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Tracing the voices of Americana music

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The rise of Americana music is deeply rooted in the traditions of American folk, country, blues, and rock. One pivotal moment in this genre's history is marked by The Byrds' 1968 release of "You Ain't Going Nowhere," a song written by Bob Dylan. This track, from their album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," signaled a significant shift in rock music, intertwining it with country and folk influences, and laid the foundation for what would become known as Americana music.

The Byrds, already known for their folk-rock sound, took a bold step by incorporating traditional country elements, using instruments like the pedal steel guitar. This move was revolutionary, blending the poetic lyricism and raw simplicity of folk with the storytelling and instrumentation of country music. Dylan's influence was palpable, but the roots of Americana music extend further back to the legacy of Woody Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie, an iconic figure in American folk music, profoundly influenced the development of Americana. His songs, filled with social commentary and stories of the American experience, laid the groundwork for future artists to explore and expand upon. Guthrie's influence on Bob Dylan is well-documented, and through Dylan, Guthrie's spirit and ethos continued to permeate the evolving landscape of American music.

As Americana music grew, it embraced a wide array of influences, from the bluesy sounds of the Mississippi Delta to the Appalachian mountain music. Artists like Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and The Band furthered this fusion, creating a rich tapestry of sounds that celebrated American roots music.

Though Americana music might not dominate the mainstream charts today as it once did, it remains a vibrant and healthy genre. Contemporary artists like Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile, and The Avett Brothers continue to draw from the deep well of Americana traditions, infusing their music with authenticity and heart. Festivals dedicated to Americana, such as the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, attest to the genre's enduring appeal and dedicated fanbase.

In essence, Americana music, born from a melding of folk, country, and rock, has created a lasting legacy. It continues to thrive by staying true to its roots, celebrating the diverse and rich heritage of American music, even as it adapts to contemporary influences.

How did Americana originate and gain popularity? Whose stories helped shape the sound? How has it evolved over the decades and how do the sounds of Americana continue to shape and influence popular music?

Guest: Lee David Zimmerman, author of "Americana Music: Voices, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound"

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call 833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org.

This interview first aired on May 28, 2019.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi