Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Winterfolk XVIII A Roaring Success

The 28th edition of Toronto's annual wintertime music showcase, Winterfolk Blues and Roots Festival, celebrated music, activism and creativity at its new home this past weekend (February 21 to 23).  Moving from the festival's traditional home along the clubs and pubs of the Danforth to its new home in the Annex at the Tranzac Club and Annex Hotel, the switch proved to be popular among festival-goers as the artists played to consistently packed rooms all weekend. Over 100 artists played in five separate rooms.

The festival began with a stellar ticketed event highligting the musical diversity of Winterfolk with a showcase of Blues and Blue Grass featuring sets by Toronto blues mainstays Ken Whiteley, Chris Whiteley and Diana Braithwaite, along with old-school country artists The Layrite Boys. This show highlights the history of modern North American music as blues and bluegrass are among the earliest forms of popular music this side of the Atlantic.

Saturday's highlights included a wonderful set by Alfie Smith and Nicole Christian. Alfie treated the crowd to some great blues guitar with "Sitting on Top of The World," while Nicole shared the story of receiving author Steven King's blessing for a song titled "Barn Dance." This show was heavy on the blues and Americana. Both artists are a treat to watch and will be playing a couple of shows over the course of the summer in Hamilton and Pelee Island, Ontario. 

Saturday evening sessions were highlighted with a special showcase featuring some of the country's finest folk and Americana musicians, with Jon Brooks delivering a beautiful guitar heavy performance. Singer-songwriter extraordinaire Lynn Miles, along with guitarist Wendall Ferguson, delivered a stellar performance which highlighted Miles' fantastic songwriting. "Merle," a song inspired by the passing of the great Merle Haggard reminded everyone of the importance of Mr. Haggard as an artist and influencer to musicians and songwriters everywhere. Special guest Clare Lynch appeared for two songs and provided high harmonies on "Old Soul," a track from a previous album.

Pure folk duo Sue and Dwight played a few sets over the weekend with a special performance that paid homage to 1960's era folk on Sunday afternoon. Sue and Dwight had the good sense to provide the audience with lyric sheets to all of the songs to be performed during this session, which resulted in the first sing-along of Winterfolk weekend. An additional set featuring the greatest hits of Peter, Paul and Mary was very well received, as the duo featured hits by the groundbreaking 60's group, such as "If I Had My Way," "500 Miles," and their version of the John Denver classic "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Sue and Dwight perform similar sets regularly at the Free Times Café in Toronto, the third Wednesday of every month.

Perhaps the finest showcase of the weekend took place with the Sunday blues performance of Jack DeKeyzer. The first half of the show consisted of Jack taking the crowd to school, with a history lesson based on the evolution of blues music in North America. Taking fans through the early blues and highlighting many influential musicians such as Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, Jack blew the crowd away by showing the guitar techniques of these groundbreaking blues guitarists. Jack then provided the link between those musicians and the evolution of modern rock as British rockers Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page introduced white America in the 1960s to the blues music of Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, through their interpretation of the blues style of guitar playing. Examples were provided with snippets of the Clapton classic "Crossroads," and the Led Zeppelin classic "A Whole Lotta Love," which prominently featured Jimmy Page on guitar. A blues jam followed this set, featuring other guitar greats Mike McKenna, Danny Marks, D'Arcy Wickham and Donnie Roberts.

Winterfolk is always a great kickoff to the folk festival season. If the success of Winterfolk is any indication of what 2020 will bring to the festival circuit, music fans are in for a huge treat this coming year.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Country vs. Americana Music

A couple of weeks ago this space discussed comments made by Loretta Lynn on Martina McBride's podcast, where Ms. Lynn stated she believed country music is dead. As alluded to in the article, this is a discussion that has been going on for decades and is not likely to be solved any time soon. A debate that also continues, however, is one that Tyler Childers has brought about, and that is a country music versus Americana music conundrum. 

Since his national and international breakthrough, Tyler Childers has been promoted heavily and heartily as an Americana artist, which includes a win as the Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards. In this Rolling Stone Country article, Childers bristles at the suggestion he's an Americana artist, insisting and identifying only as a country music artist. While I don't agree with Tyler Childers' seemingly hostile attitude to the Americana Music Association and the Americana movement as a musical genre, I do agree with one of his main arguments. That argument is that country music, and I'm talking of pure traditional country music, is now being referenced and referred to as Americana. Which, as Childers rightly points out, is wrong and doesn't solve the current issue with the state of mainstream country music today.

