Sunday, April 27, 2008

Who Invented Country Rock?, Part II

Remember my post from a month ago about Who Invented Country Rock? (If you missed it, here's a mix of some of the highlights.) Well, it turned out to be the most popular post I've ever done, generating lots of comments and e-mails. So now its time to tie up some loose ends based on all the great feedback resulting from my earlier country-rock post.


(1) Jimmie Rodgers

Some readers voiced the opinion that elements of country and rock were always intertwined and that "country rock" was, in some sense, "invented" before country or rock, or at least at the same time. It's true that elements of the "country-rock" style have been around for a long time. Here's one from oldtime favorite Jimmie Rodgers, a musical pioneer whose style pre-dated and paved the way for both rock and country:

Jimmie Rodgers – In The Jailhouse Now (buy album)

(2) Moon Mullican

In a similar vein, the author of the great blog Big Rock Candy Mountain argued that "Moon Mullican invented "Country Rock" all the way back in the late 30's through the early 50's." He cited the songs Cherokee Boogie and Seven Nights to Rock in particular:

Moon Mullican – Cherokee Boogie (buy album)

(3) Rex Griffin

Here's an oldtime rockin' country song that eventually made its way to The Beatles via Carl Perkins:

Rex Griffin – Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby (buy album)


(4) Wynn Stewart

In the first country rock post I gave a lot of credit to Buck Owens, as a representative of the Bakersfield sound, for adding electric instruments and a backbeat to traditional country music. Owens was the most visible proponent of this style, but since we are talking about firsts here, I would be remiss not to mention Wynn Stewart, the father of the Bakersfield sound and a prime influence on Owens:

Wynn Stewart - Big Big Love (buy album)

(5) The Osborne Brothers

In similar fashion, The Osborne Brothers turned up the volume (and popularity) of bluegrass music with songs like this 1968 hit:

The Osborne Brothers - Rocky Top (buy album)

(6) Clarence White

Along with Gram Parsons, Clarence White is probably the single most important person in the development of country rock. He started out as an accoustic bluegrass flatpicking prodigy and literally brought a country style into rock music when he went electric. LD's comment (on my last country-rock post) nails it: "Who do you think The Byrds hired to give their country-ish songs legitimacy beginning with the Younger Than Yesterday album? Clarence White. I'd go so far as to say that Clarence White's influence on the origin of country-rock is as underrated as Gram's is overrated." As I've mentioned before, I've got a big Clarence White post in the works. Until then:

Clarence White - Hong Kong Hillbilly (buy album)


(7) Mike Nesmith

Many of this blog's readers worship at the altar of Mike Nesmith, which caused me to learn a lot about his early country-rock contributions. (I already knew that his mother invented liquid paper and the he produced the greatest cult movie ever made). Here's one of his country-rock efforts that pre-dated The Byrds' Sweetheart album:

The Monkees – Sunny Girlfriend (buy album)

(8) The Beau Brummels

Brendan, from The Rising Storm, mentioned the Beau Brummels. In the comment section to the last post I included a tune from their album Triangle. Their next album, Bradley's Barn was recorded in Nashville in 1968 (the year of country rock):

The Beau Brummels – Turn Around (buy album)

(9) Stone Country

Reader Terry called my attention to the band Stone Country, whose members included country-folk singer Steve Young. Terry described their 1968 album as "country rock with a slightly psychy edge." That pretty much gets it. Here are a couple songs from that album that I've enjoyed discovering:

Stone Country – Ballad Of Bonnie & Clyde (buy album)

Stone Country – Why Baby Why (buy album)

(10) Hearts & Flowers

Both reader Terry, and Jason from The Rising Storm, have recommended the band Hearts & Flowers, which I should have included last time around but left out because I was running out of steam. Here's a sample:

Hearts And Flowers – I'm A Lonesome Fugitive (buy album)


Anonymous said...

Interesting selections. I'm not sure about the idea of country rock being invented before country or rock. Beau Brummels and Stone Country are good contenders. Michael Nesmith's definitely a player too. Thanks for getting me thinking! Love the blog.

