Country Music I INTRODUCTION Willie Nelson Country singer and musician Willie Nelson gained national popularity during the 1970s for a string of country hits, including the 1978 hits "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" and "Georgia On My Mind." Nelson broke onto the pop charts during the 1980s both in the United States and throughout Spain and Latin America with "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" (1984), a duet with Spanish singer Julio Iglesias. UPI/THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE Country Music or Country-and-Western Music, major genre of American popular music, primarily produced by white Southerners beginning in the early 1920s. Born out of the folk music of Southern Appalachia, country music encompasses the styles known as Western swing, honky-tonk, bluegrass, rockabilly, and new country. Over the years country music has been influenced by folk, gospel, rhythm-and-blues (R&B), and rock music and in turn has had an impact on these popular genres. Although originally known by the derisive label "hillbilly music," country has since moved into the popular music mainstream and gained wide international acceptance. II CHARACTERISTIC MUSICAL ELEMENTS Musically speaking, country music is one of the simplest styles to create and one of the least intimidating to listen to, features that contribute to its popularity. This basic aspect of country music stems from the fact that it is based predominantly on lyric content rather than musical content. In country, the primary purpose of the musical elements of harmony, melody, and rhythm is to showcase the lyrics without distracting from them. Exceptions to this general rule include the purely instrumental music from country music's early history and the technical virtuosity often found in bluegrass music. Country harmony relies for the most part on a simple selection of repeated chords--usually three, although additional chords or as few as two may be used. Vocals appear mainly as single, unharmonized lines, although at times they are harmonized with high, closely spaced voices, especially in the chorus of a song. Rhythmically, there is little syncopation. Most country music is written in ¹ time (four beats to a measure), with the first and third beats receiving emphasis. Melodies are typically just as basic as the rhythm. Many country tunes sound very similar and are distinguishable by their lyrics. The lyrics of country songs commonly parallel the lives of ordinary, working-class Americans and cover such subjects as love and relationships, loneliness, religion, poverty, and work. A song's lyric theme is frequently repeated as a hook (a catchy musical phrase) in the chorus section. Most country lyrics are extraordinarily economical, using 150 or fewer words, and the compact result is often poetic and evocative. The subcategories of country music often use different sets of musical instruments. The country genre began in the 1920s with string bands, which usually consisted of various combinations of guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and string bass, also known as a double bass. The dobro, an amplified guitar made of wood or steel with internal resonators, was introduced in the late 1920s. It is also known as the Hawaiian guitar, because it can be played Hawaiian style by laying it across the lap. The drum set became part of country music through Western swing, which developed in the 1930s. Although brass wind instruments such as the saxophone and trumpet were a vital part of Western swing, they are rarely heard on other country recordings. The piano can be found on country records as early as 1925, but it did not become a lead instrument until the late 1940s, with the boogie-woogie recordings of singer and songwriter Aubrey "Moon" Mullican. The high-pitched sound of the steel guitar made its country recording debut in 1954 with the hit "Slowly" by artist Webb Pierce. By the mid-1990s country bands generally featured six to seven musicians, including a drummer, a keyboard player, an electric bass player, a steel guitarist, electric and acoustic guitarists, and a utility musician who plays fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and dobro, as needed. III FOLK MUSIC ORIGINS The roots of country music lie in the folk music that English, Irish, and Scottish settlers brought to the Appalachian Mountain region of the South in the 18th and 19th centuries. English ballads and Irish reels in particular had a major early influence. Such music was performed from colonial times in both religious and social contexts, including church services, weddings, and barn dances. In the early 1920s the first country recordings appeared, introducing the music of string bands. The string-band repertoire consisted mostly of traditional folk and gospel music and appealed mainly to people in the rural Southeast. During the 1920s the audience for this so-called hillbilly music expanded with the spread of small-town radio stations. With the wider distribution of music over radio, new regional styles, such as Louisiana's cajun music, were incorporated into the folk and gospel core of country. Important early country music artists included the Carter Family, a trio from rural Virginia, and the blues-oriented singer and songwriter Jimmie Rodgers, from Mississippi. From the late 1920s to the early 1940s the Carter family recorded old folk ballads, incorporating such instruments as the fiddle, banjo, and autoharp. Whereas the vocals in early folk and hillbilly music were usually of secondary importance compared with the instrumentals, the Carter trio used their instruments to provide a musical accompaniment that never took precedence over the simple harmonies of their vocal work. Rodgers, who recorded from 1927 to 1933, brought both folk and blues elements to country music through sentimental ballads and his so-called blue yodels, which