Smoke Signals newsletter

    Picturing The West

Why is it called “Country and Western” Music?

By Jayne Skeff

Fall, 2019 Smoke Signals

musician playing the guitarIt’s no mystery to those of us who are fans of Country and Western music that the roots of this uniquely American music have been born from from the culture, history, singers, crooners, pickers and songwriters of the Southern United States. Yet today, Country and Western Music conjures images of the American West and cowboy, a culture and land that was, and is today, thousands of miles removed from the roots of this music.

The origins of country and western music grew from the Irish, Scottish, and European settlers in the early American South. It was further influenced by the rhythm and lyrics from the Negro slave ballads of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Even the instruments used to create this music was merely what was available– banjos and fiddles being the most common. The originators were cotton and cane growers and pickers, nary a cow or cowboy in sight. Even today, the international hub for this music lies, not in the West, but firmly in the South in Nashville, TN.

Well, the answer to this question lies in palatability, imaging and money. As what was originally known as “Hillbilly” music, created by Southern country folk and descendants of slaves, began to evolve and gain popularity, it became apparent to early recording studios that the name had to change. If America was to embrace this genre – it had to appeal to urban and middle class audiences across the country if money was to be made. It was also about this time that early cowboy and western motion pictures came on the seen and the sound of “Hillbilly” music worked well with these productions.

And there it began, inspired for the need to re-brand to sell, Hillbilly and Southern music became Country music with the first Country music recording released in 1922 by Eck Robertson.

In the 1930s, it was country music star Ernest Tubb who took the name a step further as his recordings became in demand for cowboy and western movies. He preferred the name “Country and Western” and so the fate of Hillbilly music was sealed. Still no cows or cowboys, just an international phenomenon of rebranding that really worked!


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Smoke Signals blows your way from High Noon Western Americana of Los Angeles, California, producers of the High Noon Antique Show & Auction for 25 years (1991-2014). Smoke Signals eMagazine was founded in 2010 from a desire to share thoughts and facts with the High Noon community and look at what is going on in the Western world while feeding our readers with great recipes and giving advertisers a chance to blow their own smoke.

And hopefully we educate along the way.

Linda Kohn Sherwood, Editor

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