Classic Country Music is Hard to Define

I was in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area a few months ago visiting some relatives when we got onto the topic of music. My aunts and uncles and cousins all like rock – classic rock in particular – as well as jazz, blues and more.

Having been raised in Texas, I brought up country music as being one of my favorite types, and as you can probably imagine, I took some razzing about it. I heard the typical “hillbilly” and “backwoods” remarks and a few of my cousins even broke out into their own parody of a country song, which was quite amusing, but one of my cousins actually defended me, saying that she was a fan of classic country music.

Finally, I had an ally, so I quickly turned around to ask her who were some of her favorite country singers, and it was then that I realized that classic country music can be difficult to define.

She mentioned singers like Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson, and in my opinion, those are definitely examples of classic country music singers. I guess that was strictly a matter of conjecture, however, because when I got back to Texas and relayed the story to my father, he said, “that’s great, but those guys aren’t classic country musicians.”

I was kind of taken aback, because I have always fancied myself to be pretty knowledgeable about country music and music in general, so I asked him who he thought were examples of classic country musicians.

He named guys like Roy Acuff and Chet Atkins. Those were the guys that were pretty big when he was growing up, and while he certainly likes artists like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, he did not consider what they did to be classic country music.

Then there are people that argue that classic country music does not have so much to do with what time period the artists came from, but the style of music they play. A case in point for that would be Randy Travis.

Randy Travis’ heyday was in the 1980’s, but his singing style was definitely more of a throwback to the older days of country music. George Jones once said that he thought about returning to Nashville after he heard Randy Travis because he felt Travis was bringing country music back to what it was supposed to be.

When we talk about classic country music, it can be hard to define, so I have found that the best thing to do when I hear somebody use those words is just ask them what they mean exactly by classic country music. As you can probably guess, I get all kinds of answers.