Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Favorite Country Artist Poll - Final Results!

And the winner is...

According to your votes, the top two favorite country artists of all time are Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. I can't argue with that. Hank received the most first place votes, but not enough to overcome Cash's across-the-board appeal. So Johnny takes the top spot. Not really a surprise.

1. Johnny Cash
2. Hank Williams

Hank & Co. arrive in Europe to entertain the troops.

About Hank, I can't say it any better than AMG:

Hank Williams is the father of contemporary country music. He was a superstar by the age of 25; he was dead at the age of 29. In those four short years, he established the rules for all the country performers who followed him and, in the process, much of popular music. Hank wrote a body of songs that became popular classics, and his direct, emotional lyrics and vocals became the standard for most popular performers. He lived a life as troubled and reckless as that depicted in his songs.
Hank Williams – Long Gone Lonesome Blues (buy album)
Hank Williams – I Can't Get You Off My Mind (buy album)
Hank Williams – A House Of Gold (buy album)

Johnny Cash was a true giant. He also gave probably the most enjoyable concert that I ever attended. The thing that comes to mind for me with Johnny Cash was his charismatic presence. All the top performers have a ton of it, but Johnny might have had the most. When Johnny Cash is playing, you pay attention.

Johnny Cash – Home Of The Blues (buy album)
Johnny Cash – One Piece At A Time (buy album)
Johnny Cash – "T" For Texas (buy album)

Thanks for participating in my poll!

Here are the final results:

1. Johnny Cash
2. Hank Williams
3. Merle Haggard
4. George Jones
5. Willie Nelson
6. Waylon Jennings
7. Townes Van Zandt
8. Patsy Cline
9. Emmylou Harris
10. Gram Parsons
11. Loretta Lynn
12. Buck Owens
13. Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys
14. The Louvin Brothers
15. Dolly Parton
16. The Carter Family
17. Steve Earle
18. Lucinda Williams
19. Dwight Yoakam
20. Gillian Welch
21. Doug Sahm
22. Jimmie Rodgers
23. Old Crow Medicine Show
24. Lyle Lovett
25. Iris Dement
26. Tom T. Hall
27. Lefty Frizzell
28. Ralph Stanley/The Stanley Brothers
29. Roger Miller
30. Marty Robbins
31. Tammy Wynette
32. Roseanne Cash
33. Kris Kristofferson
34. Jerry Jeff Walker
35. Randy Travis
36. John Hartford
37. The Flatlanders
38. Ray Charles
39. Jason & The Scorchers
40. Bill Monroe
41. Don Williams
42. Billy Joe Shaver
43. Charlie Rich
44. Hank Williams Jr.
45. Uncle Tupelo
46. Flatt and Scruggs
47. Hank Thompson
48. Guy Clark
49. Doc Watson
50. The Jayhawks
51. Gene Clark
52. Terry Allen
53. Son Volt
54. Alison Krauss
55. Kitty Wells
56. Robbie Fulks
57. Merle Travis
58. Webb Pierce
59. The Dixie Chicks
60. George Strait

Who was overrated?
Who was underrated?
Who was unjustly left off the list?

Sound off in the comments


Anonymous said...

No surprises but then again who could argue with that top 10. Those artists would definitely be an excellent starting point for anyone new to country music. What I enjoyed more though personally were some of the less obvious choices that made there way in as well as some of the arguments over genre definition and probably most of all the titanic scrape between Kristofferson and Steve Earle which has yet to be concluded.

Dave D. said...

Your decision to call this a "favorite" poll rather than "best" or "most significant" was a good one, but it also cuts down on a lot of debate. Who am I to tell someone else who their favorite artists are?

The results of the poll reflect an interesting combination of the tastes of your readership and the significance of any artist. In that regard people here look to have pretty good tastes (or at least consistent with mine).

So as not to completely avoid debate, I'll add this. HOW THE HELL COULD NO ONE ELSE VOTE FOR JOHNNY PAYCHECK?!?!?!!!!! Listen to 'The Real Mr. Heartache' or 'Mr. Hag Told My Story', people, and then come back here and revise your votes.

Anonymous said...

You're right that I purposely tried to avoid a ranking based on significance and that we can't debate "favorites." But one thing I think we can do, which you have done nicely, is to identify artists that may have been overlooked and that would likely be higher on the favorites list if more people discovered what they have to offer.

Paycheck is a perfect example.

Based on these results, I'm going to do a series on artists who need to have their profile raised up.

I think the biggest ommission may have been Ernest Tubb.

