(known as Old Time Music at that time) in thesouthern Appalachians for several years, It wasn’t until August 1, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, that Country
Music really began. There, on that day, Ralph Peer signed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family to
recording contracts for Victor Records.
These two recording acts set the tone for those to follow – Rodgers with his unique singing style and the
Carters with their extensive recordings of old-time music.
Known as the “Father of Country Music,” James Charles Rodgers was born in Meridian, Mississippi on
September 8, 1897. Always in ill health, he became a railroad hand, until ill health caught up with him
and he was forced to seek a less strenuous occupation. An amateur entertainer for many years, he became
a serious performer in 1925, appearing in Johnson City, Tennessee and other places. In 1926, Rodgers
and Carrie, his wife of 6 years, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and organized the Jimmie Rodgers’
Entertainers, a hillbilly band comprising Jack Pierce (guitar), Jack Grant (mandolin/banjo), Claude Grant
(banjo), and Rodgers himself (banjo).
Upon hearing that Ralph Peer of Victor Records was setting up a portable recording studio in Bristol, on
the Virginia-Tennessee border, the Entertainers headed in that direction. But due to a dispute within their
ranks, Rodgers eventually recorded as a solo artist, selecting a sentimental ballad, “The Soldier’s
Sweetheart,” and a lullaby, “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” as his first offerings. The record met with instant
acclaim, thus causing Victor to record further Rodgers’ sides throughout 1927, including the first in a set
of 13, Blue Yodel # 1 (T for Texas)
Rodgers, who died in 1933, never appeared on any major radio show or even played the Grand Ole Opry
during his lifetime. But he, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams were the first persons to be elected to the
Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, which is indicative of his importance in the history of Country
The Carter Family
One of the most influential groups in country music was The Carter Family (A.P., Sara, cousin Maybelle,
and others). The Carters first recorded for Ralph Peer for Victor on August 1, 1927–the same day that
Jimmie Rodgers cut his first sides–completing six titles, including “Single Girl, Married Girl,” at a
makeshift studio in Bristol, Tennessee, known as the Bristol Barn Sessions.
Sara and A.P. obtained a divorce during 1936, but continued working together in the group, which now
included Anita, June, and Helen (Maybelle and Ezra Carter’s three daughters) and Janette and Joe (Sara
and A.P.’s children). From 1936-39, the Family cut for Decca, and after that for Columbia and again for
Victor. The last session by the original Carter Family took place on October 14, 1941, and the Family
disbanded in 1943, having waxed over 250 of their songs and one of their signature songs, “Sunny Side of
Life” , recorded in 1928. Also included is a video clip from the 1950’s of Maybelle’s daughters June,
Helen, and Anita who carried on this legacy for more than two decades after the original Carter’s left the
The virtual base on which the whole of bluegrass music rests, William Smith (Bill) Monroe was born at
Rosine, Kentucky, on September 13, 1911, the youngest of eight children. Brother Charlie was next
youngest, having been born eight years earlier. This gap, coupled with Bill’s poor eyesight, inhibited the
youngest son from many of the usual play activities and gave him an introverted nature which carried
through into later life.
Aside from his musical family, one of Monroe’s early influences was a black musician from Rosine,
Arnold Schultz. Bill would gig with him and rated him a fine musician with an unrivalled feel for the
blues. At this time he also started to hear gramophone records featuring such performers as Charlie Poole
and the North Carolina Ramblers.
In 1934, Radio WLS in Chicago, for whom the three brothers (Birch on fiddle, Charlie on guitar, and Bill
on mandolin) had been working on a semi-professional basis, offered them full-time employment. Birch
decided to give up music, but Charlie and Bill reforemed as the Monroe Brothers. In 1938, they went their
separate ways. Bill formed the Kentuckians and moved to Radio KARK, Atlanta Georgia, where the first
of the Blue Grass Boys line-ups was evolved. Bill also began to sing lead and to take mandolin solos
rather than just remaining part of the general sound. In 1939, he auditioned for the Opry and George Hay
was impressed enough to sign him.
By 1945, Monroe’s style had undergone several changes. Most notable was the addition of Earl Scruggs,
with a driving banjo style, putting the final, distinctive seal on Monroe’s bluegrass sound. Flatt and
Scruggs remained with Bill until 1948. Among Monroe’s best known songs from the period is “Blue Moon
of Kentucky.” Included here is another of Monroe’s hits: “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky.”
After signing with Decca Records in 1949, Monroe teamed with Jimmy Martin, and entered into his
golden age for compositions. He wrote “Uncle Pen,” “Roanoke,” “Scotland,” “My Little Georgia Rose,”
“Walking In Jerusalem,” and “I’m Working On a Building,” the last two being religious ‘message’ songs,
always part of the Monroe tradition from the earlier days.
Bill Monroe was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1970. His contribution to country music is
inestimable. On August 13, 1986, one month to the day before his 75th birthday, the US Senate passed a
resolution recognizing “his many contributions to American culture and his many ways of helping
American people enjoy themselves.” It also said, “As a musician, showman, composer, and teacher, Mr.
Monroe has been a cultural figure and force of signal importance in our time.”
Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs pioneered a particular type of bluegrass under Bill Monroe’s leadership —
especially Scruggs’ “three-finger banjo” technique — and thus helped to popularize bluegrass immensely.
Both came from highly musical families. Lester’s parents both played the banjo (in the old ‘frailing’ style)
and Lest practiced on both guitar and banjo. Earl came from an area east of the Appalachians which was
already using a three-finger style on the five-string banjo.
In 1943, Lester and his wife Gladys were hired by Charlie Monroe. Lester sang harmony and played
mandolin. He tired of the travelling and quit, then procured a position with a North Carolina radio station.
It was there that he received a telegram from Bill Monroe asking Lester to come and play with him on the
Grand Ole Opry.
