Western & Cowboy Music

Western & Cowboy Music

Carl Sprague

Western Music

When we hear the term “Western Music” the obvious question is where is the “Country”? It has been some time since the two genres have been attached to one another. I can’t say exactly when the “Western” was dropped but it appears to have lost popularity in the 1970’s with the development of other sub genre such as Outlaw Country and the “Bakersfield Sound” from Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Of course there’s a lot of different genres of music that were played and came from the Western part of the US but today I’m focused on what is attached to the term, Western (Country) music. It was quite different; in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma there were cultural influences not found in it’s more eastern ‘Country’ cousin. Here are some songs typical of the genre; ‘The Browns’ “My Adobe Hacienda“, “Abilene” by George Hamilton IV, and a song with origins from Canadian and American Voyageurs, Tennessee Ernie Ford with “Shenandoah“.Read More »

Old Country New Country

Old Country/New Country

What exactly I am about to attempt to demonstrate I confess I’m not 100% certain, but what I do know is that there has been a bit of a downward sliding scale regarding the enduring quality of mainstream Country Music songs. Apologies in advance for rambling and ranting at various points. This is not a history of Country Music but my opinion on the current state of things in general with the genre.

It’s murky waters that I’m swimming in here as there is an evolution involved in any music genre so direct comparisons are perhaps inappropriate. I am somewhat aware of the influence the so called Country Music “establishment” has had on this evolution. One need only look at examples like Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Garth Brooks and others who were criticized and in some cases “shunned” for their unconventional approaches who are now celebrated as part of that same ‘establishment’. So there is some hypocrisy at play in my opinion, which further confuses the definition of what the term “Country Music” actually means? I mentioned in my Country Rock blog there are so many subgenres of Country, and now I’m thinking there is no longer a catch-all definition available to describe it, I myself hear songs on ‘Country Music’ stations that I would not identify as being a ‘Country song’ at all.Read More »

Country Rock

Country Rock

Music genres attempt to be definitive but are still typically full of a good spectrum of divergent styles. In order to pigeon hole artists we have over time developed other genres, sub and sub sub genres. Country music has over two dozen including; Classic Country, Country Pop, Blues Country and even Country rap.

Most Artists can be placed in more than one category but we tend to want to associate them most closely with a specific one. I’ve read that Country Rock came from Rock bands doing more Country flavored music not Country artists doing rock music. But I’ve found there are many early examples of Country music sounding pretty rock-like and I have included some examples below. We don’t always tend to identify music and genres in the early stages of development and in many cases it’s done quite retroactively. I’ve talked about a few artists thought to be ‘Rock’ that started to record with a more Country music feel, back as early as the 1950’s and 60’s. This is before it really took off with the proliferation of the electric guitar which changed most all genres of popular music.Read More »

More Country Classics

Country Classics (again)

It will take a long time of blogging to get through all the best of Country music through the years and while I’ve examined a good percentage here are some more songs that deserve mention. What makes a song a “Classic” is somewhat subjective but these songs appear on several ‘lists’ and I have included my own personal bias and as well. As will you notice the numbers of cover versions is not always a measure of how great the song is.

I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” performed by Buck Owens and written with a frequent collaborator, Harlan Howard (1964). This song went to #1 in February of 1965 and also #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. While Harlan wrote many hit songs for a dozen or so other artists, I don’t think anyone recorded more of his songs than Buck Owens. Covered about 30 times including Harlan Howard himself, Ray Charles and Stephanie Urbina Jones.

Blue Moon of Kentucky” written by Bill Monroe and performed with His Bluegrass Boys (1947). While this great song is an official state song and has since been covered over 125 times I have to wonder how the song would have done if Bill Black, Elvis’s then bass player had not been fooling around singing this song during a break at Sun Studio. Subsequently Elvis ( Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill) were the first to cover this song seven years after the original in July 1954. Levon Helm, John Fogerty and Patsy Cline.

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” written and performed by Alan Jackson. You may know this was a song about American life in the aftermath of 9/11. There have been many great songs written about the impact of this day but this one seems to have captured the feelings and emotions of everyday life. The song rose to much success and critical acclaim winning AMA and CMA song and record of the year (2002) and a Grammy Award for Best Country Song and a nomination for Song of the Year (2003). Only two ‘official’ covers from Secondhandsongs.com; an instrumental and Scotty McCreery from American Idol Season 10, 2011.

