Origin, history and background information
Country music is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, blues, gospel music, hokum, and old-time music and evolved rapidly in the 1920s. The term country music began to be used in the 1940s when the earlier term hillbilly music was deemed to be degrading, and the term was widely embraced in the 1970s, while country and western has declined in use since that time, except in the United Kingdom, where it is still commonly used.
Country music has produced two of the top selling solo artists of all time. Elvis Presley, who was known early on as “The Hillbilly Cat” and was a regular on the radio program Louisiana Hayride, went on to become a defining figure in the emerging genre of rock 'n roll. Garth Brooks is one of the top-selling country artists of all time, and except for a short foray into non-country in the late 1990s, has remained in that genre.
The term "country music" is used to describe many styles, genres, or subgenres.
Immigrants to the Southern Appalachian Mountains of North America brought instruments along with them for nearly 300 years. The Scottish and Irish fiddle styles, the German-derived dulcimer, the Italian mandolin, the Spanish guitar, and the African banjo were the most common instruments.
Throughout the nineteenth century, several immigrant groups from Central Europe and the British Isles moved to Texas. These groups interacted with the Spanish, Mexican, Native American, and U.S. communities that were already established in Texas. As a result of this cohabitation and extended contact, Texas has developed unique cultural traits that are rooted in the culture of all of its founding communities. The settlers from the areas now known as Germany and the Czech Republic established large dance halls in Texas where farmers and townspeople from neighboring communities could gather, dance, and spend a night enjoying each other’s company. The music at these halls, brought from Europe, included the waltz and the polka, played on an accordion, an instrument invented in Italy, which was loud enough to fill the entire dance hall.
Singing Cowboys, Western Swing, and Hillbilly Boogie
During the 1930s and 1940s Cowboy songs, or "Western music", which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. Some of the popular singing cowboys from the era were, Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers, and Roy Rogers.
Country musicians began playing 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 around late 1945.
Beginning in the mid 50's, and reaching its peak during the early 1960s, the "Nashville Sound" turned country music into a multimillion-dollar industry centered on Nashville, Tennessee. Under the direction of producers such as Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, and later Billy Sherrill, the "Nashville sound" brought country music to a diverse audience and helped revive country as it emerged from a commercially fallow period.
1956 could be called the year of rockabilly in country music. The number 2, 3, and 4 songs on Billboard's charts for that year are: Elvis Presley "Heartbreak Hotel", Johnny Cash "I Walk the Line", and Carl Perkins "Blue Suede Shoes".
What is now most commonly referred to as rockabilly was most popular with country music fans in the 1950s, and was recorded and performed by country musicians. Within a few years many rockabilly musicians returned to a more mainstrean style, or had defined their own unique style.
Located 112 miles (180 km) north north west of Los Angeles, Bakersfield, California gave rise to one of the next genres of country music. The Bakersfield Sound grew out of hardcore honky tonk, adding elements of Western swing. One-time West Coast residents Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell influenced the leading proponents of this sound. The Bakersfield Sound relied on electric instruments and amplification more than other subgenres of country, giving the music a hard, driving, edgy flavor.
Derived from the traditional and Honky tonk sounds of the late 50's and 60's, including Ray Price (whose band, the "Cherokee Cowboys", included Willie Nelson and Roger Miller) and mixed with the anger of an alienated subculture of the nation during the period, outlaw country revolutionized the genre of Country music.
The late 1960's in American music produced a unique blend as a result of traditionalist backlash within separate genres. In the aftermath of the British Invasion, many desired a return to the "old values" of Rock n' Roll. At the same time there was a lack of enthusiasm in the Country sector for Nashville-produced music. What resulted was a crossbred genre known as Country Rock.
Country Pop or soft pop, with roots in both the countrypolitan sound and in soft rock, is a subgenre of country music that first emerged in the 1970s. Although the term first referred to country music songs and artists that crossed over to top 40 radio, country pop acts are now more likely to cross over to adult contemporary.
Country pop found its first widespread acceptance during the 1970s. It started with Pop music singers, like Glen Campbell, John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, and Anne Murray having hits on the Country charts. Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" was among one of the biggest crossover hits in Country music history. These Pop-oriented singers thought that they could gain higher record sales and a larger audience if they crossed over into the Country world.
In 1974 Olivia Newton-John, an Australian pop singer, won the "Best Female Country Vocal Performance" as well as the Country Music Association's most coveted award for females, "Female Vocalist of the Year". In the same year, a group of artists, troubled by this trend, formed the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers. The debate raged into 1975, and reached its apex at that year's Country Music Association Awards when reigning Entertainer of the Year, Charlie Rich (who himself had a series of crossover hits), presented the award to his successor, John Denver. As he read Denver's name, Rich set fire to the envelope with a cigarette lighter. The action was taken as a protest against the increasing pop style in country music.
The Urban Cowboy Effect
The most infamous era in country music was in the early '80s. Influenced by both Country Rock and Country Pop, the Urban Cowboy movement led country music further away from its traditional roots. Country's move toward pop culture was popularized by John Travolta's Urban Cowboy and spurred on by Dolly Parton's movie 9 to 5. Some older artists from the 1960s and 1970s converted their sound to country pop or countrypolitan, such as Faron Young, Dolly Parton, Dottie West, and Ray Price.
After the dismal failure of the Urban Cowboy era, a generation of "new traditionalists" – George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, Randy Travis, and Ricky Van Shelton – brought country out of its post-Urban Cowboy doldrums by reminding young audiences what made the music great in the first place.
In the mid 1990s country western music was influenced by the popularity of line dancing. This influence was so great that Chet Atkins was quoted as saying "The music has gotten pretty bad, I think. It's all that damn line dancing." By the end of the decade, however, at least one line dance choreographer complained that good country line dance music was no longer being released.
In the 1990s a new form of country music emerged, called by some alternative country, neotraditional, or "insurgent country". Performed by generally younger musicians and inspired by traditional country performers and the country reactionaries, it shunned the Nashville-dominated sound of mainstream country.
One infrequent, but consistent theme in country music is that of proud, stubborn independence. "Country Boy Can Survive" and "Copperhead Road" are two of the more serious songs along those lines; while "Some Girls Do" and "Redneck Woman" are more light-hearted variations on the theme.