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Wednesday, January 20, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 75




Saddle Up for the Rodeo

On the Air





About the Cougar
 

Do we dare use the word 'mainstream' with country music?

By Jason Caesar Consolacion
Entertainment Co-Editor

Country music is without a doubt the toast of the country now. Record sales have shot through the roof, thanks to the strong influence this century-old genre has played on the ears of mainstream listeners.

However, can the country artist share the same stage with the pop artist? Is it possible to use the word "mainstream" with country music?

You might think so, but this is nothing new. In 1956, Elvis Presley broke onto the mainstream with his hard-hitting brand of rhythm and blues. Back then, it was called rock 'n' roll. These days, it's called country.


Artists like Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, who contributed to the pop-country influence in the early to mid 80's have opned the doors for artists such as Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.

Courtesy of RCA Records

Presley's rockin' trio (Elvis on guitar and vocals, Bill Black on bass and Scotty Moore on guitar) toured the Southeastern part of the country in the late 1950s promoting what eventually became rock music's first taste of mainstream listeners. Country music was already one of the most popular genres of the time, but Presley added what was then known as the "black" sound.

While country was renamed "rock 'n' roll" on a temporary basis, Presley led a handful of wannabe's onto the Nashville scene to record rhythm-and-blues-filled country songs, most of which turned into hits.

Ricky Nelson, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis followed Presley's lead and country music became everyone's favorite sound.

Throughout the early sixties, rock 'n' roll would create its own identity, spreading beyond American borders and leaking out into Mexico and Europe. Country music stayed in Nashville, sticking to its roots while allowing Elvis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones to take rock 'n' roll to new heights.

It wasn't until the mid-eighties, however, that country music made a minor comeback using artists like Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette to promote it's twangy, laid-back sound.

As the years progressed, the sound progressed. Country artists fed off the success of rock music using more hard-hitting beats and unconventional chord progressions in its recordings.

In 1991, country music introduced the world to Garth Brooks. A hard-rockin' twanger from Oklahoma, Brooks blew everyone away with his debut release, No Fences.

Today, Brooks' albums debut at number one on the Billboard charts. He packs stadiums in every city he plays. He sold out five shows in Houston. When in Vancouver, Alanis Morissette, a Canada native, played only one show at General Motors Place while Brooks sold out three.

Even from an international standpoint, Brooks is a superstar. He packs shows in England, France, Australia and China. If that doesn't say anything, just picture a five-foot Chinese kid wearing boots and a cowboy hat. If that can happen, country music must be doing pretty well.

Brooks might as well be recognized as the man who brought country music back to the mainstream audience. With seven albums under his hat, he is one of the top recording artists of all time, along with Michael Jackson and Presley.

There's more on the way for country music. Artists like Faith Hill, Deana Carter, The Dixie Chicks, Vince Gill, Bryan White and LeAnn Rimes are bringing a new pop twist to Nashville's recording studios.

The queen of mainstream country would have to be Shania Twain. This singer from Canada has brought a strong pop influence to country music. Of course, it could be the other way. Maybe she's bringing a strong country influence to pop music.

Twain made a strong impression with her debut, The Woman In Me, which was produced by hard-rocker and eventual husband Mutt Lange. When she released Come On Over in 1997, critics accused her of sounding too "pop." Twain's response: "So what?"

The formula works. Twain's arena tour has drawn huge audiences night after night. Her songs have reached the mainstream airwaves, and her videos are on MTV. Is she losing her country audience? At most, she's losing the country purists -- people who fear change in country music.

The problem is that country music, pop music and its artists are always changing. Ever since a young man from Tupelo, Mississippi picked up a guitar and showed the world that a country boy can be soulful, music has gone through a plentitude of changes.

Country music has entered the mainstream. To put a bigger stamp on the statement, Billboard Magazine recently merged its country chart with its pop chart, something they should have done a long time ago seeing as how Twain and Brooks have been all over the Billboard 200 chart.

Will the ever-growing genre turn completely pop? Probably not, but artists will always find a way to merge pop and country. It's a winning combination. I guess the next thing to do is have Puff Daddy produce Brooks' next album. Does Puffy even know how to ride a horse?
 

Reach Consolacion at
dcshobiz@mail.uh.edu
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