Goodbye Earl” written by Dennis Linde and originally intended for Sammy Kershaw as he had recorded another Linde song about ‘Earl’. He didn’t do it and then it was first recorded by another group and that was never released, so the first issue was by the Dixie Chicks (1999). Live cover by Brothers OsborneMe First and The Gimme Gimmes (2006). A somewhat controversial song (and video that won CMA and AMA awards) and it seems practically no one wants to cover it, nevertheless I think it’s a great song. A good article about the song: https://www.wideopencountry.com/goodbye-earl-story-behind-song/.

“Golden Ring” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, written by Bobby Braddock and Rafe Van Hoy. This song is about a wedding ring that keeps getting recycled through a pawn shop was recorded some months after the two singers got divorced themselves. They both were uncomfortable doing the song together but it hit #1 in 1976 so they had little choice in performing it. Some great cover versions out of the only 17 times it’s been redone, one of the great duet songs of country music. Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Terri Clark & Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam & Kelly Willis.

References: https://secondhandsongs.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page  images: buckowens.com, tasteofcountry.com, contactmusic.com.

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Country Classics

Here are covers of some of the best Country songs ever recorded. I’ve touched on a few of the great songs but there are more to talk about as theses originals have inspired country legends and many others to keep the songs alive.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” written and performed by Hank Williams (1949). Certainly near the top of any list of the best of all time. There is some small controversy that the lyrics were written by someone else, I’m in no position to debate this but this song seems to be in the same style and consistency as Williams other songs and he still maintains official writing credit. It’s little wonder the song resonates with so many people, the lyrics are poetic and paint a vivid picture of the heartache being portrayed. Released as a ‘B’ side this song peaked at #4 in 1949. Covered some 220 times, Johnny Cash, Tommy James and The Shondells, B.J. Thomas, Inger Marie Gundersen, and Wonder Woman-Lynda Carter.Read More »

Country Covers of Classic Country Songs (Part 3)

Country Covers of Classic Country Songs (Part 3)

I’ve talked more than a bit about Hank Williams and there’s certainly much more to say, here is another great song that’s been covered over 120 times. “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” written by Hank Williams (1951). A great cover from Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez (2005). If you are wondering where the duet idea came from here is an old television clip Hank Williams & Anita Carter (1953).

There are many great versions of this song so I’ve put together a playlist which includes Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and a home recording from Elvis Presley.Read More »

Country Covers of Classic Country Songs (Part 2)

For this edition I’m looking to the women of Country Music for some inspiration, and there are plenty of great covers to choose from over the years.
Here is a notable song to start with, a rarity in that it’s the first country female artist to have a million seller (1935). She wrote the song while missing her then boyfriend in 1934, the melody is based on the great Stuart Hamblen’s tune “Texas Plains”.Read More »

Rock Artists cover Country songs Part 2

Rock Artists cover Country songs Part 2
There are so many great Rock covers of Country songs but certainly one of the most prominent is this one, the original by Roger Miller and the cover by Janis Joplin.
Me and Bobby McGee” by Roger Miller (1969) written by Fred Foster and Kris Kristofferson
Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin (1971). The last song recorded by Janis during the “Pearl” album session only a few days before her death and it went on to become her only #1 Billboard hit song. Covered over 145 times but even Kris Kristofferson himself can’t hear the song without thinking of Janis.
Oh Lonesome Me” written and performed by Don Gibson (1957). He has written and recorded numerous hit songs and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. This song has been covered 163 times but very rarely out of the country music style.
Oh Lonesome Me” by The Beau Brummels (1965) were formed in San Francisco, they had a hit song with “Laugh, Laugh” in 1964. This was a crucial song that was the springboard for the music scene that was to challenge the groups from the British Invasion.
Oh Lonesome Me” by Neil Young in 1970. A very different take on this song.
The Long Black Veil” by Lefty Frizzell, written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin. Another great Country story song, Marijohn, also a Country singer wrote an ‘answer’ version of this song from the female’s perspective. Covered over 100 times, including by country greats like Johnny Cash and Bobby Bare.
The Long Black Veil” by The Band (1970) Music from the Big Pink Album.
Click here for more covers of this great song
Ring of FireI have already blogged about this song covered by Johnny Cash and originally recorded by Anita Carter, written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. There are some ‘non’ country versions most of which are not that great and Frank Zappa’s version is just plain weird (shocker!). There is however a great rock cover out of the 188 versions of this song.
Ring of Fire” by Social Distortion (1990)
Singing the Bluesby Marty Robbins(1955), written by Melvin Endsley.
A cover by Dave Edmunds(1980), and Paul McCartney
I Saw the Light” written and performed by Hank Williams. Why so much Hank? I was reminded that it’s a bit like saying why so much Elvis or the Beatles. Williams is one of the most important and influential singer-songwriters of all time, in his short career (he died at age 29) he had 30 top ten hits and five more came after his death, three of which went to number one. I will dedicate a blog to him but for now another great cover of one of his hit songs.
I Saw the Light” by Dash Rip Rock, ready for some Punk Rock Gospel?
A good place to end there though I may revisit this topic again.
Click here for a playlist of all the videos

