Country music fans might love their country, but they don’t shrug off other genres of music. It’s widely known through a variety of marketing research that fans of radio country music also listen to other genres like rock (especially southern rock) and the blues. In fact, the blues play a crucial role in country music. You might think of country as just the “country-western” stuff of old, like Marty Robbins and Buck Owens of yesteryear, but there’s actually a lot of blues wrapped up in country music.
Country, to be clear, is an amalgam of a lot of different genres. It took southwestern music, the bluegrass of the Appalachian hills, the rural music of the American South, and it combined all that with the blues. As a genre, the blues started in the Deep South in the 1860s, primarily performed by black men as one-man acts on acoustic guitars. You may have heard of Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues, or Howling Wolf, or any of a thousand other popular blues singers.
The blues separated itself from other musical genres for its realness. The blues weren’t about fanciful stories of happiness. They were much more about longing and loss and braving through life despite being beaten down by it. The blues would incorporate field chants, shouts, spirituals, and much more into its genre. Blues not only helped to birth modern rock (which is now classic rock, of course), but it also helped to give rise to country music.
It’s easy to get down into the weeds, so to speak, about where the blues originated. Different music historians point to Africa pre-slavery and claim the blues were traditional music for those cultures. Though they didn’t have guitars there, so those “blues” would have been nothing like the Deep South American blues. Others point to slavery as the start of the blues. Though, again, slaves weren’t allowed to own musical instruments. The fact is that it’s a little bit of everything that went into inspiring the blues in the Deep South. Traditional African culture, the weight of slavery, the pains of oppression, etc – it all had an influence on the genre. And as such, that genre would go on to influence even today’s hit country music.
At the time we’re releasing this article, the #1 country song on the Billboard charts is “Fancy Like,” by Walker Hayes. The song talks about how his girlfriend is easy to please on a modest budget, but how he likes to get “fancy” at times. If you don’t think that singing about poverty is something inspired by the blues, you got another thing coming. Here we are, almost in 2022, and the blues still has an influence in country music radio hits, even if in a roundabout way.
Especially if you’re a songwriter in the country genre, pay attention to the blues. Now, we’re not saying a song about your wife leaving you and drinking yourself into an early grave is going to become a smash hit on country music radio. Though we are saying that the sorts of stories blues tells in their music translate very well to country music, and you can get a lot of inspiration from a great blues song.
Just something to keep in mind for all you country music fans out there.