Chapter 20
Country Music Moves Uptown

            The Second World War changed country music in much the same way as it changed black music, and because of similar circumstances: population shifts, an emerging pride in being "from the country", new purchasing power, technological advances in the recording industry, and economic changes in the music business.

            The Appalachian white community and its closely related equivalents – agrarian, poverty level, working-class folks – across Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas had to overcome strong resistance from America's mainstream middle class.  It was not racial prejudice, of course, but class prejudice.

            In the early 1940s, these country folks moved up from the South to work in the war-related industries of the North.  With their new purchasing power, they wanted to buy recordings of the kind of music they had known back home.

            As they had for black musicians, the independent record companies reached out eagerly to address the recording needs of the country musicians, especially Sun Records in Memphis and King Records in Cincinnati.  The officials of BMI did the same – they signed up hundreds of country musicians and small publishers who had been neglected, often rejected outright, by ASCAP.

            And the boundary lines between country and mainstream pop began to blur a little in the 1950s.  Country stars were recording pop tunes and pop stars were recording country tunes.  The tunes moved in and out of categories more easily than the surroundings, however.  When Tony Bennett sang Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart", he did it at a large supper club in New York.  He did not put on a cowboy hat and boots.


            During and right after the war, the trucking industry had begun to muscle out the railroads for dominance in moving material goods around the nation.  And truckers, being spiritual descendants of the wagon masters of old, were and still are, strong country music fans.

            The new independent record companies, the "indies", made sure that they got their recordings played on the powerful megawatt all-night radio stations that could reach out hundreds of miles.  All across the Mexican border, untouched by American regulations, radio stations geared up to 500,000 watts to be heard as far away as Nova Scotia, Seattle, and other distant points.  In mainland America, 650 radio stations had country music programmed sometime during the week.

            At the end of the 1950s, eighty-one big market radio stations moved to a full-time country music format, and the number rose to three hundred twenty-eight by 1966 (Malone 1968, 265).  Country music was clearly on its way to being what it is now – the second most lucrative music style in America.



Hank Williams, Sr.

            Hiram King Williams (1923-1953) captured the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of country music fans in his brief career.  He was a tenant farm boy, raised in poverty, untutored, unlettered, and terribly serious.  By age twelve, he had decided to be a singer-entertainer.  He was largely self-taught, but seems to have learned much in a few guitar lessons from an elderly black musician named Rufe Payne, known as Tee-Tot, in the streets of Montgomery, Alabama (Malone 1979, 233).

            From age fourteen to twenty-four, Hank Williams knocked around in the life of a typical small-club, honky-tonk musician.  He formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys, fell off a horse and hurt his back, got married at twenty-one, and yearned desperately to be somebody – all while abusing his body with alcohol and pills, and writing songs.

            But finally things fell in place, musically.  His first hit was "Lovesick Blues"(1949), written in 1922 by Irving Mills and Cliff Friend and previously recorded in 1925 by yodeler Emmett Miller and again in the middle 1930s by Rex Griffin.  But Williams gave the tune an especially poignant treatment, and it made him a star overnight.  From then, nearly everything he did in music turned to gold, and everything he did in his private life turned into tragedy.

            He was always scribbling words on brown paper bags, envelopes, and assorted bits of scrap paper.  The story goes that Fred Rose was suspicious when he first looked at some of Williams' tunes.  Doubting the authorship, Rose challenged Williams to write a tune about a rich girl in a big house who rejects a boy living in a modest cabin down in the valley.  Legend has it that Williams came back twenty minutes later with "Mansion on the Hill", a tune which sold in the millions just a few months later.

            His tunes were dead serious declarations of his tormented view of life, and he sang them with an intense and passionate conviction.  The titles are revealing:  "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It", "I Just Don't Like This Kind of Livin'", "Half as Much", "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive", "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Take These Chains from My Heart", and on and on.

            This lonely, tragic, gifted man died, not quite thirty years old, of alcohol and pills in the back seat of a Cadillac on his way to a New Year's Eve performance in Canton, Ohio.  His son, Hank Williams, Jr., also musically gifted, carries on the family name, fame, and life style.

            When Tony Bennett, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and even the Muzak Corporation began recording many of Hank Williams' tunes, it was obvious that  country music had taken a giant step toward the middle of America's pop music industry and that it was here to stay.


