Country music is undoubtedly one of the most popular genres in the world, and continues to only gain more and more fans as time marches on.
Ever since country music first came to prominence in America almost 100 years ago, it’s had a voracious following, and boasted immensely talented musicians throughout its history.
We’ve decided to take a look back at one of the world’s most popular genres and look at some of the biggest milestones that country music boasts from its impressive history.
The Grand Ole Opry begins:
Even if you’re just a casual country fan, you’ve more than likely heard of the Grand Ole Opry. Kicking off on November 28, 1925, it’s the longest running radio broadcast in US history, and has been bringing country music into the homes of millions of Americans for almost a century.
Helping to bring country music into the public consciousness, the Grand Ole Opry has also served as a touring show, and is responsible for kickstarting the careers of some of the genre’s biggest names, including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, and Dolly Parton. Move over, Recovery, this is the sort of broadcast that defined an entire genre of music.
Slim Dusty is born:
When it comes to country music in Australia, there’s no way you can overlook the stunning influence that David Gordon Kirkpatrick (better known as Slim Dusty) had. Born on June 13th, 1927, no one could have foreseen the impact that Slim would have on the Aussie music scene.
Releasing his first record at age 19, Slim Dusty saw major success in 1957 when his cover of Gordon Parsons’ ‘A Pub With No Beer’ became the first Australian single to go gold. From there, Slim Dusty just kept on breaking records, selling millions of albums, and becoming an iconic figure in Aussie music history.
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To date, Slim remains the most successful artist at the Tamworth Country Music Festival, taking home a record total of 38 Golden Guitar Awards – a feat that will likely remain untouchable for quite some time.
Woody Guthrie writes ‘This Land Is Your Land’:
Proving that folk music and country music often go hand in hand, the mid-’40s saw Oklahoman folk singer Woody Guthrie perform his best known track, ‘This Land Is Your Land’. Originally written as a sarcastic response to ‘God Bless America’, the track would set itself apart as one of the most patriotic songs of the era, and was even suggested as a candidate for the new national anthem of the USA in the ’60s.
While Guthrie himself wasn’t a country musician per se, the penning of this track would go on to influence numerous country musicians over the following decades, with many covering the track, or being inspired to write their own anthems of patriotism as a result.
Jerry Lee Lewis records ‘Great Balls Of Fire’:
Having kicked off his career at the iconic Sun Studios the previous year, Jerry Lee Lewis had begun to make a name for himself as a prolific country artist. Having worked as a session musician with the likes of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, he was rubbing shoulders with the greats, but needed his own huge hit to bring himself to prominence. By November of 1957, he had gotten his wish, with his breakthrough single ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ being released.
A mixture of piano rock, rockabilly, and country, the track was a crossover hit, and proved to the music-loving public that country music had more appeal than they had previously thought. Most interestingly though, this track well and truly started the career of Lewis, who went on to become one of the most divisive figures in music, and was known as “rock & roll’s first great wild man”.
Johnny Cash’s prison performances:
Back in 1955, Johnny Cash found success with his track ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. A tune that tells the tale of a prisoner who “shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”, it was a popular hit and helped Cash establish his image as an outlaw musician. Just three years later, Cash brought his music to some of his biggest fans, performing at California’s San Quentin prison on January 1st, 1958.
The success of this concert led to more prison performances from Cash, including his most famous appearance at Folsom Prison in 1968. Performing in the location that inspired his most famous track, At Folsom Prison was released as a full-length live album and remains one of the most influential records in country music to date.
The Country Music Hall Of Fame is established:
By the early ’60s, country music was undoubtedly a popular genre, and the Country Music Association had begun to look for a way to help bring the genre to the mainstream. Soon, the idea of the Country Music Hall of Fame was born, with the idea of honouring the biggest names in the genre.
Kicking off in 1961, the Hall of Fame was established with a museum dedicated to preserving artefacts and historical pieces following in the ensuing years. The first three artists inducted into the hall are Jimmie Rodgers, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams, with many other legends of country music following in the coming years and decades.
