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Issue 27 - The spirit of country-and-western

Whisky Magazine Issue 27
November 2002

 

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The spirit of country-and-western

Jefferson Chase explains how you can't take the whisley out of country-and-western

To say that whiskey has influenced country-and-western is like saying that Catholicism influences the Pope. The list of country-and-western drinking songs runs from Cigareets, Whusky and Wild, Wild Women to Sick, Sober and Sorry. There's an old joke: “What do you get when you play a country record backwards? Answer: You get your house back, you get your wife back, your momma gets out of prison and you get sober.” But alcohol – and specifically whiskey – is not just a song topic, but an integral part of the song writing process. So much so that the abbreviation C & W could also stand for ‘country and whiskey'.

American whiskey and music evolved together. Whiskey had been produced in the United States since at least the 1770s, but the art of distilling took a leap forward in the mid-1800s with the arrival of waves of Scottish and Irish immigrants to the Appalachian mountains region. Rural, isolated and largely impoverished, the area had two chief forms of entertainment: home made spirits and home made music. The first country groups were literally jug bands, and if you've ever wondered why country vocalists sing so funny, the answer lies in the pentatonic scales of Scottish and Irish folk songs. Johnny Cash performs Mary of the Wild Moors on his most recent record, Solitary Man, and traditionals like Whiskey Before Breakfast remain standard in the country repertoire.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, however, country isn't just white folks' music. The banjo is a vari...

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