I love rock and roll, but if you want to hear any kind of rock and roll made in the last 30 or so years, you’ll have to go to a genre of music called Americana. While the name Americana is evocative of furniture, it is a reference to the roots form of music that created rock and roll.
The record industry created “the charts” in an effort to market music to the public. The industry of music is based around sales, something the romantic part of me doesn’t love to accept. Everything is a business, but not MY Exile On Main Street! Not MY Blonde On Blonde, Not MY Rubber Soul!
Back to the music: Americana entails everything that every had anything to do with rock and roll – straight Robert Johnson Blues, via the Rolling Stones, Freddie King via Eric Clapton, Albert King via Stevie Ray, The Beatles via the Everly Brothers, Bruce via Dylan via Woody and on. Everything touches everything.
There are many Superheroes in Americana. Lucinda is Wonderwoman. Steve Earle is Captain America, Willie Nelson is Superman, McCartney is Batman. Dylan is the Superhero known as Dylan – no first name like in the 1960s when he first came out.
Back to the business: While it all sounds wonderfully romantic like the song, “When a Man Loves A Woman,” the reality of being the dude out in the rain because “that’s the way she says it ought to be” doesn’t sound like the kind of fun a character in a Beach Boys song might have. And the Beach Boys too are Americana! But so are the “Texas Singer/Songwriters,” the bluegrass players, the retro-style rockabilly acts. These are all phases that Americana has gone through.
Straight country music is very pop-oriented but it often features a rock and roll guitar sound. This is the rebellious sound of the Kinks, Led Zep and Skynard. And the players behind modern country grew up on The Stones, Joni Mitchell and Tom Petty. These musicians learned their colors through: Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The White Stripes, Pink Floyd, and Green Day.
Back to the music: It’s all about the song! And the songs are amazing. Americana is built on songwriters from Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson to Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams. Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Buddy Miller are stars for their songwriting. John Hiatt is an important act. The Mavericks and Los Lobos are the bands performing right now that smoke the roof off of joints every night. Jackie Greene, who is being produced by Steve Berlin, from Los Lobos is killing it. Meanwhile Sturgill Simpson is going deep, and Shakey Graves is letting us into his living room – and his living room is fun. Americana music is blessed with great female talent. Nikki Lane brings the sexy in a post-modern rock and roll way. Mary Gauthier is Lou Reed, Lindi Ortega is raw power like Amy Winehouse, Bonnie Raitt is still Queen.
Back to business: There are many other bands. Cutting-edge bands are coming out everywhere from Brooklyn to Nashville to North Carolina to California. It is truly a golden age in terms of an explosion of interesting songwriters and the characters who can tell the stories. But Americana records don’t sell on the scale of pop records. Sixty thousand in sales is huge for Americana. Legends like Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Don Henley and Bob Dylan are now considered Americana acts. You never hear a new Dylan song on classic rock radio. Radio is still important, and radio is a business. The concept of payola, while a strong part of the history of rock and roll, is really just a legend. Did Alan Freed take money to “promote” a Chuck Berry record? That music would not have caught on if it weren’t great.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us with lots of fun music to listen to, and Americana bands tend to wear out the road touring. There is nothing like hearing a band who’s become tight from touring the old fashion way. You feel like you are in the Cavern Club! You have to see the great Mike Farris perform live. He just won a Grammy, but you never heard of him. See Elizabeth Cook and have the time of your life. Check out Julia Haltigan if you are in new York City on a Tuesday night. You might even run into Steve Earle or one of his band members there, since they are big fans of Julia’s.
Whatever you do and where ever you are support live music, and I promise you that you will hear some of the most beautiful songs played by the finest musicians, probably right in your backyard – that’s where Americana grows.
(C) 2019 Dan Dubelman