Sunday, December 17, 2006

Brief History of American Country Music

When Ralph Peer signed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family to recording contracts for Victor Records, in August 1, 1927 he may have been unaware of the significance of his action. James Charles Rodgers became the father of country music. By the time the last recording session of the original Carter Family in October 14, 1941, the Family had waxed over 250 of their songs.

Roy Claxton Acuff made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Oprey in 1938 and soon became a regular on the show. He began to appear with his band renamed Smoky Mountain Boys.

During the 30s and 40s Cowboy films were widely popular and the cowboy music written for them took country music in another direction. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry became country music stars. Gene had a hit with the Yellow Rose of Texas The tune was first published in 1853 and became a popular Confederate marching song during the American Civil War.


The Sons of the Pioneers were the foremost vocal and instrumental group in western music and specialized in cowboy songs, setting the standard for every group that has come since. They were also one of the longest surviving country music vocal groups in existence, going into their seventh decade.

Country Swing Music was Saturday night dance music which combined the style of jazz and big band swing and Dixie land with the culture of the Southwest. Musically, it contributed the drums and Hawaiian Steel Guitar to Country Music. Many of Bob Willis’s greatest hits were recorded between 1936 and 1943. They include San Antonio Rose and Take Me Back to Tulsa.

Another strain of Country Music was developed by William Smith (Bill) Monroe who founded Bluegrass. Bill Monroe's best known songs from the period were "Blue Moon of Kentucky." and "I'm Going Back to Old Kentucky."

Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs pioneered a particular type of bluegrass under Bill Monroe's leadership where Scruggs played a "three-finger banjo" technique on the five-string banjo.

Honky Tonk music represented another popular strand of new country music with stars like Hank (Hiram King) Williams and Ernest Dale Tubb enjoying commercial success.

The Nashville Country Sound was a blend of pop and country that developed during the 1950s. The music in this era was an outcropping of the big band jazz and swing of the '30s, '40s and early '50s, combined with the storytelling of honky-tonkers. Stars like Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, & Eddy Arnold emerged at the new order of Nashville.

A retro fashion followed and by the late 60s and 70s there was a resurgence of a more traditional country sound. Charlie Pride, Conway Twittie, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard all come to the fore.

By the 80s the Urban Cowboy movement had taken country music away from its roots towards pop and this was to become the most infamous era. John Travolta's "Urban Cowboy," had attracted a new audience and Dolly Parton's now a movie star and country singer made way for pop crossover so acts like John Conlee, and Dr Hook became legitimate country artists.

The circle was complete with the popularity of Garth Brooks, Leanne Rhimes, George Strait, Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, Randy Travis, and Ricky Van Shelton because they brought country out of its post-Urban Cowboy doldrums and returned country music to its roots.

Worth a listen:

Roy Claxton Acuff
Wabash Cannonball (1936)
Wreck on the Highway (1942)
The Precious Jewel

Gene Autry
Yellow Rose of Texas (1933)
Mexicali Rose (1936)
Back In The Saddle Again (1939)
You Are My Sunshine (1941)

Bob Willis
San Antonio Rose
Take Me Back to Tulsa

William Smith (Bill) Monroe
Blue Moon of Kentucky
I'm Going Back to Old Kentucky

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