What is Country?

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So I bought "The Country Side of Elvis" thanks to the enthusiasms of a fellow poster on another thread. 2CD is grate, etc, etc. but now what I wanna know is: What is country anyway? How can we define it? If you please, less about alt.country, first let's figure out what country is.

Mary (Mary), Tuesday, 3 September 2002 22:56 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Country, to me, is an assortment of sad folk songs played with more instrumentation and always including a pedal steel.

paul cox, Tuesday, 3 September 2002 23:04 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Alt.country with more fiddles, natch

A.V. Alexandre (Keiko), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 00:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Could it be that the only musical genre that music writers and/or critics are allowed to be snobby about is country music?

Matt C., Wednesday, 4 September 2002 00:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

some threads to get started with-

Why I Love Country Music
Why I (Don't) Love Country Music
why do you folks always forget country
Country Music is the White CNN!
country music made before 1940
fave country record
Toby Keith's 'I Wanna Talk About Me' Classic or Dud

However a quick run-thru suggests that none of these quite answers your (very difficult) question.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 03:17 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Is it even possible to define country except as a "I know it when I hear it" kind of thing? (twang = country, usually, but define twang?)
I mostly listen to alt country, and honestly, I can't usually differentiate it from other american rootsy rock music other than the "reviews say that this band is an alt country band" method, which is a crap method.

lyra (lyra), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 03:32 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Country is what you hear on the radio when you're driving down from the hills from your best friend's wedding with the maid of honor passed out in the passenger side, your tie undone and a self-rolled cigarette about to cherry against your lip. That's country. Yep.

jm, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 11:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Nashville. At least since the 60s Nashville has set the agenda for country music - this is what "alt" country is "alt" to. Maybe we need a def. of Nashville?

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 11:18 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Telecasters.

dave225 (Dave225), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 11:23 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

.

In a strict sense Country music is, essentially, commercialized folk music. The "old-timey" or "mountain music" traditions from whence it came, are an amalgam of styles derived from immigrants of Europe and Africa (e.g. the banjo is African). The recording format of the early 20th Century containerized these styles into 3 minute concentrates that would eventually strive for mass appeal over the radio waves. Elvis, even his Sun years, can hardly be considered country -- circa 1920's Carter Family; now that's Country. Circa 1930's Bill Monroe; not country, that's Bluegrass (folk with elements of jazz). The stuff coming out nowadays on contemporary radio stations is more "Pop" that it is country, and IMO complete gutter-trash.

Alt. country, on the other hand, takes elements from old-timey Mountain music, adds the 60's Folk revival scene (popularized by folks like "The Kingston Trio"), and whips it all up with the DIY sensibilities of the punk era to form a contemporary style (for which, Uncle Tupelo is widely sighted as a guide stone).


¥

christoff (christoff), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 11:38 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

The key thing about country music for me is that it takes everyday life and situations as its subject matter and deals with it in a melodramatic and/or darkly humourous fashion. It's closer in this aspect to soul than it is to rock, in that country music tends to assume an ideal situation (a strong couple/a strong family/being at home) from which to bewail the current situation (infidelity/divorce/being stuck out on the road in a huge truck). Whereas rock music takes the deviant situation as its starting point and celebrates it.

Tom (Groke), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 11:49 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

christoff you have some bizarro stuff in there! bluegrass is "folk w/elements of jazz"?? There's a bluegrass version of "Round and Round" by Ratt, for instance, that's immediately recognizeable as bluegrass. Maybe we could say something like 'a harmony-heavy Appalachian style with a driving beat, often accompanied by banjo, fiddle, and mandolin' - dunno if that gets any closer.

Anyway, I think "commercialized folk music" assumes several myths that could bear some examination: first, that there was a "folk music" out there that was somehow pure and uncommercialized. The recorded history we have that makes up our picture of early folk music is shot through with deals, cons, hustles. Maybe a better description of what happened to the huge body of traditional musics we had just sort of floating around from family to traveling hustler-bard to bar-room is "transcription". Along with our growing fanaticism for recording everything - photographically, demographically - it all got written down or recorded. So these musics not only became traded, but copied even more swiftly and inventively; it could proliferate, become reworked by distant rhythm combos. It's hard for me to imagine that the music did anything but improve as a result of this exploding circulation.

Still I don't know if we're close to a definition. "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" for instance isn't folk. And it's not "commercialized" since it was commercial to begin with. I think it's always been a certain kind of pop. Like Tom says, maybe it's one that approaches life from a particular angle. But how do we explain the sound - how you know something's country within the first bar or two?

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 12:22 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

like most supposedly "serious" discussion of how genre works, christoff's "strict sense" is ad-copy disguised as history

mark s (mark s), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 12:23 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

ad-copy disguised as history

The commercialization of genre definitions.

DeRayMi, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 12:30 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Country in its present incarnation = top 40 dance-pop langue with modified parole

J0hn Darn1elle, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 12:35 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

deraymi: exactly, except with the same caveat => what *is* the ur-state of pre-commerce "genre-definition", in the US especially (where there's no such thing as an edenic untainted community whose folkways predate the dawn of bourgeoisification?)

mark s (mark s), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 12:57 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

mark s, actually I thought your point was interesting, but I couldn't resist. Your follow-up is too elpitical for me to follow fully, however, but since my response was frivolous, no need to clarify. I find the music history angle (especially, the question of how thing were packaged) interesting, but I don't really like this music (American folk music--or whatever you want to call it) enough to study it.