Eddy Arnold

            Born near Henderson, Tennessee, Richard Edward Arnold (1918-2008) sold more than sixty million records in the 1940s and 1950s.  His smooth, rich, resonant baritone voice earned him the nickname of "the Country Como", for the similarity in tone and style to mainstream superstar Perry Como.

            Although he began singing and playing guitar in his teens and worked for several years with Pee Wee King, he didn't make a recording until 1944 at age 26.  But his style was so immediately appealing that RCA promoted him heavily, and he soon captured a large pop audience in addition to his country fans.  "It's a Sin", "I'll Hold You in My Heart", "Bouquet of Roses", "Anytime", "Just a Little Lovin'", and many more carried Arnold to the top of the field, and he became a regular guest on the television shows of Milton Berle, Perry Como, Arthur Godfrey, Dinah Shore, and Bob Hope.


Chet Atkins

            Guitarist supreme Chester Burton Atkins (1924-2001) first appeared in 1942 as an eighteen-year-old fiddler on station WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee.  He toured with Archie Campbell and Bill Carlisle, but failed an audition with Roy Acuff.  In 1944, he worked at station WLW in Cincinnati for a while, then moved to Nashville to take a job with Red Foley.  He teamed up for a while with Mother Maybelle Carter and her three daughters, and during that time his singing was as important to the group as his instrumental work.

            Gradually his guitar playing became his strong suit.  He appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, was a featured soloist with several major symphony orchestras, and played occasional solo recitals on the Library of Congress chamber music series.

            In addition to his top level guitar skills – never cheap and flashy, always wonderfully musical – he carried himself with quiet dignity and reserve.  This "Mr.  Nice Guy" demeanor made him a logical candidate for a position of leadership, and before long he became RCA's chief talent scout and record producer.  His huge reputation and keen musical mind gave him instant credibility with the inexperienced country musicians and with the mainstream recording stars who came to Nashville – Perry Como, Al Hirt, and others.


The Nashville Sound.  With pianist Floyd Cramer, drummer Buddy Hartman, bassist Bob Moore, and guitarists Grady Martin and Hank Garland, Chet Atkins produced and performed on most of the RCA country recordings aimed at the pop market.  These instrumentalists spent their spare time hanging out and playing jazz at the Carousel, a favorite Nashville nightclub.  They brought those musical instincts to their work in the recording studio.

            By the early 1960s, music trade journals were using the term "Nashville Sound" for Chet Atkins' recording sessions.  Country music had moved another step toward Middle America.  The arrangements were relaxed and open, the delivery was free from tension or strain, the sound was clean and clear, the traditional country fiddle and steel guitar were not used much at all, and the general jazz-flavored feeling was upbeat and positive.  It was still country music, but a comfortable, happy, and appealing kind of country music – a perfect extension of Chet Atkins' personal and musical characteristics.

            Backup vocals were provided by the Jordanaires, the Anita Kerr Singers, and the Glaser Brothers all of whom sang in a decided "pop-country" tone and manner.  Many of them were trained singers.  Floyd Cramer's trademark "slip-note" piano licks were found on an estimated twenty-five percent of all the hits which came out of Nashville in the 1950s, including Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" (Malone 1979, 254).

            Since those innocent days of the 1960s, country music has absorbed large chunks of the rock mentality.  But back when Chet Atkins was the reigning influence, country music experienced one of its finest periods of musical sophistication and financial success.


Johnny Cash

            For mainstream America the most visible country music star in the 1950s and 1960s was a dirt-poor Arkansas cotton farmer's boy named John R.  Cash (1932-2003), fifth of seven children.  Older brother Roy had a group called the Delta Rhythm Ramblers, but Johnny was too young to get into the act.  It was only while he was stationed in Germany during the early 1950s that Johnny Cash started playing guitar and singing his own brand of urban-country songs.

            Upon discharge in 1954, Cash married Vivian Liberto and settled in Memphis as an electrical supply salesman.  He teamed up with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant to perform free on station KWEM.  He auditioned for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, and came up with a regional hit, "Cry, Cry, Cry", backed with "Hey Porter".  But the big break was "Folsom Prison Blues" in December of 1955 which got him on KWKH's Louisiana Hayride.  After that, there were several major tours, the Grand Ole Opry, and a few movie roles.

