Settlers from the British Isles colonize Appalachia. Many are Scots-Irish Presbyterians. They settle the northern counties of Ireland in the 1600s, but leave for economic and religious reasons. Between 1700 and 1775, roughly 200,000 enter the United States. Another 100,000 follow in the years between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. They bring their music, dance, and folklore. Traveling southward and westward, they colonize the Southern uplands, and the region’s isolation keeps their culture surprisingly intact. The instrument most commonly brought from the British Isles is the fiddle.
Minstrelsy. Dan Emmett stages the first blackface minstrel concert. Many minstrel and early Tin Pan Alley pop songs make their way into Country music via itinerant musicians and medicine shows. “In the Sweet Bye and Bye,” “Bill Bailey,” “Are You from Dixie,” “Alabama Jubilee,” “Listen to the Mockingbird,” “I’ll Twine mid the Ringlets” (aka “Wildwood Flower”), “Buffalo Gals,” “Arkansas Traveler,” and “Maple on the Hill” are among the Pop songs that become Country standards.
Wills S. Hays of Louisville, Kentucky begins publishing songs. Many of them are folk-like and are adapted by Country musicians. They include “Mollie Darling,” “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane,” “Evangeline,” “Take this Letter to My Mother,” “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy,” and (by some accounts) “Dixie.”
Gospel revivals. Many hymns from revival meetings and Great Awakenings enter early Country music via traveling evangelists. These include “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arm,” and “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” as well as African American gospel songs like “This Train” and “Old Time Religion.”
Stereotyping Hillbillies. The New York Journal for April 23 defines a “hillbilly” in print for possibly the first time: “a free and untrammeled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he can get it, and fires off his revolver when the fancy takes him.”
Casey Jones. The train wreck that kills engineer Casey Jones in Mississippi is memorialized in song. Many early original American folk songs are about similar tragedies and natural disasters, and some are set to existing folk melodies.
Eck Robertson goes pro. Texas fiddle player Eck Robertson makes his living from music, the first known Country musician to do so. In 1907, he gains first place in a four-day fiddle contest in Atlanta. Many fiddle contests across the South are held in conjunction with Confederate reunions.
“Some Real American Music.” In a Harpers article, Emma Bell Miles writes, “Here among the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas is a people of whose inner nature and musical expression almost nothing has been said. The music of the Southern mountaineer is not only peculiar, but, like himself, peculiarly American… The fiddler and banjo player are well treated and beloved among them, like the minstrels of feudal days. This is folk song of the highest order. May it not one day give birth to a music that shall take a high place among the world’s great schools of expression.”
British folklorist Cecil Sharp travels the southern Appalachians in search of folk songs of British origin. Without the benefit of recording equipment, he notates the melody while his assistant takes down the words. His work, published as English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, shows the still strong links between what became Country music and the music of the British Isles.
Commercial radio begins in the United States. Record sales fall off from 100 million discs in 1921 to 20 million in 1925. Record labels look for markets without electricity where radio cannot be picked up at home, but where records can be played on wind-up phonographs. They begin investigating Country and Blues.
Uncle Dave Macon begins performing. He’d learned to play banjo from a circus performer in Nashville, but didn’t begin performing until his mule transportation business was supplanted by a trucking company. Uncle Dave proves to be a storehouse of the nineteenth century strands that make up early Country music: vaudeville, minstrel, pop, sacred, and event songs. He performs on the Loew’s circuit in the South, billing himself as the Dixie Dewdrop.
First Country recordings. Two fiddlers, Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland, record “Arkansas Traveler”/”Sallie Gooden” for Victor in New York. Records had been invented in 1877—it had taken the record business forty-five years to discover Country music.
First Country hit. In Atlanta, OKeh Records’ A&R man Ralph Peer records Fiddlin’ John Carson’s version of Will S. Hay’s “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” Its success prompts record companies to send more talent scouts through the South. Peer pioneers on-location recording.
The radio barn-dance. In Fort Worth, WPAB programs 90 minutes of square-dance music, and it proves so popular that it becomes a regular feature. In 1924, WLS’s pioneering National Barn Dance in Chicago gathers Country acts for a Saturday night show carried live. WLS’s signal carries deep into the South. Its stars include Red Foley, Les Paul, and Rex Allen. Radio barn dances begin appearing on radio stations throughout the South. For many years, the goal of Country singers is to get on a major radio barn-dance, not to get on records because royalties are low or non-existent.