For some music lovers, the state of today's mainstream country music is just fine. I would not agree. In an interview, Marty Stuart stated that, when asked by young aspiring newcomers to Nashville what's the most outlaw thing you can do in country music today, he tells them "play country music." Today's country music bears little to no resemblance of the original artform. Which, it can be argued, is a sign of musical evolution. No genre of music is the same now as it was 50 years ago. But what's happening in country music is head scratching, yet it's nothing new. The genre, or rather those in charge of the business side of the genre, have been chasing their tail for generations in an effort to be liked by the "cool kids" without ever really knowing who the "cool kids" are. They found the right formula in the 1990s with arguably country music's most successful commercial period with hundreds of millions of records being sold during a roughly 15 year timeframe. Now it seems the bottom has fallen out, with country music as a genre struggling to figure out what it is and who they are trying to appeal to. Steel guitars have been replaced with electric drum machines, pop hooks and a pseudo-rap sound that sometimes makes it difficult to discern whether the music belongs on a country station or pop station. 

No other genre seems to wrestle with this sort of "identity crisis." For example, it would be hard to imagine Jay-Z saying in the studio while producing a rap song, "You know what this rap record needs more of? It needs more steel guitar to bring in a country sound."  And, that's okay. Because it's rap - a different art form. Jay-Z is an amazing rap artist and recognized long ago that rap is his creative outlet and is confident enough in his art that he's not trying to have that art be something it isn't.

With this evolution of mainstream country music to its current state, it's no wonder country music purists are turning to a category/genre where elements of traditional country music can flourish. Enter Americana. Americana is a genre which is a melting pot of blues, country, folk, soul, and rock and roll. Artists are encouraged to experiment and produce the strongest material they can without the restrictions of Music Row contractual obligations. As the aforementioned Marty Stuart has said, Americana is about the heart and the art, not the charts. This blog site is primarily dedicated to the the Americana genre. Americana has experienced an astounding amount of growth over the past three to five years, as I believe people will always gravitate to what is real. Americana provides that real music to the masses. 

That said, it does become concerning when traditional country artists are automatically considered Americana. It's concerning for the country music genre. An article I recently read identified The Highwaymen album as an Americana record. That's not an accurate assessment. That 1985 album was a watershed moment for country music in the 1980s, as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson were very much country music artists. The album was a number one country music album and the title track was a number one song on the country music charts. There was nothing Americana about that album at the time of its release. If the narrative is now going to be delivered that traditional country music is really Americana and this narrative is accepted, then the genre of country music really is on life support. Which will be tragic as I believe country music is as worthy of a musical artform as pop, latin, rhythm and blues, and rap. If country music could just get out of its own way and stop trying to be something its not in a tireless effort to appeal to people that will never support country music, then the genre could get to a point where it could flourish again like it did in the 1990s. Country music doens't need to pretend that it's something else, including Americana. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Album Review: William Prince, Reliever (Six Shooter)

The world is opening up for William Prince. Fresh from opening a series of shows for Americana powerhouse Yola, William Prince has released a stellar sophomore record, Reliever. This 11 song collection comes at the conclusion of a challenging time for Prince, with the themes of these significant life changes finding their way on the album. What results is a record that can provide healing, hope and inspiration to the listener. This project is a great reminder that all things do pass, including the dark chapters of life. 

The album presents itself almost as a book, with chapters of the pain and disappointment of divorce and separation captured in songs "The Spark" and "Always Have What We Had" being followed up immediately by "Wasted", the title track "Reliever" and "Old Souls" showing the listener that once you get through those life changes, better is waiting for you. "Old Souls" in particular provides a brilliant transition in this project, as we move from the pain and promise of old and new relationships to life itself. Prince's son was the inspiration for "That's All I'll Ever Become", while the death of his father was the inspiration for "Leave It By the Sea." The writing, context and song placement is among the best I've ever heard on an album.

William Prince is poised to become the next big Americana artist that we'll all be talking about. It's much deserved. The voice is there, the songwriting is there, but most of all the person is there. The only time I've met Prince is to shake his hand and say "well done" on a great performance. But in attending the record release for Reliever last week it became apparent that this gentleman is an amazingly good person. Prince's outlook on life is so positive that it's infectious. It's my great hope this excellent record and the artist receive all the accolades they deserve.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Is Country Music Dead?

