Country Music in the Modern Era 1940s-1970s
Liner Notes   Cat. No. 80207     Release Date: 1976-01-01

Country Music in the Modern Era: 1940s-1970s

Country music is a commercial art. The music's artistic development is intertwined with the growth of those institutions that helped or hindered the performance of the music. Radio shows, record companies, and television networks have all had a place in the story. Great artists have left their mark on country music's sound, and great executives have had an equal influence on the music by affecting its packaging and availability.

The term "country music" came into use only gradually in the years following World War II. "Hillbilly music" had been the term used to characterize the music of the white rural South, but after the war the style came under the influence of popular music and an urban audience, and as the music changed "hillbilly" became less and less accurate. The period between World War II and the middle seventies has generally been one of growth in the audience for this most native of American music traditions. In the twenties and thirties country material was essentially folk music placed on disc. By the end of the thirties the music had diversified to a considerable degree, but much hillbilly music continued to reflect British and American folk song. It was most frequently recorded on location in the South and Southwest. Powerful radio stations like Chicago's WLS and Nashville's WSM broadcast live country music to a growing audience. Bob Wills and his jazz influenced western swing thrilled thousands of country fans in the Southwest. Yet, despite these signs of musical growth and diversity, hillbilly music remained unfocused in the thirties. It was a music without a permanent home, and was frequently treated as an embarrassing stepchild by major record companies involved in popular music and jazz.

Bouquet of Roses

Eddy Arnold's long career has steadily produced hits. He first enjoyed success as a country singer in the early forties when he joined Grand Ole Opry as a featured vocalist with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys. By the end of the decade he was a major solo star, having cut such hits as "Cattle Call," "Anytime," and "Bouquet of Roses." In his early career Arnold projected a country image, billing himself as "The Tennessee Plowboy." Crooning replaced his yodel, however, and by the middle 1960s he was in the front line of artists performing country material for a pop audience He played the Copacabana, performed in a tuxedo, and all but disavowed his country heritage. In recent years, following his election to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Eddy Arnold has begun again to sing country-style vocals.

Never No More Blues

Lefty Frizzell was born in Corsicana, Texas, in 1928. His father was an oil-well man, and Lefty traveled throughout the Southwest, where he was exposed to a wide range of musical styles. Lefty was discovered in a talent contest by a Columbia executive, and his 1950 record "If You've Got the Money I’ve Got the Time" became a smash hit. Lefty's performance style, like that of Hank Williams, influenced many country artists, particularly Merle Haggard. The Frizzell recording here harkens back to an earlier era of country music. "Never No More Blues" was written by Jimmie Rodgers, the great country singer of the twenties and thirties. Frizzell's sensitive rendering of the song and his excellent performance of the "blue yodel," a Rodgers trademark, helps link the modern age of country music with the music's formative years.

Much Too Young To Die

Ray Price, born in 1926, became known as "The Cherokee Cowboy" in the middle 1950s. He first emulated Hank Williams, and the selection included here illustrates the intense, rough-edged vocal style that defined honky-tonk music in the fifties. In more recent years Price has shifted toward a mellow, pop-oriented style. In the early 1970s he cut a Kris Kristofferson song, "For the Good Times," and had a hit on both pop and country charts. Price's career has been similar in direction to Eddy Arnold's. Both have had what might be thought of as two careers, so great has been the variation in approach each has taken.

Squid Jiggin' Ground

Hank Snow, born in the Canadian Maritime Provinces in 1914, became one of the great country singers of the fifties and sixties.Though he recorded many types of country song, Snow is best known for train songs like "Golden Rocket" and "I'm Movin On." "Squid Jiggin' Ground" helps reinforce our understanding of the continuing ties between commercial country music and the folk balladry that forms its historical underpinnings. The song was composed in traditional style by a Newfoundland ballad maker in the late 1920s. It takes its title from the special cluster of hooks (squid jig) used in catching squid, and is rich in the language and lore of the Atlantic fisherman. Country music moved steadily away from its folk roots after the mid-1940s, but without deserting tradition.

There's Poison in Your Heart

Hank Williams and Kitty Wells (Muriel Deason) were the premier country singers of the 1950s. Born in eastern Tennessee in 1919,Kitty Wells first performed on radio on Knoxville's WNOX. She later joined "Louisiana Hayride," and she became a member of WSM's "Grand Ole Opry" in 1952. Her great hits include "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-tonk Angels" and "Making Believe." Despite the success of such groups as the Carter Family, which included two women, country music before the fifties had little place for the female soloist. Kitty Wells was the first star female country artist, and it can be argued that such singers as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton have followed a path she blazed.