introduced yodeling to a mainstream audience. Many credit the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers as the creators of commercial country music. Since the 1930s country and folk styles have continued to influence one another. Other major figures of folk-country music include singer and fiddle player Roy Acuff in the 1940s and 1950s, singer Johnny Cash from the 1960s into the 1990s, and country artists Lyle Lovett, the Judds, and Mary Chapin Carpenter in the 1980s and 1990s. IV BLUEGRASS Bluegrass music developed in rural Kentucky during the 1920s and 1930s. It represented, primarily through its instrumentation, a return to the prerecording days of folk music. Characterized by the acoustic string-band sound of the Southeast, the bluegrass style usually features a banjo, fiddle, and mandolin in lead parts while a guitar and string bass provide accompaniment. Bluegrass vocals are often harmonized and emphasize a high-pitched tenor voice. Instrumental solos and improvisations may be featured between stanzas in a bluegrass song. Singer and mandolin player Bill Monroe is known as the father of bluegrass music. A virtuoso mandolin player, Monroe combined traditional folk ballads and gospel songs with string-band music played at very fast tempos. Monroe, with his band The Blue Grass Boys, performed from the mid-1920s until Monroe's death in 1996. Other well-known bluegrass performers include banjo player Earl Scruggs, who played with Monroe during the 1940s; the Osborne Brothers, a duo from Kentucky known for its work during the 1950s and 1960s; and more recently, artists Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, and Vince Gill. V HONKY-TONK MUSIC Honky Tonk: George Jones The development of honky-tonk music after World War II by musicians in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana marked the beginning of modern country music. The expression "honky tonk" refers to the taverns and beer halls that appeared on the outskirts of Texas oil boomtowns during the Prohibition years (1920-1933). Honky-tonk music is a type of country blues featuring electric guitar, electric pedal steel guitar, bass, and drums. The songs, such as this George Jones composition, reflect the hardships of city life and the breakdown of family, tradition, and religious beliefs. Wally McNamee/Woodfin Camp and Associates, Inc./"She's Lonesome Again" from George Jones: Live at Dancetown USA (Cat.# Ace CDCHM 156) (c) Glad Music Ltd. (p)1985 Glad Music Company. All rights reserved. The first truly urban form of country music, honky-tonk music originated in the roadside bars of Texas and Oklahoma in the 1930s and 1940s. Honky-tonk combined the often-sad ballads of folk music and older forms of country music with driving, up-tempo rhythms and the improvisational freedom of jazz music. Drums and steel and electric guitars were prominent. The new style developed as a result of several factors, including the urbanization of the rural South, the introduction of electric guitars, and a more relaxed public attitude toward drinking following the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Honky-tonk broadened the scope of country music lyrics, and songs about drinking, infidelity, and divorce became national hits for the first time. The best-known early honky-tonk stars include Al Dexter and Ernest Tubb. Dexter's "Honky Tonk Blues" of 1936 was the first song to use the term honky-tonk. Tubb's honky-tonk single "Walking the Floor Over You" (1941) eventually sold more than 1 million records. Hank Williams combined honky-tonk, blues, and more traditional country singing; among his more than 100 songs are "Jambalaya" (1952) and "Your Cheatin' Heart" (1953). Other honky-tonk artists include singer and songwriter Lefty Frizzell in the 1950s and 1960s, singer Randy Travis in the 1980s, as well as Alan Jackson and the duo of Brooks & Dunn in the 1990s. VI WESTERN AND WESTERN SWING Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys In the early 1930s several musicians from the southwestern United States began expanding local dance bands, which consisted mainly of stringed instruments, to include both horn and rhythm sections. Large ensembles developed and combined the Northern sound of big-band jazz with the Southern repertoire of country music, creating a genre known as Western swing. Foremost among these groups was Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, heard in this 1956 Nashville recording of "Little Star of Heaven." "Little Star of Heaven" by Charles Mitchell and Miriam Warner, published by Peer Music, performed by Bob Wills, Vocal by Luke Wills, from Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys: Country Music Hall of Fame (Cat.# MCA Special Markets MCAD-10547)©and(p)1992 MCA Records Inc. Courtesy of Mercury Nashville Records, under license from Universal Music Enterprises. All Rights Reserved. /The Everett Collection, Inc. During the 1930s and 1940s motion pictures about cowboys and the American West popularized the style known as Western music. Western music grew out of a 19thcentury tradition of cowboy songs and string bands that was particularly strong in Texas and Oklahoma. This subcategory was influenced by the folk-country music of Tennessee and other Southeastern states, the jazz and blues music of Louisiana, and big-band dance music. Western music frequently features improvisation and a broad range of instruments, including wind instruments. The lyrics center on life on the Western frontier, especially the often romanticized life of the cowboy. Exemplars of the style include the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, who acted and sang in Western movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Rogers was an original member of the Sons of the Pioneers, a band that appeared in over 80 Westerns between 1935 and 1948. The group's style of three-part harmony singing, disseminated