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April 13

Answering “What is Country,” “Country Is” by Tom T. Hall

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Answering "What is Country," “Country Is” by Tom T. Hall 1

The Question

On Billboard Magazine’s issue dated December 7, 1974, a story titled “What Is Country Music? Chart Reflect Confusion.” The article pointed to a division among country radio programmers about how to deal with the influx of artists from the pop playlists. It included CMA award-winners as John Denver and Olivia Newton-John. Even twenty years later this was still a hot topic. It was re-introduced to the forefront by Bob McDill’s classic composition “Gone Country.” The song was brought to the top of the charts through Alan Jackson’s 1994 hit.

Everybody knows that long before 1974, performers had straddled multiple charts for years. However, the issue had suddenly become controversial. In reaction, some radio stations took a hardline stance against records perceived as “non-country.” Likewise, fifty Nashville performers formed the Association of Country Entertainers (ACE). The organization’s attempts to promote real country music alienated and eliminated several of the pop artists.

Tom T. Hall’s Answer

“What Is Country?” was already being handled at the time by the astute Tom T. Hall. His hit reached No. 1 during the peak of the controversy with “Country Is.” The song’s origins, Tom T. Hall reflected that since he had an inclination toward prose. He would sometimes write the liner notes for his own albums and decided to do one definition of what country music is to him. His liner notes turned into a song instead. Hall brought up some very good points in his tune. However, after it was all said and done, Tom T. Hall insisted that Kris Kristofferson said it best:

“If it sounds country, it’s country.”

Ironically, with the single just before “Country Is,” Tom T. Hall had tested country’s limits himself with his infectious little tune called “That Song Is Driving Me Crazy.” Tom resigned from the Grand Ole Opry at the time, claiming that he wouldn’t be allowed to perform with horns on stage. The Opry also forbade drums for many years, keeping Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys off the show in the 1940s. I believe both rules have since been lifted.


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Storyteller, tom t hall


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