October 31, 2005

God's Country

Hatched by Dafydd

I grew up listening almost exclusively to classical music ("classical" used in the general sense to include baroque, classical, romantic, etc.) When I went away to university, I started listening to rock... but in typical reptillian unfashionable fashion, I focused on rock from an earlier era than the 1980s; I listened to tons of acid rock: Iron Butterfly, Country Joe and the Fish, early Pink Floyd -- the Syd Barrett period -- along with lots of progressive rock, mostly King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Bowie, Gilmour-era Pink Floyd, and so forth... all stuff that was already a decade old or more when I first heard it.

Very recently, Sachi (another recent convert) has gotten me interested in country music -- mostly the newer stuff from Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Gretchen Wilson, and suchlike, but also older country from Hank Williams (sr. and Bosephus), Junior Brown, and even the Sons of the Pioneers (Roy Rogers' first group, started at the beginning of the 1930s). A later incarnation of Sons of the Pioneers included the amazingly good lead singer Ken Curtis -- who you might know better as Festus Haggen, the scruffy deputy with the strange accent on the TV show Gunsmoke.

I had always liked blues; but a few years ago, I found and loved Jimmie Rodgers, probably the first country-bluesman and direct inspiration for Gene Autry, who also began his career singing country-inspired blues (including several covers of Rodgers, including "Frankie and Johnny," "In the Jailhouse Now," some of the "Blue Yodels," and so on).

To me, country represents the real lives of real people. I would turn to the progressive rock of the 70s for cosmic consciousness, and to classical music for transcendancy. But for the personal moment, songs like Keith's "Huckleberry" or Paisley's "Alcohol" just can't be bettered.

But more and more, contemporary country is losing some of the distinctive "twang" that has both defined and bedeviled it since the earliest days. Alt-country especially sounds like a country-cousin to rock anymore.

So I'm turning to any long-time country fans to help me out here: how would you define the essence of country and how it differs from rock? Is it the values? the attitude? a particular element of the songs themselves that I've missed?

Enquiring ears want to know!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 31, 2005, at the time of 2:48 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/169


The following hissed in response by: slarrow

I'll give this a shot:

The essence of rock is emotional appeal tied to the moment. The essence of country is a narrative appeal tied to people's lives.

Country music is about stories, and people live stories. Sometimes it's a quick character sketch, and sometimes it's a nice little anecdote. Other times, it's a lament with background or maybe a specific description with a hint of the bigger picture. Regardless, country music gets people to listen to the song and think, "that's my life" or "I know that guy."

By its nature, it's conservative, not to say repetitive. The sounds and sub-genres (honky-tonk, cheating, cowboy) are pretty settled, and new musical styles are mostly different ways to get back to the basic stories. That's because country music is about stories which are about people, and people don't change that much.

Listen to Don Williams sing, "Oh, I've got a good woman and we've got a good fire going," and you know what the man in that song values and his idea of heaven. If you don't share that view, you know someone who does. It's very recognizable.

Rock differs, to my mind, in that it's about capturing a mood tied to a moment. It's about emotion but not tied to specific circumstances--not in the music itself, anyway. The beauty of this is that hearing that song at a particular time in your life lets YOU fill in the blanks. For my part, hearing certain rock songs bring back vivid memories of myself at a particular place and time: who I was, how I felt, what it was like to be me. While country music provides all kinds of models in its stories, rock provides an excellent method to capture snapshots of who I am (and was).

Bottom line: you can fill a scrapbook with rock music memories, but you can raise a child with country music.

Hope this is at least moderately interesting.

The above hissed in response by: slarrow [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 8:51 AM

The following hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi

lol, i see all music through the prism of dance, dafydd. C&W is great to dance to. Cotton-eyed-joe, texas-two-step, and delicious slow dancing...it's all good. but i agree with slarrow, too. ;-)

The above hissed in response by: matoko kusanagi [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 10:17 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


The essence of rock is emotional appeal tied to the moment. The essence of country is a narrative appeal tied to people's lives.

