The Music of the American Countryside: Cowboy Songs

Today's article will be dedicated to country music, the genre which emerged in the American countryside, in the southwestern part of the U.S., and which constitutes an embodiment of national folklore.

It is indeed an embodiment because American music has a plethora of sub-genres and deviations, and I will not dig too much into genre terminology in order not to confuse you as well as myself.

American folk music originally emerged from the music which immigrants from Europe brought to America; it was based primarily on Anglo-Celtic motifs. For instance, the violin and the fiddle, which are fixtures of the Celtic folklore tradition, also migrated to the States and, over the course of a couple of centuries, became one of the main musical instruments for farmers. 

Apart from that, the genre is characterized by the use of guitars as well as the banjo and harmonica that were borrowed from African culture.

Speaking of the origins of this particular genre, they were, to some extent, rather prosaic. The music existed among the people; it was diverse and multifaceted, and a plethora of elements collectively created a lot of opportunities for composing and performing songs which actually bred many problems once it became necessary to identify a certain musical genre.

However, it often happens that the record companies are the first ones to lay their hands on a genre, and they tend to average out and simplify it in some way. In fact, in the course of almost 80 years of its existence, country music has become a part of pop culture, whilst certain field-specific sub-genres, for instance, blue grass, have remained in a form that was unaffected by time.

The “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” by John Carson was the very first successful country hit single. The song itself was written back in 1871; but, despite that fact, it achieved a wide commercial success in 1923.

It was followed by the crystallization and systematization of the genre only in the area of pop music and was marked by the emergence of the first all-American superstars like Hank Williams who, by the way, gave rise to an entire army of clones and established the trademark “cowboy” image of the country music performer. The main genre began to branch out into smaller genres like rockabilly, which gave the world Elvis; the musicians were experimenting with various sounds by including elements of jazz, R’n’B, and even reggae in country music.

Hank Williams – Hank Williams Sings 1952

I suggest beginning your acquaintance with this genre with the above-mentioned performer, who is justifiably considered iconic and influential within the genre. Hank Williams was the performer who, as a matter of fact, completed its formation and finalized country music in its current format.


Johnny Cash – With His Hot and Blue Guitar 1957

Unlike Hank Williams, who died at an early age, at 29, Cash lived a long and amazing life and died only in 2009. During that time, he released dozens of wonderful albums and composed an enormous amount of songs which, I am certain, will outlive most of us. By the way, I would recommend to all those who want to get to know more about certain episodes of his life to watch the biographical movie called Walk the Line. I would recommend listening to his debut album, which contains many of his hits, such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line,” which are played even today in all parts of the planet.

Willie Nelson – God’s Problem Child 2017

Another performer who is considered to be iconic for the genre and for America in general, Willie Nelson began his career in the ‘60s and still continues to release new albums. His last album is a great illustration of the fact that the “old guard” are still capable of achieving a lot of things and enjoying commercial success along the way.


Taylor Swift – Taylor Swift 2006

Please don’t be surprised. I have already written that in our day country music is rubbing shoulders with pop music, and the album cited above is a shining example of this notion. Taylor Swift began her career with this album which, by the way, had an enormous success in the States. It climbed to an exemplary high position in the American music charts and was widely praised by the critics.


Billy Armstrong & Norah Jones – Foreverly 2013

In 2013, the lead singer of Green Day cooperated with Norah Jones, a singer who is rather popular in the United States, and recorded this country album. I think that, to some extent, it serves as an indication that musicians in the United States still resort to country music and that this genre is still interesting and in high demand among the musical audience. The album turned out to be of great quality and pleasant to listen to; I think that it will be to the taste of many people who are not only the fans of country music but also fans of Green Day.

Photo: Shutterstock

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