DeRayMi, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 13:06 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Country has always been top 40 with slight modifications. Its own star system, its own rules of conducts and its own musical mecca outside of NYC/LA/London.
Not too sure about bluegrass having jazz influences, that would imply old tyme players hearing jazz.

Now how about that other style of music: Western. Anyone care to draw the line inbetween both types of music, Country AND Western?

Mr Noodles (Mr Noodles), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 13:08 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I was tempted to say that country music is ethnic music made by Midwestern whites. But then I found this web page.

o. nate (onate), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 13:11 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I believe "Western" is short for "western swing," a style of country played mainly in Texas that incorporated more brass instruments and a different rhythm from country (=Appalachian/southern-originating) music.

J0hn Darn1elle, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 13:29 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

.

Tracer, Ratt presenting a bluegrass version doesn't make it bluegrass, it only says that it's played in the bluegrass style (or as you indicate, transcription). Of course there are endless colloquialisms and variations upon styles with each region that make them inherently distinguishable.

That i mention jazz references bluegrass' tendency toward improvisation (the verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus format notwithstanding). I mean, most of Monroe’s legacy is defined by his re-inventing and extending of the genre. Virtuoso’s may be able to play a “classical” form without flaw, yet it is the true artist that can take the form beyond itself. Point is, the stretching out of artist solos in jazz is evident in the solos of Monroe, as well as it is many of the extended dance grooves in the Western Swing genre.

Commercialized Folk Music Myth #1:
...there was a "folk music" out there that was somehow pure and uncommercialized...

---Sure there was, and it still exists -- It can be as simple as singing songs around a campfire, but might be best realized in the small community setting where the music serves as both entertainment and annum. Point is, all music is routed in communication and I would argue that the medium couldn’t have been bastardized before the advent of the recorded medias.

Myth #2:
...The recorded history we have that makes up our picture of early folk music is shot through with deals, cons, hustles.

---Wrong. Largely, the documentation presented by outfits like Folkways Recordings is devoid of commercial motive. It was chosen for both it's variety and uniqueness, and thusly, we get everything from Mississippi field hollers to Pygmy hunting chants. But that the music can now get around, you're absolutely right, the only thing wrong I can see about this music being heard, is that it lacks the oral aspect of the tradition.

"D-I-V-O-R-C-E" was made to sell records – debating the difference between “commercial” and “commercialized” in this case, would prove to be case of semantics. Tammy Wynette style is, in a general sense, Country.


¥

christoff (christoff), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 16:07 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Maybe we could say something like 'a harmony-heavy Appalachian style with a driving beat, often accompanied by banjo, fiddle, and mandolin' - dunno if that gets any closer.

Don't forget, none of them stinking drums!

Mr Noodles (Mr Noodles), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 17:45 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

"Folk", in Christoff's definition, is not a musicological genre at all, it's a semi-mythological category rooted in the long-ago sales stategies of smart commercial operations like Folkways and the highly politicised documentation strategies of ppl like the Lomaxes and the Smithsonian ("highly politicised" = they did not record material they deemed to have been recast so as to be more saleable, so that their documentation, far from being unaffected by commercialisation, is very much structured by their response to it). This definition is good for casting a murky blanket over the actual history of music; hopeless for deciding whether a song counts as "country" or not, and why.

mark s (mark s), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 17:46 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

White people's blues. Slide guitars. Fiddles possibly, though that is more the Western Swing end, a minor part by the '60s. Southern states white accents. Unapologetically sentimental. Storytelling. Lyrically, I think this David Allen Coe verse tells us all we need to know:

I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain
But by the time I got to the station in my pickup truck
She got run over by the damned old train.

Martin Skidmore (Martin Skidmore), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 18:46 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

mark s, i'm not sure how you evidence your conclusions. Folk music of Ireland. Of Polynesia. Of Morocco? ...Of America. Folk music in itself is a product of its environs - and it's without any pretext to commerce.

While i've never really thought Folkways to be the commercial powerhouse you make it out be, let's then limit this aural argument to just the content supplied by the Lomaxes (et al) via the Library of Congress. If you believe that "...commercialism...was structured by...the documentation (by the Lomaxes)", then you've only strengthened the notion that Folk is a pure form.

In defining Country, one must first know the elements from which it came (which was most certainly folk).

¥

christoff (christoff), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 18:58 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

What is Country?
Its where the Blues of a Black Man from the bayou meets the jigs and reels of the Irish immigrant right off the boat. Think about it...C&W and Irish Folk music are the only ones that use the "fiddle" as opposed to the "violin." As a big fan of Irish Folk music and a long-time appreciator of C&W -- my folks live off the stuff -- I'm amazed at how similar they are. Sometimes you'll be listening to what, at first, sounds like Travis Tritt...and then suddenly the Uilliean pipes kick in....

Lord Custos Alpha (Lord Custos Alpha), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I think youve got Mark's precis the wrong way round. He's saying that if the Lomaxes presented a folk music untainted by commerce it was so because the Lomaxes had filtered it that way (i.e. by leaving off the musicians they thought were too commercial) not because it existed that way already.