Try Me One More Time

Both Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb were born in 1914, and both became stars in the same period. In his early career Tubb emulated Jimmie Rodgers' vocal style. By the 1940s Tubb was setting the style that would dominate the next decade—gritty singing about the real problems of real lives. "Try Me One More Time," one of Tubb's biggest hits, is an all-time country classic. The subject— unfaithfulness in love—was rare in country music's early days but would become nearly dominant in the 1950s.

Love Letters in the Sand

Originally released on Decca (MCA) 31616.

Like Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline possessed both pop and country appeal. Her performance style, as heard here and inher hit recordings of "I Fall to Pieces" and "Walkin' After Midnight," sounds more pop than country. Modern listeners can only speculate on how Patsy Cline's style would have changed over the years. She died at the age of thirty-one in an airplane crash just one month after recording the selection included here. Her performing style would undoubtedly have evolved as she gained musical maturity.

Jean's Song

Chet Atkins (born 1924) was influenced by such early country instrumentalists as Merle Travis. His finger-style guitar, in which the right thumb sounds a bass string while the other fingers of the right hand pick out a melody, is well illustrated in this recording (of a tune also known as "The Poor People of Paris"). As head of RCA's country operation Atkins was a leader in Nashville's development as a recording center.

Mystery Train

Originally released on Sun 223 and later on RCA APMI-1675. Elvis Presley was born in 1935 in East Tupelo, Mississippi. He first performed as a country singer, and made several appearances on "Grand Ole Opry." Elvis hit big with a combination black and white vocal style that characterized rockabilly and much rock 'n' roll. "Mystery Train" could easily have been performed in straight country style. Presley brings something of the drive and intensity of rock 'n' roll to the tune, however, and the performance reveals both the similarities and differences between country music and early rock 'n' roll.

Little Ole You

Jim Reeves, born in 1924, was forty years old when he was killed while piloting his own airplane near Nashville. At the time of his death Reeves was the premier country pop recording star. Hits like "He'll Have to Go" and "Four Walls" were so successful in the pop field that many fans never identified him as country. Unlike Eddy Arnold and Ray Price, other practitioners of the crooning country vocal, Reeves was consistent in vocal approach from the earliest days of his professional career. His style and its success reveal one of the constant tensions in modern country music: between traditional country and popular urban approaches to performance.

Jimmy Martinez

If any element has limited Marty Robbins' success, it is his versatility. Robbins, born in 1925, first gained fame in the late 1950s. He had a rock- 'n'-roll hit with "A White Sport Coat," followed by a string of country hits—like "El Paso," "Big Iron," and "JimmyMartinez"—in what can be termed a "Western-Mexican" mariachi-influenced style. The ease with which Robbins moved from one musical style to another prevented the development of a clear-cut identity among country fans; he became a star, not a superstar.

I'm a Honky-Tonk Girl

Loretta Lynn is unquestionably the best-known contemporary female country vocalist. She was born in 1935 and was a mother at fourteen, a grandmother at twenty-eight. Her recent autobiography (Coal Miner's Daughter) has nearly achieved best-seller status. Loretta came to stardom following the 1960 success of the recording included here, originally on the tiny Zero label, of her own song. It earned her a Decca contract and launched a long career. Loretta Lynn sings in an emotional voice with a somewhat nasal quality, and despite her contemporary success is part of the vocal tradition stretching to the late 1940s and Kitty Wells. Loretta's skill as a songwriter and vocalist and her ability to project a warm, innocent personality have enabled her to conquer television talk shows and skeptical pop-music audiences. She was the first female vocalist voted Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association.

Lorena

For many, the Folsom Prison album fixed Johnny Cash (born 1932) with the image of tough ex-con, and his craggy appearance, dramatic vocal style, and man-in-black costuming have made the image believable. In fact, Cash spent virtually no time in jail (other than when giving concerts). But being the son of an Arkansas sharecropper was tough enough. Cash gained early fame as one of Sun Records' rockabilly stars. His hits cover both pop and country and include "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," "A Boy Named Sue," and "Daddy Sang Bass." In the late 1960s Cash was the number-one country singer, and the success of his network television show was a major factor in widening the mass audience for country music. Cash received a nomination to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976.