through motion pictures and recordings, became widely influential. Gene Autry Known as the Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry was the star of nearly 100 Westerns during his career as an actor. Autry also had his own television show and recorded a number of pop music hits, such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1949). Corbis A variation on traditional Western music called Western swing developed in Texas and Oklahoma in the early 1930s. Western swing was a country version of the bigband jazz music popular during the 1930s and 1940s, a period known as the swing era. Western swing bands combined the string band with instruments used in jazz and blues, including the saxophone and trumpet. The style gained fame primarily through fiddler Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, a band that included as many as 18 players. They were a top musical attraction throughout the Southwest during the 1940s and 1950s. The fiddling style and musical arrangements of Wills had a major influence on later country artists, including singers Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, George Strait and the band Asleep at the Wheel. VII ROCKABILLY Jerry Lee Lewis Perched on his piano--one of his favourite postures--Jerry Lee Lewis, immediately recognizable with his straggling lock of hair, seemed to be one of the more possessed rock-and-roll singers, and was the first star of rockabilly. His wild voice, strident howls, heavy crashes on the piano keys, along with incredible stage presence, made him prey to media criticism. He entered the charts with his second single, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." UPI/Corbis The economic boom that followed World War II (1939-1945) expanded the opportunities for the entertainment industry, including country music performances and recordings. Radio exposed a wider audience to country music while new, relatively inexpensive recording technology made records available at affordable prices. These forces helped create demand for country recordings in greater diversity and quantity than ever before. One of the most successful responses to this new urban demand for country music was the style called rockabilly. An early form of rock and roll, rockabilly was a mid1950s fusion of white hillbilly music and black rhythm-and-blues music (R&B). Generally played at faster tempos than other country styles, rockabilly often features a stand-up bass, as well as an electric guitar played with a noticeable twang. Rockabilly vocals emphasize rhythmic phrases and depart from straight singing with quick yelps, high-pitched whines, and other unconventional inflections. Rockabilly was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s by such artists as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers. VIII THE NASHVILLE SOUND AND COUNTRY POP Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee The Grand Ole Opry traces its roots to a local radio show called "Barn Dance," which broadcast live country music beginning in 1925. Credited with popularizing country music, the Grand Ole Opry won a national radio network spot in 1939. The Opry is the oldest continuous radio show in the United States, broadcasting live every week from a theater at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, shown here. Jeff Greenberg/Photo Researchers, Inc. Soon after World War II, Nashville, Tennessee, became the recognized center for the production of country music. The "Nashville Barn Dance" was a country-music stage and radio show established by Nashville's WSM radio station in 1925. By 1939 the show was named the Grand Ole Opry and had begun nationwide broadcasts. It drew to Nashville singers and musicians with hopes of having their music broadcast. WSM employees founded one of the first Nashville recording studios, Castle Studios, about 1946. In 1949 another important label, Sun Records, built its studio in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1952 musicians Owen and Harold Bradley set up Bradley Recording, one of the first independent recording studios in downtown Nashville. The Bradley brothers recorded country stars Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, and Patsy Cline, and rock star Buddy Holly. The commercial success of the Bradleys helped convince international record companies, such as Decca Records (now MCA Records), to build studios in Nashville. By the late 1950s numerous country songwriters, singers, and studio musicians had relocated to Music City, USA, as Nashville came to be known. The Country Music Association (CMA) was chartered in Nashville in 1958 to promote country music. In 1961 the Country Music Hall of Fame was founded in Nashville to commemorate the people who have made the most important contributions to country music. Patsy Cline American country singer Patsy Cline's brief career was cut short by a plane crash in 1963. Her hit songs included "I Fall to Pieces," (1960), "Crazy," (1961), and, heard here, "So Wrong" (1962). The Everett Collection, Inc./"So Wrong" composed by Carl Perkins, used through courtesy of Cedarwood Publishing, performed by Patsy Cline, from Patsy Cline 12 Greatest Hits (Cat.