Paul said...

anon - That bit about Jimmie Rodgers came from a critic of my last post. I think country rock was invented by: Wynn Stewart, Buck Owens, The Beatles, The Byrds, Clarence White, Gram Parsons, and many others who were performing in the 1960s.

LD said...

Paul, thanks for the shout-out. By the way, did you know Clarence White recorded 4 sessions with Wynn Stewart in 1968? If you haven't heard these tracks, I'll gladly fire 'em off to you.

Joel @ Postmodern Sounds said...

I don't think I mentioned it last time, but the Osborne Brothers are also usually credited as the first bluegrass band to play in the college folk revival scene. c. 1960. So, even if they weren't necessarily doing country-rock themselves that early, their incorporation of bluegrass into the folk scene might be seen as influential on early '60s folk-rock bands, which in turn leads to the country-rock of the later decade.

Paul said...

Hey Joel. Sorry I didn't give you some credit for the Osborne brothers idea. I had the Osborne brothers in my notes, but wasn't sure where it came from. (I'm kind of a lazy blogger that way.)

Good thought on the folk scene issue. The Osborne brothers expanded both the audience for and the sound of bluegrass music.


bredan said...

great as usual. nashville west theme comes in and takes over. clarence every time. just ordered the muleskinner live on tv dvd! i'm hooked on CW.

oh our next podcast we're doing our take on the evolution of country rock. i only hope it can scratch the companion piece surface to these fine posts.

Anonymous said...

great list.

gave me lots of new artists to seek out.

Santo said...

I love Repo Man and I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Merle Haggard doesn't get more of a mention when it comes to major country rock influences. One of his songs is covered here and the original amongst other gems like 'Branded Man' were without doubt major influences on the country rock genre as well as a prime influence on Outlaw Country also.

Paul said...

re: Merle - I've got to save something for Part III! No doubt Merle is a giant.

Carl Wilson said...

Naming the inventor of country-rock is pretty much impossible, since rock was an outgrowth of country and blues (plus pop music of many other kinds), and since country and blues/R&B never stayed all that separate for long (going back to pre-recorded music, old-time country and early blues drew upon each other, and you have to assume that goes all the way down in American vernacular music, as black people and white people heard each other's songs and sometimes sang the same songs - that's American history for you). Besides the cases you've mentioned, see under "western swing" and "hillbilly boogie" or "country boogie" for midcentury cases of rockin' country music.

When you look at the big breakthrough period for rock, you've got the whole Sun Records stable - Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and of course Elvis. All doing country and R&B-ish stuff simultaneously (Cash less so, except that Cash of the four was probably the biggest direct influence on "country rock" as it later came to be understood, especially Dylan).

When you get out of the rockabilly era (look at that name!), and into Rock as such, then, yeah, I'd start with Dylan and The Byrds and Clarence White. I'd say the notable thing about "country rock" is that it took up country as a retro thing, and in that way it had more in common with the folk revival before it and the soon-to-come back-to-the-land movement.

Fun subject and great song selections, though.

Carl Wilson said...

By the way, the above comment was from me.

Carl Wilson said...

Ugh, sorry to triple-time you but also - the Osbornes are a good catch and so would be the Lovin' Spoonful and other jug-band revivalists, since that stuff is more country in the Nashville sense than most of what you got in the folk-to-folk-rock genre.

Paul said...

Hey Carl, I mentioned a lot of those other performers in Part I of this series. Thanks for the comments. (I don't mind triple comments. Makes the post look more popular.)

Paul said...


Now I'm double-commenting back at you.

I read a review of your book that was very complimentary. It sounds interesting and It's on my list of things to read.

davesap said...

Repo Man is definitely one of my favorite movies. We'll have to talk about that next week at the x show. Did you see the reference in the wikipedia article that Indie-rock label American Laundromat Records will be releasing a tribute CD covering the soundtrack? Their website says that the CD is scheduled for release in 2009.

Anonymous said...

What about chuck berry - maybelline?

MrQwerty said...

It's a shame

MrQwerty said...