            His career peaked with a television variety show (1969-71), when he became a household name.  He had earlier problems with popping pills, chasing skirts, drinking too much, and trashing motels.  All that seemed to clear up with his marriage to June Carter, however, in March of 1968.  He returned to his deep religious roots, quit the bottle, and stabilized his personal and professional life.

            Cash's special kind of urban-hobo-country ballads sung out in front of a sparse honky-tonk rhythm section caught rock and country fans by surprise.  Like many of the great stars in country music, Johnny Cash sang with such deep conviction about topics so dear to his heart that specific musical considerations became secondary to the emotional experience.  His appearance with Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival (1964) and a guest spot on Dylan's Nashville Skyline were no accident.  Dylan and Cash were spiritual brothers in the rock-flavored pop-folk business.


Kitty Wells

            The first of the female stars in country music, Kitty Wells (1919-2012) was born Muriel Deason in Nashville, Tennessee.  She took her stage name from a Carter Family hit "I'm A' Goin' to Marry Kitty Wells".  She raised a family while making records, touring, and singing at the Grand Ole Opry.

            She was called the "Queen of Country Music", and loved by all who heard her Tennessee accent and country vibrato.  She answered Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life" with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" and Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time" with "I Don't Want Your Money, I Want Your Time".  Her strong professional skills and high personal integrity opened the door for all future female country singers.


Patsy Cline

            One of the first country singers to cross over into pop was Patsy Cline, born Virginia Petterson Hensley (1932-1963) in Winchester, Virginia.  Her career began at age four as a tap dancer.  She sang in local clubs in her teens, and got her first big break on the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show in 1957 singing "Walking After Midnight".  The tune entered both the country and pop charts.  She divorced her first husband, Gerald Cline, and married Charlie Dick at about the same time.

            With her 1961 release of "I Fall to Pieces", she challenged Kitty Wells for the title of Queen of Country Music.  "Crazy", "Who Can I Count On", and several more tunes soon followed, which established her at the top of the industry.

            Though she died in 1963 in the same airplane crash that killed Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas, her business manager kept her name in the field through regular reissues up into the 1980s.  In 2002, Country Music Television named Cline as No.  1 on their list of 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.

Patti Page

            Born Clara Ann Fowler in Oklahoma, Patti Page (1927-2013) began her career on KTUL in Tulsa singing on a fifteen-minute program called Meet Patti Page, named after a spokeswoman for the Page Milk Company.  Taking the name with her, the singer moved to Chicago to be on Don McNeill's Breakfast Club morning radio show on ABC.

            At the age of nineteen, she made her first big recording for Mercury, and pioneered the technique called "overdubbing", singing a duet with herself and a four-voice background harmony, all of which parts she had also sung.  By the time of her New York night club debut in 1940, she was on top of the industry, at age twenty-three.

            Her big hits up to this time were "With My Eyes Wide Open" and "Confess", and she had to sing those tunes for every audience.  Nothing prepared her for the next event in her life, however.

            In 1950, she needed a "B-side" tune for a recording date single.  Many of her pop music friends were experimenting with country tunes, and she thought she would also give it a try.  She picked out Pee Wee King's "Tennessee Waltz", recorded it in her trademark style, as a duet with herself, and went about her normal career commitments.

            Within two weeks, the "Tennessee Waltz" blazed up the charts and became the giant hit of the day.  It was the first tune ever to be No.  1 in every industrialized nation in the world!  It changed her whole life.  Country music professionals suddenly realized the potential of their field, and from then on things would never be the same in Nashville.


Les Paul

            One of the most important guitarists in all pop music history, Lester William Polsfuss (1915-2009), from Waukesha, Wisconsin, began his career as a country musician, harmonica player, and comedian.  Calling himself Hot Rod Red, and later Rhubarb Red before settling on Les Paul, he toured for a while with Rube Tronson and His Texas Cowboys.

            Moving out of country music into pop and jazz, Paul spent five years with bandleader Fred Waring's organization, then moved to Los Angeles where he teamed up with and married Iris Colleen Summers (1924-1977).  Summers had worked as a guitarist and vocalist with Gene Autry, Jimmy Wakely, and others.  She changed her name, and soon Les Paul and Mary Ford recordings were finding their way onto the pop music scene.