# MCA Records MCAD-12) (c)1998 MCA Records, Inc. Courtesy of MCA Records, under license from Universal Music Special Markets. All rights reserved. In the 1950s and 1960s Nashville executives and music producers Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins created the Nashville sound, a style that describes the music of such artists as Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, and Jim Reeves. With the popularity of rock and roll soaring at this time, the Nashville sound was an attempt to attract a broader audience by combining elements of pop, rock, and country music. Although it featured country songs performed by country stars, the Nashville sound was produced with the technology and sophistication of popular music of the period. For example, full orchestral string sections often replaced traditional guitar, mandolin, and fiddle ensembles to create a lush accompaniment. A chorus of backup singers filled out the vocal tracks of a song. The use of synthesizers, overdubbing, reverb effects, and other studio techniques helped create a fuller, slicker, more marketable sound. The big-label, large-studio approach has remained part of the country music industry, as has the overall tendency to combine popular and country music into a style often referred to as country pop. During the 1970s many so-called crossover artists, including Conway Twitty, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton, combined pop and country styles to achieve mainstream success, often through remakes of earlier pop hits. Conversely, several mainstream popular music artists, including John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, and Ray Charles, have made successful recordings of country songs over the years. IX COUNTRY-ROCK AND OUTLAW COUNTRY The Byrds The Byrds were an innovative and influential folk-rock group during the mid- and late-1960s. The band's music merged psychedelic words and images with folk, rock, and country sounds. The original group consisted of, from left, Chris Hillman, David Crosby, Michael Clarke, Jim (Roger) McGuinn, and Gene Clark. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis Country and rock music have borrowed musical elements from one another since the late 1950s. In fact, rock and roll, the earliest form of rock music, combined Western swing, the hillbilly style, and R&B music, while Elvis Presley and other early rock music artists began their careers in country music. During the late 1960s and 1970s Gram Parsons, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Eagles, and other bands led a movement to merge country and rock styles. The resulting style, known as country-rock, characteristically takes country melody, harmony, and lyric themes and adds the percussive beat, rhythms, and electric instrumentation of rock. The most successful country rock group of the 1980s and 1990s was the foursome Alabama. The so-called outlaw-country movement developed parallel to country-rock. It emerged in the mid-1970s in reaction against the Nashville sound and the record companies that had streamlined and institutionalized the Nashville style. Some artists sought to break away from the recording formulas and generic productions that by the 1970s dominated the industry. These artists wanted more control of the recording process, and many of them called for a return to the acoustic instruments, small bands, and natural-sounding vocals of country music's past. Early exponents of outlaw country--Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and David Allan Coe--embodied this spirit of rebellion through their music and their behavior, dressing in frayed blue jeans and T-shirts and using illicit drugs. As country artists moved away from Nashville, smaller, independent recording studios and labels were established in Bakersfield, California; Austin, Texas; and other cities. Established country music labels such as Capitol, RCA, and MCA at first refused to support outlaw country music. As live performances and radio coverage popularized the music of outlaw artists, however, healthy sales of this music eventually convinced the more prominent labels to allow their artists to produce and coproduce their own albums on a regular basis. In 1976 RCA's album Wanted--The Outlaws, a compilation of songs from artists Nelson, Jennings, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter, became country music's first platinum album, selling more than 1 million copies. Outlaw artists of the 1980s and 1990s included Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam, and Travis Tritt. X NEW COUNTRY The term new country dates from the mid-1980s when a handful of artists, notably Ricky Skaggs, John Anderson, Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, and the Brooks & Dunn duo led yet another return to the sounds of traditional country music. This return was primarily to such instruments as steel guitars and single or twin fiddles, as opposed to full orchestral string sections. New country also prominently featured female artists, including Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, Faith Hill, Roseanne Cash, Trisha Yearwood, and Shania Twain. Despite new country's original humble intentions, its biggest star, Garth Brooks, achieved his success in part by finding and writing songs that were extraordinarily well received as well as adding elements of arena rock productions to his stage shows. His second album, No Fences (1990), became the top-selling country album of all time. A decade after the term new country was coined to indicate a return to country's roots, it was applied to all new artists in country music, regardless of their style. In the late 1980s Clint Black, another new-country artist, helped usher in an era of so-called hat acts. Following Black's example, nearly all male country vocalists began wearing cowboy hats, symbolizing the return of country music to its rural roots. Yoakam in particular was known for never appearing in public without his tan Stetson. XI WOMEN IN COUNTRY MUSIC Dolly Parton American singer and songwriter Dolly Parton has been active in the country-music industry since the late 1960s. In 1978 and again in 1981 she won Grammy Awards for best country vocal performance. Her 1971 song "Coat of Many Colors" alludes to the biblical story of Joseph and his many-colored coat and describes the experience of growing up impoverished in a Tennessee mountain community. "Coat of Many Colors" performed by Dolly Parton, from The Best of Dolly Parton (Cat.