Welcome to Roughstock's History of Country Music! This is the only country music history site on the Web, brought to you by the world's #1 Country and Western Site: Roughstock. This exhibit looks at some of the influential artists and songs of the 1930's through the 1990's era by era. Look around, you'll find artists from Gene Autry, Roy Acuff, Bob Wills, Hank Williams to Patsy Cline, Lefty Frizzell, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks and many others. Included in our narrative look are numerous rare images, sound clips, and digital movies.

Follow The History of Country Music with the timeline below. Click on an artist's picture to read about that period of country music history.


By no means is this the definitive word on country music. What you see here is a continuous work in progress. Lots of things aren't here that should be, and we're working to add them. This archive will always be the best source for country music history on the Web, and we need your help to keep it that way. If you have suggestions to improve what you see here, write us! Send mail to: rodeo@roughstock.com

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beginnings The Beginnings 20's and 30's

Our historical look begins with the two most important figures at the beginning of modern country music, Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. These two recording and performing artists set the tone for the generations to follow. They were the first stars of country music, and we've included samples of each of their biggest recordings. Among the songs you can sample is Jimmie Rodgers' first in a successful series of thirteen, "Blue Yodel #1 (T for Texas)" and the Carter's theme song, "Sunny Side of Life."

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acuff/grand ole opry page The Grand Ole Opry and Roy Acuff in the 1940's

Roy Acuff is considered "The King of Country Music" mostly because of his enduring presence on the Grand Ole Opry, lasting from his first appearance in 1938 through his death in 1992. Included among the many tracks, is a rare version of an Acuff classic, "Tied Down."

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cowboy music page Cowboy Music

This style of music is defined by the films and recording of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers in the 1930's and 40's. Both of country's leading cowboys are profiled here, but some of the best songs were cut by the Sons of the Pioneers, and legendary songwriter Bob Nolan. Featured here is their classic "Cool Water."

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swing page Western Swing of the 30's and 40's

Western Swing is best defined by the music of Bob Wills. A swing band with country overtones -- Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys comprised 13 musicians and grew into an 18-piece band during the 1940s -- Wills' outfit played a miscellany of country ballads, blues, and riffy jazz items with horns, fiddles, steel guitar, and various strings. One of his early recordings, entitled, "Liza, Pull Down the Shade." is included here.

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bluegrass page Bill Monroe and Bluegrass Music

Bill Monroe represents the virtual base of bluegrass. Combining a blues feel with his mandolin and the picking of Earl Scruggs on banjo, Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys popularized a form of music previously found only in Appalachia. Lester Flatt, and Earl Scruggs, members of the Blue Grass Boys, continued the bluegrass boon through the 1960s. Today, Alison Krauss and Union Station and other musicians are helping a new generation of country fans rediscover this unique genre. Included is a sample from the King of Bluegrass and one of his Blue Grass Boys greatest hits, "I'm Going Back to Old Kentucky."

to honky tonk music page Honky Tonk Music of the 40's and 50's

A very popular style of country music which developed in the 1940's is Honky Tonk. The most storied practitioner of that style and perhaps the greatest country artist ever is Hank Williams. Despite his untimely death, Williams music and image have endured over time. Also included are two other country greats from the Honky Tonk era: Lefty Frizzell and Ernest Tubb.

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nashville sound page The Nashville Sound

The silky smooth voices of Gentleman Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold epitomize the slick sounds which came out of Nashville recording studios in the 1950's. You will find one of Reeves' recordings, "Welcome to My World" here along with Arnold's "Streets of Laredo." This style brought Country Music to a broader audience as many artists such as Reeves had crossover hits during this period.

Patsy Cline combined the polished production techniques of the Nashville sound with the musical content of Honky Tonk music to become perhaps the most prolific and popular country artists of the late 1950's and into the early 1960's. One of her songs is featured here as well as an early video clip from the Arthur Godfrey Show.

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outlaw page Outlaw Country

The late 1960's and 1970's saw the resurgence of a new brand of Honky Tonk -- Southern Rock and Outlaw Country. A new generation of musicians who grew up on Hank Williams, Sr., Lefty Frizzell and others brought southern rock to country. No one embodied the blue-collar sound of outlaw country more than Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard. You will find rare clips from these legends here.

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urban cowboys page Urban Cowboys

The late 1970's and early 1980's saw country music take a downturn--or maybe a downtown-turn. The urbanization of country music, originated ironically by Willie Nelson's 1975 crossover hit, was spurred on during the early 1980's by the movie "9 to 5" and Dolly Parton's song by the same name, included here. Although country may have strayed from its roots, several artists produced some excellent music. John Conlee's deep baritone and clean-cut phrasing harkened back to the Nashville Sound of Jim Reeves. Three of his many hits from the early 80's can be found here. Country supergroup Alabama also got their start in the early '80s, and are profiled here, with several of their early hits. Reba McEntire's later career has been well-documented, but the late '70s and early 1980s showcased the Oklahoma, Patsy Cline-influenced side of Reba. Her first single, released in May 1976, "I Don't Wan't to be a One-Night Stand," is included in this archive.

to garth brooks and new country page Garth Brooks and New Country

The late 1980's saw country music's return to the most popular genre in music. Following the successes of Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, and Alabama, a new leader emerged in early 1990-- Garth Brooks. With the release of his self-titled album, Garth started country music on the road to expansion and mass appeal. His first success came with Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," but Brooks cemented his name into country music with his first mega-hit, and arguably his most popular song, "The Dance" is included here. George Strait remains a constant in country music, from the 1980s through 1996. His unwavering pure country sound shows through in a Strait classic, "All My Ex's Live in Texas."

We have many people to thank, so please take time to review our credits page which contains information regarding copyright issues and the internet, and documentation of the sources used to compile this historical archive.

link to beginnings link to acuff link to cowboy page link to swing page link to bluegrass link to honky tonk link to nashville sound link to outlaw country link to urban cowboys link to garth and new country

The History of Country Music, copyright 1996 Roughstock Productions. Some graphic images copyright John Walker. Sounds, movies, artist pictures and written content not originally produced for The History of Country Music exhibit are used by permission granted in the Fair Use guidelines of the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act.