I promised someone this year, on my weekend posts, to detail the rise of alternative country (also called–hold on to your hats–torch and twang, ya’ll ternative, americana, cosmic country, punk country, roots, among others). There is no place to begin, but at the beginning. The Byrds are clearly the founders.
If someone asked the beginning of alt country as a genre, it would have to reside with the Byrds. More than the Beatles, the Byrds have had the most enduring influence on American music. For one, the Byrds inspired a whole new genre in music, and the Beatles did not. Nor did the Rolling Stones–who were culling from the Blues. The Byrds forged new ground. If you listen closely, you can hear an Americana sound to their music really from the beginning.
As we have noted in other places, and a LONG time ago via Powerline, the Byrds are more influential than the Beatles. The Byrds are an American creation and not a part of the British Invasion–and hence, more influential. They are homegrown. If you listen to some of these songs, you will be able to hear a hint of country, folk, and the cosmic american music that Gram Parsons said he discovered. Hence, they are, for America, the most influential band of the 60s–more than the Beatles, more than the Stones.
The new country came about as the hippy (60s) generation really got turned off by the rock scene, and found something rootsy about the american country sound. It was not solely a rejection of the rock scene as much as it was an identification with something in the country music genre. So, aside from the straight clean cut country enthusiast, there has always been a “long-haired” component to the genre. Many of those found themselves into the southern country/country rock or outlaw, scene. At any rate, out of all this sprung bands like the Burrito Brothers, Townes van Zandt, The Long Ryders, Steve Earle, Jason & the Scorchers, etc., (more on them in another week).
The genre includes stone cold country, country rock, folk, surf, punk, any cross in-between, etc. In the 80s and 90s, alt country was underway as the mainstream radio variety turned off many. There was no creativity and edgy writing in mainstream country. Indeed, the alt country crowd came to loathe the mainstream acts. Those once hippy country ands like the Charlie Daniels Band became loathed by the likes of Jason & and the Scorchers. There has always been a respect for people like Hank Williams, Chet Atkins, etc., because it was viewed as country in its most pure form, but the alt country youngsters of the 80-90s grew up listening to rock, and punk. When these people (those who end up in bands like Whiskeytown, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and Wilco), a sort of light bulb went off for them, and the blending of punk and a more emotional/angst ridden musical experiment was underway. These bands really forge new ground in lyrics and in chord combinations. The 90s makes it one of the most explosive and creative times in my mind, of the alt country movement. Along with Whiskeytown, there was Son Volt, Wilco, Richard Buckner, Blue Mountain, The Flat Duo Jets, Bonepony, Mavericks, Chris Knight, Charlie Robison, James McMurtry, and many others. Today, there are now a plethora of bands that are not mainstream and are considered alt country.
None of these would have been possible without the influence of the Byrds, and maybe more so, one of their members: Gram Parsons. To the sounds:
Watch The byrds – turn turn turn in Music | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com
On horses, turn, turn, turn:
Eight Miles High:
8 Miles high, again:
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better:
The Byrds take the minor chord and make it a country:
I wasn’t Born to Follow:
You ain’t going Nowhere:
How they made the turn:
Sweethearts of the Rodeo:
*Videos are not endorsed by the author.