It's like the Opie's work on English nursery rhymes - fascinating as a scholarly collection of old and traditional rhymes, completely useless as any kind of guide to what 50s kids might actually have been singing or having sung to them cos it leaves out the advert jingles, pop songs, TV themes, etc etc which mix with the traditional stuff to make up 'folk' culture.

Tom (Groke), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Why, Lord Custos Alpha, you positively amaze me! I'm not sure I agree with you about the "bayou" thing (or that "Irish" as opposed to "English" or even "Scottish" music was even the inspiration for C&W originally, given immigration patterns and timelines and everything), but your point is well-made and timely, and not dismissive like some other posts I could mention. Nice'un, old bean!

Matt C., Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:10 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

mark s you know it pains me to disagree with you but christoff is RITE: folk music doesn't really intersect with commercial elements until the 40s - it is the evil REKKID INDUSTREE again! - I don't think the question "what is folk music?" is terribly fertile territory: it's well-established

granted that recording one thing necessarily means NOT recording another so in this way Lomax et al are establishing some sort of hierarchy: but it can't be helped, I don't think there's anything sinister about it

Tom's comments (which sidelined my response) are interesting indeed, so further reflection is needed: pour me out another beer

J0hn Darn1elle, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:11 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

NB I have no idea how the Lomaxes worked - I was just explaining Mark S. Christoff may be completely right. I think the folk collections I've come across are fascinating historical sources but like any single source I'm very suspicious of the idea that they might tell a complete story.

Tom (Groke), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:19 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Matt C do please note that the connection between Scottish/Irish & west-country English folk songs -> American folk songs is pretty firmly established by musicologists: identical melodies have been found for differing lyrics ("Rose Connally" as sung by Holly Hunter in "Raising Arizona" being a particularly prominent example)

J0hn Darn1elle, Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:30 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Yes, yes, yes. British Folk music does have alot of sway over American Folk music. Theres not doubting that...I'm saying that when you focus specifically on Country and Western, you can hear a more pronounced Irish influence.
Not enough though. I'm still waiting for the Pogues to play the Opry.

Lord Custos Alpha (Lord Custos Alpha), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:40 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

The "song" as a form/format is a product of commercialisation, a process which of course began centuries before the recording industry (even if we extend the idea of the recording industry to cover sheet-music hawkers right back into the 18th century). Blues and jazz in any form that we would currently acknowledge them — that is to say, as a body of music to which people have appended such a genre-name — are a product of the recording industry. Without records, neither would have happened. They evolved out of the collision of a new technology with earlier music-making practice. Robert Johnson sang Bing Crosby songs in his actual live shows, and might well have preferred to record them, as they were among his most popular stage songs: the purity and intensity of his blues legacy is a (partial) product of the commercial judgments of the white folks who recorded him. If you want, you can call this process "bastardisation". The uncritical fetishisation of earlier stages of technological development often passes for historical commentary, especially when that commentary has been absorbed rather thoughtlessly from an unrigorous commercial source.

"D.I.V.O.R.C.E" is a communication, whatever the reasons it was made. In what sense do field hollers, insofar as they still exist, communicate less? Less to whom?

I like Folkways — one of their recordings was of people who'd had tracheotomies speaking and singing, which is pretty hardcore — but obviously they were a business, and since they lasted a good deal longer than most indies do, they were obviously a smart business.

The need to label is of commercial origin. Genre-as-purity — narrowcast niche targeting — was formed by promotional campaigns, radio communities, the need for rival bands and musicians to define themselves clearly. Spelling consistency is a result of writing, but writing causes pronunciation drift. It's a dialectic: turning it into a moral fable is a sure way of stripping the history out of it.

mark s (mark s), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 19:58 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Elvis, even his Sun years, can hardly be considered country--

B-but when Elvis sings a song written by Willie Nelson, isn't that country-ish?

Is Willie Nelson country?

Is country the only American musical form that has failed to be exported to other lands?

(In Japan there is a genre called enka which Japanese will invariably describe as "Japanese country" but actually it sounds nothing like American country--though if it did that would be interesting--but is actually "traditional" Japanese songs.

Mary (Mary), Wednesday, 4 September 2002 22:46 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

christoff - I wasn't clear about the "Round and Round" version - it's actually by a "newgrass" group called the Meat Purveyors - my only contention is that it would be perfectly natural for them to get invited to a bluegrass festival or something. Maybe they're not from Kentucky (I don't know) but your purity tests are tiresome - Robert Johnson's "Come On in My Kitchen" was also, like all the Nashville records you apparently don't like sight-unseen, made to sell records. I still like it, though. I don't think of it as a "bastardization", or if it is, it's a good kind of bastardization! I mean, drum and bass is a "bastardization" of hardcore but nobody slams it for that. Although maybe d n b does have something in common with early folk recordings in that the records get sold partially on the claim that it's "uncommercial music". "Ahhh - the anti-marketing dollar!" - Bill Hicks

I mean, we're talking about music that was around roughly 100 years ago, before recording and playback technology was really available - is this really the reason that you don't like modern country christoff? With that logic you'd kind of have to not like anything else, either.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 00:38 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

(Which isn't an insupportable position to take, btw!!)