Don't Let Her Know

Bakersfield, California, has been compared to Nashville as a center for recording country music. Much of that reputation derives from the work of Buck Owens (born 1929). He had a string of hits in the early and middle 1960s: "Tiger by the Tail," "Together Again," "Act Naturally," and "Crying Time" were among the finest and most successful country songs of the decade. Owens did it without recourse to the pop musical vocabulary. His records are among the simplest cut in the Nashville-sound era, and his band, the Buckaroos, is among the best in country electric string groups.

All I Love Is You

Roger Miller was born in 1936. When his two early hits “Chug-a-Lug” and “King of the Road” were released in the early 1960’s, a unique and significant country talent was revealed. Miller combined words and music in a special way, and his songs became hits in both pop and country. He came from a country-music background (he was once a fiddler with comedienne Minnie Pearl). His success as a crossover artist (one who works in different musical fields) brought Roger his own prime-time network television show in 1962. The popularity of his songs and his singing was one of the major factors in the national interest in country music and Nashville that began in the 1960s, and he has influenced such country artists of the 1970s as Jerry Reed.

Sing a Sad Song

Merle Haggard is the great country poet of our age, with songs like “Mama Tried,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “If We Make It Through December,” and “Okie from Muskogee” standing alongside all-time country classics. In a sense he is the Hank Williams of the seventies. Haggard’s background is also in the classic country mold. Born in Bakersfield, California, in 1937, he grew up mad and always in trouble, and spent three years in prison for robbery. Unlike Hank Williams, however, Merle Haggard shows no sign of burning himself out. He is a shrewd businessman and manages his own career. He is an excellent songwriter and the decade’s finest singer, drawing consciously on the vocal styles of greats like Lefty Frizzell and Jimmie Rodgers

Coat of Many Colors (D. Parton) Dolly Parton. Recorded April 27, 1971. Originally released on RCA LSP-4603.

Dolly Parton is a paradox to many observers of the country scene. She is in many ways a cliché of the female country vocalist. Here piled bleached hair, wasp waist, and voluptuous figure suggest the “dumb blonde,” the truckdriver’s delight. But her songwriting (“Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors”) is among the best in country music, her musicianship is impeccable, and her singing-that high, tense voice fraught with emotion-hearkens back to the earliest mountain style. Born in 1946 in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Dolly Parton grew up in the kind of grinding rural poverty that has spawnedmany other great country singers and writers. “Coat of Many Colors” is a true song. In both content and performance it links country music of the seventies with the heartfelt, personal writing of Hank Williams in the forties.

Help Me Make It Through the Night

(Kris Kristofferson)

Kris Kristofferson. Recorded October 20, 1969. Originally released on Monument 30817. “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” by former Rhodes scholar Kris Kristofferson (born 1936), was an international hit for Sammy Smith in 1971. No other song better illustrates the contemporary condition of country music. Kristofferson was once part of the Nashville underground, a group of writers and performers opposed to the Nashville establishment. Though in education, background, and life style Kristofferson is unlike earlier country performers, his simple, eloquent songs represent the finest in country writing and have been widely recorded and universally admired. Kristofferson’s lyrics are candid and realistic and have influenced other writers. His work also reveals on of the great strengths of country song-its ability to deal simply and honestly with powerful emotions.

Various Artists

Country Music in the Modern Era 1940s-1970s

Track Listing

Album/track(s) not available for download, but you may listen to clips below.
Bouquet of Roses
Nelson, Hilliard
Never No More Blues
E. McWilliams, J. Rodgers
Much Too Young to Die
Rusty Gabbard
Squid Jiggin' Ground
A.R. Scammel
There's Poison In Your Heart
Zeke Clements
Try Me One More Time
Earnest Tubb
Love Letters in the Sand
J. Freed Coots, Charles, Nick Kenny
Jean's Song
Marguerite Monnot
Mystery Train
Herman Parker, Sam Phillips
Little Ole You
Dave Burgess, Jim Reeves
Jimmy Martinez
Marty Robbins
I'm A Honky-Tonk Girl
Loretta Lynn
Lorena
arr. C. Williams
Don't Let Her Know
Buck Owens, Don Rich, Bonnie Owens
All I Love Is You
R. Miller
Sing A Sad Song
W. Stewart
Coat of Many Colors
Dolly Parton
Help Me Make It Through the Night
Kris Kristofferson

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