Uncle Dave Macon begins recording. His records are made in New York, and his recording career begins at age 54.
Emmett Miller begins recording. A blackface minstrel performer whose style bridges Pop, Jazz, and early Country, Miller makes a living on the vaudeville circuit. His yodeling influences Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, and, later, Merle Haggard. His record of “Lovesick Blues” is later covered by Williams, and his record of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” is later revived by Wills.
Vernon Dalhart records “The Prisoner’s Song.” A Country and Pop smash written to sound like an ancient Folk song, it sells millions of records and is later covered by Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, and many others. Its success is further incentive for record companies to go in search of more Country artists.
The Grand Ole Opry. WSM, Nashville, launches in October 1925 as a subsidiary of the National Life & Accident insurance company, and the WSM Barn Dance makes its debut in November. Two years later, the Barn Dance becomes the Grand Ole Opry. The earliest casts include African American harmonica player, DeFord Bailey. The show’s first major star is Uncle Dave Macon, who remains on the show until his death in 1952. Nearly all the acts are from Nashville and the surrounding area. The show becomes a means to sell life insurance to rural families. Initially, the show is broadcast from the WSM studios in the Nashville’s National Life building.
Hillbilly on record. When Al Hopkins records for Ralph Peer, he is asked how to bill his group. He says, “We ain’t nuthin’ but a bunch of hillbillies from North Carolina and Virginia.” Peer bills them as the Hill Billies.
The Big Bang of Country Music. Ralph Peer, by now working for Victor, schedules a field trip to Bristol, Tennessee. Advertisements and articles in the local paper yield sufficient acts for several days of sessions. Among those making their first recordings for Peer in Bristol are Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family. The Carter Family preserves and adapts old hymns and ballads, such as “Wildwood Flower,” “Wabash Cannonball,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and “Worried Man Blues,” while Rodgers writes new songs that draw on Blues and Vaudeville. His rowdier songs set the stage for Honky Tonk music.
First ever Nashville recording sessions. Ralph Peer records in Nashville—the first sessions in the city. He records DeFord Bailey and several other members of the Grand Ole Opry. These are the last sessions held in Nashville until 1944.
Western Swing coalesces. Fiddle player Bob Wills joins Milton Brown in the Light Crust Doughboys. They blend American and European fiddle tunes with Jazz, Minstrel songs, and then-current Pop to create dance music called Western Swing.
Singing brother duets become popular. In the Southeast, sibling duos (Allen Brothers, Delmore Brothers, Blue Sky Boys, Dixon Brothers, the Monroe Brothers, and Callaghan Brothers, etc.) popularize sibling harmony to string band accompaniment. They influence later duets like the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers, as well as Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, and cosmic cowboys of the late 1960s and ‘70s.
Electric steel guitar manufactured.
WSM goes to fifty thousand watts. At night, the Grand Ole Opry can be picked up from the Carolinas to the Rockies. WSM builds a new transmitter in Brentwood, Tennessee.
Jimmie Rodgers dies, aged 35. He suffered throughout adulthood from tuberculosis. Rodgers becomes the prototypical Kid with a Guitar, and influences a generation of Country stars, including Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, and Hank Thompson.
The Sons of the Pioneers come together. All easterners, the group includes Roy Rogers and songwriters Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. Their romanticized Western songs are very different from the hardscrabble songs of the real cowboys. Their hits include “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Cool Water,” “One More Ride,” and “Way out There.” Rogers leaves in 1938 to become a singing movie cowboy.
First Western Swing recordings. Western Swing, like big-band Swing, rises in popularity with the repeal of Prohibition. Milton Brown makes the first Western Swing recordings, but dies in 1936. Bob Dunn becomes the first to use the electric steel guitar on Country records when he plays on Brown’s January 1935 sessions. Bob Wills is signed to Columbia Records in 1935 and becomes one of the label’s top-selling artists with “San Antonio Rose,” “Take Me Back to Tulsa,” “Stay a Little Longer,” and others. Western Swing bands work almost exclusively in the Southwest and West. Many of Wills’ songs are orchestrated fiddle tunes, and Western Swing is almost exclusively played for dancing in ballrooms. “Please,” said Wills in 1945, “don’t anybody confuse us with none of them hillbilly outfits.”