Earl had played with his brothers from the age of six and by 15 he was playing on a North Carolina radio
station with the Carolina Wildcats. After the war, Scruggs appeared with John Miller on Radio WSM in
Nashville. Miller then stopped touring and Earl, out of work, was hired by Monroe.
In 1948, within weeks of each other, Earl and Lester resigned from Monroe to escape the constant
travelling (Monroe has always been a dedicated touring man). Almost inevitably the two then decided to
team up and do some radio work. They recruited ex-Monroe men Jim Shumate (fiddle) and Howard Watts
(a.k.a. Cedric Rainwater on bass), and then moved to Hickory, North Carolina, when the were joined by
Mac Wiseman. That year, 1948, they made their first recordings for Mercury Records.
The band took its name from an old Carter Family tune, “Foggy Mountain Top,” calling themselves the
FoggyMountain Boys. In 1950, they were offered a lucrative contract by Columbia Records, a recording
association that was to last for 20 years. In 1953, the band began broadcasting “Martha White Biscuit
Time” on WSM, a show which not only ran for years, but which saw them come into country music
prominence. Flatt and Scruggs and their band became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, and were
winning numerous fan polls and industry awards.
They consolidated their position as leaders of the bluegrass movement and sold a vast number of records.
By the end of the ’60s (mainly pushed by Earl), they began experimenting with new folks songs, drums
and gospel-style harmonies in an effort to build on a younger audience. Some of their older fans were
unhappy about the changes, and in 1969, they split up. Lester, who died in 1979, returned to a more
traditional sound, forming the Nashville Grass, composed mainly of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Earl
defiantly went off in new directions with his Earl Scruggs Review. In recent years, Scruggs has cut back
on his activities, while his sons have made their mark as songwriters, producers and
multi-instrumentalists in country music.
Perhaps no other institution is more synonymous with country music than WSM Radio’s Grand Ole Opry
in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1925, it has featured country music acts on it’s stage for live Saturday night
broadcasts. This programhas introduced the nation to most, if not all, of the greats of country music.
To this day, membership on the Opry remains oneof a Country Music artist’s greatest ambitions.
The Opry began as a show with primarily part-time artists who used the show to promote their live
appearances throughout the South and Midwest, but with the help of Roy Acuff, the professionalism of
country music became established at the Opry. We’ll be adding more features on the Opry and WSM soon!
The King of Country Music could well have become another Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth. Born in
Maynardville, Tennessee, Roy Claxton Acuff seemed destined to become an athlete. Following a move to
Fountain City (near Knoxville), Acuff gained 13 varsity letters in high school, eventually playing minor
league ball and being considered for the New York Yankees. Sever sunstroke put an end to that career,
confining Acuff to be for the better part of 1929 and 1930.
By 1933, Acuff formed a group, the Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Summey played dobro, thus
providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Acuff (and later provided by Pete ‘Bashful
Brother Oswald’ Kirby). Acuff married Mildred Douglas in 1936, that same year recording two sessions
for ARC (a company controlling a host of labels, later merged with Columbia). Tracks from these sessions
included two of his greatest hits: “Wabash Cannonball” (featuring vocals by Dynamite Hatcher) and “The
Great Speckle Bird.”
Making his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, Acuff soon became a regular on the show,
changing the name of the band once more to the Smoky Mountain Boys. He won many friends with his
sincere, mountain-boy vocal style and his dobro-flavoured band sound, and eventually became as popular
as Uncle Dave Macon, who was the Opry’s main attraction at the time.
During the ’40s, Acuff’s recordings became so popular that he headed Frank Sinatra in some major music
polls and reportedly caused Japanese troops to yell ‘To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell
with Roy Acuff’ as they banzai-charged at Okinawa. These years also saw some of his biggest hits,
including “Wreck on the Highway” (1942), Fireball Mail (1942), Night Train to Memphis (1943), and
two tracks included here: “Tied Down,” “That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play,” and his classic “The
Acuff’s tremendous contribution to country music was recognized in November 1962, when he became the
first living musician to be honored as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He guested on the
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s triple album set “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” in 1972, lending credence to
contemporary and country-rock music. He continued to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry
throughout the ’70s and ’80s, but cut down on his previously extensive touring schedule, until by the early
’90s his only appearances were infrequent guest spots at Opryland. He died on November 23, 1992
following a short illness.
The songs of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Sons of the Pioneers put the Western in Country and
Western Music. Much of this music was written for and brought to the American public through the
cowboy films of the 30’s and 40’s and was widely popular.
Known as the “King of the Cowboys,” and a major western movie star between 1938 and 1953, Roy
Rogers started out as Leonard Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1911. Influenced by his father, who played
mandolin and guitar, Rogers began playing at local functions during the 1920s.
After stints with such groups as the Rocky Mountaineers and the Hollywood Hillbillies, he formed his own
band, the International Cowboys. Later — with the aid of Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan — he formed the
Sons of the Pioneers. Though this outfit established a considerable reputation, Rogers set his sights higher
and began playing bit parts in films, first under the name of Dick Weston, and then assuming his guise as
Roy Rogers, eventually wining a starring role in “Under Western Skies,” a 1938 production.
With his horse Trigger and frequent female partner, Dale Evans (whom he married in 1947), and
occasional help from such people as the Sons of the Pioneers and Spade Cooley, Rogers became Gene
Autry’s only real rival, starring in over 100 movies and heading his own TV show in the mid-1950s.
Rogers was a recording artist with RCA-Victor for many years. He later recorded for Capitol, Word and
20th Century. Even in 1980, then signed to MCA, Rogers was still charting. He and the Sons of the
Pioneers teamed up once more for “Ride Concrete Cowboy, Ride,” a song stemming from the movie
“Smokey and the Bandit II.”
Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, three years later he was back in the country charts
with “Hold On Partner,” a duet with Clint Black from Rogers’ “Tribute” album. This classic album had the
80 year-old cowboy duetting with such current stars as Lorrie Morgan, Kathy Mattea, Ricky Van Shelton,
Randy Travis, Restless Heart, and the Kentucky HeadHunters. The part-owner of a chain of restaurants, a
theme park, and his own world wide web site (www.royrogers.com), Rogers is estimated to be worth over
100 million dollars.