            A self-taught electronics inventor, Les Paul developed the solid body guitar, improved multi-track recording procedures, and a whole "New Sound", as it was called, in jazz-flavored country pop.  "How High the Moon", "Lover", "Caravan", and "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise" went to No.  1 for Capitol in the 1940s and 1950s.  Shortly thereafter, two generations of rock superstars took pride in their original Les Paul model solid-body guitars.


George Jones

            One of the most important vocalists in country music history, a central stylist, George Jones (1931-2013), grew up in Saratoga, Texas, where he sang in church while his mother played piano.  His intense delivery and special brand of pain-wracked slipping and sliding from one note to another has been much copied.  He is of the same cloth as Hank Williams, Sr., Merle Haggard, and Lefty Frizzell in the perpetuation of a style called "honky-tonk" singing.  Honky-tonk singers favor "country weepers", the "somebody done somebody wrong" songs so loved by the true fans and so ridiculed by the sophisticates.  "Why, Baby, Why", "White Lightening", "Window Up Above", and "She Thinks I Still Care" may be sung by others, but Jones' authentic stamp can never be removed from the concept of the songs.

            His drinking and cocaine problems and his stormy marriage to Tammy Wynette kept George Jones in the newspapers all through the early 1980s, as he lived the kind of life so poignantly detailed in his sad recordings.  In 1980, after six years without a chart-topping single, he recorded the poignant "He Stopped Loving Her Today", which shot to No.  1 on the country charts and stayed there for eighteen weeks.  Although he had his last number one hit in 1983, his last album was released in 2013, and he continued touring until twenty days before his death at age 81.


            While Chet Atkins and others were moving country music toward the center of the American pop music, a movement in the opposite direction was taking shape.  It was called bluegrass for reasons not entirely clear.  Since Bill Monroe, from Kentucky, pioneered the style and his group was called the Blue Grass Boys, most scholars believe that fans and disc jockeys just made a leap from the specific group to the generic style, and called all the music of that basic manner "bluegrass".

            The roots of bluegrass, and all country music for that matter, are found in the British IslesIn the 1920s this British music entered America's entertainment industry by way of radio, recordings, and tours.  Bluegrass, specifically, harkens back to the string bands so common at that time – Dr.  Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters, Al Hopkins and his Buckle Busters, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, the Coon Creek Girls, and hundreds more.  But the real thing, modern bluegrass, starts with Bill Monroe.

Bill Monroe

            William Smith Monroe (1911-1996) was born in Rosine, Kentucky, the youngest of eight children and a descendent of President James Monroe.  Poor eyesight caused Bill to avoid the rough and tumble activities of his siblings, and he became rather shy and introverted.  He took to music, though, and by age thirteen was playing guitar behind his crippled uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, a virtuoso fiddler.

            At age eighteen, he joined brothers Birch and Charlie in daytime manual labor in East Chicago, Indiana, while playing for dances and parties at night.  Before long they were hired as regulars on WLS in Chicago.  Birch dropped out, but Charlie and Bill went on to a successful career as the Monroe Brothers.

            After Bill and Charlie separated in 1938, Bill organized his famous Blue Grass Boys, and landed a spot on the Grand Ole Opry.  His big hit from this period was "Mule Skinner Blues".  Always searching for new and exciting sounds, Monroe added Sally Ann Forester on accordion and banjo player David "Stringbean" Ackerman in the early 1940s.  The music was in a direct line with the 1920s string bands mentioned above.

            A whole new concept arose, however, and a totally new sound emerged when Monroe hired Earl Scruggs, a twenty-one year old banjo player, in 1945.  The new thing, now banjo-driven, changed the history of country music.  The core instruments were fiddle, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and string bass, and the energy and spirit were high at all times.


Earl Scruggs

            Born in North Carolina, Earl Eugene Scruggs (1924-2012) grew up in a large crowd of banjo players.  For some reason, his part of the North Carolina developed a special "three-finger" style (now called "Scruggs style"), in contrast to the traditional two-finger clawhammer or frailing styles.  By the time he was barely into his teens, Scruggs had surpassed all his peers in accuracy, velocity, and imagination.

