The Roots of Country Rock

Essential Question

How did Country Music influence Rock and Roll and the musicians who made it?


Long before there was a thing called Country Rock, Rock and Roll was deeply entwined with Country music. One could go so far as to say that without Country, there would be no Rock and Roll, Soul Music would be different in character, and the Rolling Stones would be a another band altogether. So, in some respects, the merger of Country and Rock shouldn’t have surprised anyone when, in the late 60s and 70s, Bob Dylan released Nashville Skyline, the Byrds released Sweetheart of the Rodeo, the Flying Burrito Brothers formed, bands such as the Eagles came together, and the term “Country Rock” was put into circulation. When it comes to Rock, Country had, simply put, been there all the while. However, what the above acts did, in this particular historical passage, was to give Country a new emphasis.

This lesson looks to some of the early cross-pollination between Country and Rock and Roll. Taking Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” as an example drawn from early Rock and Roll, students will have the chance to see and hear Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys perform “Ida Red,” the song Berry said provided source material for “Maybellene.” In addition, students will watch two clips of Johnny Cash performing, engaging in a discussion of why it was that Bob Dylan might have felt a kinship with Cash, enough so that he asked Cash to record a duet of “Girl from the North Country,” the track that would open Dylan’s Nashville Skyline.

Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis: all grew up with Country. Jerry Lee Lewis, when citing his three greatest influences, put Jimmie Rodgers, the so-called “Father of Country Music” at the top of the list. In the years following his Rock and Roll career, Lewis would even change his direction and pursue what became a wildly successful Country career. Bob Dylan, years after Nashville Skyline, would bring together a group of artists for a Jimmie Rodgers tribute album. And Hank Williams is regularly cited as one of Rock and Roll’s founding fathers, by the likes of Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen. Among African-American artists, the influence of Country was also strong. Taking Ray Charles’ album Modern Sounds in Country Music as a kind of case study, students will consider just what an artist associated with R&B did with a song that came straight out of Country. And, finally, students will have a chance to write their own responses to this question: why did early Country matter to musicians in both the black and white communities?

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The manner in which Country music influenced Rock and Roll from the beginning
    • The way Chuck Berry borrowed from a Country song to write the early Rock and Roll hit “Maybellene”
    • The influence of Country music on both white and black performers of the Rock and Roll era​
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Extrapolate arguments about music by assessing sound, mood, tone, instrumentation
    • Draw connections among various print, audio and visual texts
    • Write creatively for personal and/or small group expression
    • Compare and contrast texts, arguments and ideas
    • Common Core: Students will closely read a text (a music review) to identify and evaluate the claims made by the reviewer (CCSS Reading 8; CCSS Speaking and Listening 2)
    • ​Common Core: Students will either take a position on the music review (CCSS Writing 1) or write a short story (CCSS Writing 3) or explain the role and influence of musical artists (CCSS Writing 2; CCSS Writing 10)