French settlers and explorers to New France brought with them a great love of song, dance and fiddle playing. Beginning in the 1630s French and Indigenous children at Québec were taught to sing and play European instruments, like viols, violins, guitars, transverse flutes, drums, fifes and trumpets. Ecole des Ursulines and The Ursuline Convent are among North America's oldest schools and the first institutions of learning for women in North America. Both were founded in 1639 by French nun Marie of the Incarnation (1599–1672) alongside the laywoman Marie-Madeline de Chauvigny de la Peltrie (1603–1671) and are the first Canadian institutions to have music as part of the curriculum.
But commercialization proved a much stronger influence as country music became popular in all sections of the United States after World War II. In 1942 Roy Acuff, one of the most important country singers, co-organized in Nashville the first publishing house for country music. Hank Williams’ meteoric rise to fame in the late 1940s helped establish Nashville as the undisputed centre of country music, with large recording studios and the Grand Ole Opry as its chief performing venue. In the 1950s and ’60s country music became a huge commercial enterprise, with such leading performers as Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Charley Pride. Popular singers often recorded songs in a Nashville style, while many country music recordings employed lush orchestral backgrounds.
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.
Alternative country, or alternative country rock (sometimes alt-country, insurgent country, or Americana) is a loosely defined subgenre of country music and rock music, which includes acts that differ significantly in style from mainstream country music and pop country music. Alternative country artists are often influenced by alternative rock. However, the term has been used to describe country music bands and artists that have incorporated influences from alternative rock, indie rock, roots rock, bluegrass, neotraditional country, punk rock, rockabilly, punkabilly, honky-tonk, outlaw country, folk rock, indie folk, folk revival, hard rock, R&B, country rock, heartland rock, and Southern rock.
The idea of a band in country music had never really succeeded on a commercial level -- until Alabama kicked in the door in 1980. RCA rolled the dice on them, and it was an investment that paid off quite well –- over 30 No. 1 singles, 75 million in album sales, and the only band (so far) to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year award three times. To further underscore their success story, all of their singles for RCA in the 1980s -– save 1987’s “Tar Top” -- found their way to the pinnacle of the charts.
Breaking through in the traditional era of the 1960s, Lynn was anything but conventional. She wrote and performed songs that were very much different from the other women of the time. Hits like “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin” and “The Pill” spoke to a generation that was going through the same exact thing. Her success with a more feisty approach led to her becoming the first female winner of the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award -– as well as the cover of Newsweek -- and her influence can still be heard today from such artists as Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.
Another type of stripped down and raw music with a variety of moods and a basic ensemble of guitar, bass, dobro or steel guitar (and later) drums became popular, especially among poor whites in Texas and Oklahoma. It became known as honky tonk and had its roots in Western swing and the ranchera music of Mexico and the border states, particularly Texas, together with the blues of the American South. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys personified this music which has been described as "a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, a little bit of black and a little bit of white ... just loud enough to keep you from thinking too much and to go right on ordering the whiskey." East Texan Al Dexter had a hit with "Honky Tonk Blues", and seven years later "Pistol Packin' Mama". These "honky tonk" songs associated barrooms, were performed by the likes of Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells (the first major female country solo singer), Ted Daffan, Floyd Tillman, and the Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams, would later be called "traditional" country. Williams' influence in particular would prove to be enormous, inspiring many of the pioneers of rock and roll, such as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as Chuck Berry and Ike Turner, while providing a framework for emerging honky tonk talents like George Jones. Webb Pierce was the top-charting country artist of the 1950s, with 13 of his singles spending 113 weeks at number one. He charted 48 singles during the decade; 31 reached the top ten and 26 reached the top four.
Rockabilly was most popular with country fans in the 1950s, and 1956 could be called the year of rockabilly in country music. Rockabilly was an early form of rock and roll, an upbeat combination of blues and country music. The number two, three and four songs on Billboard's charts for that year were Elvis Presley, "Heartbreak Hotel"; Johnny Cash, "I Walk the Line"; and Carl Perkins, "Blue Suede Shoes" Thumper Jones (George Jones) Cash and Presley placed songs in the top 5 in 1958 with No. 3 "Guess Things Happen That Way/Come In, Stranger" by Cash, and No. 5 by Presley "Don't/I Beg of You." Presley acknowledged the influence of rhythm and blues artists and his style, saying "The colored folk been singin' and playin' it just the way I'm doin' it now, man for more years than I know." Within a few years, many rockabilly musicians returned to a more mainstream style or had defined their own unique style.
For many years after European settlement Canada, First Nations and Inuit peoples were discouraged from practicing their traditional ceremonies. However, impacts varied significantly depending on such aspects as the time period, relative population size, relation quality, resistance, etc. In 1606–1607 Marc Lescarbot collected the earliest extant transcriptions of songs from the Americas: three songs of Henri Membertou, the sakmow (Grand Chief) of the Mi'kmaq First Nations tribe situated near Port Royal, present-day Nova Scotia.
