What is Country Rock?

The mix of two unlikely styles that helped create Americana

The Byrds' classic

The genre known as "Country Rock" came from a very specific time and place -- the late Sixties, when rockabilly was long gone from the pop consciousness and the "counterculture" or "hippie" movement was in full swing. This is important in understanding the genesis of Country Rock, since by that time, anything smacking of C&W was considered "establishment," in much the same way that "red" and "blue" states are culturally divided today.

Although rock had come to terms with folk a few years earlier, making pure country influences more or less inevitable, the forbidden nature of country meant that rock musicians were led to the sound by respected icons in the vanguard -- most notably Bob Dylan, who released the subdued, Nashville-recorded John Wesley Harding in 1967, followed a little over a year later by the even more traditionalist Nashville Skyline.

At the same time, the Byrds, having lost David Crosby and gained country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, were beginning to branch out into the still unlabeled genre. At the same time, West Coast natives raised on the Bakersfield Sound and Tex-Mex began to coalesce into bands, resulting in the explosion that created Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Poco, and The Eagles.

The typical country-rock song was an identifiable "rock" creation that used at least one element of standard country instrumentation, be it pedal steel or fiddle, kept the arrangement largely acoustic except for bass, and utilized countryish, Appalachian-style harmonies.

Eventually, the style became harder and morphed, along with blues and boogie elements, into what is now called "Southern Rock," while country-rock artists attracted to the music's softer nature joined the "soft-rock" camp. Both styles proved to be a tremendous influence on the pop-based "new country" movement of the late Eighties and beyond.

Also Known As: Folk-Rock, Southern Rock

Examples:

"Lay Lady Lay," Bob Dylan

The big hit off of Nashville Skyline, and a definite shock to Dylan's legions of fans, many of whom saw country music as a tool of the Establishment; Bob's new low croon didn't help the confused, either.

"The Weight," The Band

The Band were the Godfathers of Americana, Dylan's former backups who, though Canadian, proved stunningly adept at combining seemingly every kind of American roots music into a seamless whole. This rustic lament could well be considered their signature song.

"Hickory Wind," The Byrds

From the Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, one of the prime movers in establishing country-rock as a thing, and also one of the finest examples of Gram Parsons' songwriting.

Later covered by the Eagles on their first album, this ballad from the an ex-Byrd and a bluegrass banjo picker couldn't have had a more perfect pedigree.

"Garden Party," Rick Nelson

When the artists formerly known as Ricky played an oldies show at Madison Square Garden, he debuted the Stone Canyon Band, one of the founders of country-rock -- and was promptly booed for not playing his teen idol stuff. This hit was his direct response.

"For What It's Worth," Buffalo Springfield

This was the only real hit for the band that helped birth Poco, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Neil Young's solo stardom, but it set the standard, not just for country-rock but for protest songs in general.

"Sin City," The Flying Burrito Brothers

A gentle loping weeper from one of the undersung heroes of country-rock, included on their highly influential LP The Gilded Palace of Sin.

"Take It Easy," The Eagles

Written with fellow El Lay scenester Jackson Browne, this is one of the band's lighter hits -- no heavy moralizing or broken hearts, just a classic early-'70s example of a guy who's always gonna be too mellow for the room.

"A Good Feelin' To Know," Poco

Poco never really found favor until country-rock had mutated into soft-rock mush, but their early songs are prime examples of the genre.

"Listen To The Band," The Monkees

Yep, those Monkees -- leader Michael Nesmith was a psychedelic cowboy at heart, one straight from Texas, and when his kiddie band imploded he headed straight for Nashville to change the game.