Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Top 10 Most Influential Men in Country Music - Part Two

5. Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings' career could have been over before it had even begun if he had not given up his seat on the plane that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson on 'The Day the Music Died'. He began at RCA with producer Chet Atkins in Nashville but enjoyed his largest period of success as one of the key players in the 'Outlaw movement' which carried images of the Wild West, Texas, cowboys and independence. This movement was extremely influential in refocusing attention on the performer as musical creators and for creating an establishment for Country music outside of the corporate traditions entrenched in Nashville. Jennings' sound was also important for reintroducing a stripped-down and twangy counterbalance to the music of the classical country style.

4. Merle Haggard

Growing up in Bakersfield, California, Haggard spent most of his childhood as a loose cannon and ended up serving time in San Quentin for trying to rob a bar. It was in San Quentin where Haggard was inspired to become a Country musician after hearing Johnny Cash play for the inmates in 1958. Haggard's music owes much to Buck Owens' Bakersfield Sound with its emphasis on the Fender Telecaster Guitar searing through hard-driving traditional honky-tonk music. Haggard paid tribute to many of the first generation of Country singer like Jimmie Rodgers and Lefty Frizzell throughout his career. Merle Haggard is seen as one of Country Music's biggest stars and has been revered as a legend by almost all subsequent generations of Country singers.

3. George Jones

George Jones, nicknamed The Possum, is regarded as one of the greatest vocalists in the history of Country music. Jones began his career as a rockabilly singer with hits such as 'Why, Baby, Why' and 'White Lightning'. His style and sound changed once he began working with Tammy Wynette whom he married in 1969. The couple recorded many hit duets together including 'Golden Ring' and 'We're Gonna Hold On'. Although Jones' sound often incorporated elements of the Nashville Sound period, his voice possessed such a full range of expressions from tears and cries to quivers and wails that conveyed the raw, direct emotions of the honky-tonk style. His self-destructive, alcohol-drenched lifestyle only added to his appeal and added an autobiographical aura to his honky-tonk reputation.

2. Johnny Cash 

Not to place Johnny Cash at number one is probably quite a controversial decision. I even shocked myself! Johnny Cash was an enigma and an icon - he was Country music's biggest modern star and an artist whose appeal transcended the boundaries of genre. Cash began at Sun Studios in the 1950s as a rockabilly artist with the Tennessee Two and cultivated a raw and completely original sound. The majority of Cash's biggest hits came at the beginning of his career - 'I Walk the Line', 'Folsom Prison Blues' and 'Ring of Fire'. His career faded during the 60s due to his drug addition but his comeback with the live albums at San Quentin and Folsom Prison at the end of the decade re-launched Cash's career and turned him into one of music's biggest names. His ABC TV show The Johnny Cash Show, which ran from 1969 to 1971, was hugely influential in bringing different types of music to mainstream television including his first guests on the show, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. It seemed as if Cash's career was coming to an stuttering end in the 1980s but he made another comeback with Rick Rubin's American Recordings in the 90s which saw the Arkansas man return to the minimalist and stark sound of his early career. Cash died in 2003, leaving us one of the longest, most successful and most influential careers in Country music.

1. Hank Williams

Hank Williams died at the age of 29 in 1953. During his short career as a Country singer, he was neither the biggest-selling artist nor the one with the most hits and yet Hank Williams is seen as the pure embodiment of Country music. The Honky-Tonk sound, which reached its creative peak with the music of Hank Williams, is seen as the purest and most traditional form of Country music. The emphasis on the steel guitar, fiddle and raw southern accent of Williams would be emulated in many different guises through the rest of the twentieth century. Much of Hank Williams' life is shrouded in legend and myth - his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry in June 1949 was a stunning success and it has been claimed that he played as many as nine encores that evening. Williams' health plagued him throughout his short life. He suffered from spina bifida which he self-medicated with alcohol and narcotics, making his personal and musical life extremely unstable. In 1952, Hank was fired from the Opry due to his drinking and was divorced from his wife, Audrey, whose wicked ways were the inspiration for many of his heartbreak songs such as 'Cold, Cold Heart' and 'Your Cheatin' Heart'. The death of Hank Williams is the most mythologized event in all of Country music history - his lifeless body was discovered in the back of car on its way to a New Year's Day show in Ohio in 1953. The cause of death was alcohol and drug abuse. Although this was the end of Williams' life, it was the beginning of the legend - due to his death just before the birth of Rock n' Roll, his style appears frozen in time. He began and finished with the same kind of music. Hank Williams' biography itself is a tragic honky-tonk song and thus, he has been used as a symbol of pure authenticity in Country Music.

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