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 00:48 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

The "song" as a form/format is a product of commercialisation

Mark this is provocative but flatly untrue. Talking about songs may well be a product of commercialization. Songs themselves aren't. Whales have them, whether anybody hears/records them or not. So, according a number of fascinating anthropological texts, did primitive man. Your argument resembles Dworkin's claim that "male" and "female" are false designations whose sole purpose is to establish a dialectic whose catastrophic result is misogyny (not as lightly-flung epithet but in its true, hateful sense). Mind you I'm not saying "Hitler! Hitler!" or anything (lots of people hate Dworkin; I don't at all & think that her polemical skills are underrated) but the need to label isn't commercial: it's natural.

J0hn Darn1elle, Thursday, 5 September 2002 00:56 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

hah the need to keep your audience from falling asleep during your 35th improvised verse of "the Ballad of Little Amity Blythe" is def. natural but i'm not sure how this relates to genre, if at all.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 01:08 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

maybe "whale song genre" last days because the syntax is like one syllable per hour or something!?!!!

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 04:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Is commerce natural?

Tom (Groke), Thursday, 5 September 2002 05:05 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

haha folkways bastardised the whale-song genre by speeding it up so humans cd hear!!

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 07:33 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

So John in your model pure unmediated folk music exists in the space which we now call 'country' until the 1940s at which point the record industry takes it and changes (adulterates) it and 'country' is born?

I ask that as a question because it seems wrong to me in lots of ways: I'm thinking I've misunderstood you.

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 5 September 2002 08:13 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Is country the only American musical form that has failed to be exported to other lands?
Well it made it to Canada and it would in the past suck our stars south to the Opry. So that accursed "New Country" (pop w/ slide guitar and cowboy boots) took off around here. Doesn't hurt to have a a piece of eye candy like Shania Twain leading things.

Mr Noodles (Mr Noodles), Thursday, 5 September 2002 11:15 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i assume john d is in no way anti-bastardisation, as he — like me — is a death metal fan

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 11:46 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Death Metal isn't bastardization: everything else is a bastardization of death metal ;)

--Tim, while words like "pure" and "unmediated" are just asking for trouble, I do think that the rise of the record industry (not any particular act by them: just their increasing prominence) changes a lot of things permanently beginning in the late thirties/early forties. Prior to the general, affordable availability of music-as-commodity, I think, yes, that there was a folk music which came to resemble what's now called "country" & that its origins/styles/tropes are pretty well-documented. So: yes and no, I mean: there's a folk music from which the genre "country" springs, and that folk music wasn't the creation of Capitol's publicity dept.

J0hn Darn1elle, Thursday, 5 September 2002 11:57 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Ah, right. I don't really agree, but I'd probably have to rehearse the whole of Richard Peterson's Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity, which doesn't sound like such a good plan.

Peterson's argument (or part of it) is that the record companies / radio stations forged 'country' from a number of pre-existing folk forms and then sold it as authentic / old time.

BTW, even if you are right you should reconsider your time frame I think: 1920s rather than 1940s would probably fit yr argument better.

Haha actually this is quite a handy excerpt page, thanks Amazon!

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 5 September 2002 12:19 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

To clarify, obv. I'm not saying that I don't agree that country drew on existing folk forms. What I'm disagreeing with is the impression you give of a smooth and (?) natural evolution into 'country', which was *then* marketed.

Hm not sure that's any clearer but oh well.

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 5 September 2002 12:26 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

.

Tom -- ...if the Lomaxes presented a folk music untainted by commerce it was so because the Lomaxes had filtered it that way (i.e. by leaving off the musicians they thought were too commercial) not because it existed that way already...

Filtering out the commercial stuff is just what makes a documentarian most effective. How that effected the commercial end of things is central to the discussion of defining what Country is.
¥

christoff (christoff), Thursday, 5 September 2002 15:45 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Country Music = Christian Pop for the fallen.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Thursday, 5 September 2002 15:50 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

"Oh, and "authenticity" is a word that needs to go on a long vacation. The adjective form - "authentic" - is fine, since, being an adjective, it needs to modify something, hence cues the writer to actually connect the word to an entity or event. But the poor noun form - "authenticity" - has been wandering in a daze for so long, untethered to sense, that the only thing we can do for it is take it gently by the arm, lead it to an airplane, and send it to Bali, where it can relax on the beach, undistracted, for a decade or so."
-- Frank Kogan, from the "Pitchfork Strikes Again" thread.

o. nate (onate), Thursday, 5 September 2002 16:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I still think we need to talk about Nashville but I don't know enough about it to start in on it.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 16:25 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't "commercialization" just mean "trying to make a buck"? If so, why is music made in order to make a buck inherently any lower in quality than music made to get laid, or to get attention, or just because you like hearing yourself sing? I realize that this opens a whole new can of worms, but there seems to be this unspoken assumption running through this discussion that "commercialization" = "evil".

o. nate (onate), Thursday, 5 September 2002 16:28 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Is Robert Altman's "Nashville" a good depiction of the country scene circa 70s?

Karen Black does a striptease, so obvious answer is yes.

Mary (Mary), Thursday, 5 September 2002 16:32 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Also of the country scene circa today, but with fewer trooly heavenly voices and more ugly beards.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Thursday, 5 September 2002 16:36 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I try to ignore Nashville, in my imagination its just down the road from St Marks Place.

