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The history of country music

A look at the history of country music, and the artists who paved the road for the superstars of the industry today.

One of the most popular forms of contemporary music is country music, which found its humble beginnings in the early 1920s when folk music was taken one step further. Those who claimed fame, (mostly from the Appalachians) for having introduced folk music to the nation were now in the first quarter of the twentieth century introducing a slightly more sophisticated styling of the hillbilly sound already made popular.

HONKY TONK SOUND

In the eighty plus years of country music history, its sound and style has changed dramatically, at least in some respects. In its earliest years, it was the honky-tonk sound from the likes of Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams that made up the genre of country music. Roadside pubs and meeting houses throughout Oklahoma and Texas were packed every Friday and Saturday evening with fans and curiosity seekers alike, anxious to listen to the fast-rising sounds of steel guitars and drums. Those pubs were popular though for more than just the latest craze in American music---the repeal of prohibition in 1933 also relaxed the minds of many when it came to public drinking; now the audiences could enjoy their favorite music and alcoholic beverages at the same time.

Although Tubb and Williams had their share of popularity with the honky-tonk sound, it was Al Dexter who cut the first record with the actual words honky-tonk` in 1936. Tubb`s single, Walking the Floor Over You, released in 1941, would go on to sell more than one million copies --quite a feat in any form of music. Your Cheatin Heart, cut by Williams in 1953, is perhaps one of the best-known records of the honky-tonk era. It was not his only hit though; in his lifetime Williams recorded more than one hundred songs.

WESTERN SOUND OF COUNTRY

Another form of the country music style is known as western-country. While honky-tonks were filled with its fans, theatres were filled with fans of the cowboy songs made popular, again, in Texas and Oklahoma. The often-romanticized life of the cowboy, heroic but lonely, drifting, fit in perfectly with this style of music that took its sound from the hills of Tennessee and the bayous of Louisiana. More often than not at least one part of the western song would include a lonesome whistle from the flute or other mellow-sounding wind instrument. The lyrics to the western sound centered directly on the pains and sorrows of life on the western frontier.

Some of those famous for this western style were Gene Autry, America s singing cowboy, and Roy Rogers, who later teamed with wife Dale Evans to become a famous due of the genre. Rogers also had been a part of The Sons of the Pioneers, a band that brought the frontier sound to over 80 westerns between 1935-1948.

ROCKABILLY SOUND OF COUNTRY

Country music morphed once again in the early 1950s with a sound that became known as rockabilly a mix of the southern hills music and the blues. This sound was made popular by many performers who developed staying power in the country music industry. They include the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, Carl Perkins, and, of course, the king himself Elvis Presley.

With its faster paced sound and constant rhythm, this form of country quickly worked its way up the record charts as Americans, too, found themselves living a lifestyle that was a much quicker pace than the generation of their parents.

NASHVILLE SOUND

It s in this town in the state of Tennessee that country music found its permanent home. It s here that the sound of country and all its variations have been produced, since 1925 when Nashville Barn Dance was established. By 1935, when it became known as the Grand Ole Opry, national broadcasting had begun---soon after saw a huge influx of country-star wanna-bes drawing to Nashville in hopes of a chance of making the big time.

The first of those who flocked to Nashville were, among others, Ernest Tubb, Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, and Kitty Wells, otherwise known as the Queen of country music. By the 1960s, those and others had a new sound created for their vocal talents Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins molded these performers into what became known as the Nashville sound.

This was most definitely the sound of country, but as stated earlier, this form of music has changed dramatically --the sixties saw more than steel guitars and drums in the Nashville sound. Now complete orchestras were brought in to add a lushness, or softness, to the country sound. Now, too, the ever popular use of synthesizers, studio effects, and over-dubbing were used to create a rich, full sound that no steel guitar and drum-set could ever hope to create. This era of country was the beginning of the age of contemporary country music.

It was this sound, made popular in the sixties and seventies, that would enable artists from many different walks to join in the folds of the country music industry. Cross-overs from the pop genre included Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty---all had great success when they recorded in the new style of the Nashville sound.

Today country music is perhaps at its highest peak of popularity the road to success paved by Cline, Tubbs, Williams, Wells, and others is now treaded upon by mega-stars like Garth Brooks, the team of Brooks and Dunn, Reba McIntire, Vince Gill, and dozens of others who are quoted with their thanks and gratitude to the pioneers of the sound of country music.

Written by robin steward -

Tagore and Einstein - A Conversation

The summer of 1930 occasioned a meeting of two extraordinary minds - Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein - in Caputh, Germany. Einstein reserved the highest admiration for Tagore as well as Mahatma Gandhi, and they, in turn, recognized in him a kindred spirit. Despite the disparate life-focus of the three, their ecumenical thinking lavished its warmth and wisdom on humanity as a whole. They were profoundly united in their concern for the world's indigent, the state of the human condition a continual presence to their imagination. Of the values that fuelled his rich life Einstein famously wrote: The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully have been Kindness, Beauty and Truth. Gandhi and Tagore, too, took the road illuminated by these very values.

The Tagore-Einstein dialogues of 1930 have been reprinted in a delightful book, Einstein Lived Here, by Professor Abraham Pais (Oxford University Press, 1994) in Chapter 9, "The Indian Connection: Tagore and Gandhi." The warm, humane Tagore-Einstein interchange on music is particularly engaging and is reproduced below with permission of the publisher.

But first, let us survey some quotes from the Chapter, words which cast a flavour of the regard these great sages held one another in:

Tagore on Einstein:

Einstein has often been called a lonely man. Insofar as the realm of the mathematical vision helps to liberate the mind from the crowded trivialities of daily life, I suppose he is a lonely man. His is what might be called transcendental materialism, which reaches the frontiers of metaphysics, where there can be utter detachment from the entangling world of self. To me both science and art are expressions of our spiritual nature, above our biological necessities and possessed of an ultimate value. Einstein is an excellent interrogator. We talked long and earnestly about my "religion of man." He punctuated my thoughts with terse remarks of his own, and by his questions I could measure the trend of his own thinking.

