Recently, Vox put up a post entitled, Country Music Is Dead.
I don’t think it was ever really alive in the first place. When you think about it, how old is Country Music, really? How long has it been around?
I would say since about 1970.
Seriously, it’s that old. It was about that time that everyone started using the term Country and Western for two forms of music that had been comingled into a new style.
However there had been a time that those forms of music were very distinct and separate and that time was a mere ten years before then.
Take a look at Marty Robbins’ El Paso from his 1959 big album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs.
Now compare it to June Carter’s 30 Days, from about the same period.
These two forms of music are almost as distinct stylistically as modern-Country and Rap.
This is hardly a surprise as they came from two separate regions. The music from the southwest had it’s origin in trail songs, which emphasized A cappella and harmony. Understandable, as it is difficult to play an organ while punching cattle. Western music did favor guitar to some degree, which makes sense because cowboy songs were clearly influenced by the music of their predecessors, the vaqueros.
Country music of that period would be more accurately called Southern and Appalachian. Basically hillbilly songs. They used a different style of harmony and bow string instruments, plus the banjo. And yodeling. Lots and lots of yodeling.
Here’s an example, (without yodeling, don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that to you):
So how did these two styles merge? It was in Nashville. If you wanted to hit the big time in either of those fields of music then you wanted to get on the radio. And if you wanted that, you needed to get on the Grand Ole Opry Show in Nashville.
Just about every type of Southern, Appalachian, Western, Blues and Negro Spiritual Musician was flooding into Nashville, all in the hopes of getting onto the Grand Ole Opry radio show. This has been going on since the 1930s.
Then in 1948 there was a technological breakthrough in recording technology. The twelve inch vinyl record disk had gone from 78 revolutions per minute to a much slower 33 revolutions per minute. The older 78 format was so fast that you could only put one song on one record. Before 1948 an album of songs was physically an album of separate records.
However by 1950 you could put a bunch of songs on one record disk, (still called an album), and that changed everything. An economy of scale suddenly kicked in and musicians were about to start making a LOT of money, (though not as much as the producers, naturally).
Given that all of these creative types were getting together in one spot, some cross pollination was inevitable. Music producers wanted to make the most money possible which means selling to the widest audience possible. Rather than cater to specialty audiences for Western, Southern, Appalachian and so on it was preferable to favor songs that appealed to as big a market as possible. Consequently the individual styles went by the wayside and a new amalgamated music form emerged called Country and Western. After a while the Western was quietly dropped.
Ta-da modern Country had arrived.
And now it’s dead.
“Loretta Lynn voiced her displeasure with current country music during a recent podcast, and she didn’t hold back. The 87-year-old country music pioneer told Martina McBride that she thinks country music is ‘dead.’
‘I think it’s a shame,’ she said on the ‘Vocal Point with Martina McBride’ podcast, according to WhiskeyRiff.com. “I think it’s a shame to let a type of music die. I don’t care what any kind of music it is. Rock, country, whatever. I think it’s a shame to let it die.’”
What killed Country is simple enough.
In a nutshell Nashville has become one of the Predator Cities and those corrupt everything they feed upon.
Upside: there’s always YouTube.