            After working with several regional groups, Scruggs got a call from Bill Monroe.  Considering Monroe's fame, Scruggs of course accepted, and took his place in the group with Lester Flatt on guitar, Chubby Wise on fiddle, Cedric Rainwater on bass, and leader Bill Monroe on mandolin.  This was the quintessential bluegrass band of the day, and the one which scholars and fans alike consider to have defined the style for all time.  "Blue Grass Breakdown", "Will You Be Loving Another Man?", and "Blue Yodel No.  4" were among their best offerings.


Lester Flatt

            Lester Raymond Flatt (1914-1979), ten years older than Scruggs, came from Overton County, Tennessee, where he learned all the strings.  He worked with the Happy-Go-Lucky Boys and other groups before signing on with Charlie Monroe.  He detested traveling, and soon dropped out to drive truck and work at a radio station.

            Then Bill Monroe called, and Flatt joined the band on the Grand Ole Opry singing high tenor.  He had to work on his guitar to keep up with the Blue Grass Boys, and legend has it that he developed the "Lester Flatt G Run" to catch up and finish the musical phrases on time with the rest of the band (Palmer 1977, 87).


Flatt and Scruggs

            In 1948, within weeks of each other, Flatt and Scruggs resigned from Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys to escape the constant traveling.  They teamed up to do a few radio shows, and before long decided to make it a permanent arrangement.  They recruited Jim Shumate on fiddle, Cedric Rainwater on bass, and Mac Wiseman on guitar, and called themselves the Foggy Mountain Boys.

            This is the group that got so famous with the 1960s college folk-song crowd.  Their tunes had an infectious vitality and ringing brilliance delivered in large part by Scruggs' technical speed and inventive subtleties.  All-time favorites include "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms", "Old Salty Dog Blues", and "Earl's Breakdown".

            "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was heard in the background during the famous auto chase in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde.  Flatt and Scruggs also performed "The Ballad of Jed Clampett", written and composed by Paul Henning for The Beverly Hillbillies television show.

            In 1969 Flatt and Scruggs separated.  Flatt went back to his traditional roots, and Scruggs threw his net out into the deep waters of modern rock with his sons Randy, Steve, and Gary in a new group called the Earl Scruggs Revue.

            Bluegrass caught the fancy of American, European, and even Asian music lovers.  In fact, the Lost City Cats, five young Japanese musicians from Kobe, came to America in the late 1960s.  They played all the great bluegrass standards note-for-note with stunning precision and virtuosity, and they learned it all by listening to the American records.  They could not speak a word of English, but they brought the house down when they concluded their shows with a rip-roaring version of "Orange Blossom Special", led by their classically trained fiddler, Shige Kawa.


            A great variety of country music stars contributed to the growth and development of the industry along with Hank Williams, Sr., Chet Atkins, Bill Monroe, and the others listed above.  Each had an individual musical gift and a personal way with a tune, and each had adoring fan clubs scattered across the nation.  They sold records by the millions – Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, Roy Clark, Conway Twitty, Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Barbara Mandrell, Kris Kristofferson, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich, and hundreds more.

            Two careers stand out above the crowd for their special consequence on the business of country music in America.


Buck Owens

            As a young man, Alvis Edgar "Buck" Owens, Jr.  (1929-2006), hauled produce from Arizona to the West Coast, all the while playing guitar and writing songs on weekends.  He finally settled down to cultivate a career in the night clubs and television studios of Bakersfield, California.  He signed with Capitol Records in 1956, and within a few years began to attract a national following.  In 1969, he created and co-hosted a hit television show called Hee Haw, bringing country music and humor to millions who had never paid much attention.

            When CBS canceled Hee Haw, Owens bought it and put it on three hundred local stations himself.  Between its cornball jokes and preposterous skits, the TV show offered the best of the established and rising talent in America.

            In Bakersfield, Owens founded a publishing company, a record company, several radio stations, a record shop, a booking agency, and several other music-related businesses, and he was well known to help out country musicians in need of counsel and encouragement.

            Owens' special mixture of country honky-tonk and rockabilly came to be known as the Bakersfield Sound, and fans liked to call the city "Buckersfield", the Nashville of the West.  "Together Again", "Let the World Keep On Turnin'", "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass", and "Before You Go" inspired many later singers, Dwight Yoakam among them.  "Act Naturally", written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison was Owen's first No.  1 hit.  The song was later covered by the Beatles in 1965 on Help!

            Buck Owens retired in 1992, with twenty No.  1 hits to his name.  He changed the direction of country music, expanding its coverage while maintaining its essential traditions.  He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.


Willie Nelson

            King of the Outlaw movement in Austin, Texas, Willie Nelson (b.  1933) grew up listening to his grandparents' gospel music.  By age ten, he was writing songs and playing in a polka band.  At age eighteen he joined the Air Force, but was released shortly after with a bad back.

            From Waco to Fort Worth to Tacoma to Houston to Nashville, Nelson worked as a salesman and part-time disc jockey by day, while he played in local rough honky-tonk clubs by night.  During this time he wrote dozens of songs, "Family Bible" and "Night Life" among them.

            Finally, he landed a job playing bass in the Ray Price band, and Price used "Night Life" as his theme song for a while.  Nelson then wrote "Hello Walls", recorded by Faron Young, "Crazy" recorded by Patsy Cline, and soon "The Party's Over" which he recorded himself.  These songs are somber and haunting melodies, true "white man's blues" (Green 1977, 163).

            While making eighteen albums for RCA, he traveled far and wide, featuring black singer Charlie Pride on his show in the Deep South during the racially sensitive 1960s.  He left RCA to sign with Atlantic, then moved to Columbia, all the while determined to make it without the Nashville old-boy network.

            Settling in Austin with his third wife, he began his famous Fourth of July Picnics, which lifted him to cult status, and gave him a kind of hard-nosed authenticity in country music.  Always a little off center, he recorded an album titled The Troublemaker, an audio revival meeting, with Sammi Smith, Dee Moeller, and Larry Gatlin.  The hero of the title track is Jesus Christ.

            Later he recorded Red-Headed Stranger, a semi-autobiographical concept album, which contained the Fred Rose chestnut "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain".  His most requested tunes are "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys", "On the Road Again", "If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time", and "Always On My Mind" (later turned into a synthpop dance track by the English duo, the Pet Shop Boys).

            In the late 1970s, moved by the death of Bing Crosby, Willie Nelson came out with Stardust, an album of all mainstream pop tunes.  Its success surprised everyone, and "Georgia" became a giant hit.  The album revealed an impressive grasp of pop-song phrasing, interpretation, and vocal nuances.

            In the 1980s, Nelson, along with fellow musicians John Mellencamp and Neil Young, organized Farm Aid, a huge benefit concert to help struggling American farm families that became an annual fund-raising event.  Nelson is politically active in other ways, too.  He's co-chair of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), a partner in a bio-diesel fuel company, a crusader for the better treatment of horses, a supporter of the LGBT movement, and an advocate for renewable energy.

            He's had brushes with the law in the past, though, both for marijuana possession and non-payment of income tax (it was later discovered that his accountants hadn't paid his taxes for years).  These incidents, as well as some of his song choices, garnered him the moniker "outlaw", which also applies to Waylon Jennings, Mickey Gilley, and a few other country performers.  The term "outlaw", incidentally, seems to derive from their pronounced anti-establishment inclinations and from their determination to get control over their records.  The big companies had buried these singers in layers of clutter – overproduced string arrangements, extra instruments – destroying any specific or unique musical identity.  When the outlaws finally got control of things, they stripped the music down to essentials, and breathed new life into country music.

            Another aspect of their "outlaw" status was that they built their careers without assistance from the Nashville old-boy musical fraternity.  They ignored the conventional wisdom of a neat country-style stage image, and did their shows in dirty jeans and rumpled shirts, with earrings and bandannas, looking more like San Francisco hippies than country singers.

            This all appealed to the then twenty-something music fans who were weary of the same old mainstream pop rock.  The result was the emergence of "country rock", or, as some journalists called it, "red-neck rock", paving the way for the Eagles, Pure Prairie League, and others.

            Willie Nelson is a country boy down to his toes, but through his hundreds of blues-tinged compositions and the symbiotic jazz-pop inflections in his vocals, he took country music into a new and productive age of expansion.


            While Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Mickey Gilley were leading an outlaw movement in Texas, a different group led a different kind of outlaw movement in New York.  These outlaws were black jazz musicians, not country music millionaires, but they, too, wanted control of their own musical destiny.  It caused a musical revolution.