Orvon Gene Autry, the most successful of all singing cowboys to break into movies was born in Tioga,
Texas, September 29, 1907. Taught to play guitar by his mother Elnora, Gene joined the Fields Brothers
Marvelous Medicine Show while still in high school, but after graduation in 1925 became a railroad
telegrapher with the Frisco Railway in Sapulpar, Oklahoma. Encouraged by Will Rogers following a
chance meeting, Autry took a job on Radio KVOO, Tulsa, in 1930, billing himself as “Oklahoma’s
Singing Cowboy,” and singing much in the style of Jimmie Rodgers.
In 1929, he began recording with labels such as Victor, Okeh, Columbia, Grey Gull and Gannett (often
under a pseudonym). Shortly thereafter, Autry began broadcasting regularly on the WLS Barn Dance
program for Chicago, his popularity gaining further momentum with the 1931 release of “Silver Haired
Daddy of Mine,” (penned by Autry and frequent partner Jimmy Long, a former boss of Autry’s on the
Frisco line), a recording that eventually sold over five million copies.
Next came a move to Hollywood where following a performance in a Ken Maynard western “In Old Santa
Fe,” he was asked to star in a serial “The Phantom Empire.” Thereafter, Autry appeared in innumerable B
movies, usually with his horse, Champion. His list of his records during the ’30s and ’40s — he was easily
the most popular singer of the time — is awesome, including “Yellow Rose of Texas” (1933), “The Last
Roundup” (1934), “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” (1935), “Mexicali Rose” (1936), “Back In The Saddle
Again” (1939), “South Of The Border” (1940), “You Are My Sunshine” (1941), “It Makes No Difference
Now” (1941), “Be Honest With Me” (1941), “Tweedle-O-Twill” (1942), and “At Mail Call Today” (1945).
Elected in 1969 to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Autry has also had three other million-selling discs in
“Here Comes Santa Claus” (1947), “Peter Cottontail” (1949), and nine million-seller “Rudolph the Red
Nosed Reindeer” (1948). Writer of scores of hit songs, Gene Autry has also starred at a series of annual
rodeos held in Madison Square Garden, is the majority owner of the California Angels baseball team, and
even had an Oklahoma town named after him.
Sons of the Pioneers
Originally a guitarist/vocals trio when formed by Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer in 1934 as the
Pioneer Trio, the name changed to Sons of the Pioneers in deference to the American Indian heritage of
members Karl and Hugh Farr.
The Sons did extensive radio work during the ’30s and recorded for Decca, Columbia and RCA. Films
also figured large for them and they appeared in many of those featuring Rogers. Sons of the Pioneers
recorded many of the songs associated wit h this style of music, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool
Water,” the latter of which is found in this exhibit.
A word should be said about Bob Nolan, who composed both the hits above. His songwriting may be the
finest ever to appear in country music. A brilliant poet with an inventive ear for melody and harmony, he
virtually invented the sound and style of western harmony singing single-handedly. He supplied the once
thriving field with the great majority of its classic songs, which in addition to the above, include “Trail
Herding Cowboy,” “A Cowboy Has To Sing,” “One More Ride,” “Way Out There,” and “Song of the
Tim Spencer died in 1974 at the age of 65, but the Sons were still performing at that time, led by Lloyd
Perryman, who had originally joined the group back in 1936, and died in 1977 at the age of 60. The Sons
of the Pioneers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, 1979.
Bob Wills (1905-1975)
This very popular style of Country Music developed in Texas and Oklahoma the 1930’s and saw enormous
popularity in the 40’s. The style is a blend of big band, blues, dixieland, and jazz, among others.
Musically, it contributed the drums and Hawaiian Steel Guitar to Country Music. It was a Saturday night
dance type of music which combined the style of jazz and big band swing with the culture of the
Bob Wills, born east of Kosse, Texas in an area known as The Moss Springs Community, is known as the
“King of Western Swing”. He perfected this style in the late 1930’s with his band the “Texas Playboys.”
Many of his greatest hits were recorded between 1936 and 1943. They include “San Antonio Rose” and
“Take Me Back to T ulsa.” Find included here a less well-known, but nonetheless typical Wills recording
called “Liza, Pull Down the Shade” from 1938.
Perhaps no other style of country music has had a greater influence on today’s artists than the style known
as Honky Tonk. Honky Tonk music embodied the spirit of dancing and drinking, and of loving and then
losing the one you love. Its greatest practitioners owe their singing style to Jimmie Rodgers and much of
the music to the steel guitar and drums of Bob Wills and Western Swing.
One of the most charismatic and enduring figures in country music — his Opry performance of June 11,
1949, when his audience required him to reprise “Lovesick Blues” several times, is still considered the
Ryman’s greatest moment — Hank was born Hiram King Williams in Georgiana, Alabama on September
Barely a teenager, he won $15 singing “WPA Blues” at a Montgomery amatuer contest, then formed a
band, the Drifting Cowboys, which played on station WSFA, Montgomery, for over a decade. Switching
from Sterling Records in 1946 to the newly formed MGM label in 1947, Williams was booked as a regular
on KWKH’s Lousiana Hayride. After having scored with his recording of “Lovesick Blues,” he signed a
contract with the Grand Ole Opry in 1949.
After the runaway success of “Lovesick Blues,” he began cutting Top 10 singles with almost monotonous
regularity. With Fred Rose masterminding every recording session, arranging, playing, producing, and
often participating in the songwriting, such hits as “Wedding Belles, “Mind Your Own Business,” “You’re
Gonna Change, and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” all charted during 1949. More hits followed including
Jambalaya, Honky Tonk Blues, Tear in My Beer, Baby We’re Really In Love, and “Honky Tonkin’.”