The Grand Ole Opry moves. National Life insists that the Opry move from the National Life building, and it goes temporarily to a community playhouse that is now the site of the Belcourt movie theater. The Opry begins programming shows via the Artist Service Bureau so its musicians can make a living from music with show dates throughout its listening area.
Hank Snow begins recording. He starts at RCA Canada, moving to the United States in 1949, and remains with RCA until 1980. He joins the Opry in 1949 and his signature hit, “I’m Moving On,” comes in 1950. He remains on the Opry until his death in 1999.
The Grand Ole Opry moves again. This time, it relocates to the Dixie Tabernacle in East Nashville. The following year, it hires Polish-American bandleader Pee Wee King who brings a large ensemble to the Opry stage, including singer Eddy Arnold.
Roy Acuff joins the Grand Ole Opry. Originally from the Knoxville area and rooted in traditional Appalachian music, he remains affiliated with the show until his death in 1992. On his first night, he sings his signature song, “Great Speckled Bird.”
The Grand Ole Opry goes coast to coast. Thirty minutes of the Opry, hosted by Roy Acuff, is broadcast on the NBC radio network. The show reaches an estimated 9.5 million listeners. The following year, Uncle Dave Macon and Acuff star in a movie, Grand Ole Opry. Acuff becomes so popular that, during World War II, journalist Ernie Pyle reports that Japanese troops at the Battle of Okinawa scream, “To hell with Roosevelt! To hell with Babe Ruth! To hell with Roy Acuff!” In 1940, Minnie Pearl joins the Opry.
The Second World War brings Country music to a broader audience. The military’s Special Service Division introduces Country bands on USO shows. War workers leaving the South for industrial jobs up north or on the coasts take their music with them. Time magazine recognizes the trend in a 1943 story titled “Bull Market in Corn.” Saturday Evening Post publishes a similar feature in 1944, “Hillbilly Boom.”
War production controls. The government limits record production and mandates that new records can only be pressed on reground old discs. Record companies shed all but the most profitable artists. Nearly all Appalachian-style string bands and brother duets are dropped. Artists with a broader appeal, like Gene Autry, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, and Bob Wills, keep their contracts. Roy Acuff is one of the very few Appalachian-rooted artists to record through the War.
First music publisher in Nashville. Roy Acuff and Fred Rose found Acuff-Rose Publishing. There are still no recording studios or record companies in the city; only the Grand Ole Opry is there, but the Opry is quickly attracting all the top Country stars of the day.
The Ryman Auditorium becomes the “Mother church of Country music.” After years of moving from one location to another, the Grand Ole Opry settles at the Ryman in Nashville, where it stays until 1974. Ernest Tubb joins the Opry, remaining until his death in 1984. The Opry cast now includes the mainstays that will see it through until the 1980s, and will attract the Country music industry to Nashville. Tubb is among the first, if not the first, to play amplified instruments on the Opry stage.
The Carter Family disbands. Their rural style has fallen from favor.
The rise of Honky Tonk music. The success of Al Dexter’s “Pistol Packin’ Mama” leads to more songs about sex, cheating, drinking, and other formerly off-limits subjects. Musicians like Dexter play amplified music to be heard in bar-rooms or honky tonks (“beer-drinking churches,” as Willie Nelson calls them). Dexter is followed by Floyd Tillman, Ted Daffan, and many others. Ernest Tubb is one of the few to bring Honky Tonk music to the Southeastern Bible Belt, where Roy Acuff is still preeminent.
Billboard magazine launches its first Country chart. The first No.1 record is “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Country music is called Folk (even when Elvis Presley’s second LP is released in October 1956, the liner notes say, “Of commercial folk music, Presley is perhaps the most original singer since Jimmie Rodgers.”)
The birth of Bluegrass. Bill Monroe hires banjo player Earl Scruggs and vocalist-guitarist Lester Flatt, and together they create a new style, Bluegrass, rooted in Appalachian music. “It was old-time music on steroids,” says current country star Ricky Skaggs. The banjo, by then rarely heard in African American music, becomes the centerpiece of the new style.
Nashville’s first-ever independent label, Bullet Records. Ray Price, Minnie Pearl, Pee Wee King, Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, and B.B. King all make their first records for Bullet. The label also issues one of the biggest pop hits of all time, Nashville bandleader Francis Craig’s “Near You.” Bullet records several other classics, such as Johnnie Lee Wills’ hit “Rag Mop” and Leon Payne’s original recording of “Lost Highway.” The Bullet partners also start a pressing plant, Southern Plastics, still in business as a vinyl plant, United Record Pressing.
War production controls lifted. Record still companies go for Honky Tonk singers or smoother artists with broader appeal. Regional artists are sidelined. Bill Monroe, whose appeal is mostly confined to the Southeast, is signed to Columbia in 1942, but doesn’t record until 1945, and his first Columbia single isn’t issued until 1946. The label focuses its resources on Autry, Wills, Dexter, etc.
Hank Williams makes his first recordings. Although an Acuff disciple, Williams introduces electric instruments (still taboo on the Opry), and Honky Tonk songs. His first records are made for a small indie label, Sterling, but sell sufficiently well for newly-launched MGM Records to sign him.
Professional recording comes to Nashville. Three WSM engineers build Castle Recording Laboratories. They convert a dining room in the now-demolished Tulane Hotel. When Decca records Ernest Tubb and Red Foley at Castle, the Nashville recording business is underway. At this point, more country records are made in Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, and New York than Nashville, but Nashville is swiftly becoming the epicenter of the business.
The Ernest Tubb Record Shop becomes a Nashville landmark. Tubb opens his store, still based near the Ryman Auditorium. He pioneers mail-order service, supplying records to fans across the United States, cementing Nashville’s reputation as the home of Country music.
Opry artists plays Carnegie Hall. Ernest Tubb, Pee Wee King, and Minnie Pearl headline the cast. Billboard reports: A cornbilly troupe called the Grand Ole Opry…took over the house and proved… that the big city wants country music.” Opry announcer and founder, George D. Hay, writes, “When the Opry started, our boys and girls made appearances in country school houses, town halls, courthouses, and small auditoriums. Billboard also reports that nearly every radio station nationwide has at least one Country show.”
Eddy Arnold’s first No.1 hit. From 1946 until the mid-1950s, no one—not even Hank Williams—sells more records than Arnold. His success is a blueprint for the Nashville Sound. In 1948, only one other artist places a record at No. 1 on the Country charts; Arnold tops the charts for the remainder of the year. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, later manages Elvis Presley.
Country music radio barn-dances proliferate. In Shreveport, Louisiana, The Louisiana Hayride debuts. Hank Williams, still largely unknown, joins a few months after the show begins. The Hayride becomes famous for discovering stars. In addition to Williams, it signs Faron Young, Webb Pierce, Slim Whitman, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, George Jones, Johnny Horton, all at the dawn of their careers. Guitarist James Burton also begins his career on the Hayride.
Eddy Arnold quits the Opry; Little Jimmy Dickens joins. The show ties up Arnold on Saturday night for very little money, so he becomes the first to decide that the radio barndances aren’t important in sustaining a career. Dickens remains on the show until 1957, and rejoins in 1975.
Music City USA. WSM announcer David Cobb dubs Nashville “Music City USA,” and it sticks. In just five years, Nashville has become the center of Country music. Several music publishing start-ups follow Acuff-Rose. Among the songwriters drawn to Nashville are Boudleaux Bryant and his wife, Felice, who become the city’s first professional songwriters. They go on to write “Rocky Top,” “Love Hurts,” “Sleepless Nights,” “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Bye, Bye Love,” and many other hits. Most aspiring Country artists now see that they must go to Nashville to be heard. Among the artists based there are Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, and Faron Young from Shreveport, Carl Smith and Chet Atkins from east Tennessee, Ray Price and Lefty Frizzell from Texas, Marty Robbins from Arizona, and Hank Snow from Canada. Only the era’s first female star, Kitty Wells, is from Nashville.
