Country  •  Traditional Country

Traditional Country

Traditional Country is a nebulous term -- it can refer to anything from Roy Acuff's simple songs to the electrified honky tonk of Johnny Paycheck -- but the name does evoke a specific sound, namely the long-standing tradition of simple country songs delivered with simple instrumentation and a distinct twang. The era of traditional country didn't begin until the late '20s, when Jimmie Rodgers became the first national country music star. Rodgers brought the formerly rural music into the industrial era by streamlining the music and lyrics; in the process, he made the genre a viable commercial property. Following Rodgers' success, old-time music faded in popularity and traditional country was born. For the next 40 years, most country music fell under the traditional country umbrella, regardless if it was the big-band dance music of Western swing or driving roadhouse honky tonk. The majority of the popular artists from the '30s and '40s -- Acuff, Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams -- became the foundation of the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly radio broadcast that became the definitive word of country music. This generation of musicians inspired all the artists that emerged in the following two decades, who put their own spin on traditional country. Following the emergence of rock & roll, country music began to incorporate more pop production techniques, and although this Nashville sound was smoother than the music of the '40s and early '50s, it still conformed to the conventions of traditional country. During the '60s, mainstream country became progressively more pop-influenced, yet traditional country held strong until the early '70s, when country-pop became the dominant form of country music. Many fans of hard country turned toward the tougher sounds of progressive country and outlaw country, yet most of the country audience continued to listen to country-pop, especially since traditional country singers like George Jones, Conway Twitty, and Loretta Lynn had turned toward that subgenre. By the late '70s, most new country singers were either raised on country-pop or pop/rock, and consequently, the reign of traditional country came to an end. During the mid-'80s, a wave of new-traditionalist singers such as George Strait emerged, but their music tended to be influenced by contemporaries as well, making the movement as much an evolution as a revival.