Country music is the collective name for different musical styles of American music, which originated in rural areas in the southern part of the United States and has its roots in American folk music. Generally it concerns a singing voice that is accompanied by a number of simple instruments: steel guitar, violin and acoustic guitar are the traditional ones, but nowadays also electric guitar and drums are used.
Its origins lie in the melting pot of all nationalities, who moved to the New World in the 18th century to start a new life there. Many emigrants brought their musical instruments with them and after a week of hard work they came together on Saturday to relax and make music. Here lies the origin of the contemporary Country & Western.
Of course there were musicians who tried to live off their musical abilities. At first it was mainly dance music. In addition to the large dance orchestras, there were also smaller groups, the so-called string bands, in a very varied composition. There was often singing, but seldom by soloists. (Roy Acuff is generally regarded as the first major solo singer in country music).
Many artists became better known through various radio stations. In Nashville, a radio station was established by an insurance company, the National Life & Accident Insurance Company. The call letters of the station were WSM (“We Shield Millions” = “We protect millions”). The first broadcast took place in November 1925. It was a direct broadcast of the performance (with audience) of an 80-year-old fiddler, who had the reputation that he knew more than 1000 songs. The announcements were made by George D. Hay, who called the WSM Barn Dance program. This following the National Barn Dance, a similar show, which he had produced in Chicago. The program was broadcast every Saturday from a studio on the fifth floor of the company’s office. In 1928 the program (by chance) of Hay got the name it still has, Grand Ole Opry. The program became extremely popular and has had a lot of significance in the development of country music.
The first step towards contemporary country music is attributed to Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music. He made his first recording for Victor Records on August 1, 1927 in Bristol, Virginia. The Rodgers record contained a sentimental ballad, The Soldier’s Sweetheart and a lullaby, Sleep, Baby, Sleep. The album was immediately successful and so more recordings were made that same year, including the first of (eventually) a series of 13 Blue yodels, titled T. for Texas. Jimmie Rodgers was sick and died of tuberculosis in 1933. Despite this short musical career, he proved to be of great influence.
On the same day, six numbers were also recorded by a group, the Carter Family. They developed into one of the most influential groups in those early years. Their last recording in the original line-up took place in 1941 and in those fourteen years they released more than 250 songs on the record.
The music, which was developed in the 1930s, became hugely popular and naturally developed in various directions. One of those directions is the dance music from Texas and Oklahoma, which got the name Western swing. A mixture of (among other things) big band, dixieland, and jazz. Bob Wills is seen as the main artist of this style with his band The Texas Playboys.
In 1938, Roy Acuff joined the Grand Ole Opry and quickly became a regular guest. He had a band, the Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which among other things the dobro was emphatically present. Later he changed the name of his band in the Smokey Mountain Boys. He soon became a leading figure in the Grand Ole Opry and for some years, who and what could be heard in the show. In this way he partly determined the development of music. Under his direction, rules were set for participation in the show. Among other things, each artist must be nominated by an existing member and members have the obligation to attend at least 26 Saturdays.
Due to the growing popularity of the show, the studio soon became too small for the growing stream of audiences. There was a larger space, the Hillsboro Theater, but that did not help either. The following locations were the Dixie Tabernacle and the War Memorial Auditorium, which soon became too small. Even entering an entrance fee of 25 cents did not help. In 1943 moved to the Ryman Auditorium, where over 3000 visitors could find a seat every week. This Ryman Auditorium with its perfect acoustics has become the most famous home of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1974 it was moved to the Grand Ole Opry House, which was built especially for the Opry, with 4,400 seats. From there the show is broadcast every week. The Ryman Auditorium is also still regularly used for special concerts.
In the forties Roy Acuff became so popular that he beat Frank Sinatra in important popular ‘polls’. It is said that Japanese troops called in attack on Okinawa as an attack cry: To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff!
In 1949 Hank Williams came to the Grand Ole Opry. He had already been known as a teenager with his group The Drifting Cowboys and had been part of the Louisiana Hayride of radio station KWKH for a few years. After his Lovesick Blues had become a hit, he became an Opry member. His first performance, on June 11, 1949, was a huge success. The show had to be stopped, because the audience had to take him back three times for Lovesick Blues. There was only a short career for Hank Williams: he died on New Year’s Day 1953 in the backseat of the car, which would take him to a New Year’s concert in Canton, Ohio. But it was a very productive and impressive career. Like no other, he was able to portray the laborious life of the working man in word and music. There is almost no artist in country music, who does not have a song from him on the repertoire.
Country music was mainly a North American affair until the middle of the 20th century. In Europe, the country became relatively famous due to the rise of western films (including Roy Rogers). As a market, however, Europe was not yet addressed.
The first European country productions (since 1948) are in the name of Flemish variety-pioneer Bobbejaan Schoepen. From the late thirties he brought the music style in Flemish villages and he acted just after the war for American and Canadian troops deployed during the Processes of Nuremberg, Frankfurt and Berlin. He is also probably the first European to perform in the Grand Ole Opry (not counting the United Kingdom).
The most important country artist of Dutch soil is the Twente singer Ilse DeLange. She performs internationally, has been awarded several times with Edisons and gained platinum eighteen times with the sale of her albums. She and singer Waylon performed as The Common Linnets during the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 and gained second place with the country number Calm after the storm. Other Dutch country artists are for example Ben Steneker and Ramblin ‘Eddy. A Dutch band that has been elected Band of the Year by the Dutch public eleven times is Savannah, from Tilburg. This band is the “regular” European backing band for the Nashville / USA singer-songwriter Billy Yates and is also part of the Theater production Back to the Country, together with Dick van Altena and Cor Sanne, a show that has been around for more than ten years. great success the Dutch (and foreign) theaters.
Also called ‘alternative country’, in the 1960s and 1970s country rock. Under the influence of pop / rock bands such as The Byrds and artists like Gram Parsons and Neil Young, other pop artists were increasingly influenced by traditional country music. The idealized honesty of rural life and the expression of ‘real’ emotions and life experiences matched the spirit of the sixties and seventies. The often conservative texts of the original country were replaced by texts that better matched the ideals of the new generation of singer-songwriters. Since the nineties of the 20th century there have been many new artists who combine (alternative) rock with authentic country elements: among others The Jayhawks, Will Oldham and Lucinda Williams.