Country music

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History of Country Music
1922 First recordings
1924 Vernon Dalhart has a number one hit with The Prisoner's Song
Nov. 1925 The Grand Ole Opry Show goes on air for the first time
Aug 1927 The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers , the first big stars, are discovered
1929 The first Singing Cowboys appear in the film
around 1934 Bob Wills records the first western swing track
around 1935 The Honky Tonk is made in Texas
1940 Bill Monroe develops the bluegrass
June 1949 Hank Williams sings for the first time in the Grand Ole Opry
1953 Rockabilly is born in Memphis , Tennessee
around 1955 In response to the Rock 'n' Roll is Nashville Sound created
around 1968 Country rock developed from California
from 1970 The outlaw movement dominates
from 1980 Urban Cowboy - Country music is approaching pop music
from 1985 The neo-traditionalists are initiating a countermovement
since 1990 With New Country high sales figures are achieved and the Alternative Country combines the lifestyle of a punk-influenced generation with country traditions

Country music , also called country [ ˈkʌntri ] for short , is a genre of music from the USA that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century from traditional elements of folk music from European immigrant peoples - especially from Ireland and England . Originally at home in the southern Appalachians, old-time music developed through urban influences and the adoption of elements from other music genres - such as the blues - into country music.

The term Country & Western or C&W, which is often used as a synonym, is misleading as it suggests that this is a uniform genre . The term goes back to a chart designation under which the American Billboard Magazine listed titles from the genres of country and western music together in the 1940s .

The history of country music is shaped by three intersecting movements:

  • The traditionalists advocate a return to the original textual and musical themes.
  • The innovators are experimenting with new styles, forms of expression and instruments.
  • Those who are business- minded seek proximity to pop music in order to appeal to the largest possible audience.

A typical characteristic of country music are direct texts, which often relate to American living conditions, describe personal experiences, comment on current events and are often humorous.

In traditional country, string instruments such as the guitar , banjo , mandolin , double bass or fiddle (a simple violin ), but also accordion , piano and harmonica are used. In contemporary country, drums as well as electric guitar and bass are added, based on the instrumentation of rock music .


Country music can be divided into styles, some of which have been current for many decades, while others have only regional, ethnic or temporary significance. The original country music before 1920 is called old-time or hillbilly music , the music that dominated in the 1990s is called new country .