It's been a week since one of the pioneer's of modern American music, Loretta Lynn, voiced her concerns regarding the state of country music. "I think it's dead ..." was the response Ms. Lynn provided when asked by the amazing Martina McBride during an episode of McBride's "Vocal Point" podcast. If anyone has listened to mainstream country music for roughly the last decade, and you're a longtime fan of the genre, it's hard to argue against the point. And I'm not going to argue against a living legend who blazed the trail for so many performers to take up the mantle of country music going forward. Rather, I think country music is, once again, in the middle of a prolonged identity crisis. Such crises are not foreign to country music. As Sammy Kershaw once said - country music is the only genre that hates itself. 

For generations, country music has been attracted to "crossover" appeal; the great search for that elusive hit song that cracks not only the top of the country music chart, but the pop chart as well. So much so, that I would argue the genre has allowed itself to be compromised in almost every possible way to chase that dream. As I say, this is nothing new. The 1960s had what's referred to as "the Nashville Sound" where lush string sections and crooning vocals were all the rage. Sometimes it worked beautifully, as was the case with Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold. Other times, it failed miserably, as was the case with the earliest records of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. But that last sentence should raise eyebrows and pose the question ... what the hell were they doing pairing Willie Nelson with string sections? The answer is as true then as it is now. And it's the same miscalculation: if Cline, Reeves and Arnold are making big money with that type of crossover material, then everyone is going to do it. 

Record labels and their producers try to make a particular sound the standard as opposed to allowing the artists to set themselves apart with a different sound. It usually takes some renegade artists to move the needle back the other way. When that happens, it's usually a torrent going back to a more traditional sound of country music. The cure for the Case of the Crossover's was two guys that based themselves out of Bakersfield, California named Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. It was their electric guitar-heavy sound mixed with country twang and rockabilly, as well as some killer songwriting, that brought things back around. This in turn allowed Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings the opportunity to sing, write and perform as they always wanted to perform and before anyone on Music Row could see it coming, the Outlaw movement was off and running. This movement altered the country music landscape with a more traditional sound throughout the 1970s. During this time, there were country artists who were still crossing over to the pop charts, but it was with their own sound, not something manufactured by the power brokers on 16th Avenue. 

Then the 1980s hit. This was a bit of a dark period for a lot of genre's of music. Synthethizers dominated the songscape and country music - once again - couldn't help itself from turning to a more pop-oriented sound. Some country artists were experiencing  crossover success and the genre as a whole suffered. But all was not lost in the 1980s. Some guy from Texas named George Strait was just getting started, and another guy from Kentucky named Ricky Skaggs made a point to keep the traditional sound of country music on the airwaves. During that time, Dwight Yoakam was also reminding everyone that Bakersfield was the site for the last revolution in country music in the 1960s. 

It wasn't until Music Row placed a bit more focus on the three artists just mentioned that they hit the jackpot with one of the most traditional country vocalists in its history: Randy Travis. Travis blew open the door and brought country music back to its traditional base in the late 1980s, moving it away from the pop-oriented sound that permeated the landscape in the early part of that decade. The way Travis was embraced by fans and, perhaps more importantly, garnered record sales once again caused a major shift in focus. Tradition sells, so they went and found traditional sounding artists. This resulted in the famed Class of '89, which gave the music world Vince Gill, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt and Garth Brooks. These artists, and several others of this ilk, would dominate country radio for the better part of the next 15 to 20 years. Other artists who were successful in the 1980s, such as Reba McEntire and George Strait, became massive stars in the 1990s. Country music would go on to become the most listened to and most popular genre during this time, not for the way it sounded like pop music, but because it sounded like country music.

Now here we are in 2020 and for most of the past 10 years it seems country music finds itself in an existential crisis - trying once again to say to its detractors, "Hey, look at me, I really am cool!" The problem is, like with most things, if all you're doing is trying to please your critics by appeasing their every critique then you've already lost your way. The truth is, you will never win those critics over, no matter how many lyrics you rap in your country song, or how many electronic drum beat machines you utilize to record your album. They will just find something else to criticize. These days it's tough to tell if your local country music radio station is playing country music. It sounds the same as your local hit music station, and your local easy listening station, and your local pop station. Where there once was a way to differentiate the art, the lines have been steadily blurred. This change hasn't resulted in any increase in record sales, or even really a bump in radio ratings. 

