The Beatles turned the world of music upside down in the 1960s. There was a whole new dimension added to the word music by then, and the genres of music started jumping out from everywhere, from psychedelic rock to bubblegum pop. However, it was not just the world of electro music that became famous with this newly found musical conscience. Country music grew considerably as well.
Nashville, America’s country music capital by then, was still the most popular place for it, and this had created a name for itself as the ‘Nashville Sound’. However, in the 1960s, a contrasting new style of country music emerged in California, much different from the polished sounds brought out on Music Row. Another new sound, the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ captured the ethos of high strung bars, which resulted in electrified crisp tracks with a noticeable backbeat. The Bakersfield sound gained a lot of momentum in this era, and was popularised extensively by the Buckaroos led by Buck Owens. ‘Act Naturally’, a chart topper by the same band, became so popular that even the Beatles made a cover of the song.
Another country singer that rose to fame during the 60s was the legend Johnny Cash. He recorded his biggest hit, the Ring of Fire, in 1963. June Carter was the writer of this song. They met backstage at a Ryman Auditorium during a Grand Ole Opry show in 1956. They soon fell in love, and got married in 1968. An activist, Johnny Cash wrote many songs that were topical and candid. Nicknamed ‘The Man in Black’ for his popular aesthetic, he was not one to shy away from issues that were quite sensitive at the time and made national headlines all the time. Cash went on to release several protest songs over his long career and played a series of concerts across the country as a way to bring about prison reform.
On one visit, Cash’s stop was San Quentin State Prison where he played a legendary live album in 1969. Merle Haggard, an inmate at the prison at the time, was in one of his 1958 prison shows. Cash became Haggard’s number one inspiration, and when he was released on parole, went on to become a country music star himself. Haggard offered different perspectives to sensitive topics like the Vietnam War with his songs Okie from Muskogee and Fightin Side of Me, Cash and Haggard teamed up quite often and sang about real life issues. They also shared a deep and close knit friendship. So in a way, his performances did bring about prison reform.
Country music is still celebrated as one of the gems of music, and will forever be one of the most unique and iconic genres in the history of humankind.