Monday, June 30, 2008

Offbeat Genres: Countrypolitan

Countrypolitan, also known as the Nashville sound, is a genre of country music that came about in the late 50's in America. The style was characterized by crooning vocals, smooth strings, layers of keyboards and guitars, and backing vocal choirs. Whether or not you've heard the term "countrypolitan" used before, the style was created to bring country music to the mainstream. When Chet Atkins was asked to define the style, he jingled the change in his pocket and said, "It's the sound of money." The genre accomplished it goals by bringing pop elements to country music, replacing honky tonk as a dominant theme and favoring a wider audience. The movement was led by Chet Atkins, who headed the country division of RCA records. Countrypolitan music, officially termed in the late 60's, frequently crossed over to pop radio but also dominated the country charts through the 70s and 80s.

Early artists such as Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline paved the way for the Nashville sound, but as the style evolved to become even more pop-like to compete with the Bakersfield sound, artists such as Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich and Charley Pride guided its course. A split in country music formed: country listeners supported the Bakersfield and outlaw country artists, while Countrypolitan artists introduced their version of country music to the pop crowd.

Recognizable country tracks such as "I Fall To Pieces" by Patsy Cline (1961), "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis (1963) and "Make the World Go Away" by Eddy Arnold (1965) dominated during the days of the Nashville sound. Later music, officially termed Countrypolitan, included "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley (1969), "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden" by Lynn Andrerson (1971), and "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell (1975) as well as tracks by Charley Pride, Charley Rich, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap. A group of backing musicians known as the "Nashville A-Team" personified the versatility of the Countrypolitan style, incorporating pop and jazz into their recordings. With an assortment of talented members such as Hank Garland, Floyd Cramer, Bob Moore, and Boots Randolph, this group performed backing instrumentation for Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, and many others.

While few artists of today can call themselves classically Countrypolitan, the music itself is finding its way to live on. In 1999, a group of industry leaders met at South by Southwest (a behemoth of a music convention in Austin, Texas), and discussed the promotion of a style of country music called Americana. This genre would give country music a way to showcase traditional music on the airwaves, bypassing the increasing shift by most country stations towards the more contemporary style mainstream listeners demand. What was once the 'new school' style of country has been overtaken by its own philosophy. Today's country music is becoming even more pop-oriented, with artists such as Jewel, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift being featured on both pop and country stations. Today's split between country pop and Americana has turned the tables on Countrypolitan fans, and those who once demanded modernization are now chanting "out with the new, and in with the old!"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Camp Rock" Weekend Debut for Jonas Brothers

This weekend, Disney's original movie "Camp Rock" debuted to 8.9 million total viewers, becoming the network's number 2 most-watched original movie debut, second only to High School Musical 2. The film, which features musical performances from the Jonas Brothers, drew 3.5 million kids age 6-11 and 3.4 tweens age 9-14, which, according to Disney, outnumbered the recent American Idol season premiere and finale on Fox. Starring Joe Jonas as astray rock god Shane Grey and Demi Lovato as the talented yet uncertain Mitchie, "Camp Rock" tells the story of talented teens fighting for stardom at a prestigious summer camp for wannabe rockers. Musical numbers include the cast performance of "We Rock," as well as the Jonas Brothers' "Play My Music." Leads Joe Jonas and Lovato share the film's musical motif "This Is Me" in a duo remniscent of High School Musical's "Breaking Free" (performed by Zac Efron with Andrew Seeley and Vanessa Anne Hudgens). In February 2006, "Breaking Free" leapt from it's #86 Billboard Top 100 debut to #4 and spent 54 weeks on the charts. After the immediate success of "Camp Rock," we anticipate "This Is Me" becoming the next tweeniepop chart-stomper.