Mr Noodles (Mr Noodles), Thursday, 5 September 2002 17:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Is commerce natural?
Back when it was "I'll trade you 3 bags of barley for one sheep.", sure.
Then it went to "I'll trade you 30 pieces of silver for one sheep."
Then it went to "I'll give you a rectangle of green paper that represents 30 pieces of silver in exchange for one sheep."
Then it went to "I'll use a plastic card that represents my promise to give you a stack of rectangles of green paper that represents 30 pieces of silver in exchange for one sheep."
to our current situation:
A guy in his underwear, on eBay using his PayPal account to buy a sheep.
But lets not ask what the sheep is for.

Lord Custos Alpha (Lord Custos Alpha), Thursday, 5 September 2002 17:44 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

John, the point I'm making is that pretending that commercialisation only began affecting the shape and nature of the song in the 1930s or 40s, is to define commercialisation in advance of your study, so that you end up with Christoff's ludicrous position where you end specifically praising the documentarists for distorting the material they're meant to be documenting, by selection which is driven by their prejudices (and the tastes and political beliefs of their milieu). Basically they are manufacturing the evidence and one is saying "Hooray" because this evidence suits our taste-prejudice. I think it's bad history, because it projects this absurd mythological space, which simultaneously manifests marvelous broad variety and (never-described) social mechanisms whereby cultural correctness and stability are achieved and recognised. In other words, the myth is intrinsically contradictory.

Obviously singing as a practice has existed for ever so long: and at some point in the past it encompassed everything from Gregorian chant to the Eldar Edda to shamanic chanting to madrigals to whatever. But the forces that meant that when we say "song", we mean something of a particular kind of structure and (above all) length, are historical, and among them are — obviously — market forces, for example the competition among jongleurs, minnesingers, troubadors and the like from the 13th-16th centuries to be the best, most popular, most employed, best paid etc etc (isn't this what Die Meistersingers is abt?). I accept that music forms in the Brazilian rainforest were maybe unaffected by these European trends (or even the equivalent locals trends, if there were any), but I refuse to accept a thesis which argues that on one hand, the arrival of a specific technology of documentation, broadcast and exchange (recording) had a massive transformational effect primarily driven by the market, and that another, earlier technology of documentation, broadcast and exchange (stave-music) had no effect whatever. The reason songs are four-six minutes long, not (for example) four-six days, is a (partial) product of how professional singers and songwriters plied their trades and made their living, between the 13th and the 20th centuries. Christoff is arguing that "commercialisation" effects *only* count if they are produced by one (latecome) wing of the industry, but he doesn't choose to argue this, he just waves his arms vaguely around and says "folk". The concept of "folk" — the word itself — arose mainly in the revolutionary struggles in Europe in the early parto f the 19th centiry, when nations were beginning to define themselves in terms of culture and territory and citizenship (rather than loyalty to this or that emperor/monarch/warlord). The cultural specificity built into the idea — that there is an irish or a finnish or a greek typos, say — was part of the self-identity manufactured, via published songs ("God save the Queen", "The Marseillaise" etc), and also via such information systems (of communication AND exchange) as newspapers (modern nationalism and a certain level of literacy — in other words, engagments with commercialised bastardisation of the spoken word — are closely intertwined). From the mid-19th century there was a great (primarily middleclass) movement to rescue the arts and crafts being lost to industry: this is when folksong collectors began their work. They were ideologically inclined to see the lost medieval community as one of fabulous unchanged harmony, juit now wrecked: their methods of documentation tended to mummify and distort the material, and the people being documented were invariably shrewd enough to adjust their music/craft whatever to suit the documenters, because this paid off better in the long run. The communities that trekked across America — who after all came from many places and class backgrounds — carried many many traces of these contradictory elements, though they had become unattached from their context of origin, since by definition none of this music was chthonic pure place-bound culture in the Pygmy Rituals sense — it all came from afar.

(Of course we now know that a great deal of cultural exchange went on up and down within for example Africa prior to the arrival of colonialism, not least because local wars were settled by exchange of slaves and slaves are very often primary cultural workers — nurses telling stories and singing lullabies for example — so that the idea of pre-literate oral culture as a monolithic unchange resource since the Stone Age is also basically a self-regarding European myth: only the white man knows progress, this kind of nonsense, easily flipped on its head when you want to denounce progress... John Miller Chernoff, in his book on Ghanaian Drumming culture, asks one of the drum masters if he plays the same music as was played by drum masters a hundred years before. Of course not, the drummer says: it always changes. And in a hundred years time, asks Chernoff? It will have changed again.)

(Haha it's possible the drummer just told him that because he guessed it;s what he wanted to hear, but Chernoff presents it as something that surprises him...)

Naming is natural. Labelling is something you only need when you're distinguishing one product from another: "I sing ballads, he sings lays. Lays suxoR so hire me... "

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 17:48 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Mary -

Somewhat akin to what Ray Charles did with Country (i.e. transform it into Soul), most of the Country material performed by Elvis was transformed through R&B into Rock. In the early days, Elvis turned just about everything into Rock (albeit, many times of the Adult Contemporary variety) -- conversely how Johnny Cash (in recent years) has turned a lot of Rock back into Country.