Perhaps Music Row is starting to clue into the fact that what's going on in the genre isn't really working out as hoped. There is a bit of promise in the fact that a straight ahead country singer like Jon Pardi has managed to score a few number one songs over the past couple of years. It's encouraging that the power brokers are at least givng Pardi a chance, considering they blew off the best male country artist they've had in a generation by dismissing Jamey Johnson off radio and all their record labels. Chris Stapleton remains one of the top concert and record sellers in country music, although radio continues to embrace him sporadically. To Ms. Lynn's point and the original question of country music's mortality, I would suggest that it's not necessarily dead, although we've come quite close to witnessing its passing. We're currently in one of the more prolonged flows to the pop-side in recent memory. Much work will need to be done to get it back, but it's not impossible and I believe it will happen. People will always come back to what's real, they will always purchase and consume what's real. And country music is as real as it gets. I close today, with a clip of the talented lady that started this discussion and put McBride's question to you - what do you think about the state of country music today? 

Friday, January 31, 2020

Bands You Wish You Could See, But Can’t

Do you ever have those moments when you hear a certain artist or band from days gone by, and wish you could have attended one of their concerts while they were still on the road and in their heyday? Lately I find myself in that situation, especially as I get farther along with writing again. Most of my wish list is around awesome bands that will sadly never come around again largely because members who were at the forefront of these bands have long since passed away. Here are four bands that I would give my eye teeth to see but will have to make do with concert videos and vinyl records. I would love to hear who you would love to have seen - please add your picks in the comment section below.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Growing up I was exposed to 60s, 70s and 80s country music with little exposure to anything else, so I came quite late to the party where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are concerned. Their music is true, heartland American rock and roll. No matter what song you hear from this band, you cannot help but feel uplifted and good. These guys have been the soundtrack to summer road trips for the last 40+ years. The sudden and much-too-soon passing of Tom Petty hasn't tempered interest in their music. Man, I wish I was tuned into this group in my younger days and had a chance to attend one of their concerts.

The Band

The Band came together during the period of 1958 to 1963 as one at a time Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel joined together to back Ronnie Hawkins as The Hawks. They left Ronnie in 1964 to venture out of the Toronto music club scene and had a storied career that led them straight to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Band has earned their place in musical lore as a group that is now widely considered to have been among the first Americana musical acts - long before the term Americana was considered as a genre. With their ability to blend their influences, which ranged from rockabilly, country, blues, soul and classical music, The Band recorded timeless and genre defying material. They remain one of the most influential music groups in history. I was only three years old in 1976 when The Band, in its original version, called it quits. Thank goodness we have The Last Waltz concert movie to capture their final show. 

The Highwaymen

Waylon Jennings. Willie Nelson. Kris Kristofferson. Johnny Cash. Not that I need to say more, but I will. Four of the greatest country singers and songwriters that ever lived. Willie and Kris are the only surviving members today. With dozens of number one hits and millions of records sold individually, they came together in 1985 to record and release "The Highwayman", an album that would be certified platinum that same year. Country music's first super group was born. All four are members are in the Country Music Hall of Fame and have influenced more artists in several genres of music than can be counted. 

The Allman Brothers Band

Formed in 1969 in Jacksonville, Florida with brother Duane and Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, and Jaimoe Johanson, The Allman Brothers Band successfully blended rock, country and jazz to become arguably the first successful southern rock band. They are, for sure, the pure definition of a jam band as evidenced in their legendary live performances where songs would last for nearly 20 minutes with improvised guitar solos at the forefront. You can feel the energy this improv style had on a crowd when listening to the landmark 1971 landmark live album "At Filmore East." While the album only has seven tracks, it has a running time of more than 78 minutes. It doesn't take much effort to feel the soul and energy captured in The Allman Brothers signature tune "Whipping Post", which runs for over 23 minutes on the album. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

New SPEAK Music Be Kind Festival A Roaring Success

When the organizers and volunteers look back on the first ever SPEAK Music Be Kind Music Festival, they may look back at it as the little festival that could. Having taken up residence this past weekend at one of Toronto's most versatile music venues, The Tranzac Club, all involved should view this accomplishment with a great sense of pride and satisfaction. Steady crowds continually braved strong, inclement weather to attend what appears to be Canada's first truly gender-balanced music festival.

Embracing diversity and wide-ranging musical styles, the festival kicked off in the evening of Friday, January 17 and continued all day Saturday with Lydia Persaud, Mike Field, Tragedy Ann and Johnson Crook. Workshops featuring the festival performers occurred throughout the weekend, providing the artists with the opportunity to describe their stories behind their songs. These workshops often led to some excellent collaborations and unique moments as these artists  likely don't perform together on the same stage at the same time very often.

