Author Archives: John Monroe

Country Music & The Blues

The beginnings of Country Music and the beginnings of Blues are very similar. These genres were first recorded in the 1920s, and at the time the difference between country, then called hillbilly music, and the blues, then called race music, was really only the race of the artist, which was often confused. The famous Bluesmen of the 1920s like Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Mississippi John Hurt sang mostly traditional and religious songs, later moving onto songs about other topics such as personal and cathartic stories. These types of songs were also sang by those such as Jimmie Rodgers and Eck Robertson. If you listen to the songs of this period one after another the similarities between these two genres of music are apparent

In the time since the beginning of these genres Country and Blues have have undergone many changes and gone in many different directions. For blues the biggest change was during the Great Migration when many African Americans moved out of the rural south for big northern cities like Chicago. During this time the blues was electrified and artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were revolutionizing the genre. In the meantime country, music was undergoing many changes like honkeytonk music and the Nashville sound. At this time country music and blues were definitely distinct and very different despite sharing similar roots.

Today I think that blues and country are closer than they have been in a long time. There has been a push towards more traditional ways for each genre while also having a modern spin. I am glad to see this trend because hearing new music from two of my favorite genres. Gary Clark Jr. is one of the artists keeping the blues alive and revolutionizing it at the same time. He keeps the iconic electric guitar and soulful lyrics while adding a modern sound. On the country side of things Chris Stapleton, winner of the 2015 CMA Male Vocalist award, is leading the movement back to a more roots based music with his own modern spin.

Listening to these two artists really shows the similarities that they have in their music. These two genres shared similar roots as traditional music that were initially recorded as “hillbilly” and “race” music. The genres grew up in the 1900s into very different types of music but due to their roots and changing tastes the genres are beginning to become more similar.


Filed under Americana, Blog Post 4, Hillbilly

Expanding My Country Horizons

I have always considered myself a fan of country music. Growing up I listened to George Strait, Toby Keith, and Randy Travis and I never really ventured far out of that time period. Everything before them was old and boring and all the new stuff was a bunch of inauthentic pop, that was until I took this class. I now have an appreciation and understanding of the music and the history of the music that came before. I also have opened myself up to new music

1: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou

As a film student I felt compelled to watch a movie that had country music playing a role. I decided to watch “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” because I am a fan of the Coen Brothers and this film was revolutionary in the the field of color grading (the field I’m hoping to go into). I ended up liking the soundtrack way more than I had anticipated. It was an amazing mix of acoustic blues and bluegrass which fits the period of the 1930s perfectly. I now find myself listening to songs from the 30s and 40s now, which is something I never would have done.

2: Record Shopping

I stopped by Breakaway Records, which is next to Epoch, one of my favorite coffee shops, to go thumb through some country records! I do have a record player and own mostly blues, soundtracks, and one Johnny Cash album so I was hoping to maybe add some more country to the collection! I was happy that I could now recognize many of the names that I previously wouldn’t have been able to. I ended up buying two records: Kenny Rogers and Ernest Tubb. Expanding my collection to songs from the 40s through the 80s is something that I am now really happy about.

3: Watching the CMAs

I had sworn off the CMAs in 2011 after Taylor Swift was named Entertainer of the Year because in my mind she had gone completely pop. I decided that since I was in this class I should watch the CMAs (strictly for academic purposes of course) and while there was still a lot of music that I didn’t like I was so surprised by Chris Stapleton. After watching his performances I went and listened to his album and was blown away. Chris Stapleton has renewed my faith in new country for making such a good album as well as being recognized for it. So not only have I expanded my music back in time but I am glad to say that there is some new country that I like as well.

Taking this class and making an effort to experience country music in more ways has expanded my view on Country Music. I am now familiar with the history of the genre and the influences and tensions that have been present for decades, giving me context for the music and connections to other genres. Experiencing country music in new ways over this semester has expanded my view of country music and I have grown to appreciate it on a much deeper level

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Filed under Austin, Blog Post 5

Cliche Country… That isn’t Terrible!

When I tell people that I like Country music, about half the time they say something along the lines of, “they just sing about the same stuff: trucks, dirt roads, and drinking.” Whenever I hear this I try my best to tell that person about the heartbreaking and inspiring country songs that also exist regarding a number of different topics, but in the back of my mind I know that most of the chart topping country has been dominated by such topics. In this blogpost I would like to highlight country songs with cliche topics that aren’t terrible, because every cliche is based on a truth that these songs nail right on the head.

First off is the ever-popular topic “trucks”. It seems to be the first thing that people go to when they think of country because just about every country star can be seen in or by one in their music videos (yes, even Taylor Swift! ) As a proud truck owner myself I understand the appeal – trucks are utilitarian and offer the ability to be prepared for more situations, allow the driver to make it to more places, and you can beat the car up a bit too. One of the best country songs that sing about trucks is “Drive” by Alan Jackson. In this song he sings about driving, “an old half ton short bed Ford,” with his father and how that was one of his favourite memories that he hopes to share with his daughters.