I would say that Willie Nelson is mostly country, though, he also has a long string of Adult Contemporary.

As far as the export of Country goes, have you ever heard of Germany's Bear Family Records? These guys put out some of the most comprehensive box sets in the industry and include acts like Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, and, i understand they do a fairly brisk amount of European business. As far as the Japanese flavors you speak of; i haven't heard a thing.

¥

christoff (christoff), Thursday, 5 September 2002 18:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Oh sorry, I didn't mean export in the technical sense... I meant rather non-Americans taking the genre and interpreting it their own way.

So my Country Side of Elvis CD is just Elvis sporting a countrifi ed shirt on the cover/ rather RCA taking the same material, dressing it up with a different picture of Elvis and labelling "Gospel Elvis", "Blues Elvis"?

So what's R&B then?

Mary (Mary), Thursday, 5 September 2002 18:28 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

1925 - The Rice-Kellogg research paper was published, establishing the basic principle of the direct-radiator loudspeaker with a small coil-driven mass-controlled diaphragm in a baffle with a broad midfrequency range of uniform response. On Nov. 28, WSM in Nashville ("We Shield Millions" slogan of owner Edwin Craig's National Life and Accident Insurance Co.) began its Barn Dance radio show (hosted by George D. Hay who had previously hosted the WLS Barn Dance show) that in 1927 became the Grand Ole Opry broadcast from WSM's Studio B on the new NBC network. The Grand Ole Opry moved to the the Ryman Auditorium in 1943 and with the Acuff-Rose 1942 studio and WSM's 1947 Castle Studio would attract recording companies to Nashville's Music Row.

this is from an incredibly excellent page with all sorts of links on it --> http://history.acusd.edu/gen/recording/notes.html

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 19:16 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

mark s -

Surely i'll step forward and praise the documentarists. I wouldn't be so naive as to suggest that these recorded pieces are completely comprehensive, but to this point, it's the best reference material we have and which to base our musilogical history. As for their alleged prejudicial recording process -- who cares; take the material for what it's worth (i for one tend to enjoy it). Without their work we'd be as ignorant as you clalm Chernoff may have been in his analysis of the Ghanaian Drumming culture.

Since you ...accept that music forms in the Brazilian rainforest were maybe unaffected by these European trends..., let's look to the East whose culture developed in moderate to total isolation. The Aborigines performed ritual music (as did many). Ritual music in itself belays your notion of the 4-6 minute song -- and don't say that these ritual performers weren't any more professional than the Orissi dance troupes of India or the members of the Greek Rebetika (as Lord Custos Alpha so appropriately illustrates that commerce is at best fluid).

Music has always been an organic pursuit. The weather changes the acoustics of the instruments as war encourages more strident rhythms. Maybe somewhere along the way a couple-a-hillbillies thought they could make some spare change if they played a few tunes on a street corner -- and dad-burn-it if'n they didn't get more copper for the more differ'nt songs that they could play. 'N for dances, shoot, ever'body gots a differ'nt song that they'd-a-rather hear. ...Country, dear friend, Country started well after these things.

...But if you want to keep pushing this thing back to when the first knuckle-dragging Neanderthal starting beating some bones on a log; you seem more than qualified to undertake the task.

¥

christoff (christoff), Thursday, 5 September 2002 19:28 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Mary,

So what's R&B then?

You're really asking for a mess now aren't you?

I think i might just like you.

¥

christoff (christoff), Thursday, 5 September 2002 19:29 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

A link from the truly stellar page I listed above goes to a history of the 1927 "Bristol sessions" - the "big bang of country music" - where a guy named Peer traveled to Bristol Tennessee in 1927 looking for talent on behalf of the Victor Company (the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers were among the unknown acts he found). It looked bleak at first. He was booked pretty solid for the first week but had no-one for the second week. He let slip that an artist from the area had made $3600 the previous year in royalties. '"This worked like dynamite" recalled Peer. "The very next day I was deluged with long-distance calls from the surrounding mountain region. Groups of singers who had not visited Bristol during their entire lifetime arrived by bus, horse and buggy, trains or on foot." In a matter of hours, Peer had gone from famine to feast, and soon he found himself having to add night sessions to accommodate the new talent. During his stay in Bristol, Peer would eventually record 76 performances by 19 different groups. They would include old pop and vaudeville songs, traditional mountain ballads and songs, fiddle and banjo tunes; gospel songs alone counted for almost half the output.' pop and vaudeville!! where are those CDs????

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:02 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

christoff i don't think you've even slightly understood a single word i said

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

sorry mark i just HAVE to include this here -->

'At 2:00 that afternoon Rodgers appeared for his session... Peer was disappointed to find that most of the songs Rodgers had been singing were fairly new pop songs and asked him for older ones, ones that sounded old but could be copyrighted. Rodgers came up with his version of an old World War 1 song, THE SOLDIER'S SWEETHEART, sung to the tune of "Where the River Shannon Flows," and after four takes Peer approved it. To display his yodeling, Rodgers did SLEEP, BABY, SLEEP an old vaudeville song from the 1860s which had already been recorded several times by other singers. "I thought his yodel alone might spell success," Peer recalled in a classic understatement.'

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:10 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

heheh even an undiscovered Jimmie Rodgers was "too pop"!!

