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 Fame, 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.