Also in the outlook for upcoming hits is the Jonas Brothers' new single, "Burnin' Up" from their soon-to-be-released CD "A Little Bit Longer." At the end of the film, the 'Jobros' premiered the music video for "Burnin' Up," which also features David Carradine and Disney star Selena Gomez. The album, to be released on August 12, 2008, will be the third for Nick, Kevin and Joe Jonas. "Burnin' Up" was officially released to radio stations on June 20.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Offbeat Genres: Swamp Pop

Pop, rock, country, classical, R&B and more: familiar genres, all with a defined set of characteristics and an undefined number of individual styles. Each of the forty songs on the Top 40 list might have been inspired from one of hundreds of different siblings in the same family, some original to the artist. With a veritable Baskin Robbins of musical genres to choose from, we thought you might like to try a few sample spoons. The first “offbeat genre” we’d like to bring you the history of Swamp Pop.

Swamp pop, created by young Cajuns and Creoles in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, is indigenous to the Acadiana region of southern Louisiana and part of nearby southeast Texas. It’s birth was influenced by New Orleans style R&B, country and western and traditional French Louisiana musical styles. The teens behind the style had grown up listening to and performing Cajun music and Creole (zydeco) as well as enjoying popular country and western hillbilly songs such as those by Hank Williams Sr. However, after discovering rock and roll and R&B artists like Elvis Presley and Fats Domino, the teens began to alter the traditional style. Rather than playing traditional folk instruments and singing in French, they began to sing in English (while later taking on Anglo-American stage names) and learned to play instruments such as the electric guitar and bass, saxophone and drum set. While many others in South Louisiana had emulated the New Orleans sound of Fats Domino and Earl King, the swampers were unique in integrating their own Cajun style into the music.

As the style grew, swamp pop artists gained a following by performing in local clubs and recording on local labels. Some swamp pop tunes also made it to larger national labels, including Nashville’s Excello. The music was then known as the Southern Louisiana Sound; the term swamp pop originated in the early ‘70’s, first used by British songwriters John Broven and Bill Millar after it’s gritty sound and the swamps surrounding Southern Louisiana. To this day, swamp pop has maintained an audience in southern Louisiana and southeast Texas, as well as a cult-like following in the UK, Northern Europe and Japan.

The swamp pop sound features a strong R&B backbeat, honky-tonk piano lines doubled by guitar and bluesy-bass progressions, and long-held whole notes on the horns. Many of the songs, with their emotional “scorned by love” lyrics are slow ballads, such as Cookie and the Cupcakes ‘Mathilda’ (1958), a song that is considered to be the anthem of swamp pop. Other songs are more upbeat, such Bobby Charles’ ‘See You Later Alligator’ (1955), which was covered by Bill Haley& His Comets. Despite the regionalized fan-base, some swamp pop songs did see the light of the U.S. national record charts, including Jimmy Clanton’s ‘Just A Dream’ (1958), Ron Bernard’s ‘This Should Go On Forever’ (1959), Joe Barry’s ‘I’m A Fool To Care’ (1960), and Dale and Grace’s ‘I’m Leaving It Up To You’ (1963). In fact, to date over 20 swap pop songs have appeared in the Billboard Hot 100, several of them reaching number 1, including Johnny Preston’s ‘Running Bear,’ (1959), Phil Phillips ‘Sea of Love, ’(1959).

Meanwhile, swamp pop’s influence can be heard in many other popular songs, including the Rolling Stones’ cover of Barbara Lynn’s ‘You’ll Lose A Good Thing,’ Elvis Presley’s remake of Johnny Ace’s ‘Pledging My Love’ the Beatles ‘Oh! Darling’ as well as the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Moreover, swamp pop influenced the musical styles of swamp blues and Tex-Mex, particularly the music of Freddy Fender, who is considered by those in southern Louisiana and Texas to be in the swamp pop fraternity.