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:12 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

have you ever read francis davis's book on the blues, tracer? i think it's great

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:19 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i also like calt and wardlow's book on charlie patton

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:22 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

hmm "books"..... i may have to read one again sometime.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:27 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

of course they are all commercial bastardisations of just yakking

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:29 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

heh oh dear

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 5 September 2002 20:58 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

the opening quote of that F Davis book is brilliant:

" 'I've had fun here.' - JFK Jr. 'Sexiest Man Alive' spends weekend in Clarksdale visiting blues sites, cotton harvest."

I think Sterling might have been on to something up there with the "Christian pop for the fallen" thing but he lost me when he nullified the 70's Hurtin-Beard.

The Actual Mr. Jones (actual), Thursday, 5 September 2002 21:04 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

isn't it the case that both mark s & myself like the results of the work done by the documentarians (lomax et al -- ok mainly lomax), and that the sticking point is what exactly that work means? I don't think anybody's saying that "because it's not actually unmediated, it's bad" -- certainly not mark, certainly not me. such success as I've had has involved almost exclusively interrogation of exactly this question, after all ;)

J0hn Darn1elle, Thursday, 5 September 2002 21:16 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

yeah John that point got limboed under but I don't think anyone actually misunderstood either of you.

The Actual Mr. Jones (actual), Thursday, 5 September 2002 21:55 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Posit that music (okay, art) is about immenence of redemption -- relation to the eternal. Or even posit that this is one thing music (art) is about and serves as a convienent genre-delimiter -- a hallmark of larger chronotopic aspects. Pop posits it in the present -- the liberatory moment, as a moment. Dance (disco to techno to etc.) generally posits it in an eternal present, or the present verging towards, impelled towards the eternal. Christian pop as an indefinately delayed rapture -- a reflection of absent withdrawn divinity. All generalizations, but country ABSOLUTELY situates it in the past. The lyrics to Toby Kieth's "I'm Just Talkin 'Bout Tonight" could be nothing but country, the interplay of the morals as known and their impossibility as lived -- which is why Tosches on the Hellfire-fearing Jerry Lee Lewis is as close to a definition of country as I can find.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 6 September 2002 03:24 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Elvis is SO country - 'cos he was from the country - DO YOU SEE?

Andrew L (Andrew L), Friday, 6 September 2002 08:04 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

A documentarian's work can form the basis for a historian's work but if the historian's work was just to repeat pat what the documentarian said then what's the point of the historian?

Both the historian and the documentarian share a purpose, though - only the tense changes. The purpose is to record what happens/what did happen, not what should have happened or should be happening. The historian has an extra purpose which is to explain why things happened, and this includes an assessment of the ways in which the documentarian failed.

The work of a bad historian or a bad documentarian can still be valuable and enjoyable, but that's not the same thing.

Tom (Groke), Friday, 6 September 2002 10:09 (fifteen years ago) Permalink


I think you're both right.

the pinefox, Friday, 6 September 2002 10:25 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

With all this said, and very good stuff said too I might add, maybe we can begin to answer the question.

some thorts:

i. this country has a profound mistrust of "commercialism" which runs through both this conversation and the one the Victor Co. et al were having with their listening publics

ii. at some point the packaging and marketing - and production of - what we call Country stopped being strictly "old-time" and became somewhat "contemporary" (i.e. "the Nashville sound")

iii. Elvis

i have to go - you better have it all figured out by the time i get back!

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Friday, 6 September 2002 13:07 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I can sympathize with Christoff et al's attempt to draw a dividing line between Country and the folk forms that came before it. There does seem to be a qualitative difference between the sorts of things found on the Harry Smith anthology, for instance, and the products of the contemporary Nashville music industry. However, I don't think that the concept of commercialization can serve as that dividing line. It might be more fruitful to view the development of Country as a process of increasing homogenization and standardization which happened for lots of reasons - not exclusively, or even primarily, commercial ones. The rise of the phonograph, radio, etc. has been frequently cited on this thread in connection with Country, although it seems that no one has elucidated the specific ways in which the rise of these technologies affected the music. To say that they made commercialization possible is too simplistic. As Mark so eruditely argued, commercialization is by no means an exclusively 20th-century phenomenon. However, it does seem clear that these new technologies allowed commercialization to take new forms and allowed for the commodification of music in unprecedented ways, but no one on this thread has yet shown how these different forms of commercialization were qualitatively different than forms that came before them, or that they influenced music in a different way. The homogenizing influence of radio and television (not to mention the telephone, the automobile, railroads, etc.) is a well-documented phenomenon - see, for instance, studies of the way that regional dialects have been eroded over the past century in this country. It doesn't take much of a stretch to see how the same thing happened with regional musical forms. To just lump all of these effects into one mass and call it "commercialization" is a gross oversimplification.

o. nate (onate), Friday, 6 September 2002 14:58 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm back - where are all the Scientifick KonlusionZ0r????

My "ii" is off - folk and hillbilly and honkytonk etc i think we've pretty effectively shown by Science to just be "rural pop" or something close - reworkings of broadway show tunes, old half-remembered ballads, bing crosby numbers - anything people wanted to hear and that the players knew. Then there seemed to be an extreme interest - from Northern record labels! - in straining all this through a sieve that kept the pop out and left the "old-sounding stuff" in. As o. nate says, this changed at some point. I think it has something to do with Nashville, the Opry, and the fact that the Opry was carried on NBC - a national network with national advertisers. The Opry may have begun with presenting a kind of rural exotica to the nation but it ended up doing something else. The something else was Country (with a capital C) - but what was it??