Ironically his 1952 hit “I”ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” was released just before his death on New
Year’s Day, 1953 from a heart attack brought on by drinking. He and his Drifting Cowboys had been
booked to play a show in Canton, Ohio, and Williams hired a driver to chauffeur him through a
snowstorm to the gig. He fell asleep along the way — but when the driver tried to rouse him at Oak Hill,
West Virginia, Williams was dead. After his death, his records continued to sell in massive quantities.
“Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Take These Chains From My Heart,” “I Wont Be Home No More,” and “Weary
Blue From Waitin'” all charted during the year that followed.
The last months of Williams life, though financially rewarding, were ultra-tragic. A drug user in order to
combat a spinal ailment caused by being thrown from a horse at the age of 17, he was fired from the
Grand Ole Opry in August 1952 because of perpetual drunkenness. He was also divorced and remarried
soon after. Despite his troubles, Hank was well loved by the country music fraternity. Over 20,000 people
attended his funeral in Montgomery, at which Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Red Foley, and Ernest Tubb paid
tribute in song. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, his plaque reads: “The simple,
beautiful melodies and straightforward plaintive stories in his lyrics of life as he knew it will never die.”
Born in Crisp, Texas in 1914, Ernest Dale Tubb was the sixth member to be elected to the Country Music
Hall of Fame and a regular member of the Opry from 1943 to the time of his death. Tubb’s boyhood hero
was the great Jimmie Rodgers. Although he had dreams of emulating Rodgers and sang at various local
get-togethers during his early teens, Tubb was almost 20 before he owned his first guitar.
After limited success during the 1930s, Tubb’s recording of “Walking the Floor Over You,” a self-penned
composition released in autumn 1942, became a million-seller, helping him gain his first appearance on
the Opry in December. He gained reulgar memebership during 1943. Also, in 1947, he opened the first of
his now famous record shops and commenced his Midnight Jamboree program over WSM, advertising the
shop and showcasing the talents of up and coming country artists.
From then through 1969, Tubb became the charts’ Mr. Consistency, thanks to such discs as “Goodnight
Irene” (with Red Foley in 1950), “I Love You Because,” “Missing in Action,” “Two Glasses Joe” (1954),
Half a Mind, Thanks A Lot, Mr. and Mrs. Used-To-Be (with Loretta Lynn in 1964), and “Let’s say
Goodbye, Like We said Hello.”
An tireless tourer, he and his Texas Troubadours played around 300 dates a year. Much loved, when he
set out to record his “Legend and Legacy” album for First Generation records in 1979, virtually everyone
who was anyone in Nashville dropped by to see if they could help out. The album line-up eventually
featured the names of Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, Johnny
Cash, Charlie Rich, Johnny Paycheck, Linda Hargrove, Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, the Wilburn
Brothers, Ferlin Husky, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, and many, many others. When
he died, on September 6, 1984, the whole of Music City mourned the man writer Chet Flippo once
accurately described as “honky-tonk music personified.”
Acquiring the nickname ‘Lefty’ after disposing of several opponents with his left hand during an
unsuccessful attept to become a Golden Gloves boxing champion, the Corsicana, Texas-born (1928)
singer-songwriter-guitarist began life as William Orville Frizzell.
A childhood performer, at 17 he could be found playing the honky-tonks and dives of Dallas and Waco,
molding his early, Jimmie Rodgers-stylings to his environment, thus formulating a sound that was very
much his own.
In 1950, Frizzell’s Columbia recording “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” became a massive
hit, claiming a chart position for some 20 weeks.
The ex-pugilist followed this with two 1951 No.1s in “I Want to be With You Always,” and “Always
Late.” He became an Opry star, and throughout the rest of the decade he continued to supply a series of
chart high-flyers, many of these in honky-tonk tradition. The ’60s, too, found Frizzell obtaining more than
a dozen hits, though only “Saginaw, Michigan” — a 1964 No.1 — and “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” (1965)
proved of any consequence. His last hit for Columbia was “Watermelon Time in Georgia” (1970).
After joining ABC Recrods in 1973, Frizzell began to make a comeback with “I Never Go Around
Mirrors,” and “Lucky Arms” (both 1974), and “Falling” (1975), when he died after suffering a stroke on
July 19, 1975. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982, Frizzell’s influence has played a major
role in much of the country music of the ’90s. You can hear strains of his work in the style of Merle
Haggard, George Strait, Keith Whitley, and lately in the music of Clint Black and Doug Stone, among
The Nashville Sound is a blend of pop and country that developed during the 1950s. The music in this era
was an outcropping of the big band jazz and swing of the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s, combined with the
storytelling of honky-tonkers.
Originally a stone country singer, smooth-toned Jim Reeves from Texas reached amazing heights as a pop
balladeer and since his death in an air crash his fame has burgeoned into cult proportions. Born in 1923 in
Galloway, Panola County, Texas, Reeves was just as interested in sport as in music and became the star of
the Cathage High School baseball team, although he still performed at local events. He entered the
University of Texas in Austin, and his baseball prowess as a pitcher soon attracted the attention of the St.
Louis Cardinals scouts who signed him to a contract. An unlucky slip gave him an ankle injury that halted
one career and gave rise to another.
In 1947, after marrying a schoolteacher, Mary White, Jim moved to Shreveport and ended up with a job as
announcer on KWKH, the station that owned the Louisiana Hayride. It was one of Reeves’ jobs to
announce the Saturday night Hayride show and he was even allowed to sing occasionally. One night in
1952, Hank Williams failed to arrive and Jim was asked to fill in. In the audience was Fabor Robinson,
owner of Abbott Records, who immediately signed Reeves to a contract. After a number one record with
“Mexican Joe” (1953), RCA signed him in 1955 amid considerable competition. That same year, he
joined the Grand Ole Opry at the recommendation of Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow.