Country HQ showcases new talent on the rise in the country music scene down under. CMC (the Country Music Channel), a 24‑hour music channel dedicated to non-stop country music, can be viewed on pay TV and features once a year the Golden Guitar Awards, CMAs and CCMAs alongside international shows such as The Wilkinsons, The Road Hammers, and Country Music Across America.
The influence and innovations of Canadian hip hop came to the foreground in Canada when Music videos became an important marketing tool for Canadian musicians, with the debut of MuchMusic in 1984 and MusiquePlus in 1986. Now both English and French Canadian musicians had outlets to promote all forms of music through video in Canada. The networks were not just an opportunity for artists to get their videos played—the networks created VideoFACT, a fund to help emerging artists produce their videos.
The most important was the Grand Ole Opry, aired starting in 1925 by WSM in Nashville and continuing to the present day. Some of the early stars on the Opry were Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and African American harmonica player DeFord Bailey. WSM's 50,000-watt signal (in 1934) could often be heard across the country. Many musicians performed and recorded songs in any number of styles. Moon Mullican, for example, played Western swing but also recorded songs that can be called rockabilly. Between 1947 and 1949, country crooner Eddy Arnold placed eight songs in the top 10. From 1945 to 1955 Jenny Lou Carson was one of the most prolific songwriters in country music.
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.
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.
Another subgenre of country music grew out of hardcore honky tonk with elements of Western swing and originated 112 miles (180 km) north-northwest of Los Angeles in Bakersfield, California, where many "Okies" and other Dust Bowl migrants had settled. Influenced by one-time West Coast residents Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, by 1966 it was known as the Bakersfield sound. It relied on electric instruments and amplification, in particular the Telecaster electric guitar, more than other subgenres of the country music of the era, and it can be described as having a sharp, hard, driving, no-frills, edgy flavor—hard guitars and honky-tonk harmonies. Leading practitioners of this style were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Gary Allan, and Wynn Stewart, each of whom had his own style.
In the 1990s the term alternative country, paralleling alternative rock, began to be used to describe a diverse group of musicians and singers operating outside the traditions and industry of mainstream country music. Many eschewed the increasingly polished production values and pop sensibilities of the Nashville-dominated industry for a more lo-fi sound, frequently infused with a strong punk and rock and roll aesthetic. Lyrics may be bleak or socially aware, but also more heartfelt and less likely to use the clichés sometimes used by mainstream country musicians. In other respects, the musical styles of artists that fall within this genre often have little in common, ranging from traditional American folk music and bluegrass, through rockabilly and honky-tonk, to music that is indistinguishable from mainstream rock or country. This already broad labeling has been further confused by alternative country artists disavowing the movement, mainstream artists declaring they are part of it, and retroactive claims that past or veteran musicians are alternative country. No Depression, the best-known magazine dedicated to the genre, declared that it covered "alternative-country music (whatever that is)".
Canada has a long tradition of singer-songwriters and that’s partly in thanks to its own “folksong laureate”, Gordon Lightfoot. Coming out of the Toronto 60s folk music scene, Lightfoot’s native country would become his lifelong muse, penning such classics as ‘Canadian Railroad Trilogy’ and ‘Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ and yet universal enough to appeal worldwide, turning him into Canada’s most successful contemporary folk artist. A beloved cultural icon, he’s been the beneficiary of countless awards and honours including the Companion of the Order of Canada – Canada’s highest civilian honour.
Other artists had been successful crossing over before Kenny Rogers, but he made it an art form. As a member of the First Edition, several of the band’s pop records crossed over to country, and as a solo artist, he notched some of the biggest hits in both markets from 1977-1987. As a touring artist, he was the first country performer to consistently sell out arenas night after night, with only his recent announcement of retirement bringing that segment of his career to a close.
If Johnny Cash covered one of your songs on his final albums, it automatically meant it embodied some sort of country spirit however musically disguised. Cash, of course, interpreted the title track from this 1999 record the following year on American III: Solitary Man. I See a Darkness is dark, yes. It is gothic without being goth. Yet, its confessional cries and distant, discordant layering (especially on tracks like “Nomadic Revery (All Around)”) are also subversive in a way that honors the subgenre.—Hilary Saunders
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.
Brooks shattered the blueprint for what a country singer should sound like -– on stage and off. His music was a fusion of George Jones and James Taylor, and his concerts are like nothing a country fan has seen before or since. Brooks also changed the way that the format was thought about from a sales standpoint -– selling well over 100 million copies of his music, making a Brooks release date seem something akin to a national holiday for retailers across the globe.
CALLING ME HOME: GRAM PARSONS AND THE ROOTS OF COUNTRY ROCK differs from any other biography of the musician's life and times, choosing to focus on the extent of his career, his strong influence that led to his being named the 'father of country rock', and the influences he had upon associates and the music world as a whole, from Elvis Costello and Patty Griffin to Emmylou Harris.