Hm... but on the other hand, I think of rock ballads like "Smoke On the Water" by Deep Purple or "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" by Bob Dylan, and country songs like Gretchen Wilson's "Here For the Party" and "Gone" by Montgomery Gentry, and they seem just the opposite: those rock songs are narratives, while those country songs are emotional appeals tied to the moment.

But I have no hesitation splitting them up the way I did: nobody would mistake "Here For the Party" for rock; nobody thinks of "Smoke On the Water" as a country ballad. That's what puzzles me... I feel like Potter Stewart!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 2:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: Jimmie

Just listen for the twang. If you hear it, you're listening to country music, no matter what station you have on the dial. The twang may be in the voice, or a hint of a fiddle or steel guitar in the background, but it'll always be there.

That can get confusing if you happen across a Lnyrd Skynrd tune on a classic rock station because they may get played like they're a rock band, but really they're a country band that decide there was much better money in rock.

The above hissed in response by: Jimmie [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 4:26 PM

The following hissed in response by: RonC

Well, I'm a "long-time" (60+ years) western music fan - and reckon that my two cents on what so-called "country" music is, isn't what most people would expect; because they haven't been around to hear - or see the wrecking and twisting of western music into "country."

Hence, I dispute most claims of the younger whippersnappers regarding what "country" is.   To be blunt, it's stolen merchandise; original western music dressed up in tawdry clothes by a Nashville "mainstream" and renamed "country" for ill-gotten national appeal.

Slarrow is right - western music was (still is) explicitly conservative, usually uplifting spiritually, and occasionally sang around campfires, but most often in the bunkhouse and at seasonal celebrations, accompanied by the usual guitars and the presence of a harmonica or two.

Having been there and experienced this fun on many of the biggest cattle ranches in the west, I can attest to a history that bears little resemblance to today's "country music."

Sadly most folks like me quit buying records years ago, and saw all the good radio shows/stations disappear.   I've watched too as most of the early "country" fans have left the marketplace today - simply because they can't find the country music they loved in this "New Country" stuff today, designed for the suburban teeny-bopper and soccer moms.

One thing's certain - there never was any 'rock' in the best western music, but there sure was plenty of movin' in much of it - so enters the dancin' consideration that Matoko speaks of.   I remember plenty of great barn dances, with no rock 'n roll present - but the rafters were pretty well shaken at times... 8^)

The above hissed in response by: RonC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 5:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: RonC

"Just listen for the twang."

Much western music had 'twang' - but in what we thought the best, it didn't predominate - fact is, most ranchers I was around thought it was disgraceful - and an insulting mischaracterization.


The above hissed in response by: RonC [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 31, 2005 5:45 PM

The following hissed in response by: kevin

From a music geek standpoint, Country is played in the Major pentatonic scale and Rock in the Minor pentatonic. Twangy rockers like the Eagles, CCR etc..use both.

The above hissed in response by: kevin [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2006 3:30 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


From a musical ignoramus's standpoint, I don't understand a word of that! Can you elaborate, please? What is a pentatonic scale, and how does one distinguish between a major and minor one?

I know there are major and minor chords: I can hear the difference; they make me feel different when I hear them -- minor-key music sounds sadder and more wistful, while major-key sounds bouncier and happier... does that make any sense? I think a lot of early country songs (or perhaps I should say western songs) are major-key versions of minor-key Celtic songs. I think.

But I don't know what, from a music geek standpoint, distinguishes a minor chord from a major chord. Do these have anything to do with minor and major "pentatonic scales?"

Put on your geek hat and start 'splainin', dude!


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 18, 2006 3:40 PM

The following hissed in response by: Don

Interesting discussion here. I'm not sure you can entirely draw a meaningful line between the blues and country, and since much of the best rock (Clapton, Hendrix, etc) is so bluesy there is a point of contact right there.

Then you have albums like the Eagle's 'Desperado' which sound like both. Listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young on 'Teach Your Children' there is a twangy line by a steel guitar which makes converts a mediocre acoustic guitar song into a classic. Listen to half of the stuff Neil Young did for that matter. There is country in there which is why it appeals.

It's confusing. Is Johnny Cash country? I guess so but he does some bluesy stuff also. He's not really a rocker but he was bodaciously influential on a bunch of rockers.

The above hissed in response by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 10, 2006 7:53 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved