Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be important early country musicians. Their songs were first captured at a historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee, on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist. A scene in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? depicts a similar occurrence in the same timeframe. Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk, and many of his best songs were his compositions, including "Blue Yodel", which sold over a million records and established Rodgers as the premier singer of early country music. Beginning in 1927, and for the next 17 years, the Carters recorded some 300 old-time ballads, traditional tunes, country songs and gospel hymns, all representative of America's southeastern folklore and heritage.
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Over the past few decades, alternative country music has served as a more exciting option for fans of country music who aren't excited about what the mainstream has to offer. Alt country bands fuse together genres outside of traditional music to create a more diverse sound that retains its country roots, but at the same time, isn't exactly like what's going on. These bands have managed win over fans of other brands of alternative music because of their originality and the accessibility to their sound.
Often compared to fellow Canadians, The Band, Blue Rodeo are a Canadian country-rock institution. Since forming in 1984, the Toronto-based quintet were a huge hit in Canada in the 90s thanks to their dynamic mix of American pop, country and blues and two-part harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. With a solid roots-rock sound and two-part harmonies, their 1990 album, Casino, did achieve some stateside success due in part to their hit single, ‘Til I Am Myself Again’. Since then, they’ve become one of Canada’s renowned legacy acts that tour worldwide.
More convincingly than anyone in the last decade, Welch and her partner David Rawlings dipped their ladle into the pot of old-timey American music. On the reflective Time (the Revelator), as their striking vocals wrap tautly around each other, a hushed epic unfolds. The spirited “Red Clay Halo”—a gorgeously simple rumination on poverty, sin and redemption—captures the essence of the duo’s timeless songs: “And it’s under my nails and it’s under my collar / And it shows on my Sunday clothes / Though I do my best with the soap and the water / but the damned old dirt won’t go.” Welch and Rawlings can’t seem to get the dirt out of their music, either. And thank goodness for that.—Kate Kiefer
Lucero is perfectly alt-country—half rock bombast, half country swagger. The Memphis band is a touring machine, amassing devoted fans wherever they go, and 2009’s 1372 Overton Park helped capture that excitement in the studio thanks in large part to its horn section. Like that brassy homage to the band’s hometown of Memphis, Lucero also named 1372 Overton Park after the address of its Memphis loft space.—Hilary Saunders
The alt-country movement had plenty of pre-cursors in the folk-rock of Gram Parsons and the renegade country of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. But 1985 was really a watershed moment for the genre with Green on Red, Jason & The Scorchers and Mekons all exploring traditional country through the lens of punk rock. The ’90s kicked off with the first album from Uncle Tupelo, No Depression, which became synonymous with “alt-country” thanks to the magazine of the same name.
This multiple JUNO award winning singer-songwriter is the clear heir apparent to The Tragically Hip, both in terms of writing energetic folk-rock with lyrical homage to Canada and for in his relative obscurity outside of the country. Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Plaskett has a prolific output that spans more than 20 years and includes 17 studio releases both with his 90s hard-rock band Thrush Hermit, his solo recordings and then with his band, the Joel Plaskett Emergency.
Beginning in 1989, a confluence of events brought an unprecedented commercial boom to country music. The arrival of exceptionally talented artists coincided with new marketing strategies to engage fans, technology that more accurately tracked the popularity of country music, and a political and economic climate that focused attention on the genre. Garth Brooks ("Friends in Low Places") in particular attracted fans with his fusion of neotraditionalist country and stadium rock. Other artists such as Brooks and Dunn ("Boot Scootin' Boogie") also combined conventional country with slick, rock elements, while Lorrie Morgan, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Kathy Mattea updated neotraditionalist styles.
Folk songs sung in Australia between the 1780s and 1920s, based around such themes as the struggle against government tyranny, or the lives of bushrangers, swagmen, drovers, stockmen and shearers, continue to influence the genre. This strain of Australian country, with lyrics focusing on Australian subjects, is generally known as "bush music" or "bush band music". "Waltzing Matilda", often regarded as Australia's unofficial national anthem, is a quintessential Australian country song, influenced more by British and Irish folk ballads than by American country and western music. The lyrics were composed by the poet Banjo Paterson in 1895. Other popular songs from this tradition include "The Wild Colonial Boy", "Click Go the Shears", "The Queensland Drover" and "The Dying Stockman". Later themes which endure to the present include the experiences of war, of droughts and flooding rains, of Aboriginality and of the railways and trucking routes which link Australia's vast distances.
