scorchers, and in the 1980s Southern Californian cowpunk scene with bands like the Long Ryders and Mojo Nixon.