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Friday, 6 September 2002 18:08 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

four months pass...
There was a song I used to listen to about 6 years ago and all that I can remember about it now is that it started off with about a 30second to 1minute harmonica solo and then broke into the song. It was a very uplifting song that just made you feel free. If anyone knows what song I am talking about or has any guesses please e-mail me at tslentz42@aol.com. Thanks.

P.S I know that it is a male singer

Tslentz, Thursday, 9 January 2003 05:31 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

Yankees!!!

James Blount (James Blount), Thursday, 9 January 2003 07:50 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

You're thinking of "Thunder Road".

James Blount (James Blount), Thursday, 9 January 2003 07:51 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

i think it is closest to hip hop in the sense of being cheifly a story telling medium, those stories often telling morals about sex or class. i think its is about large sections of america that are lost and forgotten, that are not hip. i think that it is about the dreams that alot of us have cynically jettiosened. i think it is about jeratige, and tradition-not the sticky sweet nostalgia but a genuine desire to be aware from where you are. i think its about the voice and is still nervous about using the studio as an instrument. i think its acoustic. i think its about mandolins and banjos-two instruments that are so beutiful they hurt. i think its about cowboys and outlaws. i think its about love.

anthony easton (anthony), Thursday, 9 January 2003 08:51 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

i think country is dolly clicking her nails in 9 to 5.

anthony easton (anthony), Thursday, 9 January 2003 08:53 (fourteen years ago) Permalink

nine years pass...

I'm interested; where does good "Country" exist in the current zeitgeist? The popular acts have zero cred, so where's the true cache?

Gillian Welch is and easy choice, so are the Black Twig Pickers. Cast King, Whitey Morgan

Resurrect this son-of-a-bitch with some genuine earthiness!

suspecterrain, Monday, 20 February 2012 13:24 (five years ago) Permalink

What?

getting good with gulags (beachville), Monday, 20 February 2012 13:26 (five years ago) Permalink

The popular acts have zero cred,

I've seen trolls uglier than this.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 20 February 2012 13:27 (five years ago) Permalink

1925 - The Rice-Kellogg research paper was published, establishing the basic principle of the direct-radiator loudspeaker with a small coil-driven mass-controlled diaphragm in a baffle with a broad midfrequency range of uniform response. On Nov. 28, WSM in Nashville ("We Shield Millions" slogan of owner Edwin Craig's National Life and Accident Insurance Co.) began its Barn Dance radio show (hosted by George D. Hay who had previously hosted the WLS Barn Dance show) that in 1927 became the Grand Ole Opry broadcast from WSM's Studio B on the new NBC network. The Grand Ole Opry moved to the the Ryman Auditorium in 1943 and with the Acuff-Rose 1942 studio and WSM's 1947 Castle Studio would attract recording companies to Nashville's Music Row.

this is from an incredibly excellent page with all sorts of links on it --> http://history.acusd.edu/gen/recording/notes.html


Sadly, this webpage seems to have gone missing.

Can You Please POLL Out Your Window? (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 20 February 2012 13:37 (five years ago) Permalink

(looking forward to reading longer posts, especially by mark s, later today)

Can You Please POLL Out Your Window? (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 20 February 2012 13:38 (five years ago) Permalink

The popular acts have zero cred

I suppose you think current R&B acts have zero cred because they don't sound exactly like Sam Cooke.

President Keyes, Monday, 20 February 2012 14:07 (five years ago) Permalink

I suppose you think current R&B acts have zero cred because...

...Advance directly to Frank Ocean

suspecterrain, Monday, 20 February 2012 14:43 (five years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Recording Technology History page mentioned upthread is now hosted here: http://www.aes.org/aeshc/docs/recording.technology.history/notes.html

Wild Mountain Armagideon Thyme (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 21 January 2014 05:37 (three years ago) Permalink

(It seems to move around a lot. The author is one Steven Schoenherr in case we need to look for it again, and to give credit where credit is due)

Wild Mountain Armagideon Thyme (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 21 January 2014 05:41 (three years ago) Permalink

Related links here, although a few are broken: http://ncrtv.org/?page_id=52

Wild Mountain Armagideon Thyme (James Redd and the Blecchs), Tuesday, 21 January 2014 05:49 (three years ago) Permalink

Great link to the Recording History site -- thx Redd; what new technologies will we again need to transfer to? I'm sticking to vinyl.

bodacious ignoramus, Tuesday, 21 January 2014 07:16 (three years ago) Permalink

The popular acts have zero cred

I don't have any problems with Nashville pop acts these days, more or less. Some of it catches my ear, a lot of it doesn't. I seriously balk at the notion it should still be called country music, though. Like, whoever...The Band Perry or Blake Shelton or Dierks...are the John Waites and Pat Benatars and Bon Jovis of the 21st century. Corporate rock is still corporate rock, except the center of gravity is now on Music Row instead of Vine.

Johnny Fever, Tuesday, 21 January 2014 07:27 (three years ago) Permalink


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