Paul said...

The last anonymous comment was from your host. I forgot to stick my name in the box!

brendann said...

Johnny Cash, Old Crow Medicine Show

Webb Pierce, Billy Joe, Lefty, Tom T., and Buck
Buck shoulda made top ten. damn its probably my fault for not voting him!

a lot of new to me names I need to check out though, including The Jayhawks, Hank Thompson, Marty Robbins, Roger Miller, and Iris Dement.

Thanks Classic Country Research Dept!

Paul said...

I'll chime in...


Maybe Emmylou and Loretta should swap places?

Should the Louvins really be 26 places higher than the venerable Bill Monroe?

I'd swap Kristofferson and Earle (as has been suggested).

And I'd also swap Dwight and Billy Joe.

Finally, it's hard for me to live with OCMS being higher than Tom T. Hall, but everyone's entitled to their opinion.

Anonymous said...

O.C.M.S were the surprise package no doubt and though I don't think they're that bad no way would they make my top 10 or 100 for that matter. Billy Joe Shaver, Gene Clark, Guy Clark and the Jayhawks should have been higher and the likes of George Strait,Don Williams, Randy Travis,O.C.M.S and the Dixie Chicks could and should easily have made way for the likes of Bobby Bare, Paycheck, Steve Young, Tom Russell, David Alan Coe, John Prine and Dave Alvin.

Dave D. said...

ET didn't make the top 60? I partially retract my earlier compliment to the tastes of this group.

Channeling Ernest:

Thanks, thanks a lot.
I got a broken heart, that's all I've got.
You made me cry, now I cried a lot.
I lost your love, baby thanks a lot.

You told our friends as I was passin' by.
That you're not sorry that you made me cry.
You said I deserve just what I got.
Well if that's how you feel, honey, thanks a lot.

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed that a female voice only cracked the top ten, and didn't even make it into the top 5. Hearing those great female country singers tear it up is one of the most enduring things about country music in my opinion.

Great list otherwise!

Paul said...

Hey anon at 6:44 - Which female voice would you rate the highest?

Shane said...

its tough, but id have to say patsy, you?

paul said...

I change day to day between Patsy and Loretta...

Another early female country singer that you don't hear much about is Charline Arthur. Her stuff was great and her career/life story is pretty interesting. It will have to be the subject of a post one of these days.

Carrie said...

Neko Case shoulda been there - what a voice she has.

Paul said...

Carrie, I was really surprised about Neko not getting votes. Maybe she is not considered country anymore. Her voice certainly is great.

LD said...

I was a shameless Neko fanboy circa Furnace Room Lullaby, but since then she's confined herself to the torch song ghetto and all but forsaken roots and rock 'n' roll. Not completely, but mostly. From an artistic standpoint, I simply don't get it. But she routinely plays 1000-2000 seat concert halls ... at least last time I paid attention ... so maybe she knows what she's doing. Still, it's not like those folks are gonna start walking out because she channels her inner Wanda Jackson.

Hey, that reminds me, I'll see your Charline Arthur and raise you a Wanda Jackson. "Let's Have A Party" alone puts her in the mix. Also, Rose Maddox and her brothers could out-rock probably 80% of this list and are EASILY in the Underrated Top 10.

Sticking with the females, I think Emmy is a bit overrated. Patsy, Loretta, and Dolly should all be ahead of her and I'd probably say in that order. But overall the list is pretty strong.

Randolph said...

Mickey Newbury. Where is Mickey Newbury? Pick up Frisco Mabel Joy, people.

And Gillian Welch. I truly love her music, but classifying it as country is a stretch. I like to think it exists in its own realm of roots music.

Similarly, though for less noble reasons, Son Volt does not belong on this list, in my opinion.

I originally brought up the Kris/Earle debate and still stand by it. Kristofferson could write circles around the majority of this list. And very few of them have released an album as solid throughout as Kris' debut, Kristofferson.

One of the other commenters was right about Johnny Paycheck, too. Add Dick Curless, the Gosdin Brothers and the Wilburn Brothers while you're at it. Boot the Dixie Chicks and we've got an opening!

But it's favorites, right?

LD said...

