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Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes? A Look At Country Music Over The Past 30 Years

Updated on August 5, 2015

The year was 1985...

Country Music was experiencing a series of good times then and George Jones, the old Possum asked a question that we in 2015 can now answer: Who's gonna fill their shoes? The intent behind the question was who is going to carry Country Music forward, building upon the foundation laid down by those who had gone before, the ground breakers, the innovators, as well as the purists of the music. Let's take a look at some of those he spoke of in the song/video and recall just what they meant to the genre, then take a look at who has come in the years since that question was asked. Who knows, we might even take a glance at who is carrying the flag today and moving into the next thirty years.

First, though, let's take a look at the video and remember...

Marty Robbins
Marty Robbins | Source
Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash | Source

Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow, Webb Pierce. Buddy, that's a Hall of Fame list of solid country gold if there ever was one. There is some crossover, as it's called now, in Elvis, Jerry Lee and Conway, maybe a bit of Roy Orbison thrown in but by and large that's country music through and through. Let's take a look at the standard which was set by these artists.

Waylon Jennings, 54 albums, 11 #1 albums; 96 singles hit the charts with 16 reaching #1. I think my favorite Waylon song was Luckenbach, Texas. Just a great, great song.

Willie Nelson, singer/songwriter/legend. Can anyone total the number of hits this man has either for himself or others? Really? Some of his best works went to others such as Hello Walls and Crazy, although he later released this one for himself. Suffice it to say his fingerprint (and boot print) is firmly stamped in Country Music for all time. My favorite song of his is hard for me to choose. As a writer, Crazy is to me the greatest country song ever performed by a female and as a singer I can't get past My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys without a wistful smile and a tear.

Johnny Cash, the Man in Black. When you have a movie made about your life, I'd say you made it, wouldn't you? Considered by many to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he is in three separate Hall of Fames: Country, Rock and Gospel. While he may have been a hell raiser in his youth as he aged he became like a fine wine, smooth, sure and comforting. Have you heard the recordings, done when Sam Phillips of Sun Records left the tape running as he, Elvis, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins just began to jam and sing? Check out The Million Dollar Quartet if you haven't. In those days, a million was a lot of money; today that same group might be a billion dollar quartet or more. As for my favorite song of his, Folsom Prison Blues is hard to beat.

Merle Haggard, the Okie from Muskogee himself. I fell in love with his music as a kid and still love it today. A truly talented singer/songwriter who could play multiple instruments, The Hag is another of those cornerstone artists, one others measure themselves against. Whether he was singing about home in Okie From Muskogee or about prison in Sing Me Back Home he touched a special place in people across the country. But he didn't stop; not then not ever. He continued to release new material and continues to tour the country even today. To this point he has had 38 #1 hits. My favorite is one of those, Sing Me Back Home.

Conway Twitty, he of the fifty-five (that's 55) number one hit records. This record stood until George Strait surpassed it in 2006, and had King George not come along I can't think of anyone else who could approach it, much less break it, can you? Now, some of those hits weren't exactly my cup of tea, but what do I know. I do know that Hello Darlin' is a true classic as is It's Only Make Believe and That's My Job. The opening words to Hello Darlin' may be the best known song lyrics in the business, spoken in that quiet, graveley voice before rising to a pitch few can reach. Masterful!

More Country Classic Artists

Patsy Cline, she of the velvet voice that leaves me in complete awe. Crazy, as I stated is the best song EVER by a female artist, but beyond that lies Walkin' After Midnight, Leavin' On Your Mind and Sweet Dreams. Ahh, Sweet Dreams indeed! What a voice!

Carl Perkins, possibly the Father of Rockabilly; Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb were two of the cornerstones of the craft and of the Grand Ole Opry; Jerry Lee and Elvis turned music on its collective ear; Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow and Webb Pierce might be supporting the other corners of the art, and what can you say about Marty Robbins? Master showman, singer, songwriter, person. He was perhaps my favorite artist of all time and his songs speak to me in a manner that hasn't changed in fifty years now. I doubt they ever will.

And then, there's Hank Williams. Perhaps the greatest of them all, ol' Luke the drifter was gone far, far before his time. His songs about heartache and the pain of love are sad and his line from I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (the silence of a falling star, lights up a purple sky, and as I wonder where you are I'm so lonesome I could cry) is, to me, the most perfect line in all of music history. The image that line conjours up cannot be improved upon.

So, who's gonne fill those shoes? Well, let's take a gander, shall we?