# RCA 5142-2-R) (c) Velvet Apple Music (p)1990 BMG Music. All rights reserved./UPI/THE BETTMANN ARCHIVE During the first half of the 20th century country music offered few opportunities for women. They were relegated almost entirely to backup musician or minor vocal roles and even these positions often went to women who were married or closely related to another troupe member. Patsy Montana was the first woman to have a commercially successful solo career in country music. Her 1935 recording "I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" became the first country recording by a woman to sell more than 1 million copies and gave women a new, more powerful image in the industry. Kitty Wells gained widespread popularity with her single "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" (1952). The song represented a female response to the "drinkin', cheatin', ramblin'" life commonly glorified in the music of male country singers. It was the first song by a female country singer to hit the top of the Billboard magazine country music charts. Shania Twain Country singer Shania Twain gained success by blending country music with elements of rock and pop music. Her second and third albums, The Woman in Me (1995) and Come on Over (1997), sold millions of copies each. Twain is shown here performing at the 1995 Billboard Music Awards in New York. Jeff Christensen/Reuters/Archive Photos Singer Patsy Cline enjoyed commercial success within both country and popular music. Cultivating a far less domestic image than her predecessors, over her career she moved away from the cowgirl look in her stage clothes and was known for her freewheeling lifestyle and foul language. Major country stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s included Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Dolly Parton, who all wrote or cowrote most of their own songs. The motion picture Coal Miner's Daughter (1980) depicted how Lynn surmounted the extreme poverty of her early life to become the first millionaire among female country artists and the first woman named entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association. The Dixie Chicks With distinctive vocals and an up-tempo sound, the Dixie Chicks had become one of the most popular country music groups by the late 1990s. The group--consisting of, left to right, Emily Robison, Natalie Maines, and Martie Maguire--created a stir in 2003 when one member said she was ashamed to come from the same state as President George W. Bush. The group triumphed in 2007 by winning seven Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year for Taking the Long Way. Fred Prouser/Reuters/Archive Photos Prominent female country singers in the 1970s and 1980s include Tanya Tucker, Emmylou Harris, Crystal Gayle, and Reba McEntire. By the mid-1990s McEntire had crossed another threshold for women in the industry by establishing herself in the managerial, publishing, and recording studio sides of country music. During the 1990s female country stars, generally considered part of new country, included Patty Loveless, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Martina McBride, Wynonna, Shania Twain, and Leann Rimes. In the early years of the 21st century solo artist Lee Ann Womack and the female group the Dixie Chicks were also widely popular country acts. XII CURRENT TRENDS Country music has developed a broad palette of styles and attracted a large mainstream audience by adapting elements of other musical styles. Many country records of the 1990s would have been considered rock or popular music recordings in past years. As in many periods since country music first emerged, in the late 1990s a group of musicians advocated a return to a simple, pared-down country style. This movement, known as Americana, gained exposure through college and public radio stations and live performances across the country. Americana emphasized individual artists who combined singing, songwriting, and musicianship and it encompassed artists who were new to the industry, such as singer and guitarist Robbie Fulks and the band BR5-49, as well as established artists, including Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Nanci Griffith, and Jerry Jeff Walker. An example of this trend was O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), a hugely successful album that featured a rootsy mix of country, bluegrass, folk, gospel, and blues. Artists on the album include Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Ralph Stanley, Norman Blake, and The Whites. The average age of country artists began falling in the mid-1980s, paralleling the rise of music video as an important marketing tool. While still showcasing artists' musical abilities, recording labels often placed equal, if not greater, value on the sex appeal of artists. During the first half of the 1990s, domestic sales of country music tripled in volume. In addition, country music has made important gains overseas, especially in Europe and Australia. Country Music Television (CMT), a 24-hour cable television channel, entered a period of aggressive foreign expansion in the early 1990s and by 1997 was available via satellite or cable nearly everywhere in the world. XIII SOCIAL SIGNIFICANCE Country music tends to mirror the concerns, achievements, and lifestyle of the times, and remains an important form of American cultural expression. Western-style clothing and numerous catch phrases from country songs have found their way into American popular culture. Although country music was born in the politically conservative South, its audience and many of its performers come from all parts of the political spectrum. At times, country songs have stirred controversy by raising troubling issues, such as the treatment of women. Perhaps the most essential quality of country music and the source of its lasting appeal is its simplicity and direct commentary on the everyday problems of its audience. Contributed By: John Lomax Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.