Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Country Rock 101: The Heart of Rock and Roll

Many rock fans will recoil at the idea of country music, thinking immediately of Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton or Glen Campbell. Country music, however, has had a massive influence in the history of rock music, with bands like the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers and Neil Young falling squarely in the genre of country rock.

The originator of country rock is arguably the American songwriter and guitarist, Gram Parsons. He played pure country but is notorious for introducing it to rock musicians through his relationships with the Byrds, Keith Richards and others. He did this through the beauty of his music, but also through his rock and roll lifestyle, dying at the age of 26 of an overdose, leading contemporary singer, Lucinda Williams to write a song about him called Drunken Angel.

If Gram Parsons is the most critically acclaimed originator of country rock, Neil Young is probably the most popular. His work with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and his solo albums all had a heavy country influence, something he has continued with the release of Prairie Wind in 2005, an album reminiscent of his most famous album, Harvest.

The Band also had a heavy country influence, blending it with rhythm and blues and rock and roll to create iconic American music. Bob Dylan recorded a number of country-style albums, most notably Nashville Skyline (1969). Other important country influenced artists of this era were Creedence Clearwater Revival, Poco, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

Nowadays country rock is best known as Americana or alternative-country, a genre that started in the early 90’s with bands like Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and the Old 97’s. These artists mixed country with punk and rock, and sang bleaker and more serious songs than their mainstream country counterparts. The most famous alt-country star is probably Ryan Adams, the Godfather of alt-country, releasing more than ten albums in less than a decade of recording.

Here are my top ten country rock and alt-country tracks if you want to get a start on coming to grips with this genre.

Country Rock
Lay Me Down David Crosby and Graham Nash
Whiteline Fever The Flying Burrito Brothers
Long Distance Love Little Feat
Dead Flowers Gram Parsons
Fortunate Son Creedence Clearwater Revival
Riverside America
Black Water Doobie Brothers
The Weight The Band
Hole in the World The Eagles
Sky, Blue and Black Jackson Brown

Alternative Country
Two Broken Hearts Richmond Fontaine
Friend of the Devil Lyle Lovett (Grateful Dead Cover)
Come Pick Me Up Ryan Adams
The Long Ride Home Patty Griffin
Take Me Back to Mullenberg County John Prine
Song For You Whiskeytown
Tear Stained Eye Uncle Tupelo
How to Fight Loneliness Wilco

I knew this story would break my heart Aimee Mann
All the Pretty Horses Calexico


peggy said...

Did Gram ever sing Dead Flowers? Do you maybe mean Wild Horses?

there is a petition to get Gram in the CMHOF at

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