Pop goes Country. After the success of Patti Page’s cover version of “Tennessee Waltz,” there is a sudden rush among Pop singers to cover Country songs. Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” becomes a Pop smash, as does Pee Wee King’s “Slow Poke.” A Folk group, the Weavers, score a big hit with an ancient Appalachian song, “On Top of Old Smokey.” Pop covers of Country songs, followed by Pop covers of R&B songs, prep the market for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even without Pop singers covering their songs, Country artists are doing well: Decca and Columbia Records estimate that between forty and fifty percent of their sales are Country.
WSM starts a country Dee-Jay convention in Nashville. By the mid-1950s, record labels showcase new artists there, publishers pitch songs, dee-jays meet artists and record labels. It becomes an annual event known as Country Music Week.
Uncle Dave Macon dies, aged eighty-one. He traveled on Opry road shows until 1950, and left some of his possessions to the Opry cast.
Owen and Harold Bradley start a recording studio in Nashville. It’s the second pro-quality studio.
On New Year’s Day, Hank Williams dies. His 80 studio recordings are probably the most influential body of work in Country music.
Country artists cover R&B songs. Bill Haley covers “Rocket 88” in 1951 and “Rock the Joint” in 1952, and cracks the Pop charts in 1953 with “Crazy, Man Crazy.” In 1953, Red Foley covers Faye Adams’ “Shake a Hand,” and Lucky Joe Almond and Little Jimmy Dickens cover Piano Red’s “Rockin’ With Red.” Bob Wills’ former vocalist, Tommy Duncan, covers Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog.” Elvis Presley has yet to make a record.
Elvis Presley signed to Sun Records. His first record couples one song by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (“That’s All Right”) with another by Bill Monroe (“Blue Moon of Kentucky”). After an appearance on the Grand Ole Opry that didn’t go too well, Presley appears regularly on the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, and is touring the Country circuit in the Southwest and South.
“Ozark Jubilee,” hosted by Red Foley in Springfield, Missouri, is picked up by ABC-TV for nationwide broadcast. When Rock ‘n’ Roll erupts, the Jubilee tries to stay current by bringing rockabillies on-air. A Grand Ole Opry television show airs briefly in 1955-’56. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s show is on daytime network television. Country music is slowly coming to television.
George Jones’ first hit. “Why, Baby Why” on a local Texas label launches a career that will span seven decades. Jones flirts briefly with Rockabilly before establishing himself as one of the finest Country vocalists of all time. He moves to Nashville in 1968.
Elvis Presley becomes a sensation. He sells unprecedented quantities of records and merchandise, stars in a movie, and makes appearances on CBS-TV’s Stage Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. It is the year that Rock ‘n’ Roll explodes into the national consciousness, with Presley as a lightning rod for the adulation and criticism.
Blue Suede Shoes. Carl Perkins scores a huge hit on Sun with “Blue Suede Shoes,” and appears to be running a close second behind Presley for a month or two. He can never find the elusive follow-up, although his music influences the Beatles, who record three of his songs.
“Barriers Being Swept Away in C&W, Pop and R&B Fields,” reports Billboard on March 3. It notes songs by Presley and Perkins are selling in all three categories. No one has yet figured out that this is a new category: Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Finding the “Next Elvis.” Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins are perceived as Country artists because they started on the Country circuit. Records labels instruct their Nashville divisions to find the “next Presley.” Buddy Holly, Johnny Burnette, Conway Twitty, and many others are brought to Nashville to record Rockabilly or, as Billboard magazine dubs it, “trick warbling.” None is successful at the time, although Johnny Burnette’s recordings with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio are later viewed as the apogee of Rockabilly.
Johnny Cash scores breakthrough hits: “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line.” In July—less than one year after turning professional, he joins the Grand Ole Opry, but leaves in 1958 to go to California.
The birth of the Nashville Sound. Country Music changes to take advantage of Pop airplay opening up. Hard country instruments, such as the steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and banjo are de-emphasized in favor of the electric guitar, piano, and chorus. Singers who can sing without regionalism are preferred to those with “hillbilly” intonation. The top country songs of 1957 include Marty Robbins’ “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation),” Sonny James’ “Young Love,” and Jim Reeves’ “Four Walls.” The Everly Brothers become the first Rock ‘n’ Roll act produced and managed out of Nashville.
