Part of the beauty of rock and roll is that its roots come from so many different places. A large part of those roots is country music. The blend of the two has shaped and influenced some major moments and artists in the rock genre.
It started in America’s south, but many of the best practitioners hailed from other places. It even reached as far as Britain, when the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards met Gram Parsons. Read on to find out more about country rock, an early version of rock and roll.
The beginnings of the genre
Country rock was a melding of the two genres that gave it its name: country and rock music. In the 1960s rock and roll was still young, and this gave it the flexibility to be adapted by different artists and sounds. Rock and roll artists started to be influenced by country, and so country rock was born. The defining sound that differentiates it from other forms of rock is that of the pedal steel guitar.
The peak time for country rock
In the 1970s country rock dominated the mainstream. One of the most important moments in its expansion came earlier when the Everly Brothers moved to Nashville and made their own distinct sound. These two brothers had a number of hits, the first of which was the 1960s’ “Cathy’s Clown.” Their album in 1968, Roots, is called one of the best early country rock albums. They would influence later artists like Linda Ronstadt. They were eventually inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and then the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their most significant contribution to popular culture was probably their harmonies’ influence on the Beatles.
When Gram Parsons joined The Byrds in 1968 his influence led to the important country rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Parsons later formed The Flying Burrito Brothers with an ex-Byrds member and the genre was further defined. Yet another associate of Parsons would be the genre’s most popular mainstream artist in the 1970s, Emmylou Harris. She was his backup singer but went on to be what was called the “Queen of country rock”.
Linda Ronstadt was able to gain pop success with her take on the genre. Her backing singers, in turn, went on to form another influential band, The Eagles. Johnny Cash also owes a debt to country rock. His career was waning in 1968. His live albums, recorded in two prisons, shot him back into the mainstream. Country acts were seen as serious contenders for crossing over.
The legacy of country rock
While on its own it may not have been the strongest genre, the lasting effect of country rock can be seen in its impact on other genres. Bands like the Grateful Dead and the Bay Area’s Creedence Clearwater Revival, for example. In the 1980s, country singer Garth Brooks expressed his fondness for rock. That influence has always been seen in his music up until today.