I meant to say, It's a shame that not one of the MP3 links worked. I realise these traditionally stay around only a short time after a piece is written, but an article like this has longevity and will be used as a source for a long time to come. Without the music links it becomes much less the formidable work it is. Can they be reinstated?

Jason "Oddy" Odd said...

Everyone has their own take on early country-rock.

Some example songs, many are obvious and well known of course, and have been previously mentioned.

Some here, are not so well known.

The Beatles - I Don't Want To Spoil The Party (Capitol/EMI) 1964

The Byrds - Satisfied Mind (Columbia) 1965

Downliners Sect - I Got Mine (Columbia) 1965

The Dillards - Lemon Chimes (Capitol) 1965

Byrds - Mr. Spaceman (Columbia) 1966

Charles River Valley Boys - I've Just Seen A Face (Elektra) 1966

The Greenbriar Boys - Up To My Neck In High Muddy Waters (Vanguard) 1966

International Submarine Band - Truck Drivin' Man (Ascot) 1966

Gosdin Brothers - Love At First Sight (World Pacific) 1966

The Greenbriar Boys - Different Drum (Vanguard) 1966

Gene Clark & The Gosdin Brothers - Keep On Pushin' (Columbia) 1967

Gosdin Brothers - A Hundred Years From Now (Edict) 1967

Byrds - Time Between (Columbia) 1967

Hearts And Flowers - I'm A Lonesome Fugitive (Capitol) 1967

Byrds - The Girl With No Name (Columbia) 1967

Ian & Sylvia - Big River (MGM) 1967

Buffalo Springfield - A Child's Claim To Fame (Atco) 1967

Kaleidoscope - Louisiana Man (Epic) 1967

Buffalo Springfield - Whatever Happened To Saturday Night (Atco outtake)

Lewis And Clarke Expedition - Chain Around The Flowers (Colgems) 1967

Monkees - What Am I Doing Hangin' 'Round? (Colgems) 1967

Moby Grape - Ain't No Use (Columbia) 1967

Leonard Cohen - So Long Maryanne (Columbia) 1967

Mary McCaslin - This All Happened Once Before (Capitol) 1967

The Wind In The Willows - My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died (Capitol)

The Band - The Weight (Capitol) 1968

Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit & Greenhill - Just Me And Her (Uni) 1968

The Byrds - Old John Robertson (Columbia) 1968

The Action - Dustbin Full Of Rubbish (Ace) 1985, Recorded 1968

International Submarine Band - Blue Eyes (LHI) 1968

Hearts And Flowers - When I Was A Cowboy (Capitol) 1968

The Byrds - Goin' Back (Columbia) 1968

The Millennium - Some Sunny Day (Columbia) 1968

Merrell Fankhauser - Tampa Run (Sundazed) 1997, Recorded 1968

The Byrds - You Don't Miss Your Water (Columbia) 1968

Bobby Atkins, Frank Poindexter & Tony Rice - Mary's Gone (Old Homestead) 1981, recorded 1968

Beau Brummels - Turn Around (Warner Bros.) 1968

Dillard & Clark - With Care From Someone (A&M) 1968

The Dillards - I've Just Seen A Face (Elektra) 1968

Beau Brummels - Love Can Fall A Long Way Down (Warner Bros) 1968

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Reason To Believe (Liberty /BGO) 1968

Kangaroo - Maybe Tomorrow (Verve) 1968

Ian & Sylvia - The Mighty Quinn (Vanguard) 1968

Ian & Sylvia - Here's To You (MGM) 1968

Jerry Jeff Walker - The Shell Game
(Vanguard) 1968

Everly Brothers - Ventura Boulevard (WB) 1968

Dillard & Clark - Why Not Your Baby (A&M) 1968

Everly Brothers - Mama Tried (WB) 1968

Gib Guilbeau - Your Gentle Ways Of Loving Me (Bakersfield International)

Gosdin Brothers - Sounds Of Goodbye (Capitol) 1968

Buffalo Springfield - I Am A Child (Atco) 1968

Fraternity Of Man - Don't Bogart Me (Dot) 1968

Stone Country - Magnolia (RCA) 1968

Judy Collins - Someday Soon (Elektra) 1968

Buffalo Springfield - Kind Woman (Atco) 1968

Mary McCaslin - Boy From The Country (Capitol) Rec. 1968, issued 1999

In the mid 1960s two folkies The Texas Twosome (Michael Martin Murphey and Boomer Castleman) actually recorded a set of material with The Buckaroos, yes, Buck Owens band. these have yet to be reissued.