NBC radio drops the Opry. The show is still carried on its parent station, WSM, though. Many radio barn dances close. The “live” radio era is ending. The number of stations broadcasting Country music declines sharply, and television as much as Rock ‘n’ Roll erodes the popularity of the radio barn-dance.
Country Music Association formed. A rearguard action against Rock ‘n’ Roll, it starts a Hall of Fame in 1961, and, during the 1967 Country Music Week, it begins handing out awards in several categories.
Ray Price perfects the 4/4 shuffle. Going against the Pop-Country Nashville Sound, Price finds success with 4/4 bar-room shuffles, including “City Lights,” “Heartaches by the Number,” and “My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You.” The Bakersfield Sound takes its cue from Price.
Bluegrass reborn as folk music. Bluegrass suffers more than Country Music when Rock ‘n’ Roll alters the complexion of radio. Country music changes; Bluegrass doesn’t. Dee-jay shows largely supplant on-air performers, and the Nashville Sound marginalizes Bluegrass. In the wake of the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley” and the Folk revival, Bluegrass is featured at Folk festivals and on campuses. Country artists also record pseudo-folk songs: Johnny Horton scores with “Battle of New Orleans,” Johnny Cash with “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” Billy Grammer with “Gotta Travel On,” etc.
Time magazine profiles Country Music, popularizing the phrase “Nashville Sound.” The magazine reports: “One out of every five popular hits of the past year was written and recorded in Nashville, e.g., ‘He’ll Have to Go,’ ‘Stuck On You,’ ‘Cathy’s Clown,’ ‘Please Help Me, I’m Falling.’ …The basic C. & W. ingredients have always been a tune with folkish overtones, lyrics of Pleistocene simplicity, and a theme preferably proclaiming undying devotion to a faithless loved one.”
In California, the Bakersfield Sound coalesces around Buck Owens. There’s some Rock ’n’ Roll in the Bakersfield Sound, especially in the pinched, stinging Telecaster tone, but it’s rooted in 1940s’ Honky-Tonk music and Ray Price’s Country shuffles. Los Angeles-based Capitol snags many of the best Bakersfield artists. “The Nashville Sound is the musicians,” says Capitol’s Country A&R man, Ken Nelson. “The musicians are all fairly well trained; that is, they have studied music and they have a smoothness about them. Bakersfield has a roughness about it because of their background, where they lived, where they came from.” Bakersfield later underpins the music of Dwight Yoakam and many “alternative Country” artists.
Willie Nelson arrives in Nashville. He has written “Family Bible” and “Night Life,” and decides to try to make it as a songwriter. Faron Young scores a hit with his song “Hello Walls,” and another Nelson song, “Funny (How Time Slips Away),” becomes a Pop, Country and R&B smash for different artists.
Patsy Cline. She’d been recording since 1954 and scored a big hit in 1957 with “Walkin after Midnight,” but her career was at a low ebb when she joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1960. Sustained success follows “I Fall to Pieces.” One of the follow-ups is Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.”
Academy of Country Music launched in Los Angeles. It is designed to counter Nashville-centrism. In 1966, the ACMs become the first all-Country award show.
Roger Miller. After kicking around Nashville since 1957, Miller breaks through with quirky songs that find a Pop audience. His 1965 hit “King of the Road” tops the Pop and Country charts. Miller broadens the definition of what constitutes a Country song.
Waylon Jennings arrives in Nashville. Newly signed to RCA, he arrives from Phoenix where he was a top dee-jay and performer. Very quickly, he becomes disillusioned with the Nashville way of recording.
Johnny Cash moves to Nashville. After starting his career in Memphis and living in California, he moves to Nashville and rooms with Waylon Jennings for a time. He’s prosecuted for setting fire to 500 acres of desert and for bringing amphetamines across the U.S.-Mexico border. His music searches for direction. For a time, he embraces protest songs.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opens. Hall of Fame plaques had been housed in state buildings around Nashville until the opening.
“Gentle on My Mind.” John Hartford’s song is a radical departure in Nashville songcraft, paving the way for Kris Kristofferson and others. It becomes the second most-played Country song of the twentieth century after “I Will Always Love You,” according to BMI.
