- International Country Music
Country Music is American. It started here. It’s ours. It isn’t something that we learned from some other nation, it isn’t something that we inherited. . . . It’s as native as anything American we could find.—President Richard Nixon, addressing the Grand Ole Opry on March 16, 1974 (quoted in Feder 2006:203)1
For years, many scholars have described country music as the music of the South. Most of the authors in this journal, however, take umbrage with Bill Malone and others’ “southern thesis,” and their articles demonstrate many ways in which the music indeed transcends that limitation. It could be deduced from these articles then, that country music is instead the music of America. But what exactly does that mean? Thanks to early song collecting trips by Olive Dame Campbell, Cecil Sharp, Jack Thorp, John Lomax, and other folklorists, we know that a handful of the songs in the early country music repertoire, found both in Appalachia and in the cowboy songs of the West, evolved from songs found in the British Isles and Ireland. The yodeling connection to country music draws its roots from the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Austrian Swiss traveling bands such as the Rainers and the Mosers, and the Hawaiian influence in country music has been significant since the 1920s. Even the early tailors who created the image of country music from the 1930s to the 1970s came from Poland (Nathan Turk and Rodeo Ben) and Russia (Nudie Cohn) and based much of their flashy western garment design on the national costumes of Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia (George-Warren and Freedman 2000:57). As the story goes, it was America that brought these and other foreign influences together and created from the stew a uniquely American form of expression called country music.
But early country music recording stars such as Carson Robison and Vernon Dalhart were making recordings in England as early as 1931. Music Publisher Gordon V. Thompson was in Canada and already recording Canadian country stars such as Wilf Carter and Don Messer by the end of the 1920s. And, of course, country music made in the United States has been making the rounds internationally for nearly a century. According to discographer Tony Russell, between 1921 and 1942, thousands of country music recordings made in the United States were pressed and distributed by both domestic and foreign companies throughout Australia, Britain, Canada, India, Ireland, and South Africa. India alone saw between three hundred and four hundred country music releases in that span (Russell 2008:32). By 1945, the Armed Forces Radio Service began broadcasting American country music, including their Melody Roundup transcriptions and snippets of the Grand Ole Opry, throughout the world and in the following years, independent record labels established their own international distribution networks to capitalize on their new global country music fan base. In the early 1960s, for example, Don Pierce was selling his Starday country music product in Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Yugoslavia, and [End Page 236] beyond (Gibson 2011:106). By the mid-sixties, local country music scenes could be found in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden.2
In the late 1950s, Tokyo had created its own Tokyo Grand Ole Opry and boasted of a sizeable bluegrass scene. In 1961, Eddie Wilson (real name Armin Edgar Schaible) scored two Top 25 hits in the German charts with his German lyrics “Danke Schön, Bitte Schön, Wiedersehen” and “Ich Bin Froh, Dass Ich Dich Los Bin” overdubbed onto early 1950s George Jones recordings, igniting a wave of country music popularity in Germany. In the 1970s, popular German-language country band Truck Stop nearly brought country music to Eurovision before Germany’s own Texas Lightning finally won the honor of introducing country...