Einstein to Tagore:

You are aware of the struggle of creatures that spring forth out of need and dark desires. You seek salvation in quiet contemplation and in the workings of beauty. Nursing these you have served mankind by a long fruitful life, spreading a mild spirit, as has been proclaimed by the wise men of your people.

Einstein on Tagore, co-written with Gandhi and Rolland:

He has been for us the living symbol of the Spirit, of Light, and of Harmony - the great free bird which soars in the midst of tempests - the song of Eternity which Ariel strikes on his golden harp, rising above the sea of unloosened passions. But his art never remained indifferent to human misery and struggles. He is the 'Great Sentinel.' For all that we are and we have created have had their roots and their branches in that Great Ganges of Poetry and Love.

Warm regards,

Rajan P. Parrikar

T: Rabindranath Tagore;

(Year: 1930)

pp 105-107

<-- Rabindranath Tagore and Albert Einstein in Caputh, July 14, 1930

The second Einstein-Tagore dialogue, the one held in Caputh, 'was taken down by a friend who was present'. This time they began with a discussion of the nature of causality. On this subject the two men talked past each other without any understanding as to what the other was driving at. I do not consider it worthwhile reproducing here any of this. On the other hand, their next theme, on music is quite appealing.

T: The musical system in India is not so rigidly fixed as is the western music. Our composers give a certain definite outline, a system of melody and rhythmic arrangement, and within a certain limit the player can improvise upon it. He must be one with the law of that particular melody, and then he can give spontaneous expression to his musical feeling with the prescribed regulation. We praise the composer for his genius in creating a foundation along with a superstructure of melodies, but we expect from the player his own skill in the creation of variations of melodic flourish and ornamentation. In creation we follow the central law of existence, but, if we do not cut ourselves adrift from it, we can have sufficient freedom within the limits of our personality for the fullest self-expression.

E: That is only possible where there is a strong artistic tradition in music to guide the people's mind. In Europe, music has come too far away from popular art and popular feeling and has become something like a secret art with conventions and traditions of its own.

T: So you have to be absolutely obedient to this too complicated music. In India the measure of a singer's freedom is in his own creative personality. He can sing the composer's song as his own, if he has the power creatively to assert himself in his interpretation of the general law of melody which he is given to interpret.

E: It requires a very high standard of art fully to realize the great idea in the original music, so that one can make variations upon it. In our country the variations are often prescribed.

T: If in our conduct we can follow the law of goodness, we can have real liberty of self-expression. The principle of conduct is there, but the character which makes it true and individual is our own creation. In our music there is a duality of freedom and prescribed order.

E: Are the words of a song also free? I mean to say, is the singer at liberty to add his own words to the song which he is singing?

T: In Bengal we have a kind of song - Kirtan, we call it - which gives freedom to the singer to introduce parenthetical comments, phrases not in the original song. This occasions great enthusiasm, since the audience is constantly thrilled by some beautiful, spontaneous sentiment freshly added by the singer.

E: Is the metrical form quite severe?

T: Yes, quite. You cannot exceed the limits of versification; the singer in all his variations must keep the rhythm and the time, which is fixed. In European music you have a comparative liberty about time, but not about melody. But in India we have freedom of melody with no freedom of time.

E: Can the Indian music be sung without words? Can one understand a song without words?

T: Yes, we have songs with unmeaning words, sounds which just help to act as carriers of the notes. In North India music is an independent art, not the interpretation of words and thoughts, as in Bengal. The music is very intricate and subtle and is a complete world of melody by itself.

Cartoon by Herblock, published in Washington Post some days after Einstein's death -->

E: It is not polyphonic?

T: Instruments are used, not for harmony, but for keeping time and for adding to the volume and depth. Has melody suffered in your music by the imposition of harmony?

E: Sometimes it does suffer very much. Sometimes the harmony swallows up the melody altogether.

T: Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures. A simple linear picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of color may make it vague and insignificant. Yet color may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value.

E: It is a beautiful comparison; line is also much older than color. It seems that your melody is much richer in structure than ours. Japanese music seems to be so.

T: It is difficult to analyze the effect of eastern and western music on our minds. I am deeply moved by the western music - I feel that it is great, that it is vast in its structure and grand in its composition. Our own music touches me more deeply by its fundamental lyrical appeal. European music is epic in character; it has a broad background and is Gothic in its structure.

E: Yes, yes, that is very true. When did you first hear European music?

T: At seventeen, when I first came to Europe. I came to know it intimately, but even before that time I had heard European music in our own household. I had heard the music of Chopin and others at an early age.

E: There is a question we Europeans cannot properly answer, we are so used to our own music. We want to know whether our own music is a conventional or a fundamental human feeling, whether to feel consonance and dissonance is natural or a convention which we accept.

T: Somehow the piano confounds me. The violin pleases me much more.

E: It would be interesting to study the effects of European music on an Indian who had never heard it when he was young.

T: Once I asked an English musician to analyze for me some classical music and explain to me what are the elements that make for the beauty of a piece.

E: The difficulty is that really good music, whether of the East or of the West, cannot be analyzed.

T: Yes, and what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself.

E: The same uncertainty will always be there about everything fundamental in our experience, in our reaction to art, whether in Europe or Asia. Even the red flower I see before me on your table may not be the same to you and me.

T: And yet there is always going on the process of reconciliation between them, the individual taste conforming to the universal standard.

Reproduced with permission of the publisher.

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