Every now and then over the life of this blog we have discussed the fate of country rock, one of the dominant subgenres of the 1970s. It’s worth remembering just how many country-rock performers got on the radio heavily from the mid-70s through the early 80s: ZZ Top, Lynryd Skynyrd, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, Poco, the Outlaws, Pure Prairie League, Molly Hatchet—alongside other performers who were clearly influenced by country sounds, if not exclusively country rockers, including the Allman Brothers Band, CCR, Eric Clapton, Foghat, the early Eagles, and the early Doobie Brothers.
Most of the premiere country rock bands were scoring chart singles as late as 1980, but within a couple of years they couldn’t buy a hit. The sort of music that came in with MTV—quirky, danceable British pop and the deeper grooves of Michael Jackson and Prince—was the stylistic opposite of country rock’s boogie and twang.
Country rock didn’t die, of course. It went underground for a few years, but its fans were listening all the while. And if you turn on a country radio station today, you’ll hear Skynyrd’s boogie riffs proliferating left and right: young country stars such as Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan clearly grew up listening to Second Helping and Street Survivors, and they’re not the only ones. Today’s young stars know who their forefathers are: when they name-check their influences, they’re more likely to mention the Allman Brothers than Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson. Today’s country music has adopted the production values of country rock—guitars bite harder, drums bang louder—to such an extent that country records recorded before about 1990 sound dry and flat in comparison.
It’s not just a new generation of stars who keep country rock’s spirit alive. Those who dug country rock in the 1970s are still diggin’ it now: editions of Skynryd, the Allmans, Poco, Pure Prairie League, and others are still on the road, as are a number of jam bands whose music owes more to country rock than their fans might realize.
We do not plug a lot of stuff on this blog, mainly because the readership is small, but also because I rarely get invited to plug the kind of stuff that you’ll care about. But I got an e-mail the other day from the promoter of a Rock Legends Cruise this December, which will travel from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Bahamas with an all-star lineup of country rockers and others who are a good stylistic fit: ZZ Top, Marshall Tucker, Dickey Betts and Great Southern, Molly Hatchet, the Outlaws, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Foghat, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Blackfoot, Pat Travers, and others. Sounds like one hell of a way to spend a winter week. Please check it out if you’d like to learn more.