Archive for the ‘Country History’ Category

A History of Country Vol. 14: 1974-75

November 30th, 2011 11 comments

Thanks in large part to country-influenced acts like The Byrds, The Grateful Dead and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, rock fans were starting to dig the country scene — not Nashville’s crooners or John Denver, of course, but the Outlaws, Gram Parsons and some of the old pioneers.  Some of California rock’s great names had their roots in playing bluegrass; people like Eagles co-founder and Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia and the singer-songwriter J.D. Souther, who wrote for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, the Texan “Queen of Rock” who made her start as a country performer before going the folk-rock route (she would later return to country, particularly in her collaborations with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton). Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 13: 1972-74

October 26th, 2011 6 comments

The traditional country stars — Conway Twitty, George Jones, Tammy Wynette Charlie Rich, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride — were still selling many records in the 1970s, and periodically crossed over to the pop charts. Singers like Donna Fargo evoked the good old days with happy songs like The Happiest Girl In The Whole USA.  These were still the Opry years — in fact, in 1972 the Grand Ole Opry opened a theme park called Opryland, and wo years later moved out of its long-time home, the Ryman Theatre, to Opryland.

But the Nashville scene no longer monopolised country, nor did it define it. In the introduction to his live recording of Me And Bobby McGee, Kris Kristofferson deadpans: “If it sounds country, man, then that’s what it is: a country song.”  So John Denver, with his songs about the Rocky Mountains, was regarded as a country singer, and even won the 1975 Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award (Australian-born songbird Olivia Newton-John had won the female award in 1974). At the ceremony, the battle lines were drawn. Presenting Denver with his CMA award, 1974 winner Charlie Rich — the Silverfox who had started his career as a rockabilly singer on Sun Records and now crooned his way through chart fodder —  set fire to the card announcing Denver’s name, holding it up for the TV cameras. The act, which Rich attributed to medication and Gin & Tonics, all but killed his career. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 12: 1969-71

September 22nd, 2011 14 comments

It was the age of the country songwriter, with people such as Harlan Howard (Heartaches By The Number), Hank Cochran (I Fall To Pieces), Roger Miller (Billy Bayou), Willie Nelson (Crazy), Mel Tillis (Detroit City), Tom T Hall (Harper Valley PTA) and the Bryants (Love Hurts) creating many classics. Some of them would become stars in their own right. None maybe more so than Kris Kristofferson, a man whose early biography reads like a far-fetched penny novel. Many of the songs he is known for were first recorded by others, sometimes several times. With the arguable exception of Me And Bobby McGee, Kristofferson eclipsed them all. One need just compare the Kristofferson version of For The Good Time with the song’s first incarnation as Ray Price’s hit. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 11: 1965-68

July 28th, 2011 3 comments

In the slipstream of Johnny Cash came what would become known as the Outlaw Movement, an informal response to Nashville’s easy listening, corporate and safe style, often recorded in Texas, reviving the honky tonk sounds of Hank Williams with strong lyrical content. Starting in the mid-’60s with singers like Bobby Bare, Tompall Glaser and Johnny Darrell, the sub-genre’s standard bearers would include Waylon Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson (after he grew his hair), Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Hank Williams Jr, Jerry Jeff Walker and Gram Parsons. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 10: 1961-64 – The Comfort Years

June 15th, 2011 12 comments

In the late 1950s and early ’60s country was in a good shape. The likes of Johnny Cash, George Jones,  Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline (who like Reeves would die in a plane crash), Don Gibson, Kitty Wells, Marty Robbins, Skeeter Davis, Ray Price, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, ex-boxer Lefty Frizzell and Wanda Jackson were recording prodigious success, even in rivalry with its progeny, rock & roll.These were the comfort years before the social upheaval of the 1960s put into question old certainties, even in the world of country music. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 9: 1957-60

May 11th, 2011 20 comments

In Volume 9 of the country history series, we look at the glory years of country, a time when the genre was at its most self-confident and profitable. It was still a vibrant genre, as this collection shows, though the crooners were already beginning to define the genre, a situation that would give rise to the outlaw movement, the protagonists of which were inspired by several of the artists on this mix.

It’s difficult to say who was the biggest star in 1950s country. The crooner likes of Eddy Arnold were immensely successful, but in terms of sales and influence, the biggest names were Left Frizzell and Webb Pierce, rival kings of honky tonk music. Pierce notched up more country #1s than any other in the 1950s, having in the late ’40s gained recognition by placing girls in the frontrow of his gigs and paying them to scream at him, bobbysoxer style. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 8: 1954-56

March 9th, 2011 8 comments

Some years ago, the brains at Rolling Stone grappled to identify the first ever rock & roll record. In the final face-off, they picked Elvis Presley’s debut single That’s All Right, a cover of R&B singer Arthur Crudup’s song, over Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock (itself a cover, though the song was actually written for the former western swing singer).

It is, of course, a fruitless mission to identify a “first” rock & roll song, because the genre is a jumble of diverse influences that convened, not always simultaneously, in an untidy evolution. One might as well seek to pinpoint the first piece of classical music or identify the inventor of the wheel. There is no single originator; there cannot be, because rock & roll is not a recipe consisting of essential ingredients. The genre has always been diffuse, subject to a broad sweep of influences. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 7: 1952-53

January 27th, 2011 11 comments

In this segment we briefly turn our focus on some of the individuals featured on this mix and the 1950/51 compilation. Pictured on the cover is the 1952 Cadillac in which Hank Williams died of heart failure on New Year’s Day 1953, aged 30 (though he always looked much older than that). His was the first of a series of young celebrity deaths that created legends for all times. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 6: Before Rock & Roll – 1950-51

January 12th, 2011 6 comments

After a hiatus of a few months we return to the history of country music. In the last narrative instalment (Volume 4) we noted the rise of female country singers; some of them will feature in this mix, which covers the years 1950-51, and its follow-up, 1952-53. In the course of the 1950s we will also review country’s contribution to rock & roll, and discuss some of the artists featured. What follows then is a brief overview of country music in the 1950s.

Country had always been a diverse genre. New forms emerged in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bluegrass took country back to its rural roots, with a sound based primarily on the interplay of string instruments — banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin. The pioneer of bluegrass was Bill Monroe, a big fellow with a small mandolin, who in 1939 had formed a band called the Blue Grass Boys. The line-up kept changing, with the most consequential incarnation, in 1946/47, including the hitherto unknown Lester Flatt and Earl Sruggs, who soon would form their own band, have a massive hit with the instrumental Foggy Mountain Breakdown (revived later as a theme for the film Bonnie And Clyde), and enjoy long careers together and separately. Bluegrass has never become mainstream. Various revivals and dedicated musicianship have kept the sub-genre alive; it is possibly more popular now than it ever was, thanks to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack  and the efforts of singers such as Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. Read more…

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A History of Country Vol. 5: Post-War Years – 1947-49

October 14th, 2010 13 comments

As before, this album refers to artists and songs featured on both 1940s compilations.

The importance to country music of Ernest Tubb’s Walking The Floor Over You cannot be underestimated. It was not the first honky tonk record, nor the first to use the new-fangled electric guitar. But it was the first really big hit to use electric guitar solos, performed by Fay ‘Smitty’ Smith, and is considered the breakthrough record for honky tonk music, a label that was variously used for different genres, but now usually applied in country music. Read more…

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