The Americana - Roots Music Hall of Fame

Yes.  This is unofficial business. A fictional Americana-Roots Music Hall of Fame.  So, now that we’ve made it past the latest 2014 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I thought it would be a good time tally those old votes from last September’s No Depression Forum titled What Ten Artists Would You Induct Into the Americana-Roots Hall of ..., and see what the results would look like. 

The results, in my mind, are quite impressive.  I believe they resemble what an actual list of inductees would look like if all of this were official rather than my own usual bootlegged makings strictly for No Depression Forum fun.  Personally, I think it does show that there is an astute community of readers and writers here with very good taste in music and a knowledge of the genre.

One of the things I wanted to clarify in creating this particular list is that it needn’t be your personal favorites, but, rather those artists who you feel are deserving.  Some of my favorites, John Stewart, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and Iris Dement, for example, didn’t make it. But, there’s no argument from me with those who did find a consensus among those who participated.

All the ten artists had several things in common. They all naturally fused two or more forms of American roots music together during times when it was not trendy to do so. I say naturally because all of the inductees were following their own musical vision without contrivance or posture. With only one exception, they’re all known for writing their own material. The two youngest artists on the list have both passed away, making the next youngest on the list at 57 who is also gone. The list is predominantly male, however, there was some discussion and even entire lists devoted to only female artists, which included Patsy Cline, Joan Baez, Wanda Jackson and Patty Griffin. But, in the end, these are all American originals who broke new ground in one way or another and helped to actually create the template for others artists to come.

I have listed them in rank order according to the amount of votes garnered, for general interest, not to imply a competitive quality to the results as much as the degree impact the artists have had on readers.  

So, without further adieu, here are the reader/contributor selected inductees of the first ever Unofficial and entirely Fictional Americana-Roots Music Hall of Fame.

Bob Dylan

 He has always been a musical chameleon who early in his career from 1961 to 1982, seemed to changed persona, so effected was he personally by the genre of music he pursued, be it folk, rock, blue, country or gospel. Today his legacy speaks for itself. During the days of healing he spent in Woodstock with The Band, he formed what may be one of the strongest foundations for what we call Americana today.

Neil Young

Like Dylan, he became a kind of chameleon who still manages to take some unexpected turns. But, in it all, there is clearly a deep love for the music he makes and its makers. He may be even more of a mystery tramp than Bob Dylan, but when he embraces both song and style, he has always done so with originality, passion and such a strong creative imagination, it’s hard not to be infected and effected by it.

The Band

The only band on this list, although The Grateful Dead, Uncle Tupelo and The Byrds received several votes.  The Band were a collective group of artists who created a quilt of American music inspired by the South that was woven together with R&B, rockabilly, blues, folk, country and rock.  And it still is impossible to see or hear the seams.  They may be the first band on the musical landscape to successfully blend so many different elements and genres into one with such elegance and groove.  And yet, at times, it seems like their songs could have been written a hundred years ago like some ghostly music from American history. 

Steve Earle

As the youngest surviving inductee, Earle still shares with the others on the list the ability to disappear into the song and genre in such a way that it feels like something entirely new. He is everything a country song should be with just a twist of punk-rock in energy and attitude. His songs are challenging, bitter, angry, sweet, political, satirical, romantic, sentimental and passionate. In fact, through his songs, if we listen, we experience the spectrum of the human condition and we’re all richer for the journey.                                                  

Johnny Cash

There’ simply no one else like him. Kristofferson once jokingly called him, “The Father of our Country.” There’s only a few degrees of hyperbole here.  He began in Memphis with rockabilly then moved into a unique blend of folk and country. He added some gospel to the mix and kept focused on the stories from the overlooked and sometimes hidden parts of the American spirit. He brought  light to what makes us who we are both in our darker edges and our inner angels, as well.  During his last decade, ignored the country music establishment he helped create, he immersed himself in the American catalogue of popular music and with the help of rock and rap producer, Rick Rubin, created a decade long bookend to his Memphis days at Sun Studios with the American Recordings series that helped roots music find focus and direction. As he had done in the early days of rock and roll and during his prime in the 60’s, he pointed the way and we followed.

Hank Williams

He was without a doubt one of the original hillbilly singers to venture into a blues feel while topping the country music charts during his short period of artistic success. His songs have become a part of the American psyche and his voice still penetrates with its soulful emotion. It’s hard to believe, had a he lived further into the 50’s, he wouldn’t have somehow found himself exploring his music at Sun Studios and Muscle Shoals.  At 29, he had already created a legacy of American music others would build on.

Emmylou Harris

Her voice is all smoke, silk and driftwood.  No one before or since has sounded like Emmylou. Her original solo albums from the early 70’s highlighted some of the best songwriter of the next 40 years. She partnered with Gram Parsons in a bittersweet collaboration that still breaks our hearts when we think of the broken dream of a tour and future albums together. But, now she is a given in Americana music. Her support in preserving Ryman Hall was an act of historic integrity and a demonstration of her genuine love for the legacy of American music.

Gram Parsons

He came to define country-rock, to embody a new form of music from the earliest days of his career when he co-founded The International Submarine Band. Others would follow, but Gram had the original voice, the man with his ear to the track hearing the sound of the oncoming train. He altered the sound of one of America’s most popular rock bands, The Byrds, and freed them to release their landmark, Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Flying Burrito Brothers and his short-lived solo career were filled with hot-blooded and passionate music that still reaches out to us today.  His solo albums demonstrated how far he was about to go in turning country-rock from simply entertaining to soulful art.  His integration of country, rock and rhythm & blues was both ground breaking and genre busting proving he was a founder, pioneer and explorer of the imagination and soul of American music.

Lucinda Williams

Her voice has the stillness of resignation, the soul of longing, the depth of an artist with a story to tell.  As she was breaking through with her self-titled album and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Americana was being coined as a new genre of music. She was the quintessential artist many would say symbolized this new form of American music. Her originality, her singer-songwriter roots and her willingness to break out of conventions make her an excellent choice for the first tier of Americana and Roots music inductees.

 Woody Guthrie

He was a wiry, restless soul, always active in ideas, songs and stories. He came up from the American landscape that other folk singers of the times had mythologized.  He couldn't be held back by literary conventions, political ideologues and musical boundaries.  So he traveled the interior and exterior highways of America and told what he saw using words, stories and characters in the way Steinbeck did, taking on the causes of ordinary people and taking old melodies and breathing new life into the with words that struck a chord in the American core. He was like no other an American original. He played country, folk, children’s songs, old ballads, and gospel and managed to get in a few blues licks with his friends Leadbelly and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. His constant creative imagination and lack of respect for musical boundaries make him perfect as an artist who explored and clearly conveyed American music in his own life and times. But, as restless and endlessly creative as he was, his vision is still with us and he still seems ahead of his time and ours.

Views: 808

Comment by Dave Crotts on April 28, 2014 at 6:29am

Thanks Terry, that was a lot of fun.  The one artist I wished I had credited earlier was Sam Bush.  Saw him again at Merlefest and his 90 minutes show covered country, bluegrass, blues, rock, funk, and fusion as well as giving tribute to another Americana hero, Doc Watson.  Every Sam Bush concert is a different mix of many styles.

Comment by Benjamin Scott Blake on April 29, 2014 at 4:56am

Lucinda Williams is here, but no Guy Clark? Say what? And I agree with Terry that Prine, Townes and Stewart are glaring omissions.

Comment by Joseph May on April 29, 2014 at 3:11pm

 Hey Terry I'm a casting my vote for the M.I.A of a Mr. Rodney Crowell !!!!!!!

Comment by joe beresford on April 30, 2014 at 5:47am

While I thought of a few, but not all, of the 'left out' artists posted; my first thought was how could we not iduct/indict Dave Alvin with  all of his Guilty Men/Women/Ones.

And another thing,  while the Grateful Dead did not make the cut,  (they were on many voters lists, prob for their classic Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) they are really in a class all by themselves.



Comment by Gene Dixon on April 30, 2014 at 8:33am

First, I like some of your picks. Cash, Dylan , The Band.

But if you are going to put in Hank Williams and Woody,

why not start at the beginning with The Carter Family,

and Jimmie Rogers ? Bill Monroe & The Stanley Brothers,

Muddy Water's great band from the 50's. 

Chuck Berry & Bo Diddley, all this stuff has roots, ya know.

Comment by Terry Roland on April 30, 2014 at 11:03am

Joe...I agree with you about The Dead.  I would consider them second only to The Band in their studio work. But, they are second to none in their legacy of live performance. 

Gene...these are not my picks, but a consensus from readers who chimed in in November 2013.  I agree with your summation and list of original artists...I'd probably add Robert Johnson and some Piedmont artists in there as well....

Comment by Gene Dixon on April 30, 2014 at 2:18pm

Good call on Robert Johnson, The Grateful Dead really are in a class all by themselves.

I'm going to Delfest in a few weeks. The spirit of The Grateful Dead is always heavy at those

type of gigs.

Comment by joe beresford on April 30, 2014 at 8:54pm

Gene, re fests:  Headed for my 'SoCal' roots fest this Sat, (Trece de Mayo) Los Lobos annual Cinco Mayo, this year with Ozomatili, El Mariachi Bronx and always surprise guests.

My nominee for best of best, been to all since 07, a plethora of still alive, still touring Americana/roots (and their decendents) artists.

 . . .confused, listen to the music play,    jb




Comment by Rudyjeep on May 1, 2014 at 5:35am

Thanks for taking this on Terry.  A Music HOF is even more subjective than a Sports Hall - and even those have gone off the track the last few years in my opinion - so its always a tough call.  To me, you would have to start with the originals in the first class, that's why Steve Earl would have to wait and Robert Johnson and the Carter Family are good calls.  But I think a couple of the artist on the list have used "performance enhancing drugs".  Doesn't that disqualify them? 

Comment by Terry Roland on May 1, 2014 at 5:59am

LOL!  You're right,RudyJeep!  The entire day of a Hall of Fame is based on a sports reference if that particular metaphor is carried to its logical conclusion, all sorts of possibilities come to mind!


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