The February, 1957 release of “Four Walls” proved the real turning point in Reeves’ career. In 1959,
Reeves recorded his all-time greatest hit, “He’ll Have to Go.” The theme was familiar enough. Some years
earlier it might have been called a honky-tonk song. But the treatment, with Reeves’ dark, intimate, velvet
tones gliding over a muted backing, was something different again. The result brought him instant
stardom. During the early 1960s, he also continued to dominate the US country charts, with hits including
Guilty (1963), and “Welcome to My World” (1964).
Tragically, on a flight back to Nashville from Arkansas on July 31, 1964, Jim and his manager ran into
heavy rain just a few miles from Nashville’s Beery Field and crashed, killing both men. Voted into the
Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967, Reeves continued to log hits posthumously as recently as the 1970s
Patsy Cline (real name Virginia Patterson Hensley) was born in Winchester, Virginia, on September 8,
1932. Winner of an amateur tap-dancing contest at the age of four, she began learning piano at eight and
in her early teens became a singer at local clubs. In 1948, an audition won her a trip to Nashville, where
she appeared in a few clubs before returning home — but her big break came in 1957 when she won an
Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, singing “Walking After Midnight.” Here is a video clip of her
Her Decca single of the contest-winning song then entered the charts, both pop and country. In 1961 came
“I Fall to Pieces,” on of her biggest hits.
That chart-topper was followed in quick succession by “Crazy,”, “Who Can I Count On?,” “She’s Got
You,” “Strange,” and “When I Get Through With You,” most of them being massive sellers.
During the same period she became a featured singer on the Opry, soon attaining the rank of top female
country singer. Such hits as “Release Me,” “Imagine That,” “So Wrong,” and “Leavin’ On Your Mind,”
continued to proliferate until, on March 5, 1963, Patsy died in an air disaster at Camden, Tennessee. She
had been returning home from a Kansas City benefit concert with Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy
Copas, both of whom were also killed in the crash.
But even after her death, Patsy’s records continued to sell, “Sweet Dreams (Of You).” and “Faded Love,”
being top hits during ’63. Patsy has continued to be a major influence on singers like Loretta Lynn, who
recorded a tribute album in 1977, Reba McEntire and Sylvia. In 1973, she was elected to the Country
Music Hall of Fame and her recordings and those of Jim Reeves were spliced together to produce a duet
effect resulting in hits with “Have You Ever Been Lonely,” and “I Fall to Pieces.” Renewed interest in
Cline has also produced the second highest selling greatest hits release, with over 4 million copies sold to
A country crooner with a smooth, very commercial voice, Arnold has probably sold more records than any
other C&W artist, with few exceptions. Born in Henderson, Tennessee, in 1918, Arnold first learned
guitar from his father — an old time fiddler — teaching him guitar at the age of ten.
Arnold left high school during the early ’30s to help his family run their farm, occasionally playing local
barn dances. After his radio debut in Jackson, Tennessee during 1936, his big break came as
singer/guitarist with Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys providing exposure on the Grand Ole Opry.
As a solo act he signed for RCA in 1944, sparking off an amazing tally of hit records with “It’s a Sin,” and
“I’ll Hold You In My Heart” in 1947, the latter becoming a million-seller. This achievement was matched
by later Arnold recordings, including one of his trademark “stories in song” — The Streets of Laredo, as
well as “Bouquet of Roses,” “Anytime,” “Just a Little Lovin’ Will Go a Long, Long Way” (1948), “I
Wanna Play House With You” (1951), and “Cattle Call” (1955), while many others sold nearly as many.
Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966, Arnold’s records sold to people who normally bought
straight pop, so his TV appearance were not confined to just the Opry and other country shows; he guested
on programs hosted by Perry Como, Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Spike Jones,
and other personalities. Arnold also had his own syndicated TV series, Eddy Arnold Time, plus other
shows on NBC and ABC networks.
HTML1DocumentEncodingutf-8The late 1960s and 1970s saw the resurgence of a more traditional
country sound. The Nashville sound, by 1970, was well-worn, and had merged into the pre-British
Revolution pop culture in many areas. Aside from the “outlaws” profiled below, new artists such as
Charley Pride (“Kiss an Angel Good Morning”) and Conway Twitty (“Hello Darlin’ “) emerged to break
the mold of the Nashville Sound. Southern Country Rockers such as The Outlaws, The Marshall Tucker
Band, David Allan Coe, The Charlie Daniels Band, and others took country to a new, higher level.
Without a doubt, though, it was the outlaws who defined this era in country music.
Born in Abbot, Texas, on April 30, 1933, Willie Nelson was raised by his grandparents after his own
parents had separated. His grandparents taught him some chords and by his teens he was becoming
proficient on guitar. After his discharge from the Air Force in the early ’50s, Wilson took a job hosting
country shows on a Fort Worth station, doubling at night as a musician in some rough local honky-tonks
and, whenever he could, he was jotting down songs.
When he finally made his way to Nashville and found a job in Ray Price’s band as a bass player, he found
that he was finally placing his songs. Price, a huge name of that era, made Nelson’s “Night Life” his
theme song (more than 70 artists have since recorded “Night Life”). Faron Young cut “Hello Walls,” and
Patsy Cline “Crazy,” both in 1961, and Willie himself recorded “The Party’s Over.”
After poaching most of Ray Price’s band from him, Nelson went on the road, and got remarried, settling
in Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Besides recording 18 albums in three years, he also helped the
career of Charley Pride, featuring him on his show in the deepest South during the racially sensitive years
of civil rights.
During the ’60s, the smooth Nashville Sound was in its ascendancy and Willie found himself becoming
increasingly disillusioned with big business methods, hankering to make his mark as a singer rather than
as a songwriter and preferably on his own terms.
Nelson’s music in the early and middle 1960’s is credited with sparking the “outlaw” or progressive
country music movement. His biggest hits, however, came later, in the 1970s. After leaving RCA (with
the help of Neil Reshen, who later became his manager), Nelson signed with Atlantic, an established label
new in country music.