Though swamp pop has declined since the British Invasion, the style has persisted in the hands of musicians such as Don Rich, Kenny Fife, Grace Broussard (formerly of Dale and Grace), and the “Ambassador to Swamp Pop,” Johnnie Allan. Recordings are available on both vintage albums and new compact discs, many of which can be found here, and the swamp pop festival is still a big to-do in parts of Southern Louisiana, particularly when put on in conjunction with a car show and the annual Swap Pop Beauty Queen pageant!

Cookie and The Cupcakes - ‘Matilda/Mathilda’

Bobby Charles – ‘See You Later Alligator’

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rising Stars: Duffy

If Amy Winehouse doesn’t get out of rehab soon, she may find that her niche has been dominated by the up-and-coming artist known as Duffy. The Welsh born Aimee Ann Duffy has already taken the UK by storm, and like Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Joss Stone, and Natasha Beddingfield has become part of British Invasion 2.0,an influx of female artists with unique styles who are beginning to dominate American charts. Her debut album, Rockberry (Polydor), debuted in March of ’08 in the UK after her single, 'Mercy', shot straight to the leading position in downloaded music sales. By April, 'Rockferry' was at the top of the Pan-European Album chart and in May, the single ‘Mercy’ became a staple song on VH1 and a hit on Adult Contemporary radio. It was also featured in television show and movie soundtracks, including ER, Smallville, the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy and Sex and the City: The Movie. On May 10, Duffy released a remix of ‘Mercy’ featuring rap artist The Game. Just three days later, 'Rockferry' was released in the US and debuted at number 4. By the end of the week, ‘Mercy’ was at the number 27 position on the Billboard Top 100 and Duffy was on a billboard in Times Square.

Though her success in the US was an inevitable follow to her domination of the UK, Duffy’s past has been anything but predicable. She was raised in Nefyn, on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, but moved to Pembrokeshire with her mother and sisters after her parents divorced. Duffy, however, felt closest to her father John; her interest in singing was inspired by his videotape of the 1960’s television rock show “Ready Steady Go!” Duffy began singing at the age of six and carried a notebook with her constantly, in which she scribbled lyrics. Due to the enormity of her voice, she was unable to blend in with her primary school choir and was asked to leave.

In 1998, Duffy was put in a safe house after police uncovered a plot by her stepfather’s ex-wife to hire a hitman to kill her stepfather. After having seen the way alcohol and drugs had influenced her stepfather’s ex-wife, Duffy made a decision to abstain from them. Throughout her teen years, Duffy sang in various local bands and competitions, coming in second on Wawffactor, a Welsh television show similar to American or Pop Idol. Duffy had expected that as a pop star, others would use her talent “as a vehicle for their vision” and not hers, but after she began to lose her passion for singing, she decided at the age 18 to make music for her own personal fulfillment. After graduating from high school and starting college at the University of Chester in England, she took a professor’s advice to “go on the dole, love, and become a singer.” She dropped out of school and took on odd jobs while recording a three song EP in 2004, and playing at various clubs. After being introduced to Rough Trade Records co-owner Jeanette Lee, Duffy moved to London and worked with Suede’s ex-guitarist Bernard Butler, who downloaded tracks by artists like Al Green, Beyonce, Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach onto her iPod to give her an “education in soul.” Together, they co-wrote music and helped create Duffy’s unique retro sound. In 2007, she was contracted to A&M Records.

Duffy soon gained immense popularity in Britain and Wales, performing on BBC2 television and coming in second in the annual BBC News poll known as Sound of 2008, a preview of up-and-coming hit-makers. She embarked on her first major tour, performing in the revered King Tuts venue in Glasgow. Wherever she has gone, she has met rave reviews, including remarks on her “unaffected personality and natural charm.”

With Bernard Butler and his musical partner David McAlmont forming the backbone of her band, Duffy released 'Rockferry' in March 3, 2008 on Polydor records. The record earned 2008 MOJO Awards nominations in the categories of Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Breakthrough Act. Her newest single, ‘Warwick Avenue’, hit the charts on June 2, 2008 and debuted at number 3.