The second topic that country singers love to sing about, and country haters love to complain about are dirt roads. Singing about driving down a dirt road to a secluded spot is a staple in country, but I don’t think singing about such things is bad at all. In my experience driving down a dirt road has almost always resulted in an amazing memory. In Brooks and Dunn’s song “Red Dirt Road” they sing not just of the fun they had there but of growing up and experiencing important moments of life like, “Where I drank my first beer,” and, “Where I found Jesus.” So next time you see a dirt road, take a lesson from the multitude of country songs and see what’s down there.

Finally, if one thing in country has been consistent throughout the ages it been singing about drinking. From honky tonks and airplanes to tailgates and mexican beaches, country singers have drank there. In this case I think that critics may be right, country singers always have and always will sing about drinking but just like drinking I think that in moderation these songs are a good thing. They are stress relievers. Of all the drinking songs out there I think that one of the best, and a top contender for my all time favorite song, is “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson. This song is all about letting loose after the world has been too harsh, which is something that can be good if done right and something that everybody can relate to.

The critics of country music will always complain that all the artists sing about the same things. While I think responding by telling them “there is so much more to country music” is true I think that also belittles some amazing songs. So next time somebody complains tell them that there is more to country music, but that songs about dirt roads, and trucks, and drinking aren’t all bad too.


Filed under Blog Post 3

Toby Keith Preaches… Acceptance?

Typically people don’t associate advocating for acceptance with Country music but Keith’s bar-anthem “I Love This Bar” is all about welcoming all. This song is deceptively progressive and impressively easy to find yourself singing along to.

Most of Toby Keith’s songs from this album are fun songs about drinking, women, and dreams but this one is a little bit more. This song is an interesting mix of progressive politics and classic Toby Keith Country. The backdrop for this song is a bar reminiscent of Cheers with Keith singing loving about his favorite bar but what is surprising is his attitude toward the patrons that frequent it. At first this song appears to not be any different as he mentions “smokers,” and, “boozers,” and “bikers,” but when he mentions, “yuppies” one realizes that this might go somewhere different. Some of the more unexpected people that are mentioned throughout the song include, high-techs, lovers, divorces, and hookers, however what really suggests an even more accepting atmosphere is the comparisons of opposites like, “winners and losers,” and, “a dumbass and a wiseguy”. These comparisons of opposites imply that not only those types of people are allowed in but so too are all those in between. Toby Keith really creates an image of a motley group of people.

In my mind, the strongest and most powerful part of this song is the end of the chorus, which goes, “Just walking through the front door / puts a big smile on my face / it ain’t to0 far, come as you are”. Hearing this celebratory and lighthearted song drop the line, “Come as you are,”  makes me smile because I think that is how the topic of acceptance should be approached – positively. Toby Keith approaches the topic of acceptance not in an accusatory or frustrated way, but in a way that is highlights and celebrates the diversity of the bar. One can imagine themselves in this bar, walking in and seeing inviting faces, which I think is a better catalyst for change than a negative song.

If nothing else, I think that this song fits perfectly with the rest of Toby Keith’s songs on the album like “As Good as I Once Was” and “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight”. The fact that Keith managed to stick to his sound and produce a song with an atypical meaning is impressive. Finally, the message of acceptance in this song that is not typically associated with Country music, and I am glad that it does such an effective job at demonstrating it positively.


Filed under Blog Post 2, New Country

Country Music is Changing, but is it a Bad Thing?

I grew up in a town called The Woodlands where listening to country music wasn’t exactly the norm, and most of those who did listen to country mainly listened to the more pop oriented and modern songs. My relationship with the town was different than most. Typically Woodlanders live in suburban neighborhoods with small backyards and with neighbors on the other side of the fence. I on the other hand live on the same thirty acre property in the woods that my dad grew up on, and over the years The Woodlands has grown around us.

The Woodlands is now a very different place than it was when I was young.

The town growing around me

The Woodlands expanding to my fenceline.

The population has more than doubled and as you can see in the photo the woods surrounding my property have become apartments and office buildings and construction sites – the times they are a-changin’. Country music has gone through lots of changes as well. The tried and tested steel guitar, bass, and drum kit has been replaced with a highly processed sound, sections of rap, and electronic beat makers.

While the feeling nostalgia for the “good ole’ days” is powerful, I also really like that there is now a Whole Foods just down the road and that there’s more than three restaurants by my house. The growth of the town around me might has meant change, which is scary, but not inherently bad. The country music I grew up with listening to in the truck with my dad sure was the best, and it hearkens back to better days, but the new wave of country music is not inherently bad either. New artists have the unique opportunity to be more relevant to the current times, as well as use popular techniques and practices from modern genres.

Merle Haggard’s song “Are the Good Times Really Over” speaks to the anxiety that, “the good times [are] over for good,” and spends most of the song remembering how things used to be. What sets this song apart and what really draws me to it is the final two verses that break the mold. Haggard goes on to sing, “The best of the free life is still yet to come\The good times ‘aint over for good.” This change at the end of the song, I think, is the best way to deal with change in general. It is important to remember where things came from but it doesn’t do well to dwell on the past. Country music may be changing, and as long as my old time favorites aren’t forgotten I think new potential favorites will be made, and who knows what great and unexpected things change may bring.


Filed under Blog Post 1