For what it's worth, I think arguments about what is and isn't country tend to be silly. If it's vaguely country, it's country. Gillian Welch singing "Miner's Prayer" might be more traditionally country in arrangement and theme than a LOT of Jimmie Rodgers material, which could pass for blues, or most of the Nashville Sound recordings from 1959 on, which could pass for pop, but I wouldn't dare say Jimmie or Chet Atkins or Jim Reeves aren't country artists. Son Volt's "Windfall" is one of the best country songs ever written by anyone. But because there's electric guitars in the band and prominent drums it's not country? Have y'all actually heard Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison? That's a thumpin' rock band. But it's Johnny so we shorthand to country. Which is fine. Hell, I don't really think Bob Wills is country ... instrumentally speaking he's closer to jazz than he is Nashville ... but we accept it because the players are wearing cowboy outfits. I'm just sayin ... it's a big tent and there's room for lots of people. Let folks bump into one another and see what takes root. What may not sound like country to you may just be the shot in the arm the country tradition needs.

Paul said...

I'm all about the big tent! Nice comment LD. Reminds me of my back and forth with Ed of the Old Blue Bus. Just what is country anyway? That's a good question.

My definition for this game was any artist with any country style category on All Music Guide.

On Neko - I agree that Furnace Room was her high point, though I do enjoy many songs from Fox Confessor. (I'm kind of a sucker for torch songs too, I guess. Patsy Cline has a few of those.)

On Wanda - I love her rockabilly stuff. I'm less wild about her more strictly country material, but her name needs to be in the discussion.

Thanks for all of the comments. You're giving me many ideas for future posts featuring those left behind in this round of voting.

Anonymous said...

What defines country?
"Well if it sounds country man, that's what it is, a country song"

Kris Kristofferson

carrie said...

I know Neko's evolved quite a bit from The Virginian, but I do think she still fits in the 'country' category, albeit in the big tent way (not to speak for her but I don't think she does much with labels for herself apart from 'music'). She has just taken country in a different direction from what we'd be used to. Likewise, Gillian Welch, and she's headed it in a different direction from what Neko has gone in. Both women however write sterling songs and as we see in Welch's case are already entering the communal canon. Are these two women any less country than Reba McEntyre or Shania Twain, because they don't conform to a money-making cliche? All of them speak to a particular North American experience, just some speak to the fringed edges of it while others are part of the whole cloth.

Going by vocal strength alone however Neko by all rights shoulda been a contender. :)

(PS the women around Neko, Kelly Hogan and Carolyn Mark, especially when singing together (what harmonies *swoon*!), are also exceptional talents.

randolph said...


No, see, I just don't think Son Volt is that good. Most great country music consists of electric guitar and drums.

In regards to Gillian, I thought we were talking country. Look at the list of country figures on the right side of this blog. These aren't merely musicians falling under the Americana umbrella; these are true, non-diluted country singers and players with unmistakable sounds, roots and intentions.

Thank God musicians from different backgrounds run into each other in this tent of yours, but are we to include any alt-rock band that uses pedal steel on a song? On this distinctive blog, I think it's "silly" to label anyone who ever produced something remotely country as country, even if my hero Kristofferson said what he did.

Or maybe I've just over-romanticized my idea of country.

I don't even know what I'm, or anyone else, is talking about anymore. This is all just masturbation for alienated country fans. All I've learned is that when some people decide to put on a country record their first eight choices are like everyone else's, and their next 52 are a fucking mess.

Paul said...

(1) What are the essential elements of a piece of music that make it "country"?

(2) What makes an artist a "country" artist? Is it more than just the music, i.e., marketing/label?

(3) Are bluegrass, western swing, and alt-country sub-genres of country?

FWIW, I think Gillian Welch is more "country" than some of the others on the list, such as Lucinda Williams. Plus, I've seen a picture of her wearing a cowboy hat next to Emmylou.

LD said...

I guess what bothers me about the "is or isn't it" argument is that it usually ends up being a solipsistic argument. "I like country, but I don't like Son Volt, therefore Son Volt isn't country." That's unacceptable. I'm not crazy about '80s mainstream country, but I can't act like it's not country, you know? I'm never gonna be more than a passing fan of the occasional Eddy Arnold song, but his stuff is as country in its own way as Lefty Frizzell. The belief that shit-kickin honky-tonk is more "real" than rock-influenced country or polished Nashville country is academic nonsense, and I say that as someone who advocated such a belief for years. At some point I realized it was MY prejudice and it had nothing to do with the actual music or audience. What country is can be a slippery beast, especially as you move to the fringe, but one thing it should never do is meet some arbitrary standard of authenticity. We're all gonna have our own takes on the matter, but I think it's much healthier for the genre if it embraces stuff I don't like and never will because then I know it's not about me. It's about the health of the music, which is gonna far outlive my narrow tastes.

