Country music and rock n’ roll often seem to be at opposite ends of the music spectrum. It definitely wasn’t always that way, though, and in fact, country music was a major influence in history of rock. Likewise, modern rock has had a definitive impact on the evolution of mainstream country music.
Start of Country Music
Unlike other early influencers of rock music, country didn’t start out as a derivative of blues. It’s widely believed to have originated in the folk music of the Appalachian Mountains, which was heavily influenced by immigrant groups. When the respective folk music of these groups fused together, the result was a very early form of country music.
The early 1920s saw the first country music releases in the United States. By 1924, the first major country hit, Vernon Dalhart’s “Wreck of the Old ’97,” hit the nation’s airwaves. From then on, country music seemed poised to take the top spot as the most popular musical genre in the nation.
The Great Depression, which decreased album sales drastically and caused the decline of the blues and jazz, had a boosting effect on country music. The Grand Ole Opry, which had started in 1925, became one of the most reliable forms of entertainment during an era categorized by a a severe financial crisis. This “Golden Age” of country music saw the start of many illustrious careers, including that of crooner Bill Haley, who would later go on to become one of the fundamental players in the history of rock n’ roll.
Country Music Greats
Although Vernon Dalhart may have the distinction of recording the first country hit, his influence wasn’t nearly as widespread as some of the other acts of the day. Most notably, The Carter Family has left behind a legacy that has influenced modern rock and country artists alike. Other influential early performers include Gene Autry, Tex Williams and Roy Rogers.
Of the early greats, however, perhaps Jimmie Rodgers stands as the most widely influential and is often credited as being the “Father of Country Music.” Although known primarily for his yodeling style, Rodgers’ music shows a remarkable ability to deftly blend sounds from many of the era’s popular genres, including the blues, jazz, folk and gospel. Not only did Rodgers influence his counterparts of the day, but he also had a tremendous impact on artists like Bono, Jerry Garcia, Merle Haggard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mississippi John Hurt and even Elvis Presley.
Unlike jazz and the blues, country music remained consistently popular for decades, maintaining a steady fan base without drastic ups and downs. This allowed such far-reaching artists as Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson to launch their careers in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when early rock history was forming. These men and their contemporaries had a significant impact on the history of rock, not only with their unique country fusion sound, but also with their outlaw attitudes.