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Country and Westerner
Country and Westerner

Country music (or country and western) is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, gospel music and old-time music and evolved rapidly in the 1920s.

The term country music began to be used in the 1940s when the earlier term hillbilly music was deemed to be degrading and the term was widely embraced in the 1970s, while country and Western has declined in use since that time, except in the United Kingdom and Ireland, where it is still commonly used.

In the Southwestern United States a different mix of ethnic groups created the music that became the Western music of the term country and Western. The term "country music" is used today to describe many styles and subgenres.

Country music has produced two of the top selling solo artists of all time. Elvis Presley, who was known early on as “the Hillbilly Cat” and was a regular on the radio program Louisiana Hayride, went on to become a defining figure in the emergence of rock and roll. Contemporary musician Garth Brooks, with 220 million albums sold, is the top-selling solo artist in U.S. history.

While album sales of most musical genres have declined, country music experienced one of its best years in 2006, when, during the first six months, U.S. sales of country albums increased by 17.7 percent to 36 million. Moreover, country music listening nationwide has remained steady for almost a decade, reaching 77.3 million adults every week, according to the radio-ratings agency Arbitron, Inc.

The first commercial recording of what can be considered country music was "Sallie Gooden" by fiddlist A.C. (Eck) Robertson in 1922 for Victor Records. Columbia Records began issuing records with "hillbilly" music (series 15000D "Old Familiar Tunes") as early as 1924.

A year earlier on June 14, 1923, Fiddlin' John Carson recorded "Little Log Cabin in the Lane" for Okeh Records. Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit in May 1924 with "Wreck of the Old '97." The flip side of the record was "Lonesome Road Blues," which also became very popular. In April 1924, "Aunt" Samantha Bumgarner and Eva Davis became the first female musicians to record and release country songs.

Many "hillbilly" musicians, such as Cliff Carlisle, recorded blues songs throughout the decade and into the 30s. Other important early recording artists were Riley Puckett, Don Richardson, Fiddlin' John Carson, Al Hopkins, Ernest V. Stoneman, Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers and The Skillet Lickers. The steel guitar entered country music as early as 1922, when Jimmie Tarlton met famed Hawaiian guitarist Frank Ferera on the West Coast.

Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be important early country musicians. Their songs were first captured at a historic recording session in Bristol on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist.

Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk; and many of his best songs were his compositions, including “Blue Yodel”, which sold over a million records and established Rodgers as the premier singer of early country music.

Beginning in 1927, and for the next 17 years the Carters recorded some 300 old-time ballads, traditional tunes, country songs and Gospel hymns, all representative of America's southeastern folklore and heritage.

One effect of the Great Depression was to reduce the number of records that could be sold. Radio, and broadcasting, became a popular source of entertainment, and "barn dance" shows featuring country music were started all over the South, as far north as Chicago, and as far west as California.

The most important was the Grand Ole Opry, aired starting in 1925 by WSM-AM in Nashville to the present day. Some of the early stars on the Opry were Uncle Dave Macon, Roy Acuff and African American harmonica player DeFord Bailey. WSM's 50,000 watt signal (1934) could often be heard across the country.

Many musicians performed and recorded songs in any number of styles. Moon Mullican, for example, played Western Swing, but also recorded songs that can be called rockabilly. Bill Haley sang cowboy songs, and was at one time a cowboy yodeler. Haley became most famous as an early player of rock n roll, adding Jimmie Rodgers-stylings to his environment, thus creating a sound that was very much his own. Between 1947 and 1949, country crooner Eddy Arnold placed a total of 8 songs in the top 10.

During the 1930s and 1940s, cowboy songs, or Western music, which had been recorded since the 1920s, were popularized by films made in Hollywood. Some of the popular singing cowboys from the era were Gene Autry, the Sons of the Pioneers and Roy Rogers.

Bob Wills was another "country" musician from the Lower Great Plains who had become very popular as the leader of a “hot string band,” and who also appeared in Hollywood Westerns. His mix of "country" and jazz, which started out as dance hall music, would become known as Western swing. Spade Cooley and Tex Williams also had very popular bands and appeared in films. At its height, Western swing rivaled the popularity of other big band jazz.

