During the second generation (1930s–1940s), radio became a popular source of entertainment, and "barn dance" shows featuring country music were started all over the South, as far north as Chicago, and as far west as California. The most important was the Grand Ole Opry, aired starting in 1925 by WSM in Nashville and continuing to the present day. During the 1930s and 1940s, cowboy songs, or Western music, which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. 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. Wills was one of the first country musicians known to have added an electric guitar to his band, in 1938. Country musicians began recording boogie in 1939, shortly after it had been played at Carnegie Hall, when Johnny Barfield recorded "Boogie Woogie".
For a relatively small country (roughly 36 million), Canada continues to punch above its weight when it comes to musical contribution. The sheer volume of notable acts that were left off the list is impressive enough. From bonafide legends (Neil Young and Joni Mitchell) to 80s hit machines (Bryan Adams and Corey Hart) to 00’s chart toppers (The Weeknd and Grimes) Canada boasts some serious homegrown talent that they’re nice enough to share with the rest of the world. To celebrate Canada Day, we’ve assembled a list of the country’s greatest musicians that cross all genres, eras and provinces (excluding the many talented French-Canadian artists and Glenn Gould, Lenny Breau, and Oscar Petersen (they’re above lists).
Tom Roland, from the Country Music Association International, explains country music's global popularity: "In this respect, at least, Country Music listeners around the globe have something in common with those in the United States. In Germany, for instance, Rohrbach identifies three general groups that gravitate to the genre: people intrigued with the American cowboy icon, middle-aged fans who seek an alternative to harder rock music and younger listeners drawn to the pop-influenced sound that underscores many current Country hits." One of the first Americans to perform country music abroad was George Hamilton IV. He was the first country musician to perform in the Soviet Union; he also toured in Australia and the Middle East. He was deemed the "International Ambassador of Country Music" for his contributions to the globalization of country music. Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Keith Urban, and Dwight Yoakam have also made numerous international tours. The Country Music Association undertakes various initiatives to promote country music internationally.
That said, it's up to you to determine what are the best country rock bands. If you know country rock and notice that someone is missing from this list of country rock bands, feel free to add them. This list answers the questions "who are the best country rock bands of all time?" and "who is the greatest country rock musician ever?" If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular country rock bands that you might've heard of.
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.
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.
The first commercial recordings of what was considered instrumental music in the traditional country style were "Arkansas Traveler" and "Turkey in the Straw" by fiddlers Henry Gilliland & A.C. (Eck) Robertson on June 30, 1922, for Victor Records and released in April 1923. Columbia Records began issuing records with "hillbilly" music (series 15000D "Old Familiar Tunes") as early as 1924.
One of the most commercially successful country artists of the late 2000s and early 2010s has been singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Swift first became widely known in 2006 when her debut single, "Tim McGraw," was released when Swift was only 16. In 2006, Taylor released her first studio album, Taylor Swift, which spent 275 weeks on Billboard 200, one of the longest runs of any album on that chart. In 2008, Taylor Swift released her second studio album, Fearless, which made her the second-longest Number One charted on Billboard 200 and the second best-selling album (just behind Adele's 21) within the past 5 years. At the 2010 Grammys, Taylor Swift was 20 and won Album of the Year for Fearless, which made her the youngest artist to win this award. Swift has received ten Grammys already. Buoyed by her teen idol status among girls and a change in the methodology of compiling the Billboard charts to favor pop-crossover songs, Swift's 2012 single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" spent the most weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart of any song in nearly five decades. The song's long run at the top of the chart was somewhat controversial, as the song is largely a pop song without much country influence and its success on the charts driven by a change to the chart's criteria to include airplay on non-country radio stations, prompting disputes over what constitutes a country song; many of Swift's later releases, such as "Shake It Off," were released solely to pop audiences.
While rappers like Dream Warriors and K-os were underground upstarts in the 90s to early 2000s, no Canadian artist was able to achieve mainstream popularity until former child-actor-turned-rapper, Drake, put Canada on the hip-hop map – becoming one of the biggest-selling and influential rap stars in the world. From co-founding Canadian record label OVO (October’s Very Own) Sound to coining the city’s unofficial nickname, “The 6”, Drake is Canada’s biggest hypeman. Not only did he use the CN Tower for his Views album art, he even has a tattoo of the iconic Toronto landmark on his arm and helped to introduce fellow Canadian, The Weeknd, to the rest of the world.
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.
On the surface, the definition of country rock should be relatively simple. When people think of country rock music and country rock songs, they imagine country singers making the dreaded switch to play rock music. However, many of the best country bands made the switch from rock to play country-infused rock songs, thus the name of country rock. Bands would record using a pedal steel, sing about themes commonly associated with country and by the beginning of the 1970s, country rock became a genre that became popular in the mainstream.
