Monday, May 28, 2012

Old School Country: The Death of the Balladeers

"So Long" to a style of country music...

The end of the 1960s was a time of transition in Country music. As mentioned in an earlier post, Country had been shaped by Rock and Roll through the 1950s and early 1960s as musicians like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Sr. embraced the methods and intonations of rock music. A later generation would rebel against this influence and attempt to get back to the older style (which will be the subject of the next post in this series), but in doing so would only reinforce the influence of rock- after all, you don't rebel against something that you think has no effect on you.
In between these two movements (rock influence in the 1950s and rebellion against that influence in the 1970s), one of the major original influences on and streams within country music died off as a major national sub-genre: that of Western music. "Western" music (still a part of the title of the genre of "country western music") was a mix of songs by and about cowboys and ballads. The end of the 1960s saw the collapse of nation interest in these two kinds of music. Though there are still Western singers today, they do not have anything more than regional following.

Of the balladeers, Johnny Horton has had the most staying power, with his songs being covered regularly by contemporary artists. His biggest hit told the story of the battle of New Orleans. Also, the video is freaking trippy, and apparently channels West Side Story:

Sink the Bismark appeal to World War II veterans, and popularized a relatively unknown-to-Americans (but major!) battle of the war:

Horton's song North to Alaska was the movie tie-in song for a John Wayne picture of the same title:

Much more famous than Johnny Horton was Marty Robbins, who could play numerous instruments and regularly made both the country and pop charts. (He was also a NASCAR driver, though that's less relevant.) El Paso topped both charts and remained Robbins' signature song (and was covered by the Grateful Dead):

His rendering of the battle of the Alamo was another tie-in for a John Wayne movie called The Alamo:

Finally, his song Big Iron has been covered numerous times:

Easily the most skilled of the balladeers (so much that he was dubbed "the Storyteller" by his peers) was Tom T. Hall. What he lacked in singing ability he more than made up in his talent). His biggest country hit was Faster Horses: The Cowboy and the Poet

Also popular, especially among college students, was I Like Beer:

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