I attended one of the workshops on Sunday, the final day of the inaugural festival. The Bluesrockin' Roots session featured three of Canada's best blues and roots musicians: Julian Taylor, Kim Doolittle and Ken Yoshioka. All three of these artists are world class musicians. To have them sharing the spotlight for a 45 minute show in a first year festival demonstrates that the organizers are serious about the success of this festival for the long term. Julian Taylor is a remarkable and outstanding singer-songwriter who brings heart and soul to the forefront of his performance. As shown in his telling of "In This Land", this is an artist who has the life experience that one must have lived to make the listener feel every word of this song. Blues mainstay Kim Doolittle has been rocking it out for over 40 years and did not disappoint the packed room when her turn came up. Performing "Into The Blue", a track from her latest album, got the crowd into that nice, feel-good groove that the blues can have now and again. Ken Yoshioka fit in nicely to complete the trio by contributing solid old-school blues guitar as background, in addition to providing his own material.

One of the most unique acts I’ve seen in a long time is Minuscule, a group created and fronted by Laurel Minnes. The sound is a good cross between Joni Mitchell and a vocal choir, the latter of which is a major part of this group - 9 members, all female, backing up Larel’s lead vocal. With a 3 piece band comprised of a drummer, keyboardist and cellist accompanying Laruel’s ukelele, they deliver a spellbinding performance. Their debut album titled “Great” is soon to be released. Watch for this act if they are set to appear in your hometown. The future is bright for Minuscule.

The final two showcases that I attended put the focus on the classics: classic country and classic gospel (it was Sunday, after all). The Dirty Dishes are a Toronto based, all-female trio who blend and introduce old-time country and folk to new audiences. They delivered an impressive set, covering Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me”, Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, as well as The Band’s “Evangeline.” Gospel was delivered in the form of “I Saw the Light” and “Down By The River to Pray”, the latter of which was featured in the film O Brother Where Art Thou. The finale of “I’ll Fly Away” with The Barrel Boys was reminiscent of improvised jam sessions on the Grand Ole Opry or Music City Roots broadcasts. One of those unique moments you can only see at this type of festival.

The final performance of the evening was a total Americana mashup with HOTCHA!, Mr. Rick and The Barrel Boys. This performance captured the complete spectrum of the Americana genre, in that folk, bluegrass and old school blues was delivered to the die-hard crowd. The audience was tired but more than willing to cheer and encourage these performers, with HOTCHA! having some fun with "Two Axe-Handles Wide", The Barrel Boys delivering a string band version of the Buck Owens classic "My Heart Skips A Beat", and Mr. Rick showcasing 1920's style blues with "Blues In The Bottle." 

A heartfelt congratulations to Bev Kreller and everyone at SPEAK Music for organizing their first festival. The philosophy of being kind to one another now and always is something we all need in these troubled times. The SPEAK Music Be Kind Festival provided everyone involved, from the artists to the audience, the promoter and venue, to the volunteers, a much needed respite from the craziness of the outside world for three wonderful days. The power of music truly can heal the troubled soul. 

*CORRECTION: The original version of this post stated The Tranzac Club was one of Toronto's newer music venues. With it's roots dating back to the year 1931, the Toronto Australia New Zealand Club (TRANZAC) has been operating and featuring music at its current location of 292 Brunswick Ave. since 1971. I regret any confusion this earlier story may have caused. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What If the Country Music Hall of Fame Had a Builder Category?

Pretty much every sports' hall of fame has a builder category. This is a category reserved for inductees who were not athletes of the sport, but executives, coaches, media, and so on, who made significant contributions toward the promotion, growth and overall benefit of that sport - making them worthy of inclusion in their respective hall of fame. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has somewhat of a builder category called "Early Influencers." Hank Williams, Sr., Bill Monroe and Brenda Lee are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in addition to their induction in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their inductions to the Rock hall is a nod to their contributions to the development of popular music in North America. How Johnny Cash is not on this list escapes me. Hopefully the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame corrects this oversight soon. 

