The History Of Country Music

A look at the history of country music, and the artists who paved the road for the superstars of the industry today.

One of the most popular forms of contemporary music is country music, which found its humble beginnings in the early 1920s when folk music was taken one step further. Those who claimed fame, (mostly from the Appalachians) for having introduced folk music to the nation were now in the first quarter of the twentieth century introducing a slightly more sophisticated styling of the "˜hillbilly' sound already made popular.


In the eighty plus years of country music history, its sound and style has changed dramatically, at least in some respects. In its earliest years, it was the honky-tonk sound from the likes of Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams that made up the genre of country music. Roadside pubs and meeting houses throughout Oklahoma and Texas were packed every Friday and Saturday evening with fans and curiosity seekers alike, anxious to listen to the fast-rising sounds of steel guitars and drums. Those pubs were popular though for more than just the latest craze in American music---the repeal of prohibition in 1933 also relaxed the minds of many when it came to public drinking; now the audiences could enjoy their favorite music and alcoholic beverages at the same time.

Although Tubb and Williams had their share of popularity with the honky-tonk sound, it was Al Dexter who cut the first record with the actual words "˜honky-tonk' in 1936. Tubb's single, "˜Walking the Floor Over You,' released in 1941, would go on to sell more than one million copies""--quite a feat in any form of music. "˜Your Cheatin' Heart,' cut by Williams in 1953, is perhaps one of the best-known records of the honky-tonk era. It was not his only hit though; in his lifetime Williams recorded more than one hundred songs.


Another form of the country music style is known as western-country. While honky-tonks were filled with its fans, theatres were filled with fans of the cowboy songs made popular, again, in Texas and Oklahoma. The often-romanticized life of the cowboy, heroic but lonely, drifting, fit in perfectly with this style of music that took its sound from the hills of Tennessee and the bayous of Louisiana. More often than not at least one part of the western song would include a lonesome whistle from the flute or other mellow-sounding wind instrument. The lyrics to the western sound centered directly on the pains and sorrows of life on the western frontier.

Some of those famous for this western style were Gene Autry, America's singing cowboy, and Roy Rogers, who later teamed with wife Dale Evans to become a famous due of the genre. Rogers also had been a part of The Sons of the Pioneers, a band that brought the frontier sound to over 80 westerns between 1935-1948.


Country music morphed once again in the early 1950s with a sound that became known as rockabilly""a mix of the southern hills music and the blues. This sound was made popular by many performers who developed staying power in the country music industry. They include the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Carl Perkins, and, of course, the king himself""Elvis Presley.

With its faster paced sound and constant rhythm, this form of country quickly worked its way up the record charts as Americans, too, found themselves living a lifestyle that was a much quicker pace than the generation of their parents.


It's in this town in the state of Tennessee that country music found its permanent home. It's here that the sound of country and all its variations have been produced, since 1925 when Nashville Barn Dance was established. By 1935, when it became known as the Grand Ole Opry, national broadcasting had begun---soon after saw a huge influx of country-star wanna-bes drawing to Nashville in hopes of a chance of making the big time.

The first of those who flocked to Nashville were, among others, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, and Kitty Wells, otherwise known as the Queen of country music. By the 1960s, those and others had a new sound created for their vocal talents""Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins molded these performers into what became known as the Nashville sound.

This was most definitely the sound of country, but as stated earlier, this form of music has changed dramatically""--the sixties saw more than steel guitars and drums in the Nashville sound. Now complete orchestras were brought in to add a lushness, or softness, to the country sound. Now, too, the ever popular use of synthesizers, studio effects, and over-dubbing were used to create a rich, full sound that no steel guitar and drum-set could ever hope to create. This era of country was the beginning of the age of contemporary country music.

It was this sound, made popular in the sixties and seventies, that would enable artists from many different walks to join in the folds of the country music industry. Cross-overs from the pop genre included Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty---all had great success when they recorded in the new style of the Nashville sound.

Today country music is perhaps at its highest peak of popularity""the road to success paved by Cline, Tubbs, Williams, Wells, and others is now treaded upon by mega-stars like Garth Brooks, the team of Brooks and Dunn, Reba McIntire, Vince Gill, and dozens of others who are quoted with their thanks and gratitude to the pioneers of the sound of country music.

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