Texas Music Is More Than Just Cowboys and Country

By Melanie Ledbetter-RemyFebruary 22nd, 2013Texas Folk Music, Texas Lyrics and Ballads, Texas Musician, Texas SongwriterNo Comments

With a culture that embraces the Old West, it can be easy to label the music of Texas as country fare and move on, but when they say everything is bigger in Texas, they mean the music too. For every Kenny Rogers or George Strait, there’s a Janis Joplin or ZZ Top. To limit a Texas musician to country ignores all of the state’s contributions to genres like folk, rock, blues, Tejano and even hip hop. Texas has long been a center for music, and its culture continues to influence the sounds of today.

Even Cowboys Get the Blues

Texas blues places a heavy emphasis on the use of the guitar and has even made some styles of playing famous like the slide guitar. African Americans, who provided the manual labor for many ranches and oilfields, brought the sounds of the South along with them along with a host of famous musicians of the genre, such as Big Mama Thornton, whose hit song “Hound Dog” would go on to be a major hit for Elvis Presley, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, who was named by Rolling Stone as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. The popularity of the blues in Texas eventually faded, but it was soon revived by a Texas songwriter by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Under his influence, the genre took a cue from artists like Jimi Hendrix and transformed the blues into a rock-driven sound.

It’s Not All Buddy Holly

With the ’50s love affair with rock, it wasn’t long before a few good ol’ country boys showed the nation how to do it right. Rockabilly, a combination of the words “rock” and “hillbilly,” blended the chord progressions and rhythms of blues, jazz and country music with the heavier sound of the double bass, accentuated with guitar-driven riffs. While musicians like Roy Orbison were crooning out Texas lyrics and ballads that were as emotionally charged as they were operatic, Janis Joplin brought her own combination of Texas folk music and blues to the shifting rock scene. Since these legends, Texas rock has enjoyed great diversity in the rock genre whether it’s from artists like its native punk band The Skunks or the psychedelic group Tripping Daisy.

Tex-Mex Isn’t Just a Cuisine

Tejano music blends the sounds of Cajun zydeco, German polka and Mexican ranchera for a truly multicultural combination. Selena, the Queen of Tejano, brought recognition to this genre, and while she was hailed as the Madonna of Mexican music, she recorded songs in English as well. Her album Dreaming of You was the first album from a Hispanic singer to top the U.S. Billboard 200. Tejano music is currently on the decline, but with origins dating all the way back to the 19th century, the genre has enjoyed a long run as an influence on Texas music and culture.

The Dirty South

Hip hop culture primarily emerged from the West Coast and back East, but Southern hip hop traces its history back to the ’80s. With the rise of the Geto Boys, Houston joined the list of cities known for hip hop music. While New Orleans pioneered “bounce,” Miami had its “Miami bass,” and Memphis created “crunk,” the Houston style “chopped and screwed” placed emphasis on skipping beats and record scratching. The subgenre avoids the energetic and upbeat sounds of other Southern hip hop, instead slowing down the beat to allow for storytelling. In fact, The Source ranked Scarface as one of its top lyricists of all time.

Clinging To Its Roots

While Texas music is not all country music, the state still pays homage to its roots. Honky-tonk country takes its cues from ragtime but incorporates other instruments like the fiddle and steel guitar. The lyrics are equally important to the male-dominated genre, depicting the working-class life and all of its struggles. While the state’s music is varied, it is perhaps country music that best tells its history, and the genre enjoys immense popularity even today for its “take it or leave it” approach to the truth.

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