The main styles

The bluegrass is mainly played with acoustic instruments in 2/4 time. Characteristic are the virtuosity of the musicians, the polyphonic vocals and the fast instrumental pieces. The typical instrumentation of this direction consists of fiddle , banjo , mandolin , double bass and western guitar . The original home of bluegrass is the Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern United States, Kentucky has long been an important center. Bluegrass is still often referred to as “mountain music” or “old-time music”, although this term refers more to the traditional folk music of the Appalachians, from which bluegrass emerged.
The common name goes back to the Blue Grass Boys , the band of Bill Monroe , who are considered to be the veterans of commercial bluegrass music. Other bluegrass musicians who shaped the style of the early years were banjo players Don Reno , The Stanley Brothers , Bobby and Sonny Osborne , Jim and Jesse McReynolds and bands like Hylo Brown and The Timberliners . From the bluegrass the Newgrass developed in the 1960s, which also adopted modern style elements and caused a sensation with the group New Grass Revival during the 1980s. Representatives of today's bluegrass are, for example, Alison Krauss , Sam Bush , Tim O'Brien , Ricky Skaggs , Rhonda Vincent and Del McCoury. Bluegrass is still very popular and commercially successful in the USA. Bluegrass motifs are ubiquitous in modern country music, a case in point being the older works of the Dixie Chicks .
Honky Tonk
The honky tonk (colloquial for pub, bar) was created in the clubs and dance halls around the Texan oil fields. In many places it was so loud that the instruments had to be amplified electrically and drums were indispensable. Usually simple and slow 2/4 bars are played, which get the typical groove through a special timing. The texts deal with everyday problems and are unaffected and direct. They have little in common with the folklore and homeland-related content of traditional country music. Later the honky tonk music became the epitome of the mood music of the southern states , in which almost everything revolves around “beer, women and song”.
As a style of neo-traditional country music, the honky tonk is still of elementary importance and exemplary for country music in Texas and Oklahoma. He was shaped, for example, by Hank Williams Sr. , Bob Wills and Merle Haggard . Instrumentally, it is characterized by fiddles , honky-tonk pianos and a wide range of guitars ( electric basses , electric slide and pedal steel guitars , and occasionally Dobros ). The honky tonk style is represented by almost all neo-traditionalists, for example David Ball , David Lee Murphy , Jeff Carson , Mark Chesnutt , Tracy Byrd or George Strait .
Dolly Parton
Nashville Sound
From the mid-1950s, country music dramatically lost ground to rock 'n' roll. Influential producers - notably Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley - then began smoothing out the raw music to make it accessible to a wider audience. The result was a softer sound, often enhanced by background choirs. Classical country instruments such as the fiddle or pedal steel guitar were rarely used. While traditionalists still prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s, country pop took over in the mid-1970s and helped the Nashville sound to break through. Many traditionalists like George Jones or Loretta Lynn adapted to the new environment. On the other hand, many artists later switched to the neo-traditionalist boom, including Ricky Van Shelton , Steve Wariner , Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers . The urban cowboy wave was characterized by melodious country pop with a Nashville sound, strings and the use of synthesizers.
Western swing
The western swing was developed by Bob Wills and Milton Brown in the 1930s . It essentially consists of a combination of traditional Texan music with elements of the blues and various varieties of jazz and has been influenced by other styles in the course of its development. Its characteristic feature is the combination of actually more urban big bands or their typical sound and the more rural cowboy image. This created lively, danceable music that was particularly popular in the large dance halls of Texas and Oklahoma . Western swing was one of the more important styles of country music, but has lost its importance since the late 1940s. Modern representatives of Western Swing include Asleep at the Wheel , Prairie Oyster and Hot Club Of Cowtown.
Americana is primarily understood to be socially critical music by American singer-songwriters based on American folk motifs, some of which have enjoyed commercial success. Unlike the traditional folk of British-Irish origin, which is even more firmly rooted in the north-west of the USA, Americana shows strong influences from rock and southern music. Many artists in this scene rank themselves among the country singers, some released thoroughbred country albums again and again. The latter include Emmylou Harris , Rodney Crowell , Mary Chapin Carpenter and Kelly Willis , among others . Typical songwriters are Nanci Griffith , Rosi Flores , Shawn Mullins , Delbert McClinton and Joe Ely . Americana is also known as Alternative Country or Roots Rock .

Regional styles and fashion trends

Bakersfield Sound
In the early 1960s , a variant of country music based on rockabilly and honky tonk emerged in Bakersfield, California , in which electrically amplified instruments predominated for the first time. Compared to the soft Nashville sound, the guitars sounded hard and high-pitched. The arrangements were easier. The Bakersfield sound was shaped by artists such as Buck Owens or Merle Haggard and, from the mid-1980s, by Dwight Yoakam .
Tex Fletcher
Western Music
Cowboy or Western Music is a genre of music that - romantically transfigured - has the conquest of the American West and the life of the cowboys as its content. It had its peak during the 1930s and 1940s; well-known representatives were Roy Rogers , Gene Autry , Tex Ritter , Tex Fletcher and The Sons of the Pioneers . Typical of Western music is the accordion, along with the guitar and fiddle, and often polyphonic harmony singing. In cowboy music, the vastness of the landscape and everyday life on the prairie, especially the bond with the horses, are sung about. The melodious, often languishing ballads had a strong stylistic effect on western swing.
A specialty of cowboy music is " blue yodeling ", an American variant of yodelling . Some of the most important contemporary interpreters are Michael Martin Murphey , Riders in the Sky or Sons of the San Joaquin . Western music has rubbed off on other styles in all epochs: For example, the music of interpreters such as Jimmie Rodgers and later Marty Robbins was partly heavily inspired by cowboy music. The image of country music was largely shaped by Western music: even representatives of the New Country generation, who have little to do with the topic in terms of content, appear in cowboy outfits.
Neo-traditionalism emerged in the mid-1980s as a response to the loss of identity in country music caused by pop influences. A small group of performers around George Strait , Randy Travis , Clint Black , Keith Whitley , John Anderson and Ricky Skaggs released albums with traditional music, triggering a trend that lasted until the late 1990s and dominated the charts for many years. Star performers who were successful in the 1990s such as Garth Brooks , Alan Jackson and Tracy Lawrence are typical representatives of the New Traditionalist Movement , who prepared traditional country music in a modern way and enriched it with rock and blues elements.
After a very feminine pop trend around the turn of the millennium, the neo-traditionalists are generally well represented in the charts again, for example with the Dixie Chicks , who have turned more towards the rock-pop area since 2006, Toby Keith and Josh Turner , Billy Currington , Trace Adkins , Dierks Bentley, and Brooks & Dunn . The neo-traditionalists are strongly influenced by the music of the southern states such as Texas Music, Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, Southern Rock but also bluegrass.
Willie Nelson
By the early 1960s, producers in Nashville had grown in power. The actual performers had little influence on the musical design and choice of songs. Some stars, above all Waylon Jennings , Willie Nelson , Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson - also known as The Highwaymen - then began to produce their own records. More and more musicians joined in and the outlaw movement dominated the scene.
Edgy, rocky titles, idiosyncratic lyrics and often rough voices have predominated since the 1980s. Typical representatives are Hank Williams, Jr. , David Allan Coe , Steve Earle, and Charlie Daniels . They are all considered the pioneers of modern country rock and are assigned to the tradition-steeped southern rock scene, which is close to the roots of rock music in the run-up to country music ( roots rock , traditional blues and rock 'n' roll ) and in which bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or performers like John Fogerty make music.
Rockabilly was the first all-white variety of rock 'n' roll and was created when young white musicians interpreted black rhythm & blues and mixed them with country elements. The boom in this music was limited to the American southern states and to the period between 1954 and 1957. Features are an economical line-up with a double bass that is played percussive, electric lead guitar and nervous "hiccups". A tape echo is often used, which gives the rockabilly a "bubbling groove". Typical representatives of this style were the early Elvis Presley , Carl Perkins , Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent .
Country rock
Country rock combines the aforementioned genres of outlaw and southern rock with rockabilly and traditional blues. It differs from pure roots rock only in the musical preparation such as smooth sound, catchy rhythms and the integration of typical country instruments such as fiddles and steel guitars in addition to various electric guitars . Rock was able to hold its own in the modern line dance scene, which is in close contact with the country mainstream; The neo-traditional honky tonk was also partly influenced by country rock. Well-known artists are for example Alabama , Linda Ronstadt or The Byrds .
The modern country music ( New Country ) of the hit parades is partly heavily enriched with rock elements. Examples are Keith Urban , Brooks & Dunn or Lonestar . In addition to the performers already mentioned under Outlaw and Rockabilly , bands such as the Eagles , the Dire Straits or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which is strongly influenced by Southern Rock , move in the area of ​​country rock .
Representatives of the more sedate country blues are Travis Tritt , Lee Roy Parnell and Wynonna Judd , who emerged from the country duo The Judds .
Widespread in the US in the Southwest and Texas. Also known as Norteño or Tejano. The bands mainly use three-row accordions and "Bajo-Sextos", as the 6-string bass is called. In the USA there are a number of well-known Tex-Mex stars such as Freddy Fender, Flaco Jiménez and his brother, Santiago Jiménez, Janie C. Ramírez and many others, predominantly groups known as conjuntos. The music consists mainly of ballads, polkas, boleros and rancheras. Some well-known neo-traditionalists also come from the Tex-Mex environment, such as Rick Trevino , Johnny Rodriguez or Emilio Navaira, who lives in both worlds, as well as rock bands such as the Sir Douglas Quintet .
Cajun music
The folk music of the French immigrants in the southern state of Louisiana , which was influenced by harmonica and fiddles, increasingly mixed with the country music of the surrounding states and became a pioneering style within traditional country music. Well-known representatives are Jimmy C. Newman , Jo-El Sonnier and the women's band Evangeline . Country singer Eddy Raven recorded many songs in the Cajun sound, and several country hits from the 1990s are in Cajun style, for example Callin 'Baton Rouge by Garth Brooks or Down at the Twist and Shout by Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Country gospel
It is one of the oldest styles of country music. Characteristic features are the religious content and the simple arrangements. The choir singing known from black gospel does not exist in the country version. Instead, a polyphonic chant is often used, which is often supplemented by a deep and concise bass. Typical representatives are the Statler Brothers and the Oak Ridge Boys .
Kenny Rogers
Country pop
This style is a "soft" side of country music that is oriented towards pop music and that comes more or less to the fore depending on the fashion. Examples include the Nashville Sound , which determined commercial country music production from the late 1950s to well into the 1960s. In the 1970s, country songs began to play more and more in the pop charts ( Dolly Parton or John Denver ) or pop musicians recorded country songs.
This tradition continued in the 1980s; Examples are Kenny Rogers , Don Williams , Conway Twitty , Crystal Gayle , Janie Fricke , Lee Greenwood or Ronnie Milsap . Some female interpreters, who were strongly influenced by neo-traditionalism during the 1990s, later increasingly turned back to country but also to mainstream pop ( Shania Twain , Faith Hill , LeAnn Rimes ).
Neo-traditionalists like Tim McGraw , Kenny Chesney , Collin Raye or Trisha Yearwood tried their hand at country pop, with which the leading record labels wanted to serve the American pop stations around the year 2000 as part of a financially conditioned crossover strategy. With the exception of a few successes, the strategy failed because of the audience's listening habits, and most artists returned to their genre. The country charts are divided into traditional and more pop-oriented performers.

