Everyone who knows me knows that Bakersfield is one of my biggest musical influences, but what happened after Bakersfield is also just as strong of an influence on the music I write today. That influence would be Outlaw Country. Following the Bakersfield popularity in the 1960s, Outlaw Country was most popular in the United States throughout the 1970s and 80s. Popularized by legendary artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Outlaw Country is characterized by it’s folk rhythms with honky tonk and rockabilly influence.
With ties to blues, honky tonk, rockabilly, and rock and roll, artist influences predating the genre came from artists such as Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley. Others would argue that the movement can also be attributed to the Beatnik movement due to the similar belief that the artists felt “out of place” in society. While these artists set the stage for what would later become the Outlaw Movement, artists like Jennings and Nelson propelled the movement through their rejection of the Nashville sound. Author of Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville, Michael Streissguth referred to Jennings and Nelson as outlaws in a gutsy move to ensure their own recording rights to produce and record with the studio musicians they wanted.
Outlaw music is focused on opposition and going against social norms. As a result, the content is largely presented through the eyes of “outlaws,” and criminals on the run while broaching taboo topics like substance abuse and poverty. Visually Outlaw artists rejected the glitz and glamor of Nashville music, trading rhinestone suites for leather jackets and clean hair cuts with long hair. Musically grand orchestrations were stripped down to bare bones leaving only the most basic concepts of country music in its wake.
The genre began to decline in the early 1980s. While the decline was attributed to the rise of contry pop, some argued that the genre began to die as it’s artists and audience “grew up.” Hank Williams Jr. made a statement about this in his song “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” as his colleagues started to “settle down” leaving behind their wild parties and frequent drug use.
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