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History of country music.



Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit (May 1924, with "The Wreck of Old '97") (see External Links below). Other important early recording artists were Riley Puckett, Don Richardson, Fiddlin' John Carson, Ernest Stoneman, Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers and The Skillet Lickers.



The origins of modern country music can be traced to two seminal influences and a remarkable coincidence. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be the founders of country music, and their songs were first captured at a historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist. It is possible to categorize many country singers as being either from the Jimmie Rodgers strand or the Carter Family strand of country music:



Jimmie Rodgers' influence



Jimmie Rodgers' gift to country music was country folk. Building on the traditional ballads and musical influences of the South, Rodgers wrote and sang songs that ordinary people could relate to. He took the experiences of his own life in the Meridian, Mississippi, area and those of the people he met on the railroad, in bars and on the streets to create his lyrics. He used the musical influences of the traditional ballads and the folk to create his tunes. Since 1953, Meridian's Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival has been held annually during May to honor the anniversary of Rodger's death. The first festival was on May 26, 1953.



Pathos, humour, women, whiskey, murder, death, disease and destitution are all present in his lyrics and these themes have been carried forward and developed by his followers. People like Hank Williams, Sr., Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Townes van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash have also suffered, and shared their suffering, bringing added dimensions to those themes. It would be fair to say that Jimmie Rodgers sang about life and death from a male perspective, and this viewpoint has dominated some areas of country music. It would also be fair to credit his influence for the development of honky tonk, rockabilly and the Bakersfield sound.





Hank Williams

Jimmie Rodgers is a major foundation stone in the structure of country music, but the most influential artist from the Jimmie Rodgers strand is undoubtedly Hank Williams, Sr. In his short career (he was only 29 when he died), he dominated the country scene and his songs have been covered by practically every other country artist, male and female. Indeed, his songs were covered by jazz, pop, and rhythm and blues performers from early in his career. Songs like "Cold, Cold Heart" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" have long been pop standards.



Williams had two personas: as Hank Williams he was a singer-songwriter and entertainer; as Luke the Drifter, he was a songwriting crusader. The complexity of his character was reflected in the introspective songs he wrote about heartbreak, happiness and love (such as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Your Cheating Heart"), and the more upbeat numbers about Cajun life ("Jambalaya") or cigar store Indians ("Kaw-Liga"). He took the music to a different level and a wider audience.



Country artists have included Williams in their compositions. Waylon Jennings pondered whether his career matched up with Hank's in "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and Hank Williams Jr. recounts the uproarious conditions in his and his father's bands in "A Family Tradition". David Allen Coe boasts in "Longhaired Redneck", "I can sing you every song Hank Williams ever wrote".



Both Hank Williams, Jr. and his son Hank Williams III have been innovators within country music as well, Hank Jr. leading towards rock fusion and "outlaw country", and Hank III going much further in reaching out to death metal and psychobilly soul.





The Carter Family's influence

The other Ralph Peer discovery, the Carter family, consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and their sister-in-law Maybelle. They built a long recording career based on the sonorous bass of A.P., the beautiful singing of Sara and the unique guitar playing of Maybelle. A.P.'s main contribution was the collection of songs and ballads that he picked up in his expeditions into the hill country around their home in Maces Springs, Virginia. In addition, being a man, he made it possible for Sara and Maybelle to perform without stigma at that time. Sara and Maybelle arranged the songs that A.P. collected and wrote their own songs. They were the precursors of a line of talented female country singers like Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and June Carter Cash, the daughter of Maybelle and the wife of Johnny Cash.





Bluegrass

Main article: Bluegrass music

Bluegrass carries on the tradition of the old String Band Music and was invented, in its pure form, by Bill Monroe. The name "Bluegrass" was simply taken from Monroe's band, the "Blue Grass Boys". The first recording in the classic line-up was made in 1945: Bill Monroe on mandolin and vocals, Lester Flatt on guitar and vocals, Earl Scruggs on 5-String banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Cedric Rainwater on upright bass. This band set the standard for all bluegrass bands to follow, most of the famous early Bluegrass musicians were one-time band members of the Bluegrass Boys, like Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin and Del McCoury, or played with Monroe occasionally, like Sonny Osborne, The Stanley Brothers and Don Reno. Monroe also influenced people like Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss and Sam Bush, who carry on the folk and ballad tradition in the bluegrass style.




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