Alternative Country refers to country bands that play traditional country but bend the rules slightly. They don't conform to Nashville's hitmaking traditions, nor do they follow the accepted "outlaw" route to notoriety. Instead, alternative country bands work outside of the country industry's spotlight, frequently subverting musical traditions with singer/songwriter and rock & roll lyrical (and musical) aesthetics.
1958 saw its first Canadian rock and roll teen idol Paul Anka, who went to New York City where he auditioned for ABC with the song "Diana". This song brought Anka instant stardom as it reached number one on the US Billboard charts. "Diana" has gone on to be one of the best selling 45s in music history. US-born rockabilly pioneer Ronnie Hawkins moved to Canada in 1958, where he became a key player in the Canadian blues and rock scene. The 4th of October was declared "Ronnie Hawkins Day" by the city of Toronto when Hawkins was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. He was also inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and his pioneering contribution to rockabilly has been recognized with induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Alternative country-rock is often simply referred to as alternative country, but the two styles are actually somewhat distinct from one another -- simply put, alternative country performers come from the country side of the equation, whereas alternative country-rock is rooted more in rock. It's considered a branch of alternative rock -- even though it may not always sound that way on the surface -- because it doesn't fit any mainstream sensibility, and also because its bands usually get their start as part of the American indie-label scene. In contrast to alternative country, which pushes the boundaries of country music from the inside, alternative country-rock is music made by outsiders who love the sound and spirit of country. They faithfully preserve traditional sounds, but reinterpret the spirit in personal, contemporary, and idiosyncratic ways that rarely appeal to straight country fans. The godfather of alternative country-rock was Gram Parsons, the single most important figure in the invention of country-rock and an enduring cult legend for his deeply emotional records. Neil Young's varying musical personalities were also an important influence, as was the progressive country movement of the '70s, particularly an Austin, TX-centered group of highly literate singer/songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Jerry Jeff Walker, among others. The man who heralded the birth of alternative country-rock was Lyle Lovett, whose wit and eclecticism seemed to revitalize country's possibilities in the minds of many rock fans. But the first true alternative country-rock band was Uncle Tupelo, who at the start of their career fused punk and country in a far more reverent way than any band in the short-lived '80s cowpunk movement. Their cover of the A.P. Carter spiritual "No Depression" gave its name to their seminal 1990 debut album, the premier fanzine chronicling the alt-country scene, and a nickname to the movement in general. Uncle Tupelo soon became a more tradition-minded country-rock outfit, and following their 1993 landmark Anodyne split into two different bands, the staunchly revivalist Son Volt and the more pop-inflected Wilco; by that time, alternative country-rock itself had begun to split into several strains. One school was chiefly dedicated to reviving the Parsons/Young sound of the early '70s, sometimes adding elements of Beatlesque pop to their crunchy rockers and aching ballads. Others were sincere traditionalists, drawing from the most haunting qualities of old-time country and Appalachian folk while updating the lyrical sensibilities just enough. A related school made that old-timey sound into a soft, spare, ethereal hybrid of country and indie rock, usually featuring a female vocalist. Still other alt-country-rock bands brought a sense of humor to their traditionalist work, whether it was the good-natured wit of a twangy, rollicking bar band, or the flat-out weird irony of Lambchop. Alternative country-rock continued to produce new, critically acclaimed hybrid acts into the new millennium, with an increasing indie-rock flavor.
While some might argue that Twitty didn’t change the rules of the format like a Haggard or Jones, his influence on the format can’t be understated. From 1968 until his passing in 1993, Twitty charted hit after hit. His 40 No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts was a record that held firm for years until George Strait broke it. From “Hello Darlin” to “Don’t Take It Away,” and all the way through to “She’s Got A Single Thing In Mind,” Twitty was the perfect example of the word evolution.