This got me thinking about the Country Music Hall of Fame. Country music has had many influencers outside of the genre. Some influencers didn’t have many country hits, if any at all, and perhaps didn’t sell as many records as current inductees. But their overall influence on the direction of country music over the decades deserves to be recognized. While I’m sure there are many influencers I will have overlooked in this post, here are my first six inductees into the currently fictitious Builders Category in the Country Music Hall of Fame in no particular order. Have a read and let me know who you would like to see added to this category. 

The Byrds

The Byrds are widely recognized as one of the pioneers of the country-rock sound and one of the most influential bands in music history. The most creative period for The Byrds ran from roughly 1964 to 1973 and endured several personnel changes. It was in 1968 with core members Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons that The Byrds hit their creative peak with their seminal album "Sweetheart of the Rodeo." This album remains a North American classic, truly one of the most influential and important projects ever recorded in the development of country music. Many of the names you see in my proposed list had their careers directly or indirectly influenced by The Byrds. And, I suspect, many of the current members of the Country Music Hall of Fame would say the same thing.

Gram Parsons

One of the most influential singer-songwriters of any era, Gram Parsons remains on the outside of both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame. Another pioneering member in the development of country-rock as a solo artist and member of The Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, it's Parson's influence, love and recording of straight-ahead country music alone that warrants induction as a builder. Parsons had no hit singles, but his contribution to the development of country music is measured in the way Nashville came around to other sounds. It is also important to note, a protégé of Parsons, to whom he was introduced by Chris Hillman, was inducted into the Hall of Fame herself in 2008: Emmylou Harris. Harris is featured prominently on Parson's records and contributed greatly to the sound Parson was trying to capture. 

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt could be the single greatest female vocalist of all time. Not known for writing any of the songs she recorded, Ronstadt takes that material and makes it all her own. With hits on the pop, rhythm and blues, rock and country charts, Ronstadt has also performed opera and Latin/Mexican music. Quite simply, Ronstadt can sing anything. Recognized as the first female rock superstar, Ronstadt was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. But her country music cred is real. She had several hits on the country music charts both as a solo artist and as a member of the group Trio with her good friends Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton (two current members of the Country Music Hall of Fame). If you listen to Ronstadt perform, you can clearly see her influence on modern country music, and specifically artists such as Reba McEntire and Martina McBride - one current Hall of Famer and a future inductee, respectively. Ronstadt is also responsible for the introduction of her earliest road band members, a group of guys who went on to a little success themselves … Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who became ...

The Eagles

The formation of The Eagles, out of Ronstadt's short-lived backing band, in my view represents the culmination of the country-rock era and there was no band that did it bigger or better than this group. Having sold more than 200 million records worldwide, they remain one of the most important acts in modern North American music. The Eagles, it could be argued, were the first country music performing "band", meaning all official members played their own instruments and provided vocals. The success of The Eagles introduced a style of country music pioneered by The Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons to the masses in much the same way that Garth Brooks did with country music in the 1990s. 

Mainstream country bands such as Restless Heart, Lonestar and Hall of Famer's Alabama owe a great deal of their success and acceptance at country radio to The Eagles. The Eagles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. With some country chart success, their influence on modern country music and their continued relevance on the touring circuit today with Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill as a member, The Eagles are a natural choice as a builder inductee to the Hall.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Blending rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music, Lynyrd Skynyrd have cemented their legacy as pioneers of southern rock. With influences in equal parts of Hank Williams, Sr., Merle Haggard, The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd graced the world with anthems "Sweet Home Alabama", "Simple Man", and the timeless "Freebird." These songs and more became staples on the club band around the world. Their influence can be heard in early Alabama albums, and encouraged Hank Williams, Jr. to completely change the direction of his career in the mid-1970s. Travis Tritt's entire career has been based on blending southern rock and country. Lynyrd Skynyrd didn't have any hits on the country charts, but the influence this band has on country music continues today.

Ray Charles

Willie Nelson has said that no other singer has done more for country music than Ray Charles. It's hard to argue that point. When Ray decided to record an album of country music in 1961, albeit with Ray's own spin on those tunes, it changed the trajectory of the genre. Released in 1962, "Moderns Sounds of Country and Western Music" went on to become one of the best selling albums of all time. The album broke down racial barriers during the Civil Rights movement introducing country music, a predominantly white form of music, to a black audience and gained acceptance. In the 1980s, Ray Charles would record several country hits, mostly duets. But it is the release of this album with a recording of a style of music that influenced Ray Charles as a child and young musician that ultimately influenced country music for generations to come.

Who do you think should be inducted into the currently fictitious Builders Category in the Country Music Hall of Fame?