Under different name, Boomer and Murph formed The Mewis & Clarke Expedition, who were more folk-rock.
They recorded some material with Gary Paxton and a steel player (Larry Petree) in Bakersfield in 1967, but Colgems ditched that material for sessions cut at RCA Studios in Hollywood.

The Monkees cut their song "What Am I Doing Hangin' Around" the Lewis & Clark Exp. had one LP and several singles be fore they split in 1968. Boomer and Murph worked with Earl Scruggs in '68, Boomer in particular recorded with Flatt & Scruggs at the time.
In 1969 they were part of a Monkees inspired western TV show The Kowboys, which only made it as far as a pilot episode.
In late '69, Boomer joined Sonny Curtis an the rhythm section of Rock Nelson's band the Stone Canyon Band, with producer Lee Hazelwood, to record the bulk of Waylon Jennings' Singer Of Sad Songs LP (RCA, 1970).

They had a country-rock band called Tex in 1970, which like the Flying Burrito Brothers, played the Palomino Club. Longhairs at the biggest country joint in Hollywood.

Murph went solo, cut some excellent solo albums for A&M and Columbia in the 70s, later re-invented his sound as a modern cowboy singer and still performs to this day.
Boomer became a session guit-slinger in Nashville, although he had a hit in 1975 with a song called "Judy Mae."

I use these guys as an example of how much like material was happening in the 60s, if you consider that Gram Parsons ISB album flopped and hardly ever played a gig after they moved to Hollywood. the Byrds "Sweetheart" LP was the worse-selling of the group's career in 1968, then one must assume that GP's role is more a case of rock and roll revisionism.

Yes he was pivotal, but why him, why not the Gosdin Brothers or Gene Clark as the godfather?
In 1968 Vanguard Records recorded most of their main singer-songwriters in Nashville. In fact, one of their artists Buffy Saint Marie cut her weird-ass country album there in 1967. (issued in 1968 as "I'm Gonna Be A Country Girl Again")

Two albums that did sell extremely well were The Band's debut and Dylan's "John Wesly Harding: LP in 1968.

If we accept that popular records, selling well, help influence popular music and fans. then surely these two albums are the cornerstone of the genesis of country-rock as a popular genre?

Anonymous said...

Country rock is often assumed to start with the Eagles and Rick Nelson but was around obviously a lot longer than that. It depends on what people mean by country rock. Here in my opinion are some of the early styles that predated the popular country rockers like Merle Haggard, Eagles, Kris Kristofferson, Dire Straits, Garth Brooks, etc.:

Rockabilly: The earliest manifistation of country rock is often considered to be rockabilly, as lead by early Elvis, Carl Perkins and so on. Rockabilly has its roots firmly in a mix of blues and bluesy guitar-based country like Delmore Brothers.

Piano based rock 'n' roll: The other form of early country based rock 'n' roll was similar to rockabilly but featured piano rather than guitar as the predominant instrument. Jerry Lee Lewis was the primary exponent - later he too was a leading figure in the country rock movement in the 1970s. He influenced the Eagles. Jerry Lee was influenced by blues and bluesy country and singer pianists in bluesy country like Moon Mullican.

Western swing/country boogie: Obviously, the roots of both piano rock 'n' roll and rockabilly point back to western swing and country boogie. It is here that we often seen some of the first mixes of blues with country that later typified the rock 'n' roll era. Records like Moon Mullican's "Pipeliner blues" or "You don't know my mind" or Delmores "Rounder's blues" or "Mobile boogie" show us exactly the same style mixes of blues and ountry that Jerry Lee and Elvis would later be doing (and that Hank Williams also did a lot of before that). In turn, western swing and country boogie had its roots in the blue yodel traditions of Jimmie Rodgers. So, Jimmie Rodgers must be the original country rocker.