"O Canada" was originally commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille (1834–1897), for the 1880 St. Jean-Baptiste Day ceremony. Calixa Lavallée (1842–1891) wrote the music, which was a setting of a patriotic poem composed by the poet and judge Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier (1839–1920). The text was originally only in French, before it was translated into English from 1906 on.
During the early 1980s, country artists continued to see their records perform well on the pop charts. Willie Nelson and Juice Newton each had two songs in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the early eighties: Nelson charted "Always on My Mind" (No. 5, 1982) and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (No. 5, 1984, a duet with Julio Iglesias), and Newton achieved success with "Queen of Hearts" (No. 2, 1981) and "Angel of the Morning" (No. 4, 1981). Four country songs topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the 1980s: "Lady" by Kenny Rogers, from the late fall of 1980; "9 to 5" by Dolly Parton, "I Love a Rainy Night" by Eddie Rabbitt (these two back-to-back at the top in early 1981); and "Islands in the Stream", a duet by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in 1983, a pop-country crossover hit written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. Newton's "Queen of Hearts" almost reached No. 1, but was kept out of the spot by the pop ballad juggernaut "Endless Love" by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. The move of country music toward neotraditional styles led to a marked decline in country/pop crossovers in the late 1980s, and only one song in that period—Roy Orbison's "You Got It", from 1989—made the top 10 of both the Billboard Hot Country Singles" and Hot 100 charts, due largely to a revival of interest in Orbison after his sudden death. The only song with substantial country airplay to reach number one on the pop charts in the late 1980s was "At This Moment" by Billy Vera and the Beaters, an R&B song with slide guitar embellishment that appeared at number 42 on the country charts from minor crossover airplay. The record-setting, multi-platinum group Alabama was named Artist of the Decade for the 1980s by the Academy of Country Music.
From within the UK, few country musicians achieved widespread mainstream success. Tom Jones, by this point near the end of his peak success as a pop singer, had a string of country hits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Bee Gees had some fleeting success in the genre, with one country hit as artists ("Rest Your Love on Me") and a major hit as songwriters ("Islands in the Stream"); Barry Gibb, the band's usual lead singer and last surviving member, acknowledged that country music was a major influence on the band's style. Singer Engelbert Humperdinck, while charting only once in the U.S. country top 40 with "After the Lovin'," achieved widespread success on both the U.S. and UK pop charts with his faithful covers of Nashville country ballads such as "Release Me," "Am I That Easy to Forget" and "There Goes My Everything." The songwriting tandem of Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway wrote a number of country hits, in addition to their widespread success in pop songwriting; Cook is notable for being the only Briton to be inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler initially started her career making country albums and was even nominated for Top New Female Vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards before her huge crossover hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" lead her towards more commercial pop and rock. In 2013, Tyler returned to her roots, blending the country elements of her early work with the rock of her successful material on her album Rocks and Honey which featured a duet with American country icon Vince Gill. Tyler subsequently announced that she was making a new country rock album in Nashville with John Carter Cash, son of country music legends Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, slated for release in 2018.
Lists are incredibly subjective but it’s impossible to deny the enormous impact Neil Young has made in the musical world for the past 50 years. From his time with Buffalo Springfield to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to his solo work with Crazy Horse, this singer-songwriter from Northern Ontario left his homeland long ago and yet never became an American citizen. With one of rock’s most productive and enduring solo careers, Young has created his own songbook of standards and continues to be a political force for action, even releasing a new protest song called, ‘Children of Destiny’.
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
Country rock is a subgenre of popular music, formed from the fusion of rock and country. It was developed by rock musicians who began to record country-flavored records in the late-1960s and early-1970s. These musicians recorded rock records using country themes, vocal styles, and additional instrumentation, most characteristically pedal steel guitars. Country rock began with artists like Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons and others, reaching its greatest popularity in the 1970s with artists such as Emmylou Harris, the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Michael Nesmith, Poco and Pure Prairie League. Country rock also influenced 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.
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.
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.
With the exception of a few artists, modern country has taken a hard left turn for the worse over the past two decades. Ask some people, and they might even say country’s become a shell of its former self. Sturgill Simpson is not one of those people—mostly because he doesn’t seem to care what is happening within the confines of the country music world. Instead the Kentucky-born singer looks to more far-out places on his second full-length, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. One of the first things you’ll notice is Simpson’s voice, which conjures the ghost of Waylon Jennings. Producer Dave Cobb’s warm production can’t be overstated—it holds the entire thing together and also makes Metamodern Sounds a shelf-worthy addition next to the greats. If you don’t like country music, don’t bother. But if you do have an ear for Waylon and Willie and the boys, then you’ll find plenty to love. Simpson may reside in Nashville these days, but he’s operating on a completely different plane. Here’s hoping his own mind-expanding experiments will expand the minds of listeners as well.—Mark Lore
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.