Friday, January 9, 2015

Country for Outsiders

When I watched the recent HBO show Sonic Highways about the Foo Fighters album of the same name, an idea came up.  Nobody talks about what country acts may be interesting to folks who are not traditionally Country music fans. Many of the acts that the show brought up were those who bucked the Nashville system or sound.  The way Nashville makes music is singers sing, writers write and musicians play.  The iconoclasts are the folks that many non-Country listeners may enjoy.  Typical groups of Country iconoclasts are the Outlaw Country Movement, the Country Rock Movement and Southern Rock.

The Outlaw Country Movement is full of Country musicians that many feel refused to play Nashville’s game.  Hank Williams, Sr. was one of these people, He was initially rejected in 1946 to join the Grand Ole Opry and then joined in 1949 only to be dismissed in 1952 based on his behavior.  His son and grandson have followed in his footsteps.  Johnny Cash was another who did not fit the mold.  He, like Williams, wrote his own songs.  He also started as a Rockabilly act. What became the Outlaw Country movement started in the early Seventies with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Both had limited success in Nashville in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  When they move to Texas and recorded their albums their way, they saw increasing success. That led to others following in their footsteps.

Here is a list of Outlaw Country Artists you may enjoy.  This is by no mean a complete list, it is based on my personal tastes as will be all the lists in this article.  I am not going to breakdown these artists because there are too many:  Hank Williams, Hank Williams, Jr., Hank Williams III, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Bare, Sr., Bobby Bare, Jr., David Allen Coe, Steve Earle, Tompall Glaser, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Leon Russell, Ray Scott, Billie Joe Shaver, Jessi Colter, Sammi Smith, Tanya Tucker, B.W. Stevenson, Townes Van Zandt, and Lucinda Williams.

Another Movement some consider part of the Outlaw Country movement is the Bakersfield Sound.  This was a movement to counter the Nashville sound of the 1960’s.  It was developed in Honky-Tonk Bars.  It was part of the movement of people from the dust bowl area in the 1930’s to California.  Most of these folks were from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and other parts of the South.  This movement also had a big impact of the future Country Rock and Southern Rock Movements as well.  The biggest artists from this were Buck Owens, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard and the Strangers, and Dwight Yoakam.

In Nashville there were artists who did not let the Nashville system change the way they did things.  They refused to sign away song publishing rights.  They some fought to regain their rights when the system wanted to chew them up and spit them out.  Among these are Dolly Parton, George Jones, Zac Brown Band, Dixie Chicks, Trace Adkins, and Toby Keith.  Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks have their detractors based on their personal politics. 

Then there are those that began their careers as Outsiders to the Country music scene and machine.  Kenny Rogers came from Rockabilly, Jazz and Folk then Acid Rock with his band First Edition.   Rogers started taking the band in a Country Music direction then he left in 1974.  Many Traditional Country acts with strong roots in the Country Music industry were very chilly towards Mr. Rogers.  Rogers was also known to use record producers from Pop and R&B, which also did not help his relationship with the Country Music Establishment. 

John Denver came to Country Music from Folk and Pop Music.  He became a Country Juggernaut, but still was thought of as an Outsider by many long existing acts.  The most famous is the 1975 CMAs and Charlie Rich’s behavior when John Denver was revealed as the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year for 1975.  Similar behavior occurred the year before when Olivia-Newton John was announced the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the year in 1974.  In the 1970’s there was a movement of Pop and Rock acts moving into Country.  This did not sit well with those who were part of the Machine.

Eddie Rabbitt was also viewed as an Outsider for being originally from Brooklyn, New York.  Rabbitt was embraced by the Country Establishment, but ran afoul in the early-1980s, because he was a huge crossover act.  Crossover acts are people who come from a distinct musical genre or style, but also have a good deal of success as a Popular Music artist.  Rabbit, like Rogers and Denver, had been a Crossover act.  Many of the Country Music Establishment had not been able to be successful outside of Country Music.  Part of the issue was jealousy.

The Country Rock Movement came in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s.  Many rock acts were going back to the roots of American Music.  Some went back to the Blues, others went back to Country and Bluegrass. Some like Gram Parson and Emmylou Harris transitioned into becoming full on Country acts.  A majority of them started with in Folk or Folk Rock traditions.  Here is a list of many acts considered part of this movement: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Mike Nesmith, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dr. Hook, Firefall, Flying Burrito Brothers, J.D. Souther, Little Feat, Poco, Canned Heat, and Neil Young.

The Southern Rock Movement started in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s.  Its influences were a merging of Country with Blues, where as Country Rock had more Folky roots.  Southern Rock owed also a great deal to Rockabilly from the 1950’s as well.  Soutnern Rock also was know to have a hard Rock bent to it as well. Bands like the Allman Brothers Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top blaze this path for future acts.   Here are the notable Southern Rock Acts including folks doing their modern idea of it today:  the Allman Brothers Band, Alabama, Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Avett Brothers, Band of Horses, Barefoot Jerry, Big and Rich, Billy Swan, the Black Crowes, Black Oak Arkansas, Blackfoot, Blitzen Trapper, the Charlie Daniels Band and Charlie Daniels, Dickey Betts, Doobie Brothers, Elvin Bishop, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Georgia Satellites,  Gregg Allman, Gov’t Mule, J.J. Cale, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, Mountain, Outlaws, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, the Pure Prairie League, Reverend Horton Heat, Ram Jam, Rossington-Collins Band, Shooter Jennings, Social Distortion, Steve Miller Band, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Ted Nugent, Tony Joe White, Tom Petty, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker, Van Zandt, .38 Special, Wet Willie, Southern Culture on the Skids,  and ZZ Top. 

There is another movement in Country, I am not very familiar but is important to mention.  It is the Alt Country Movement which is also known as Americana and Alternative Country.  Some of the bands already listed are considered part of this movement too. It is considered a fusion of Country with a Punk ethos, by some.  It started in the 1990’s as an alternative to the Mainstream Country Machine. Some of the most common band ascribed to this movement are Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Justin Townes Earle, Son Volt, Bottle Rockets,  and Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers.  I cannot vouch for these acts as I am familiar with them by name but not by their music.

Some bands were on several of these lists.  I put them where I felt they fit best.  Like stated before these are not definitive lists they are ideas to help you figure out what you like.  In my experience some of these acts are not strictly Country or Rock.  Depending on who you talk to they may switch columns or be considered both. This has been My Not So Humble Opinion. 

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