AMG explains country-rock is a style “where rock bands play country music.” I’d agree with this assessment, but in my eyes, there is a pop/rock element that exists within the confines of the style. For example, If you listen to the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the pop/rock style is more prevelant than if you listen to, say, The Flying Burrito Brothers, which sounds more country. That said, it would seem that country-rock is more of a feeling than a style, but who really cares right? It’s all good to listen to (except the Eagles, I detest their generic crappy songs).
Everything I’ve read points to Gram Parsons as the father of country-rock, he and his vision of “cosmic american music.” His first recordings come with Shilos, but his recordings with the International Submarine Bandare a must-have recording for those interested in the origins of country-rock (their only album is called Safe At Home). The sound is very western oriented, I think it was Parsons vision that makes this a seminal country-rock record. Gram followed his muse with Nashville West (although he did not record with them), the Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, on his own with his band the Fallen Angels (often featuring protoge Emmylou Harris, the two voices melt together like butter on a piece of toast). Gram also hung around with the Rolling Stones, so I’ve read (the coutry version of Honky Tonk Women, titled Country Honk, is on the Let it Bleed album). Legend states that Keith and Mick would allow Parsons to record their song “Wild Horses” only if he rearranged Honky Tonk Women for them. Two classic songs came from this pact.
Another former member of the Byrds, Gene Clark, is also responsible for the rise of the country-rock style. His recordings with Doug Dillard are western recordings with rock flavor. Clark also recorded a sensational album with the Gosdin Brothers in 1967 that helped shape the style. In these albums you can hear the melodies and harmonies that would permeate the music of the Eagles (the worlds shittiest band–good harmonies though, I’ll admit).
Next, the Byrds and their album Sweetheart of the Rodeo, with input from Parsons himself (whose vocals were stripped from the original album due to contractual obligations) paved the way for more rock and folk oriented bands to enter the country-rock landscape.
Other artists that were on hand during the dawn of the country-rock era (primarily the late 60’s into the early 70’s) are the Everly Brothers and their fantastic album Roots, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Steve Young, Jim Messina, Michael Nesmith, The Beau Brummels (Bradley’s Barncomes highly recommended by this writer), Rick Nelson, “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, Chris Hillman, Michael Martin Murphey, J.D Souther, Nashville West(listen to their AWESOME self-title–Clarence White plays guitar in both Nashville West and the Byrds’ late recordings, his sound is better than sex) and Charlie Daniels. Michael Nesmith is one of my particular favorites. Of course there were artists on the more western side of the equation who looked to synthesize the sounds of country and rock, but for these purposes I’m sticking to more rock-oriented artists.
Bob Dylan and his fantastic album Nashville Skylineis considered by the experts to be the mainstream breakthrough for country-rock most prominently exploited by the aforementioned Shitties Band on Earth. This album is one of my favorites of all-time, top 10 for sure.
Other bands came along later specializing in the country-rock style, notably Poco, Amazing Rhythm Aces, Barefoot Jerry, Pure Prairie League, Mason Proffit, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and New Riders of the Purple Sage (whose self-titled first albumfeatures none other than Jerry Garcia on pedal steel). The Grateful Dead are one of many prominent groups to dabble in the country-rock style (Workingman’s Dead is by far and away the best Dead album in my opinion, featuring many country flavored rock songs), along with Neil Young, the Stones, The Sir Douglas Quintet, Leon Russell, Van Morrison, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Crosby Stills and Nash, plus Stephen Stills’ early 70’s group, Manassas.
Country-rock lives and breathes today, thanks to bands and artists associated with the alt. country, roots rock, and cowpunk movement. I’ll make special note of 80’s bands The Long Ryders, Meat Puppets, Uncle Tupelo and Jason and The Scorchers, 90’s bands like The Jayhawks, Son Volt, The Cowboy Junkies, and the Old 97’s, along with more contemporary artists like Blue Mountain, Ryan Adams, Beachwood Sparks, and The Sadies. Thanks for keeping the marriage between rock and country alive. It makes for great listening, especially during the summer months, in my opinion.
authors note—the Eagles suck
Some of my favorites in the country-rock vein——–