At the age of 24, Duffy has already become an international sensation, combining throwbacks to 1960’s soul and jazz with a contemporary edge to appeal to the masses. Her music will resonate with young and old alike, as her voice has been compareded to both Dusty Springfield and Amy Winehouse. Indeed, Duffy’s voice may have been too big for the primary school choir, but the world wants more.

Official Music Video – ‘Mercy’ by Duffy

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Shave And A Haircut...

Bo Diddley, distinctive rock 'n roller and creator of the well-known "shave and a haircut, two bits" rhythm died Monday at the age of 79. He had struggled with poor health for months, having suffered both a stroke and a heart attack within the last year. Diddley will be remembered for his square guitar, dark glasses, black hat with eagle badge and, of course, his great contribution in the early days of rock 'n roll. As Rolling Stone magazine writes: "History belongs to the victors and in the annals of rock & roll, three men have emerged as winners: Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, a holy trinity who were there at the start." In fact, Diddley claims that Alan Freed was talking about him when he introduced the term "rock and roll" into the culture, saying, "Here is a man with an original sound, who is going to rock and roll you right out of your seat." Prior to this, disc jockey's referred to Diddley's style as "Jungle Music."

Diddley was born as Ellas Bates on December 30, 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, but after being adopted by his mother's cousin he took on the name Ellis McDaniel. He told reporters that the moniker "Bo Diddley" was bestowed upon him by fellow children who grew up with him in Chicago, but others cite the name as having origins in the traditional blues instrument called a diddley bow. At the age of five, Diddley began to play the violin at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, an instrument he studied for twelve years and wrote two concertos on. For Christmas in 1940, his sister Lucille bought him his first guitar, a Harmony Acoustic. At the age of 10, he was entertaining passersby on street corners and by his teens, he was playing Chicago's Maxwell Street and developing his unique style Diddley had always been fascinated with the rhythms he heard in church music, but as he became frustrated with attempting to match them on the drums, he translated them for the guitar.

He formed his first band just before leaving school, a trio a named The Hipsters, later known as The Langley Avenue Jive Cats, after the Chicago street where he lived. After playing various Chicago clubs and streetcorners and joining with Jerome Green and Billy Boy Arnold, Diddley was able to cut two demos, "I'm A Man" and "Uncle John." At first, he was turned down by the labels, notably Vee-Jay. It was Leonard and Phil Chess of Chess Records who gave him his break, offering a recording session and suggesting that he change "Uncle John" to make it more personal. His first single, the much more personalized "Bo Diddley," was released in 1955; the B side "I'm A Man" was a humorous take on stereotypical male machismo.

Diddley's influence was vast. Buddy Holly borrowed the "bomp ba-bomp bomp bomp..." rhythm in his song, "Not Fade Away," which in 1964 became the first charting single in the US for the Rolling Stones. In the following year, the British band 'The Yardbirds' had a Top 20 hit in the U.S. with Diddley's "I'm A Man." Other artists, such as the Who, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello took lessons from Diddley's style. Diddley, however, was displeased that others had copied his style, saying, "I don't have any idols I copied after, [but] they copied everything I did, upgraded it, messed it up."

Diddley's innovation's went beyond music composition, as he helped pioneer the electric guitar and rigged it for effects such as reverb and tremelo. E. Michael Harrington, professor of music theory and composition at Belmont University, said: "He treats it like a drum, very rhythmic." Furthermore, he pre-dates most artists on his use of psychedelic guitar sounds, wild stage shows complete with strut and bizarre guitar tricks, female musicians such as Lady Bo, and even rapping.

Despite being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, earning a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame and receiving a lifetime achievement award at the 1999 Grammy's, Diddley said, "it didn't put no figures in my checkbook." He was paid a flat rate rather than a royalty, and reported receiving very little of the money he made during his career, and as a result continued to tour and record music up until his recent stroke. Even in his later years, he continued to innovate, saying, "I ain't quit yet."