What 3 or 4 things do you have to meet to be Americana?

I'm looking at these lists of artists and groups, lots of them are what I would think to be popular rock groups or singers.
What are the designators?

Tags: Americana, artists, groups, or

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"Americana is the box they put you in when you take your art seriously enough that it can't be fit into any other box."- Rosanne Cash

1. Lyrically connected to the common people of America and rooted in the American folk lyrical tradition.
2. An unwillingness to sell out to the corporate crap of the music industry, be it rock, Nashville, or other forms.
3. No musical guidelines that I can think of.

A few months back there was great post here about the lack of coverage of blues and jazz on this site. I commented on it with the following:

"I think what is and isn't Americana is really up to the individual listener. I have written about blues on here from time to time and even occasionally touched on jazz, so we're on the same page as far as that goes. With that said, there is a point in the evolution of every genre where it simply stops being roots music.

For me, personally, I don't care for much jazz after the mid-'50s. I love ragtime, Dixieland, swing, Django Reinhardt's "gypsy jazz", as well as the fusion of jazz, pop, and blues that created the likes of Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Bessie Smith. With the obvious exception of Reinhardt, I think all of those styles could have a place here. Of course, already well-known to most here is Western swing which is at least half jazz.

With blues, I don't think anyone would argue that the great Delta bluesmen and the practitioners of the Piedmont blues would belong in the category of roots music. I doubt if you would even get much argument when it came to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, or BB King. You may run into an issue with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, although not from me. If you like it well enough to write about it here, then by all means do so.

My own definition of Americana is very broad. It contains the usual alt. country, but also Native American peyote songs, rockabilly and other rootsy rock styles, bluegrass, R&B, cowboy ballads, Tejano, Southern rock, gospel quartets, doo wop and even early 20th century Tin Pan Alley pop. I haven't written about all, or even most, of those styles here, but I wouldn't have any second thoughts about doing so if a new release moved me in that direction.

As I said, it's up to you. If you like it, write about it."
I would also throw Irish and British traditional folk music in there in the Early Influences category. Kinda like how Jimmie Rodgers and Robert Johnson are in the RnR HOF.
1. Stringed-instrument based (usually acoustic guitar). In contrast to show-tunes/electronic keyboards (synthesizers)/DJ mix tables/auto-tune/sampling. Ironically, hip-hop/rap is a pure American musical style, but I wouldn't include it in Americana.

2. Lyrically driven. As Adam Sheets. says below, lyrically connected to the experiences of the common people. I'd include the idea of loss be it love, land, sanity, self-control, homeland, country-living, tradition, etc...

3. Simplicity. The music is simple. The musicians are untrained and play what they feel. Usually simple chords over familiar tunes. This, to an extent, distinguishes it from classical music/big band/and to some extent modern Jazz. I realize folks like Les Paul and Chet Atkins maybe considered Americana. Clearly, musical training and talent isn't a bar to Americana. I find that instead, the formally trained musician plays simple, or at least makes very technical playing seem simple.

4. Exceptions to the above rules.
"Ironically, hip-hop/rap is a pure American musical style, but I wouldn't include it in Americana."

"4. Exceptions to the above rules."

One such example is the "Grandfather of rap" Gil Scott-Heron.
When I first heard hiphop/rap I thought it derived from the Jamaican DJ's toasting.
The Jamaican influence is there (just as, I would point out, European and African influences are vital to all American forms of music) especially rhythmically and as the recent album by Nas and Damian Marley shows, hip-hop and reggae are more closely related than one would think. But the precursor to rap was the talking blues (popularized by Woody Guthrie and actually considered more of a country music form), the preaching in the black church, and poets like Langston Hughes. In fact, Yazoo Records released an album a few years back called The Roots of Rap and there's a more recent one from Harte Recordings dealing with the same thing. Both are well worth checking out.
I'll try and do that. I suppose for my ears reggae, the DJs, the sound systems was pretty much everywhere in London in the mid 70s to mid 80s. Short article here

1960s/70s DJs (toasters) like King Stitt, U Roy, I Roy, Big Youth etc are definitely the roots of rap... well actually it probably is rap. Rhyming over the top of records is rap right?

The Jamaicans were also having DJ (playing records) battles in the 50s.

So there's no denying Jamaica was a huge influence on what was to become rap/hip-hop.



hi; you are spot on - 'Toasting' was around long before hippitty-hoppitty but the American inner city kids took it, politicised it and took away the melody!
Making bright lines out of gradual blurs always makes for great conversation (and I definitely mean that sincerely - I love this kind of stuff).

Nothing else to add. Carry on.
I came up with basically two things; Appalacia and the Dustbowl. Where folk, country, and bluegrass originated. And all roads lead back to these artists:

1. Stephen Foster (b.1826, Pennsylvania)
2. A.P.Carter (b. 1891, Virginia)
3. Bill Monroe (b. 1911, Kentucky)
4. Woody Guthrie (b. 1912, Oklahoma)



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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.