Willie reconciled hip and redneck musical interests and helped lead a new explosion of interest in country
music, teaming up with Waylon Jennings to top the country charts with “Good Hearted Woman” in 1976,
and to be featured on country’s first certified platinum album, the “Wanted: The Outlaws” compilation.
Nelson recorded his most popular (and arguably his best) album in 1978 with Jennings, Leon Russell, and
Ray Price entitled “Stardust,” a collection of Tin Pan Alley standards.
Strangely enough, Nelson can also be credited with starting the cross-over movement, with his 1975 pop
hit “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.” Two of Nelson’s other pop/country hits, “Always On My Mind,” and
“On the Road Again,” also fueled the Urban Cowboy movement. Included here is a classic Willie Nelson
track, “Nothing’s Changed, Nothing’s New.”
Refusing to be tied down to commercial considerations, Nelson has recorded such diverse album projects
as “Stardust,” “The Troublemaker” (a gospel set), “To Lefty From Willie” (a tribute to Lefty Frizzell),
“Angel Eyes” (featuring jazz guitarist Jackie King), and his acclaimed return to mainstream audiences in
1993, “Across the Borderline” (produced by Don Was, and featuring Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and others).
Winner of six CMA awards in 1969, John R. Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, February 26, 1932,
son of a poverty-stricken cotton farmer. In 1935, the Cash family moved to the government resettlement
Dyess Colony, surviving the Mississippi river flood of 1937, an event documented in a 1959 Cash song,
“Five Feet High and Rising.” After graduating from high school, Cash spent some time in the Air Force,
taught himself how to play guitar and wrote his first songs.
After his discharge in July 1954, Cash married and moved to Memphis where he became an electric
appliance salesman. In Memphis he met guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant and began
performing with them — for free — on station KWEM. Eventually, he caught the ear of Sam Phillips and
signed his first recording contract with Sun Records.
Their first single, “Hey Porter/Cry, Cry, Cry” — listed as by Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two —
became a hit, selling more than 100,000 copies. The follow-up, “Folsom Prison Blues,” another Cash
original, was also a success and led to Cash joining KWKH’s Louisiana Hayride in December 1955. He
also began touring extensively, and after “I Walk the Line,” a cross-over hit that sold a million copies, and
“There You Go,” another 1956 winner, he joined the Grand Ole Opry.
Personal tragedy marked the career of Johnny Cash during the ’60s. Cash and his enlarged band (having
added drummer W.S. Holland, and becoming The Tennessee Three) being much in demand, played nearly
300 gigs a year, with Cash popping pills to provide enough energy. Cash first began working with June
Carter in December 1961. The following year saw a heavier work schedule that included a 30-hour tour of
Korea and a disastrous Carnegie Hall date. But the pill-popping worsened and, in October 1965, Cash was
arrested by the narcotics squad in El Paso and received a 30-day suspended sentence and a $1,000 fine.
The following year he was jailed once more — for embarking on a 2am flower-picking spree.
Cash overcame those obstacles, and the resulting poor health from his drug addiction, to turn out a string
of hits to contribute to the outlaw sound of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Elected to the Country Music Hall
of Fame in 1980, his career, spanning from the 1950’s through today, has earned him 8 Grammy awards,
and put more than 130 songs on the country charts. After a quiet decade with Columbia and Mercury
Records, Cash moved to American Recordings and burst back on the scene with “American Recordings,”
an album featuring Cash and his guitar and all-new material.
“We need a change,” Waylon Jennings sings in “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” the piercing
kickoff track to his greatest album, Dreaming My Dreams. Waylon is singing about the country-music
industry in this song, but the sentiment could apply to any element of this ramblin’ man’s life or career.
Jennings, more than any of the outlaws, epitomized this era of battling the now oft-abused Nashville
Sound. Waylon became a spokesman for the iconoclastic outlaw movement, and, incidentally, has a near
encyclopedic knowledge of country music history.
Waylon was born in Littlefield, Texas, and influenced heavily by the sound of WSM and the Grand Ole
Opry, with Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry, and Jimmie Rodgers. After quitting high school to pursue music,
Waylon found himself in Lubbock at radio station KLLL as a popular DJ. known for his side-splitting
ad-libs. It was here where Jennings cemented his friendship with Buddy Holly. When Holly put together
his new band in 1958, he took Jennings along as his bass player. Though Waylon rarely plays bass
anymore, it is no accident that his popular sound of the ’70s and early ’80s was built around steady,
swirling bass rhythms.
Waylon’s early success came with producer Chet Atkins beginning in 1965 at RCA Records. Despite the
tension between Jennings and Atkins, Waylon turned out several hits, including “Only Daddy That’ll
Walk the Line” (1968), and “Just to Satisfy You” (1968).
Waylon’s Outlaw persona, and the mixture of thrills and grief that it brought him, had become his major
lyrical subject, on songs like “Amanda” (1974), “Rainy Day Woman” (1974), and “Luckenbach, Texas
(Back to the Basics of Love)” (1977). A live album recorded in Texas yielded a wild Jimmie Rodgers
re-interpretation, “T for Texas,” (with a Memphis beat but no yodel), and a deceptively complex new tune,
“Bob Wills is Still the King.” Also included here is a rare Waylon original “The Taker.”
Country’s most charismatic living legend, Merle Haggard is proof that you do not have to forsake your
musical roots to achieve fame. The Haggard family had been driven from their farm in dustbowl East
Oklahoma and were living in a converted boxcar in Bakersfield, California, when Merle was born on
April 6, 1937. Merle was nine when his father, a competent fiddle player, died, and without his father’s
influence he began to run wild. He embarked on a series of petty thefts and frauds and was in and out of
local prisons. Then, in 1957, he was charged with attempted burglary and sentenced to six to fifteen years
in San Quentin.
While in prison, Merle did some picking and songwriting, and was in San Quentin when Johnny Cash
performed one of his prison concerts in 1958. When he left jail in 1960, he was determined to try and
make a go of performing. He moved to Bakersfield, then a growing country music center. Helped initially
by Buck Owens, and his former wife Bonnie (whom Haggard eventually married), he started playing the
local club scene. Merle also ran into Fuzzy Owen, an Arkansas musician who was also playing the
Bakersfield clubs. Fuzzy, who is Merle’s manager to this day, encouraged him and helped get Merle work
In 1962, Fuzzy organized some recording sessions in a converted ‘garage’ studio and produced some
singles, which were released on Tally, a label Owens had purchased from his cousin Lewis Tally. The
next year Merle made his debut on the country charts with “Sing a Sad Song,” which reached No.19. In
1965, they released “(My Friends are Gonna Be) Strangers,” giving them a Top 10 hit. This success led to
Capitol acquiring Merle’s contract, plus all the recordings made for Tally.
Merle’s second Capitol single, the self penned classic honky-tonker, “Swinging Doors,” spent six months
on the charts, reaching the Top 5. Equally as impressive was “The Bottle Let Me Down,” which made
No.3. This was followed by Haggard’s first No.1, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” which made 1966 a highly
successful year from him.
Two other apparently innocent songs were committed to record in 1969: “Okie from Muskogee,” and “The
Fightin’ Side of Me.” “Okie” re-stated redneck values in disturbance and Vietnam marches, yet Merle had
written it as a joke, picking up a remark one of his band members had made about the conservative habits
of Oklahoma natives as they rolled through Muskogee. “Fightin’ Side of Me” was another apparent
put-down of those who were so bold as to disparage America’s image. When Haggard premiered “Okie”
for a crowd of NCOs at Fort Bragg, N.C., they went wilder than he had expected, and from then on the
song became a silent majority legend.
Haggards success continued through the early ’80s with new label Epic Records. Although the stream of
hits has slowed, Haggard was opening shows for Clint Black by 1991, and several artists (including
Diamond Rio, Lee Roy Parnell, and others) collaborated on “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” a 1994 tribute album
to Haggard and his music. Merle still maintains considerable following in mainstream country music
The most infamous era in country music was in the early ’80s. The Urban Cowboy movement led country
music away from its roots. Country’s move toward pop culture was popularized by John Travolta’s “Urban
Cowboy,” and spurred on by Dolly Parton’s movie 9 to 5 and the title song, which you can find here.
In the early ’80s, country attempted to cross-over to the easy-listening pop audience. The result was a lot
of shallow and tacky music that was neither good country, nor good pop. In many cases, Urban Cowboy
country was nothing but regurgitated ’60s and ’70s pop music. The outlaw heroes of the 1970s — Willie,
Waylon, Johnny, and Merle — faded into obscurity on the country scene. Aside from Parton, the biggest
hits of the time were crossover tunes, including the Oak Ridge Boys “Elvira” and others.
Although most of the songs and artists coming from Nashville were forgettable, some artists did produce
excellent music. One of country biggest cross-over stars was John Conlee, undoubtedly the singer with the
saddest voice in country music. Born and raised on a Kentucky tobacco farm, Conlee worked as a
mortician after graduating from high school, but finally landed a job as a DJ at a Fort Knox station.
Moving to Nashville in 1971, and playing rock music, Conlee established important music contacts,
leading to his singing with ABC records.
His initial records failed to make much impression but his fourth release, “Rose Colored Glasses,” a song
he co-wrote with a newsreader at the radio station, made the country Top 5 in May 1978. That same year
ABC Records was absorbed by MCA, for whom John scored more than a dozen Top 10 hits, including
“She Can’t Say That Anymore,” “I’m Only In It For The Love,” “Backside of Thirty,” and “Miss Emily’s
John signed with Columbia Records in 1986, scoring several more Top 10 hits. This contract lasted only
three years, after which he joined 16th Avenue Records, but failed to make an impact. Throughout his
career, Conlee has championed the ordinary wor king man, typified in songs such as “Busted,” “Common
Man,” “Working Man,” and “American Faces.” Inducted as the first new member of the Opry in five years
in 1979, he still tours regularly, and is active with charities.
This American country-rock group has been one of the most successful country acts of recent years, with
the majority of their singles hitting No.1 on the country charts, and all albums having reached gold or
platinum status. They created the group sou nd rather than a singer accompanied by a group, and set
things in motion for other outfits such as Atlanta, Exile and Bandana, and, later, Restless Heart,
Confederate Railroad, Desert Rose Band, and the Kentucky HeadHunters. Initially formed in 1969 at F ort
Payne, Alabama, as Wildcountry, the group was a semi-professional outfit with the nucleus of cousins Jeff
Cook and Randy Owen, plus Teddy Gentry.
After signing to GRT Records at the beginning of 1977, making their first mark on the country charts
with “I Want to be With You.” In 1976, original drummer John Vartanian decided to quit, and the group
spent several months as a three-piece until they found Mark Herndon, the fourth member of Alabama.
Larry McBride, a Dallas businessman, took an interest in the group and signed them to a management
deal. he set up MDJ Records and the group’s first record, I Wanna Come Over, made the country charts in
the autumn of 1979. Under the production of Harold Shedd they came up with another hit, “My Home’s In
Alabama” (a rare live version is included here).
In the early 1980s, Alabama signed with RCA Records and hit the top of the charts as one of the only
country acts to stay away from the Urban Cowboy movement. Though they could have turned their back
on country music, Alabama are keen to retain their country connection, and succeeds with a contagious
country sound with hits such as “Mountain Music,” “Take Me Down,”, and “Roll On,” among others.
After limited success i n the middle ’80s, Alabama has rolled on to the tune of over 30 number 1 songs,
easily the most successful group in country music history.