In Ireland, TG4 began a quest for Ireland's next country star called Glór Tíre, translated as "Country Voice". It is now in its sixth season and is one of TG4's most watched TV shows. Over the past ten years country and gospel recording artist James Kilbane has reached multi-platinum success with his mix of Christian and traditional country influenced albums. James Kilbane like many other Irish artists are today working closer with Nashville. A recent success in the Irish arena has been Crystal Swing. In Sweden, Rednex rose to stardom combining country music with electro-pop in the 1990s. In 1994, the group had a worldwide hit with their version of the traditional Southern tune "Cotton-Eyed Joe". Artists popularizing more traditional country music in Sweden have been Ann-Louise Hanson, Hasse Andersson, Kikki Danielsson, Elisabeth Andreassen and Jill Johnson. In Poland an international country music festival, known as Piknik Country, has been organized in Mrągowo in Masuria since 1983. There are more and more country music artists in France. Some of the most important are Liane Edwards, Annabel [fr], Rockie Mountains, Tahiana, and Lili West. French rock and roll superstar Eddy Mitchell is also very inspired by Americana and country music. In the Netherlands there are many artists producing popular country and americana music, which is mostly in the English language, as well as Dutch country and country-like music in Dutch language. The latter is mainly popular on the countrysides in the northern and eastern parts of the Netherlands and is less associated with his American brother, although it sounds sometimes very similar. Well known popular artists mainly performing in English are Waylon, Danny Vera, Ilse DeLange and the band Savannah. The most popular artist in Dutch is Henk Wijngaard.
Outside its handful of stars, country rock's greatest significance was on artists in other genres, including the Band, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones and George Harrison's solo work. It also played a part in the development of Southern rock, which, although largely derived from blues rock, had a distinct southern lilt, and it paved the way for parts of the alternative country movement. The genre declined in popularity in the late 1970s, but some established artists, including Neil Young, have continued to record country-tinged rock into the twenty-first century. Country rock has survived as a cult force in Texas, where acts including the Flatlanders, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and California-based Richard Brooker, have collaborated and recorded. Other performers have produced occasional recordings in the genre, including Elvis Costello's Almost Blue (1981) and the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaboration Raising Sand, which was one of the most commercially successful albums of 2007.
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.
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.
Country music has enjoyed mainstream exposure and success throughout the '60s and '70s in the United Kingdom. However, this somewhat diminished in the '90s and 2000s. Though, there have been exceptions such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in the '90s (particularly the latter) and Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks in the 2000s. Crossover hits (in terms of singles and albums) within the country genre are few and far between and have been since the '80s. There are some British country music acts and publications. Although radio stations devoted to country are among the most popular in other Anglophone nations, none of the top 10 most-listened-to stations in the UK are country stations, and national broadcaster BBC Radio does not offer a full-time country station (BBC Radio 2 Country, a "pop-up" station, operated four days each year between 2015 and 2017). The BBC does offer a country show on BBC Radio 2 each week hosted by Bob Harris. UK Country music is overseen by the British Country Music Association.
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.
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.
The turn of the millennium was a time of incredible nationalism, at least as far as Canadian radio is concerned. The 1971 CRTC rules (30% Canadian content on Canadian radio) finally come into full effect and by the end of the 20th century radio stations would have to play 35% Canadian content. This led to an explosion in the 21st century of Canadian pop musicians dominating the airwaves unlike any era before. In 1996, VideoFACT launched PromoFACT, a funding program to help new artists produce electronic press kits and websites. At about the same time, the CD (cheap to manufacture) replaced the vinyl album and Compact Cassette (expensive to manufacture). Shortly thereafter, the Internet allowed musicians to directly distribute their music, thus bypassing the selection of the old-fashioned "record label". Canada's mainstream music industry has suffered as a result of the internet and the boom of independent music. The drop in annual sales between 1999 - the year that Napster's unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing service launched - and the end of 2004 was $465 million.
In 1986, when he broke onto the scene, Whitley's star was somewhat overshadowed by Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam. But, his second album -- 1988's Don't Close Your Eyes -- helped to establish him as one of the dominant balladeers of his day. Sadly, a long career wasn't meant to be -- as his May 1989 death stilled his voice. But, talk to any singer who has come along since -- such as Tim McGraw, Chris Young, or Alan Jackson, and they will tell you just how deep his influence still runs -- even after 25 years.
Country has always been a cornerstone of American music, but in recent years it has undergone quite a transformation. What was once brushed off as "hick music" is now being enjoyed by more people than ever before. Its audience has grown exponentially, and its songs are dominating the radio waves. While the rest of the music industry continues to struggle, country seems to be stronger than ever. If one thing is for certain, country music isn't going anywhere anytime soon.