Music Trivia. Mae Axton co-wrote (w/Tommy Durden) “Heartbreak Hotel” for Elvis Presley (1956). Her famous son Hoyt Axton wrote Three Dog Night’s 1971 hit, “Joy To The World“. Both songs went to #1 on Billboard. Far as I know no other no other family (with the exception of husband/wife teams) has accomplished this amazing feat!

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Rock Artists cover Country songs

Rock artists covering country songs became quite the fashion in the early 60’s, often the domain of the groups of the British Invasion, but it was North American Rockers that started the trend.
Your Cheatin’ Heartwritten and performed by the legend-Hank Williams (1952) Covered 173 times
Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps (1958). Vincent was a pioneer in Rockabilly music and has inspired many, still revered and rightly so.
Act Naturally”, Buck Owens (1963) written  by Voni Morrison and Johnny Russell
Brian Hyland (1964) an American singer was the first to cover this song in a ‘non’ country fashion.
The Beatles (1965) as I have blogged already the Beatles were not afraid to tackle songs from many different genres.
Tulsa Timeby Don Williams (1978), written by Danny Flowers, covered by 
Jolenewritten and performed by Dolly Parton in 1973. Much more to say about her 😉 but this iconic song has not been given proper justice in the cover song category, perhaps artists shy away from this as there are some songs artists feel that are a bit ‘untouchable’.

Los Valentinos (1977) a group from Denmark were the first to give this song a different flavour and it doesn’t taste so good, so we’ll move right along to the next ones to do so! Strawberry Switchblade (1985) this UK band had a bit of hit with this version. The Stone Coyotes (2001) a very decent rock version.
 Move it on Overwritten and performed by Hank Williams (1947), one of Hanks early big hit songs and covered 36 times.
Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames (1965). Georgie has a certain flair for sure and while this is more of a Big Band sound it was the first ‘non’ country version I could find. Georgie had great taste in the songs he covered.
George Thorogood
George Thorogood and The Destroyers (1978). Maybe one of the best covers of a Country song ever.
El Pasowritten by and performed by Marty Robbins (1959). One of the great story songs of the wild west.
The Grateful Dead (1976) known to have done this song for many years on stage they made a recording in 1976.
A Good Year for theRosesGeorge Jones (1970) written by Jerry Chesnut
Elvis Costello & The Attractions (1981). I found a new respect for George Jones’s voice and music after finding out about the original version of this amazing cover.
Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell (1968) written by Jimmy Webb. Certainly one of the finest performers in Country music and one of his most enduring songs.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1969), not so much rock but a different take for sure.
R.E.M. (1996), I really enjoyed this version by a band known for their originality, they are giving a fresh take on this classic country song.
I’m Movin On” Hank Snow (The Singing Ranger) and His Rainbow Ranch Boys (May 1950) written by Hank Snow. A true superstar in the early days of Nashville, this Canadian born in Brooklyn, Queens County, Nova Scotia has a fascinating story (including helping to launch Elvis’s career) worthy of a future blog. But for now his hit country song that was initially turned down by RCA records has since been covered 96 times, but the first rock version was done by a group from Canada.
The Beau Marks (1961) from Montreal.
The Rolling Stones (March 1965) were the next ones to give this a rock twist.
Plenty more great covers of County tunes and I’ll blog on this again.
Music Trivia. What country superstar was asked to join a rock band? It was Vince Gill. While playing as a session musician he was invited by Mark Knopfler to join Dire Straits.

Click here for a playlist of all the videos.
If you like my blog, please consider clicking the ‘Subscribe’ button at the top right hand of the home page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well! And many thanks as always for reading my blog!