The Authenticity of Modern Country Music

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Imagine a warm, breezy afternoon deep in the heart of Dixieland. Picture an old farmhouse nestled peacefully in the woods beside a clear, sparkling creek. A rocking chair rests lazily on the back porch with a floppy-eared Bassett hound at its feet. On the table beside it is a glass of cool, refreshing lemonade and a radio tuned in to the local country station. You stop to listen….. I was born country and that’s what I’ll always be, like the rivers and the woodlands wild and free.

I’ve got a hundred years of down-home running through my blood. I was born country and this country’s what I love (Born 1). Ahh….you close your eyes and let Alabama take you back. But then Jack Ingram comes on with “Lips of an Angel” and jolts you out of your reverie. You listen to the beat of the drums and screech of the steel guitar. You think to yourself that it sounds more like rock than country, and perhaps you’re right. It is true that modern country music has adopted many characteristics of other music varieties. But while some contemporary music has branched out into other genres, a good deal of it has kept all the twang and texture of what some people consider to be real country. The country music of today has not abandoned the authenticity of the country music of yesteryear; rather it has expanded the entire genre allowing for greater variation and more popularity. Country music originated from the folk songs and ballads of European settlers (Country 669). While Americans shunned the love themes of their songs, they kept the styles the same. They preferred to sing of practical scenarios and real-life stories. These folk songs became known as “hillbilly” music in the plains and “mountain” music in the Appalachians, and existed for decades in America before their commercialization and eventual development into country music as we know it. The man credited with cutting the first country music record was named Alexander Campbell Robertson. In 1922 in New York City, Robertson made his mark in history with “Sally Goodin” and “Arkansas Traveler” (Malone 35). Also in 1922, a radio station in Georgia earned recognition for being the first to broadcast country music (Scaruffi, par. 2). Three years later, Carl Sprague, known as the first “Singing Cowboy” of country music, produced the first major collection of cowboy songs (par. 3). 1925 also saw the opening of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Country music at this time was still very much localized and not nationally recognized. A major breakthrough came in August 1927 when a man named Ralph Peer, who worked for the Victor Talking Machine Company, set up a temporary recording studio in Bristol, Tennessee. This launched the beginning of the commercialization of country music. In fact, Bristol later became known as the “Birthplace of Country Music” (Malone 36).

During the Western swing era of the 1920s, country music began to adopt the sound of its southwestern neighbors, which was influenced largely by blues and jazz, and these two regional styles united. The cowboy image really became popular during the 1940s and 1950s when country songs were written for Western movies. Gradually, the lyrics became coarser, dealing with the subjects of drinking and cheating. This period, known as the Honky-Tonk era, was named after illegal saloons established during the Prohibition. In 1931, the electric guitar was introduced, followed by the steel guitar and drums (Scaruffi, par. 18). By this time, the fast-paced, mountain music of the southeastern states had become widely popular. It was known as bluegrass, named after Kentucky, whose nickname is “Bluegrass Country”, and influenced by blues and gospel. It employs mainly the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. Bluegrass musicians are renown for their adeptness and dexterity and stunning performances. The instrumental aspect of bluegrass is the critical feature while the lyrics are usually considered...
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