The individual years of country music

The music industry

The commercialization of country music began as early as the early 1920s, when recordings of rural music were first pressed onto records and the new medium of radio ensured nationwide dissemination. Country music has become a multibillion dollar business run by a vast number of record labels, music publishers, radio and television stations, advocacy groups and institutions. Although there have been periods of uninhibited commercialization, country music has never really strayed from its traditional origins.


Record labels

Okeh Records - Bear Family Records - Bloodshot Records - Rounder Records - Starday

Music publishers

Acuff-Rose - Cedarwood Music - Tree Publishing

Managers and producers

Jimmy Bowen - Owen Bradley - Jack Clement - Paul Cohen - Jim Denny - George D. Hay - Ken Nelson - Ralph Peer - Sam Phillips - Fred Rose - Wesley Rose - Billy Sherrill - Jack Stapp


Radio and television shows

Distribution of country shows in the USA

Charts and hit parades

There are more than ten different country charts, but only two of them are important:

German-speaking country scene

After the end of the Second World War , an independent country scene emerged in Central Europe. Radio presenters, book authors, concert organizers and publishers of fan magazines campaigned for the spread of country music in German-speaking countries. Examples are Walter Fuchs , Thomas Jeier , Kai Ulatowski, Kai Niebergall, Hauke ​​Strübing , Richard Weize or Manfred Vogel.

Country music has been interpreted in German by a number of artists since the mid-1970s. This style is influenced by the truck driver and western hobbyist scene and is also known as country hits. Well-known performers include Tom Astor , Linda Feller , Truck Stop , Gunter Gabriel , Western Union , Gudrun Lange and Kactus as well as Jonny Hill .


Standard works (selection):

  • Vladimir Bogdanov et al. (Ed.): All Music Guide to Country. The Definite Guide to Country Music. , Backbeat Books, San Francisco 2003, ISBN 0-87930-760-9
  • Byworth, Tony (Ed.): The Billboard Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music . Foreword by Jack Clement. New York, NY: Billboard Books, 2007 (320 pages), ISBN 0-8230-7781-0
  • Fred Dellar / Roy Thompson / Douglas B. Green: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music . Foreword by Roy Acuff. 2nd edition Salamander Books, London 1978 (256 pages), ISBN 0-86101-012-4
  • Pamela Fox / Barbara Ching (Eds.): Old Roots, New Routes. The Cultural Politics of Alternative Country Music . University Of Michigan Press, An Arbor / Michigan 2009 (281 pages), ISBN 978-0-472-07053-4
  • Pamela Fox: Natural Acts. Gender, Race and Rusticity in Country Music . University Of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor / Michigan 2009 (269 pages), ISBN 0-472-07068-1
  • Walter Fuchs: The New Big Book of Country Music. Heel, Königswinter 2005, ISBN 3-89880-364-3 (comprehensive presentation of country music taking into account the European scene, with numerous short biographies)
  • Bill C. Malone: Country Music, USA. University of Texas Press, Austin 2002, ISBN 0-292-75262-8 (the standard work on the history of country music in English)