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Who Needs Country Music?

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The following is a guest blog by Benjamin Bass who was the recorded sound technician in the Music Section of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

If you’ve ever had a conversation asking someone about what kind of music they are into, I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “I’m into everything except for country music, or I like …but I hate country music.”  I believe that there’s no one genre of music in all of history that can be fully discarded.  I also believe that music listeners can discover at least one artist or song that they find appealing in any given genre.

For example, the song “Love Hurts” was an international hit when a version of the song was played by the hard rock band Nazareth in 1975. The song was originally composed as a country song by Felice Bryant and Boudleaux Bryant, a husband and wife songwriting duo who penned many of today’s country standards such as “Rocky Top.”  The country music standard has been recorded by everyone from The Everly Brothers (1960), to Roy Orbison (1961), and was given a heartfelt treatment by Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons in 1973.  Often times we criticize what we do not understand. So, why not give Country Music a fair listen?   You might even find something that you like!

As a kid I grew up in Baltimore, MD, listening to my Dad’s record collection.  I fell in love with the melody and lyricism of Bob Dylan and was soon introduced to the jingle-jangle of The Byrds.  The Byrds, formed out of the American Folk Music Revival of the 1950s,  combined elements of folk and rock music to create a uniquely new sound, “Folk Rock.”  They were promoted as “The American Beatles” by the The Beatles’ arch-publicist Derek Taylor who flew the nest at the end of their first American tour in 1964. 

Following their psychedelic masterpiece, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, the band recruited country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons.  Parsons had great influence on the group and convinced them to record a full on country-rock album in 1968, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Recorded in Nashville, Bill C. Malone notes that “it was influential as the first major country-rock album by an established act and represented a stylistic move away from psychedelic rock…The album was also responsible for bringing Gram Parsons to the attention of a mainstream rock audience for the first time. Thus, the album can be seen as an important chapter in Parsons’ personal and musical crusade to make country music fashionable for a young audience.” Gram Parsons went on to form the psychedelic country-rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers with Byrds’ Bassist Chris Hillman. He released two solo albums and collaborated with, and mentored, country music legend Emmylou Harris.

Recently added to the Music Section’s catalog is the digital talking book entitled Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian Collection which is the perfect introduction for any music listener to the country music genre.

Released in 1990, the collection contains 100 tracks deemed to be significantly important to the history of country music. It also contains an illustrated 84-page book by Bill C. Malone, a country music historian. Malone’s extensively annotated essay details country music’s history era by era, from its beginnings in the 1920s and commercialization during the 1930s through its growing popularity during the 1980s.

Significant artists whose works are included are Vernon Dalhart, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Alabama and The Judds.

This is one of many titles to come from The Smithsonian Folkways Collection.  The digital talking book will consist of the narrated liner notes, with musical examples interspersed throughout, and an embedded braille ready file (.brf) of the notes.

Happy Listening!


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