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Timeline of Country Music


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Country Music Professor

Country Music Professor

    Music Lover

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Before I start posting about songs, albums and videos how about an introduction to country music?

 

Humble Beginnings (1920s)

It started in the southern United States in the early 1920s, we got our very first commercial song featuring lyrics in June of 1923, that song was Little Log Cabin in the Lane by Fiddlin' John Carson.

The first nationwide hit was a song called Wreck of the Old 97 by Vernon Dalhart which came out in May of 1924. In April of 1924, Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis became the first female musicians to record and release country music. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered important early country musicians, they recorded songs in Bristol, TN in August of 1927. Jimmie Rodgers was able to fuse "hillbilly" country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy and folk music all in one, his song Blue Yodel sold over a million records and made Rodgers the premier country singer of that time frame.

 

Country Music in the 1930s-1940s

During the Great Depression, record sales were down but radio shows were alive and well, the most important country radio show that really got country stars noticed (and still does today) is the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is where artists like Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and DeFord Bailey got their starts. During the 30s and 40s the most prolific songwriter was Jenny Lou Carson, her first #1 hit came in 1949 and was a song called Don't Rob Another Man's Castle. Also during the 40s we were introduced to Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers and Roy Rogers which is how we got our introduction to "singing cowboys". Patsy Montana also opened the door for female country musicians to have successful solo careers. We also got introduced to Western Swing music, made popular by Bob Wills. In 1938, Bob Wills was the first country musician to add an electric guitarist to his band. In 1948, Arthur Smith had a country/pop crossover Top 10 hit in Guitar Boogie. In 1939 Johnny Barfield recorded Boogie Woogie at Carnegie Hall. In late 1945, The Delmore Brothers released a widely popular country boogie song called Freight Train Boogie. The country boogie period lasted into the 1950s and is still one of the many subgenres in country music today. By the end of World War II, we got introduced to Bluegrass music. The biggest country star following World War II was Red Foley.

In 1944, Billboard replaced the term "hillbilly" with "folk songs and blues" and by 1949 to "country" or "country and Western". Also in this era we got introduced to the likes of Al Dexter, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells, Ted Daffan, Floyd Tillman, The Maddox Brothers and Rose, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams. Williams, Frizzell and Maddox Brothers and Rose went on to be called "traditional country". George Jones was also a rising star during this time.

 

Country Music in the 50s-60s

Webb Pierce was the top-charting country artist during this period, with 13 of his singles speeding 113 weeks at #1. During this decade Pierce charted 48 singles; 31 reached the top 10 and 26 reached the top 4. Also during the 50s, we got introduced to Rockabilly music. The number 2, 3 and 4 spots on the Billboard charts for 1956 were Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel, Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line and Carl Perkins' Blue Suede Shoes. Country music also saw the emergence of Buddy Holly, Ray Price, Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton by the mid-50s.

From the mid 50s to the early 60s, we saw chart toppers such as Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard dominate country music. 1962 saw Ray Charles turn from pop to country and release I Can't Stop Loving You, which topped both pop and country charts for that year. In 1966 we got what was referred to as the Bakersfield sound, which relied on electric instruments and amplification. By the late 60s, western music was on the decline. The only big names who were still relevant by the late 60s were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.

 

Outlaw Country (70s Country)

We saw what is now referred to as Outlaw country come out in the 70s, the term was actually coined by Willie Nelson who said "After I left Nashville, I wanted to relax and play the music that I wanted to play and just stay around Texas, maybe Oklahoma. Waylon (Jennings) and I had that outlaw image going, and when it caught on at colleges and we started selling records, we were O.K. The whole outlaw thing, it had nothing to do with the music, it was something that got written in an article, and the young people said, 'Well, that's pretty cool.' And started listening." A few notable outlaw country artists were Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Tanya Tucker and Rosanne Cash.

We also had the introduction of pop country, country rock and neotraditional country by the 80s.

 

90s Country

We saw females dominating country throughout most of the 90s, with Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless and Lorrie Morgan leading the charge. We also saw the rise and subsequent fall of The Dixie Chicks after comments made by lead singer Natalie Maines in 2003 on then-President George W. Bush. Shania Twain became the best selling female artist of the 90s, her sophomore album The Woman in Me was certified 12x Platinum and sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

We also got introduced to alt-country, which say the combination of punk, alternative rock and country music. A few notable acts during this were Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett and Steve Earle.

 

Modern Country

We saw plenty of country and pop crossovers during the beginning of this era, Bon Jovi with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles "Who Says You Can't Go Home" and Kid Rock with Sheryl Crow's "Picture" being the most notable until Nelly & Tim McGraw's "Over and Over". In 2005, Carrie Underwood burst onto the scene after winning the 4th season of American Idol. We also saw reality show winners such as Kellie Pickler, Scotty McCreery and Kelly Clarkson, all from American Idol, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Young from Nashville Star. Can You Duet? launched the careers of Steel Magnolia and Joey + Rory. We also saw the rise of Miley Cyrus (yes she started out as a country singer), Jana Kramer who was an actress on One Tree Hill and Hayden Panettiere as country singers. Taylor Swift was one of the most popular country music stars in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Her debut song "Tim McGraw" was released when she was only 16. Swift's debut album spent 275 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 Albums.

 

Bro Country

In the early 2010s we saw the emergence of "bro country", which we saw Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line really shine in. In 2014, Maddie & Tae released "Girl in a Country Song" which addressed many of the themes of bro country, which those themes are mostly drinking, partying, girls and pickup trucks.

 

 

My Thoughts

We've seen country all over the place within the last 20 years, going from love songs, to songs about the 9/11 attacks, to bro country. Country music may not be everybody's favorite, but it is mine and going on this journey and doing all this research on the different eras gave me a new respect for country music now and where it was when it first started.


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