Country Music Artists and Styles
By Robert Silva, About.com Guide
- Early Country
- Traditional Country
- Cowboy & Western
- Western Swing
- Honky Tonk
- Nashville Sound
- Country Rock
- Bakersfield Sound
- Outlaw Country
- New Traditionalist
- Texas Country
- Alternative Country
- Contemporary Country
Early country music was brought down from the Appalachian mountains, heavily influenced by the Celtic roots of the people in those "hollers."
Bill Monroe's distinct banjo-playing style lent itself to a new label, taken from the name of his band, the Bluegrass Boys.
Traditional country drew its tone from old-time mountain music, updating it for modern audiences.
Cowboy & Western
By the mid-1930s, artists started wearing fancy outfits with fringe, boots, and cowboy hats. Cowboy music is distinguished by rich harmonies, storytelling, as well as swing and waltz rhythms.
Bob Wills combined elements of country, big-band jazz, pop, and blues music, for a a bouncy, joyous sound that demands getting on your feet.
Honky-tonk music is a robust mix of plain cowboy music with the bouncing dance steps that were filling dance halls all over the country. For those who didn't "swing with Bob" or "sway with Cole," this foot-stomping music was just the thing. It was favored heavily by hard-working, hard-drinking plain folks, and was a powerful part of the Bakersfield and Texas country sounds.
There was a distinct line between white music and black music in the mid-1950s when Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studios and was famously discovered. But blending hillbilly country and blues wasn't a sound that Elvis had invented; he just made it mainstream. The actual rockabilly sound didn't last very long, rapidly turning into other styles. Today it's considered a retro sound, but it left a deep impact on American music.
From the 1940s and into the '50s, many country artists made the crossover to big-band halls, blending their country sound with the ballroom orchestra tunes made popular by Glen Miller and other band leaders. The Nashville sound typically took honky-tonk and hillbilly singers and backed them with lush strings and horns to appeal to a wider audience.
In the 1970s, rock came back to its roots -- turning rock into a sound more country than country itself since the incursion of the Nashville Sound. As early as the mid-60's there were rock groups dabbling in country music, including The Beatles and The Byrds. By the 1970s it gave way to Southern Rock groups like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alabama.
The Bakersfield sound really isn't very different from the honky-tonk sound, although it tends to rock a little more. Buck Owens brought it to a wide audience through the medium of television, and its effects can be seen on country music from Bakersfield to Austin.
Outlaw music came about as a direct result of the encroaching Nashville Sound. Artists who wanted to have their own arrangements and their own musicians balked at the heavy handed producers and orchestral backing that Nashville proscribed. So they fought it at every level until Willie Nelson released his critically acclaimed Red-Headed Stranger.
The Outlaw movement carried country music into the 1970s, then faded before the same commercial pressures that made the Nashville Sound king. Country music mellowed into pop before traditional sounds made a strong comeback in the '80s with chart-topping newcomers like The Judds and George Strait.
Texas is where the original Outlaws came from, and that's where new outlaws are born. Still stubbornly sticking to the sound of country music the way they like it heard, these artists are proud and independent -- combining Western swing with a modern sensibility that makes it thoroughly and uniquely Texan.
The alt-country movement blossomed out of 1970s country-rock. These acts want to retain their independence and play the music their own way. While many alt-country artists could easily be defined as another genre, their dogged determination to make music without limitations sets them apart.
In the 1990s, Garth Brooks broke into the mainstream with No Fences and took all of country music with him. Hitting the pop charts became just as important as pleasing hardcore country audiences. Eager to crossover, many new artists called themselves country while sporting a sound closer to '70s pop.
- Blake Shelton
- Brantley Gilbert
- Carrie Underwood
- Chris Young
- Eli Young Band
- Faith Hill
- Garth Brooks
- Hunter Hayes
- Keith Urban
- Kenny Chesney