Garth Brooks is born
Quick, name the best-selling artists of all time in the United States! If your top three included The Beatles and Elvis Presley, you’re on the money, but if you didn’t slot Garth Brooks in between the two, you’re way off. Yes, born in Oklahoma on February 7th 1962, and having kicked his career off back in the mid-’80s, Garth Brooks has been releasing albums ever since – enough to rack up 148 million record sales in the US alone.
Even with a four-year period of retirement at the start of the millennium (and his regrettable stint as ‘Australian’ musician Chris Gaines), Garth Brooks has managed to well and truly put country music on the map, performing countless sold-out tours, and helping make country music appear ‘cool’ once again.
The Newport Folk Festival:
Like Woody Guthrie, the Newport Folk Festival wasn’t exactly a country-themed affair, but there’s no doubting we wouldn’t have the genre we know and love today without it. Arguably the most famous moment in the festival’s history occurred back in July of 1965 when Bob Dylan (who was heavily inspired by Guthrie) controversially chose to don an electric guitar in favour of his iconic acoustic instrument.
Almost instantly, the eyes of musicians from all walks of life were opened, with these tune makers realising they weren’t confined to just acoustic instruments. What happened next was a wave of new musicians who began to plug their instruments in, turning up the volume, and allowing the country genre to experience the spark it needed to move to the next step.
The Tamworth Country Music Festival begins:
While country music was not a foreign concept in Australia, local fans were without a huge celebration of the genre until the early ’70s. Kicking off thanks to a talent quest by the Tamworth branch of the Capital Country Music Association, the Tamworth Country Music Festival held its first event back in 1973.
Before long, the festival was attracting fans from all over the nation up to Tamworth to sing the praises of one of the genre. Of course, as the years went on, and more and more fans continued to attend, the festival grew in size and length, resulting in the ten-day celebration we know it to be today.
With many of country music’s biggest names considering it an honour to appear at the festival, Tamworth is now a huge international drawcard, with the Golden Guitar Awards, its stunning lineups, and casual, party-like atmosphere becoming some of the most iconic characteristics of the event.
O Brother, Where Art Thou? creates a country revival:
In October of 2000, iconic directors The Coen Brothers released their latest film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? A crime-comedy set in rural Mississippi in the ’30s, the film featured a soundtrack full of tracks from the era, and helped to revitalise interest in the country music genre.
Produced by T-Bone Burnett, and helped along by the presence of the track ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’ (which the three lead characters recorded under the name The Soggy Bottom Boys), the soundtrack has gone on to become one of the most famous of the ’00s, and is undoubtedly one of the most intriguing time capsules of classic and contemporary country music.
Kasey Chambers sees some major success:
By the late ’90s, Kasey Chambers had spent five years in the Dead Ringer Band and was keen for a solo career. Having released her debut record, The Captain, in 1999, the album took home the ARIA Award for Best Country Album, and was a decent success on the charts. However, Kasey’s biggest success was yet to come.
2001 saw the release of Chambers’ second album, Barricades & Brickwalls, and it was an instant success. Peaking at #1 on the Australian ARIA and Country charts, the record was off to a good start, but it really shone when it came to the ARIA Awards for 2002.
Receiving seven nominations, the record took home three awards, including Best Country Artist, Best Female Artist, Album Of The Year, leaving Kasey Chambers one of that year’s most successful artists, and truly establishing her as one of Australia’s brightest stars.
The Dixie Chicks cause controversy:
Back in 2003, the Dixie Chicks put country music on the map once again when they completely divided their fanbase thanks to their comments on George W. Bush. In the lead-up to the Invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks found themselves in London, where they told the crowd that they were ashamed to be from Texas, the same state as the then-US President.
Almost instantly, the backlash was swift, with many criticising the Dixie Chicks’ outspoken views, while others lauded them for standing up for what they believe in.
Regardless of what side you were on, the band’s fanbase turned against the group for a period of time, and following a few years in exile, the Dixie Chicks returned to live performances again in 2010. These days, they’ve regained the majority of their fans, proving that if anything, country fans are indeed a forgiving bunch.