Beginning in the mid 1950s, and reaching its peak during the early 1960s, the Nashville Sound turned country music into a multimillion-dollar industry centered in Nashville, Tennessee. Under the direction of producers such as Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, and later Billy Sherrill, the sound brought country music to a diverse audience and helped revive country as it emerged from a commercially fallow period.

This subgenre was notable for borrowing from 1950s pop stylings: a prominent and "smooth" vocal, backed by a string section and vocal chorus. Instrumental soloing was de-emphasized in favor of trademark "licks". Leading artists in this genre included Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold. The "slip note" piano style of session musician Floyd Cramer was an important component of this style.

Nashville's pop song structure became more pronounced and it morphed into what was called Countrypolitan. Countrypolitan was aimed straight at mainstream markets and it sold well throughout the later 1960s into the early 1970s. Top artists included Tammy Wynette and Charlie Rich.

In 1962, Ray Charles surprised the pop world by turning his attention to country and western music, topping the charts and rating number three for the year on Billboard's pop chart with the "I Can't Stop Loving You" single, and recording the landmark album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

Derived from the traditional and honky tonk sounds of the late 1950s and 1960s, including Ray Price (whose band, the "Cherokee Cowboys", included Willie Nelson and Roger Miller) and mixed with the anger of an alienated subculture of the nation during the period, outlaw country revolutionized the genre of country music.

"After I left Nashville (the early 70s), I wanted to relax and play the music that I wanted to play, and just stay around Texas, maybe Oklahoma. Waylon and I had that outlaw image going, and when it caught on at colleges and we started selling records, we were O.K. The whole outlaw thing, it had nothing to do with the music, it was something that got written in an article, and the young people said, 'Well, that's pretty cool.' And started listening." (Willie Nelson)

The term outlaw country is traditionally associated with David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, Floridian Gary Stewart and Billy Joe Shaver, and was encapsulated in the 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws. A related subgenre is Red Dirt.

Truck driving country music is a genre of country music and is a fusion of honky tonk, country-rock and Bakersfield Sound. It has the tempo of country-rock and the emotion of honky-tonk, and its lyrics focus on a truck driver's lifestyle. Truck driving country songs often deal with trucks and love. Well-known artists who sing truck driving country include Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Colonel Robert Morris, Dick Curless, and Red Simpson. Dudley is known as the father of truck driving country.

With his debut on the national country music scene in 1989, singer and songwriter Clint Black would usher in a new sound that would define much of country music for the 1990s and beyond.

During the 1990s, country artist Garth Brooks enjoyed one of the most successful careers in popular music history, breaking records for both sales and concert attendance throughout the decade. The RIAA has certified his recordings at a combined (128× platinum), denoting roughly 113 million U.S. shipments.

In the mid 1990s, country western music was influenced by the popularity of line dancing. This influence was so great that Chet Atkins was quoted as saying "The music has gotten pretty bad, I think. It's all that damn line dancing." By the end of the decade, however, at least one line dance choreographer complained that good country line dance music was no longer being released.

In the 1990s, alternative country came to refer to a diverse group of musicians and singers operating outside the traditions and industry of mainstream country music. In general, they eschewed the high production values and pop outlook of the Nashville-dominated industry, to produce music with a lo-fi sound, frequently infused with a strong punk and rock & roll aesthetic, bending the traditional rules of country music. Lyrics were often bleak, gothic or socially aware. Other initiators include Steve Earle, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Ryan Adams, My Morning Jacket and Drive-By Truckers.

Several rock and pop stars have ventured into country music. In 2000, Richard Marx made a brief cross-over with his Days In Avalon album, which features five country songs and several singers and musicians. Alison Krauss sang background vocals to Marx's single "Straight From My Heart." Also, Bon Jovi had a hit single, "Who Says You Can't Go Home," with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. Other rock stars who featured a country song on their albums were Don Henley and Poison.

One infrequent, but consistent theme in modern country music is that of proud, stubborn independence. "Country Boy Can Survive" and "Copperhead Road" are two of the more serious songs along those lines; while "Some Girls Do" and "Redneck Woman" are more light-hearted variations on the theme.

Country fashion often has a strong western influence (hence, country and western), but is not actually cowboy-ish in the manner of rodeo type people. It typically involves checked shirts, weird cowboyish tie things, and jeans.

Image from deviantart, info -save for the last paragraph, which is mine- from wikipedia.

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