Country Rock. Called “Longhair Country” at first, Country Rock fuses the lyrical concepts of then-current Rock music with traditional Country instrumentation and song structure. The first Country Rock LPs are the International Submarine Band’s Safe at Home and the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo, both of them featuring Gram Parsons.
Johnny Cash on television. After ten years of searching for direction, Cash records two prison albums; one of them, At San Quentin, tops the Pop and Country charts. Cash is offered a television show by ABC-TV, and becomes Columbia Records’ best-selling artist.
“Hee-Haw” debuts on television. It joins several other television shows that feature Country music, including The Glen Campbell Good Time Hour and The Johnny Cash Show, or espouse rural values, such as The Beverly Hillbillies, Mayberry RFD, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction. President Richard Nixon coins the phrase “silent majority” for those who share the values of those shows. The cultural divide between the Silent Majority and the counter-culture seems irreconcilable, and is exacerbated by the escalation of the Vietnam War.
“Okie from Muskogee.” The backlash against counter-culture music and politics finds its voice in Country music. From Tammy Wynette singing “Stand by Your Man” to Merle Haggard’s anti-hippie polemics “Okie from Muskogee” and “Fightin’ Side of Me,” Country music becomes the COUNTER-counter-culture.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band records a 3-LP Americana concept album, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The set features Roy Acuff, Merle Travis, Vassar Clements, Doc Watson, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Norman Blake and many others. NGDB’s founder William McEuen attempts to unite “longhair” and traditional Country. Bill Monroe is invited to participate but refuses.
Willie Nelson leaves Nashville. He eventually settles near Austin, Texas.
Willie Nelson’s first Fourth of July picnic in Dripping Springs, Texas. Forty thousand people see Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, Doug Sahm, and Tom T. Hall. Looking back, twenty years later, Billy Porterfield in the Austin American Statesman writes, “It was miserable and it was great, one of the glorious heathen stomps between the Americas of J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy and Ronald Reagan.” The Nashville way of doing things is about to be challenged.
Olivia Newton John wins Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA awards. Nashville tries to create music that will win the broadest possible audience, especially among those who had grown up on Rock ‘n’ Roll but feel alienated by then-current Rock. Former Rock ‘n’ Roll singers, notably Conway Twitty, Charlie Rich, and Jerry Lee Lewis, return to Country music.
Willie Nelson releases his landmark LP “Red Headed Stranger,” and Waylon Jennings releases his “Dreaming My Dreams” LP. They become figureheads for the Outlaw movement, demanding artistic freedom from the Nashville labels and bringing rock attitude to their music and lifestyle. Willie Nelson’s album of standards, Stardust, released in 1978, becomes a quintuple Platinum LP.
RCA releases “Wanted—The Outlaws,” featuring Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser. It becomes the first million-selling Country album, affirming faith in Country music’s unruly roots.
New Traditionalism. In revolt against the Country-Pop hybrid, newer artists such as Randy Travis, Marty Stuart, Patty Loveless, and Dwight Yoakam take Country back to its Honky-Tonk roots. New traditionalism has notable forebears, including Ricky Skaggs, George Strait, Emmylou Harris, and John Anderson, whose records flew the flag for traditional Country music.
SoundScan era. A computer program that captures point-of-sale bar-code scans becomes the basis for Billboard’s charts. The changeover takes a number of Country artists, notably Garth Brooks, into the Pop charts. In 2012, Brooks is rated the best-selling artist of the SoundScan era.
Lower Broad. Spurred by the reopening of the Ryman Auditorium, a scene coalesces around younger bands and performers rooted in traditional music, such as BR5-49, Paul Burch, and RB Norris. They perform in the bars along Nashville’s Lower Broadway, such as Robert’s Western World.
New Country Music Hall of Fame opens. The original Hall of Famed, closes on December 31, 2000 and reopens in May 2001 in a new downtown location, away from Music Row. Spearheading the downtown revival, the Hall of Fame doubles in size in 2014 and sets new attendance records.
Nashville—ABC-TV The series is widely credited with spurring Nashville tourism to record numbers.
RCA’s Studio A. After a developer buys RCA’s former Studio A on Music Row, proposing to build condominiums on the site, activists prevail upon Aubrey Preston, Mike Curb, and Chuck Elcan to save the studio/office complex. The proposed development is seen as emblematic of Nashville’s rapid growth.