Country Rock was developed during the ‘60’s, and flourished in the ‘70’s.
Many early rock artists were heavily exposed to country music, and began their careers by perfoming it. Some of the songs by artists like Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, and Carl Perkins were big hits on both the popular music charts and the country charts. Back then, the label applied to the music was usually “Rockabilly”.
American country music was also popular in England.
Growing up in the 1950’s, The Beatles were fans of Country & Western, as it was called then. While all of The Beatles liked Country, Ringo is the biggest fan. Among his vocal performances are songs by Buck Owens (“Act Naturally”) and Carl Perkins (“Matchbox” & “Honey Don’t”). The change to “Country Rock” started when The Beatles began using country elements in their own original songs.
In late 1964, The Beatles For Sale album (called Beatles ‘65 in the U.S.) had their first original song with a very country arrangement, ”I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”. Twenty-five years later, the song went to #1 on the country chart for Roseanne Cash. Also on Beatles For Sale was another original song done as a country waltz, “Baby’s In Black”, plus “Honey Don’t”, and the Buddy Holly song “Words Of Love”.
In a 2018 interview, former Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman said much of their interest in developing their own Country Rock sound came from The Beatles. McGuinn said it was hearing “Act Naturally”, and Hillman said for him it was “I’ve Just Seen A Face”. First, Chris Hillman convinced The Byrds to cover the country song “Satisfied Mind” in 1965. Then, he wrote three songs for their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday.
Those songs…”Time Between”, “Have You Seen Her Face” and “The Girl With No Name”…are great examples of Country Rock. The Byrds continued using country arrangements in 1967 and 1968 with popular songs like “Wasn’t Born To Follow” (country and psychedelic) and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (which featured pedal steel guitar). That one was on the highly influential album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in 1968.
The Byrds had added Gram Parsons to their group, and one of the album’s best tracks is Parsons’ classic “Hickory Wind”.
Another pioneering ’60’s band to do multiple country-oriented songs was The Lovin’ Spoonful. They had the Top 10 hit “Nashville Cats” in 1966, plus Johnny Cash & June Carter covered two of the group’s songs, “Darlin’ Companion” and “Lovin’ You”.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Springfield used country arrangements for some of their Rock songs from 1966 to 1968. From the ashes of the band’s breakup came Country Rock band Poco with Jim Messina and Richie Furay. Stephen Stills helped form CSN, and they recorded the now classic Country Rock song by Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”, in 1970. It featured a pedal steel guitar played by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.
One of the most popular bands in the late ’60’s and early 70’s was Creedence Clearwater Revival. They really fit in with the Country Rock sound, even though their style of music is most often called “Swamp Rock”.
Also in the late ‘60’s, other Country Rock bands formed. They included…The Flying Burrito Brothers, Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, and Pure Prairie League.
The singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970’s featured the more laid back side of Country Rock.
James Taylor certainly added to the appeal of country in popular music with such songs as “Sweet Baby James” and “Country Road” in 1970. Many other singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan (recorded in Nashville in the late ‘60’s), Dan Fogelberg, Jackson Browne, and J.D. Souther also contributed to the Country Rock sound.
The biggest breakout for Country Rock happened in 1972.
That was the year of the Eagles’ first album, which included “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. Neil Young had a #1 single with “Heart Of Gold” and the country-leaning #1 album Harvest. 1972 was the year of the band America’s first album featuring “A Horse With No Name”, another #1 hit. That year also gave us the The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen To The Music”, and one of the favorite Country Rock songs of all time, “Amie” from the Pure Prairie League album Bustin’ Out.
A little later came the reign of Country Rock leader Linda Ronstadt, who had been recording country-influenced albums and songs since 1967 (“Different Drum”, “Long Long Time”), and finally broke through big time in late 1974.
Country Rock artists successful in the ’70’s included Firefall (“You Are The Woman”, “Just Remember I Love You”), Little Feat (“Willin'”), Loggins & Messina (“Your Mama Don’t Dance”), The Band (“The Weight”, “Up On Cripple Creek”), and Poco (“Crazy Love”). Sometimes placed on Country Rock collections are songs by bands that fall under the label “Southern Rock”…Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, etc.
The most popular (best selling) album of all time is Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975). A testament to the power of Country Rock!