The 1980's

The 80's saw artists like Lee Greenwood, Dwight Yoakam, and Dan Seals rise to the top of the charts. There was also Johnny's daughter Rosanne Cash and her Tennessee Flattop Box and Seven Year Ache; Alabama, The Judd's, Kathy Mattea, John Conlee and John Anderson who came into our cars and living rooms. John Anderson was The Black Sheep Of The Family while he was Swingin' and Mr. Conlee told of life on The Back Side Of 30 and looking through his Rose Colored Glasses. Loretta Lynn continued to be a strong force and her sister Crystal Gayle achieved stardom as well. Dolly Parton became perhaps the force of the decade by her songs and her acting. Suzy Bogguss asked the question on how to play poker (Aces) and David Frizzell and Shelly West let us know that You're The Reason God Made Oklahoma. All in all, a pretty good group.

But staying power? Most drifted away to some degree, not continuing to dominate the way the preceding group of artists did. But there was this guy from Texas, this young cowboy who came to dominate the charts in a manner like no one else. George Harvey Strait arrived on the charts in 1981 and stayed around for a long time. I suppose he is one of those we can say has carried the torch. We'll make him the artist of the 80's to fill a shoe.

Ronnie Milsap was another who performed tirelessly, wrote wonderful songs and did his job to make sure Country stayed true to its roots. Beyond that, there aren't many who've continued in the string of those who came before and had that long-lived career.

The 1990's

Then came the 90's and a group of artists who molded Country Music once more. Garth Brooks stormed onto the stage and brought in a whole new mass of people who weren't Country before with him. His rough and tumble style combined with a soulful side to open new doors to the people. Ranging from If Tomorrow Never Comes to The Thunder Rolls to Friends In Low Places Brooks brought his fun loving swagger to a part of America that didn't know they were country.

Alan Jackson hit the scene in 1990 with Here In The Real World and his easy, down home manner struck a chord with Country Music lovers. He continued his strong beginning throughout the decade and is one of those who carried on the sanctity of the music genre: pure country. No big flash, no hopping around on stage, no crossover hits (well, none intentionally) just country music at its best. He even gently jabbed at those who felt Country was an easy way to the money in his song Gone Country. But to me, his best work was done after our country's greatest tragedy when he performed Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning. That song struck me right in the heart and the fact that the proceeds from the song were given to charities directly associated with the Twin Towers tragedy just made it even better. When asked about the song and how it was written, Jackson replied "I think it was Hank Williams who said "God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.". That's the way I felt with this song." Another of his songs that I hold dear is Remember When. The story he tells of a couple going through Life together and recalling it in the latter stages of togetherness is one of the most heart touching songs I know of. Here's to you, Alan. Thank you.

So, I will add these to performers to the mix on who's gonna fill some shoes in Country Music.

What decade held your favorite Country Music?

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Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley | Source

The 2000's

As we move into the new millennium, the pure, sweet waters of Country Music are becoming a bit muddy. For all of Garth Brooks' good intention, he brought a bit of the rock/pop/other into its cleanliness and as a result Country wasn't Country anymore. Just ask George and Alan, when they sang Murder On Music Row. Fiddles cannot be heard anymore, nor other focal points of the genre heard such as a steel guitar played. It saddened me to realize it but my favorite music wasn't music anymore in the eyes of Nashville. It had changed; morphed into a new form of country which I generally didn't like. Oh, there are a few such as Craig Morgan, who I saw singing for my dinner one year in Kansas City at a WalMart convention early in the 2000's but by and large there are a very select few who carry the Country tradition. His song That's What I Love About Sunday is pure country, speaking about life, love and family to perfection. And if you sing a song about International Harvester, well buddy that's country! I first heard that song on a little two lane highway while driving behind an International Harvester trying to get around. I was the fifth car in line behind it and thar jes' waren't no gettin' 'round that thar thang! But I laughed at the perfect timing and how true to life that song was. And if you have a wonderful wife, then you know the truth behind his song Tough.

Rascal Flatts is pretty good, as is Brad Paisley. Alison Krauss is an amazing performer and her traditional Bluegrass is amongst my favorites. Tim McGraw is acceptable as long as he is Country and not Pop; I can't stand Pop. Toby Keith is a strong performer but at times he verges on something other than Country, although if you do a duet with Willie you can't be too pop.

But Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift aren't Country to me; sorry. And Keith Urban may appear Country but I think he crosses the line a bit too. Carrie Underwood is more Pop than country as well so cannot be counted to carry the torch moving forward.

So, In Conclusion...

