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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: Inside Outlaw Country

by Linda Ryan

Cheat Sheet: Inside Outlaw Country


In the 1960s, most of the country charts were controlled by a handful of Nashville producers, and their fondness for lush string sections, syrupy background vocals and corny lyrics came to be known as the Nashville sound. At the same time, rock 'n' roll artists who mostly wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and had a hand in shaping their own sound while in the recording studio were showing a growing number of young, blue-collar country lovers a different way of making music.

But back in Nashville, it was business as usual, which meant session musicians played, the singer sang and the producer added all the sonic "extras." Fed up with the way things were, Willie Nelson left Nashville in 1971 and headed back to Texas. Around the same time, Waylon Jennings' manager, Neil Reshen, hounded, badgered and harassed his record label to let the singer have complete creative control and produce his own records. In 1973, RCA released Jennings' Lonesome, On'ry and Mean to commercial and critical success. After that, the floodgates opened.

Here's a playlist with songs from the original players in the outlaw movement, plus some artists who buck the current Nashville norm: Link Outlaw Country: Old-School Classics and Future Gems.

Continue on to read reviews of key albums in the genre.

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