Country AND Western
Once upon a time in the West, good guys wore white hats, bad guys wore black hats, and the singing cowboys made it all rhyme.
Jimmie Rodgers had used "western" themes in his songs, and the American West was very popular in folklore, novels, art, and even Vaudeville and other traveling performance troups.
Have you ever heard of Will Rogers?
He was the John Stewart of his day. But not only a political humorist, he was a syndicated columnist, author, speaker, movie star, movie producer, Wild West Show performer, and radio host. He was famous for the rope tricks he would do while poking jabs at the political scene. He was a popular icon and often quoted.
He "discovered" the singer that would be known as Americas Number 1 Singing Cowboy
Gene Autry (1907-1998)
America's Number One Singing Cowboy
"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" listen
"South of the Border" listen
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" listen
This was Autry's biggest hit, although he didn't really want to record it.
Remember that crossover concept?
Gene Autry in Action (Special effects have come a long way since then!!)
Roy Rogers (1911-1998)
His real name was Leonard Slye but he became known as
King of the Cowboys
"It's Home Sweet Home to Me" watch
all the good cowboy singers knew how to yodel!
He was originally a member of a group called Sons of the Pioneers.
Their sound is an example of "cowboy harmony"
"Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" listen
Singing Cowboys were marketed extensively and when they started to make movies, their music had an even wider audience!
Two popular styles of music emerged from this emphasis on Western music: Western Swing and Honky Tonk
Western Swing was the country version of the Swing Era.
A Western Swing Band was sort of a cross between a Big Band and a hoedown band.
Bob Wills (1905-1973)
The driving force behind Western Swing
He formed the most famous of the Western Swing groups:
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
"New San Antonio Rose" listen
"Ida Red" watchDo you notice the jazz and blues influence on the music?
This music was named after the small Texas bars called honky-tonks or "beer joints". These drinking/dancing taverns were very popular in the South after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The music was louder in order to be heard in the bars (plugged in instead of acoustic) and the subjects were tougher - drinking, divorce, infidelity, prison, loneliness. The frankness of these lyrics reminds you more of the blues than of the Western music that came before!
Ernest Tubb (1914-1984)
The first great honky tonk singer
"Walking the Floor Over You" listen
Lefty Frizzell (1928-1975)
"She's Gone, Gone, Gone" watch
The biggest honky tonk star was Hank Williams. However, he spilled over into other styles also. At the time of his very early death (he was only 29), he was the most successful country music artist. From the time of his first recording in 1947 to his death in 1953 was only 6 years. But he made a HUGE impact on country music. He was the first big Nashville star.
Hank Williams (1923-1953)
Country Music's First Cult Figure
"Lovesick Blues" listen
"Your Cheatin' Heart" listen
Hank's signature style included what is referred to as the "cry" in his voice. Listen for the way his voice breaks as in a yodel. That style is still a staple of country music singers.
"Honky Tonk Blues" watch
BTW, how do you get to be a cult figure??
The Bakersfield Sound was an electric version of Country Music developed in the mid to late 50s in the area of Bakersfield, California.
This style was a reaction against the studio productions and orchestrations coming from Nashville at the time. It incorporated some of the elements of rock and roll, which was also becoming popular at the time.
The two most popular acts from Bakersfield were
Buck Owens and the Buckaroos
Merle Haggard and the Strangers
Merle Haggard and Buck Owens talk about the Bakersfield experience. Watch.
Some call it "Progressive Country"
There is an inevitability in our popular music of a reaction against the establishment.
When a popular style loses all of its rough edges, there are always those who seek to put it back or look for it elsewhere.
Such was Outlaw Country.
Willie Nelson was a songwriter in Nashville, but didn't find much success as a singer until he relocated to Austin, Texas.
Waylon Jennings had been a DJ and a singer in Texas
(he actually played with Buddy Holly).
Willie and Waylon were both from Texas.
Fed up with the commercialism of the Nashville machine, they decided to go their own way.
Their Wanted! The Outlaws album was the first country album to sell a million copies.
"Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" listen
Waylon actually stuck pretty close to Nashville, but the rebel, nonconformist image of Outlaw Country became very popular and even drew in a younger crossover audience from rock & roll.
Other Outlaw Country performers:
Johnny Cash (thrown in jail 7 times for misdemeanors, but never went to prison although he performed many concerts for prisoners)
David Allan Coe (actually served a prison term for murder)
Kris Kristofferson (he was a Rhodes scholar and helicopter pilot early in his life, but performed with and wrote songs for these guys)
Hank Williams, Jr. (no prison time either, but broke away from his father's style by adding rock elements)
Johnny Paycheck (also did prison time for shooting a man, but just grazed him)
Kinky Friedman (didn't he run for governor? - maybe that should be a crime )
Created and maintained by Vicky V. Johnson