Although there were some mighty big shoes to fill, there are some performers who have done well in the intervening thirty years since the Possum asked his question. Stars such as Waylon, Johnny, Merle, Conway and Hank have passed the torch to George, Alan, Garth, Craig and Brad. Songs like I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry are supported by Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys became I Can Still Make Cheyenne, while Crazy became Amarillo By Morning. All standards of the Country Music genre, and still going strong today.

I fear now who's gonna fill this generation's shoes. Who will be the next George and Alan? Who will maintain Country's sanctity and purity, not allowing it to become Pop/Country or Punk/Country? Or even something worse? Who will carry the Bluegrass torch and be the next Allison Krauss?

Is anybody out there? Only time will tell and some other soul will have to pick up where I leave off because I doubt I will be able to tell the tale in another thirty years or so.

Good luck to you! But for now I'll leave you with a song I just heard; it's a good one and tells a story that I can relate to.


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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I appreciate you trying! The important thing is that we both enjoy listening to the music. You take care too and enjoy the rest of your week, Mike.


    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Well I tried! You take care Ann, and enjoy the music. I go through phases where I am enjoying it then listen to nothing before coming back to it once more.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Didn't like the sound or the 'feel' of the last video I'm afraid.

      Youtube is not something I tend to do; I spend too much time on the computer with hubpages already! What I do like to do is have my music blaring out during the day, depending on the mood, either at home or especially in the car.

      Ann :)

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Ann, Thank you for taking the time to read and listen then reply. What did you think of that last video? I think he nailed it perfectly regarding what the industry is doing, don't you? Talent should win out yet all too often the "look" takes precedence. I have a "Watch Later" section on Youtube that I can select videos to watch then they play continuously. I will have anywhere from 100 to 200 songs lined up and listen to during the work day, playing softly in the background. You take care, okay? Take care, Ann.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      I love country music; we have folk music here but that's just heritage/traditional stuff which I'm not that keen on. Country music has to be American, has to follow that beat or have that emotion and 'angst'. George Strait and Garth Brooks were favourites of mine.

      I agree that there doesn't seem to be 'real' country any more, though that's not to say there aren't some good performers in that genre.

      Great hub. It's good to go back and remember some of the greats. I think there'll be some more in time.


    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      I was country when country wasn't cool! Take care Cheyenne.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Funny, I was thinking of a Charlie Daniels concert I attended when I was listening to the video. Hmm. Given the concerts I've mentioned here, I guess I'm more country than I realized!

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Yeah, I did too. Loved the quiet flow of the song, reminded me of a CDB song. Take care, Chey!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Just did. I love his to-hell-with-y'all message!

      I need to catch the two before the last also. I didn't get through them all the first time around - had to leave the house for a bit.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Bill, the music is changing and I don't like it either. I'm a country boy born and bred. I may like old rock n roll too but leave my country alone! I liked Garth but when he went all Chris whatsname he lost me. From there, Country never returned full force. Sad buddy, sad.

      Cheyenne, glad you found it at any point. Willie is great, has been great, always will be great. Not the best voice but the sentiment and talent you can't argue with. I have seen Toby once; good show. Did you listen to the final video? That's a new artist "keepin' it real" and I loved it. Maybe, just maybe he'll fill one of those boots. Thanks guys; ya'll take care now, y'hear?

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      Mike, I love this musical hub. I didn't really start getting into country music until lately, but I've always loved Willie Nelson. So much so that I've seen him in concert four times!

      I saw Toby Keith several years ago, too. I was sooooo hoping Willie would show up to sing "Beer for my Horses" with him. He didn't though. Damn! :-)

      In recent years there certainly has been a cross-over in country music. To me, it seems completely out of place when a "country" singer has no southern drawl when s/he speaks. Maybe I'm being silly and generalizing, but it always strikes me as odd.

      Anyway, I love this piece. Them's some mighty big boots to fill. Don't know if any of today's artists can.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It's an interesting viewpoint, Mike. I've heard some performers talk about this. There is no doubt that country music is swinging over to the pop end of the spectrum. It's pretty easy to understand why; that doesn't mean I like it. I love Garth Brooks, but it seems that since the late 90s we have seen a quantum shift in style and that I don't like.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Thanks Larry; for the most part I agree but I heard a song just yesterday that made me smile and appreciate that there are those out there who are keepin' it real. I neglected to add the video in to my hub but have now corrected it. Check it out!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      I find the music industry in general is passing up on talent to create prefab bands composed of pretty people with no personality.