Discovered singing the national anthem at the 1974 National Finals Rodeo, Reba’s early country career
revealed a different singer altogether from the polished professional Reba of 1997. Greatly influenced by
her small town upbringing, and by the music of Patsy Cline, McEntire’s early work is true honky-tonk
country with a twist. Although her musical legacy during her early years at Mercury Records pales in
comparison to today, McEntire did cut several songs that helped to build the solid foundation t o the
career of one of the most acclaimed women in the history of country music. Her first single is classic
Mercury Reba, “I Don’t Want to be a One Night Stand.” Although her early style is patterned after Patsy
Cline, her own sass and emotion come through as Cline’s never did, especially in her rendition of “Old
Man River (I’ve Come to Talk Again).”. Although she never released the third and final track included
here, “A Cowboy Like You,” is so honest, and early Rebaesque, it was a natural inclusion.
After the dismal failure of the Urban Cowboy era, a generation of “new traditionalists” — George Strait,
Ricky Skaggs, the Judds, Randy Travis, and Ricky Van Shelton — brought country out of its post-Urban
Cowboy doldrums by reminding young audiences what made the music great in the first place.
Building on the astounding success of Garth Brooks, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson and
many others, Country has become the most popular radio format in America, reaching 77.3 million
adults–almost 40 percent of the adult population–every week. Since 1989, country record sales have
nearly doubled from $921 million to over $1.758 billion. Garth alone has sold more than 60 million
albums since the release of his self-titled album in April 1989.
Country Music is embarking on a new era in 1997. Some artists think that country is headed back into the
early ’80s and the urban cowboy, pop-country sound. And while the whole world may have gone country,
let’s hope the world doesn’t wake up one day to find real country gone.
The Country Music Superstar of the ’90s, Troyal Garth Brooks was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February
7, 1962, and was raised in Yukon, about 100 miles away from Tulsa. Country music played a role in the
Brooks’ household, but not a dominant one. His father, Ray, worked as a draughtman for an oil company.
Colleen Carroll, his mother, was a country singer in the 1950s and had regularly appeared on Red Foley’s
Ozark Jubilee radio and TV shows, as well as recordings for Capitol Records. By the time Garth was
born, she had retired from a professional career and the Brooks’ house reverberated with as much rock and
pop music as country.
After graduating from Oklahoma State University as a marketing major (where he attended on a track
scholarship for javelin), Brooks had been performing in bars and honky-tonks around Stillwater, most
often at Wet Willie’s, for several months. Garth played six nights a week, with a different set for each bar.
His sister, Betsy Smittle (who incidentally was Ronnie Dunn’s bass player in the house band at Duke’s
night club in Tulsa during the same period), went to see him one time, and commented that he’d written
some great songs. So, in the summer of 1985 he left for Nashville and a career in country music, only to
return home four days later, dejected by rejection.
He signed a writer’s contract in November 1987 and soon after met Bob Doyle in Nashville, who later
became his manager. It was Doyle who paid the $32.50 entry fee to a Bluebird Cafe, a performance that
earned him his first record deal with Capitol Records. Garth did sign to Capitol, releasing Garth Brooks
in April 1989 with studio producer Allen Reynolds. The rest, as they say, is history.
Garth Brooks is undeniably the most popular country music artist of all time, in terms of worldwide
following, albums sold, and awards won. The first single from his self-titled debut, “Much to Young (to
Feel This Damn Old) made it to #10. But it was Brooks’ fourth single that cemented his popularity. His
biggest hit, one he considers his career song, “The Dance,” and its accompanying video vaulted up the
country and pop charts, and from then on, there was no stopping Garth Brooks. Two clips from “The
Dance” are included below.
Garth’s second album, “No Fences,” is the top selling country album ever, with over 13 million copies sold
to date. Garth has released 5 more albums since then, adding numerous chart toppers to his resume,
including “The Thunder Rolls” (from No Fences), “The River” (from Ropin’ the Wind), “That Summer”
(from The Chase), “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” (from In Pieces), and an unreleased
album cut from “No Fences” is also here to prove that Garth can sing the classics, too — “Mr. Blue.”
George Strait, born May 18, 1952, in Pearsall, Texas, emerged in the early ’80s as one of the best
exponents of unvarnished, clean-cut country music. He told Billboard Magazine in 1981 that he “wanted
to get to the point where people hear his name and immediately think of real country music.” 19 albums
and 15 years later, there is no doubt that he did just that.
Raised on a Texas ranch, George left college after a short spell, eloped with his high school sweetheart,
and then joined the US Army. While stationed in Hawaii, George started singing with a country band,
using the songs of Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, George Jones, and Hank Williams. After his discharge in
1975, George returned to Texas and attended Southwest Texas State University to complete his degree in
agriculture. By this time, he had been bitten by the music bug and, assembling his Ace In The Hole Band,
was soon living a double life, attending classes by day and playing the clubs at night.
George and his band had built up a strong following on the southwest Texas honky-tonk circuit when,
through the efforts of Erv Woolsey, a one-time MCA promotions man, he landed an MCA recording
contract in early 1981. His first single, “Unwound,” reached the Top 10 in the country charts. Strait spent
more time at the top of the country singles charts than any other performer in the ’80s, with more than two
dozen records reaching No.1, including: “Fool Hearted Memory” (1982), “A Fire I Can’t Put Out” (1983),
“You Look So Good In Love,” “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” (1984), “The Chair” (1985), and
Top 10s ” A Morning,”and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.”
The 1990’s were just as kind to Strait, yielding hits such as “You Know Me Better Than That” (1991), and
“So Much Like My Dad” (1992). Strait reached a new plateau in his career when he took his first serious
steps into the movies to star as country singer Dusty Wyatt Chandler in Pure Country, a 1992 film
specially written for him. It became a major box office success and the soundtrack album, the first of his
recordings to be produced by Tony Brown, became his biggest seller, and yielded a No.1 track with
“Heartland.” Strait’s success continues today, with 1995 Single of the Year “Check Yes or No” (from his
Strait Out of the Box 4-CD set). In that same set, George, with the help of Asleep at the Wheel, covers an
old Bob Wills tune, “Big Ball’s In Cowtown,” showing his country roots.