Anonymous said...

I agree ld. I dare say there was a
time when the Byrds 'Sweetheart Of The Rodeo' wasn't considered a true country record. In fact it was an album that won them no friends at all at the time but is an undisputed turning point in country/country rock history now. Even Kristofferson himself could be shelved under Rock/Singer-Songwriter if you were to be ultra fussy about inclusiveness. Maybe it
is personal perception but all I know is that the world of country would be a duller place without the likes of Son Volt, the Jayhawks
,Alejandro Escovedo or even Lyle Lovett. None of these artists are 100% traditionalist but to me personally they mean just as much as Hank Williams or Johnny Cash. I would definitely reccomend giving Spon Volt's 'Trace' a second chance though Randolph. It's not the most instant of albums and it takes time to get under your skin.
But given time it reveals itself to be a truly magical and timeless

Anonymous said...

i would like to add jon langford.

godoggo said...

Hi, I just discovered this blog. Honestly, I have more love of country than knowledge, but I still like to think I have pretty good taste...I still haven't heard anybody whose country singing moves me more than Jerry Lee Lewis in his prime ('60s-early '70s). I guess he loses points for not writing (many of) his own songs, but I think it has more do with him mainly being associated with rock'n'roll. Anyway, as he hasn't even been mentioned here, I'd say he's definitely underrated.

paul said...

godoggo, I'm with you on Jerry Lee!

rand-olph said...

And all this time I thought it was just semantics. What I call Americana you call country. What I call roots music you call country. What I call folk you call country. If someone asked me to describe the bands in question, country is third or fourth word I'd use. Maybe I'd start with country-infused, actually. But what held me back from just saying country? Because, like it or not, it is not the most apt classification for every artist on this list.

And I'm done.

Paul said...


First of all, these aren't my definitions. I'm going by what the experts say at the All Music Guide. And maybe I am trying to push the boundaries of "country" a little bit by relying on the AMG categories. But I think that's a good thing.

Think about "rock" for comparison purposes. "Rock" includes Buddy Holly, Simon and Garfunkel, and Megadeth. That's a big tent.

I'm also curious why you think "Americana" is any more specific or helpful a label than "country." They're both just words. One implies from the American musical tradition. The other implies rural. Not a big difference there. And how do I know when an artist is "roots" versus "Americana"? Wouldn't it be easier if we just called them all "country"--I mean provided that their evokes one of the traditionally "country" such as bluegrass, honky-tonk, or western swing?

Just for fun, I would be curious to know your opinion of the least "country" artist in the top 60. My answer would be Lucinda Williams, but according to AMG she has some "country" in her, so that's good enough for me.

I think some of the opposition of fans of "roots" and "Americana" to the label "country" is based on an idea that there is something uncool about listening to "country," as if "country" means only popular acts like Shania Twain and Garth Brooks. It's elitism. Or, at least, it looks like elitism sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I love lists like this. I agree with the previous commenters about Johnny Paycheck, Dick Curless and Mickey Newbury. I'd like to add Gary Stewart and Sammi Smith. I think Gram Parsons & his trust fund are perpetually overrated. Cool to see Jason & the Scorchers make it.

godoggo said...

One other who doesn't seem to be mentioned on this site. I've lately been a little obsessed with Greg Brown's Milk of the Moon album. He seems to be generally pigeonholed as a "folk" artist, but he's pretty close to Johnny Cash musically. Then again Johnny's classic stuff always sounded closer to Woody Guthrie than Hank Williams to me. I think non-musical criteria play a big part in these musical distinctions. When Johnny hit the scene, "folk" was for college students; Greg's from North Dakota and plays folk festivals, so that's how he's categorized. Anyway he's great, and I especially recommend Milk of the Moon/

paul said...

I have to disagree about Gram Parsons being overrated, though that is a popular view.

Anon @ 4:18 - great point about non-music factors influencing the categories. I need to investigate Brown.

Holly said...

LONG overdue on checking in here! The blog is looking better and better each time I visit. I have an even better understanding of your musical tastes after having experienced Nashville for the first time last week. Heard a wailing upstart at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on Broadway - the place where Willie Nelson got his start. Have been listening to your COUNTRY CLASSICS mixes and bluegrass on XM radio ever since. Looking forward to catching up on my reading and learning here - thanks for all of your hard work bro!

Anonymous said...

The Dixie Chicks are in but no Faron Young?!

tierra said...

Thanks for the post. It's good to know that the classics are still ranking high in popularity.