Author Archives: Kevin John Coyne

100 Greatest Men: #4. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Known affectionately as the Man in Black, Johnny Cash is a figure who has towered over popular music, casting a long shadow over the history of both country and rock and roll.

He was born and raised in Arkansas, and was writing songs from the age of twelve, inspired by the artists that he heard on country radio.   Unlike many of the legends of his time, he did not pick up a guitar until much later, purchasing one while he was in the Air Force.  After his time in the service, Cash married and settled down in Memphis, Tennessee, working odd jobs while focusing on his music at night.

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100 Greatest Men: #5. Hank Williams

Hank Williams100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

So epic was his life story, and so tragic its ending, that it’s easy to forget a simple truth: Hank Williams was one of the strongest vocalists and songwriters to ever grace the country music genre.

Williams hailed from Alabama, and played guitar from a very young age.  He was drawn to both country and the blues, and by his teens, was already an established performer on the local scene.  He formed a band called the Drifting Cowboys, and was soon singing regularly on the radio, where he was dubbed, “the Singing Kid.”

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100 Greatest Men: #6. Jimmie Rodgers

Jimmie Rodgers100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

All of country music history is connected by its tradition, with the artists of one generation tracing their sound back to the generations that came before.  For male country singers, all roads eventually lead back to Jimmie Rodgers.What is all the more remarkable about his lasting influence is that Rodgers only recorded for six years.

Rodger was born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi.  His father was a railroad man, which is a line of work that would later feature heavily in his material.   He loved music from a young age, even as he was running wild in pool halls and dive bars before he even reached his teens.  He won a singing contest at age 12, and it inspired him to pursue music as a career.

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100 Greatest Men: #7. Buck Owens

Buck Owens100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

For many Americans, he was the guitar-slinging comedian that co-hosted Hee Haw.  But before he signed up for that popular show, he had already amassed a body of work that defined the sound of California country.

Owens was born in Texas and raised in Arizona, where he picked up the guitar from an early age.   He played gigs in Phoenix and other Arizona cities until his late teens, when he relocated to the city that would be synonymous with his sound and style: Bakersfield, California.

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100 Greatest Men: #8. Lefty Frizzell

Lefty Frizzell100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Lefty Frizzell just may be the most influential vocalist in country music history.  His signature honky-tonk style has been the foundational template for several generations of traditional country vocalists, smoothing out the twangy edges just enough to please the ears of mainstream audiences without compromising its hillbilly roots.

Frizzell was born in Texas, but moved to Arkansas at a young age. He earned the nickname Lefty in a schoolyard fight at the age of fourteen, and it followed him from that point on.  Though he was singing on the radio in his teens and performing locally, run-ins with the law sidelined his music career in the mid-forties.

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100 Greatest Men: #9. Bob Wills

Bob Wills100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Few styles of country music have been more hugely influential than Western Swing.   As the embodiment of that style, Bob Wills became one of the most influential country artists in history.

Born and raised in Texas, Wills was a virtuoso fiddle, guitar, and mandolin player by his teens.  Like many early country stars, he first made a name for himself playing dance halls across Texas.   More so than most country legends, Wills put a huge emphasis on having an excellent backing band.   His first group of players, the Wills Fiddle Band, became popular in the Fort Worth area, eventually earning their own radio show.   In honor of their sponsors, they renamed themselves the Light Crust Doughboys.

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100 Greatest Men: #10. George Strait

George Strait100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Country music has undergone drastic changes in the three decades that George Strait has been a recording artist.  While everything was changing all around him, he became the most consistently successful country artist in history by staying the same.

Strait was raised on a family farm in Texas, and as a teenager, he played in a rock and roll band.  When he joined the Army, he was stationed in Hawaii, and it was there that he began playing country music for the first time.  When he returned to Texas, he studied agriculture by day, and played gigs with his new band, Ace in the Hole, at night.

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100 Greatest Men: #11. Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Waylon Jennings was the very embodiment of the country music outlaw movement in the seventies, demonstrating that legendary music can be made if artists are liberated to create it in the way that they want to.

Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas, and was playing the guitar and singing on the radio by the time he was twelve years old.    Jennings dropped out of school at age fourteen, and picked cotton while pursuing music in his spare time. When he moved to Lubbock, he became friendly with rising rock star Buddy Holly, who took Jennings under his wing. Holly produced a single for Jennings and had him fill in as a bass player in the Crickets.

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100 Greatest Men: #12. Eddy Arnold

Eddy Arnold100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

With a sweeping career that spanned six decades, Eddy Arnold was a pivotal force in country music as it grew from a regionally popular musical style into a genre popular throughout the country.

Arnold was raised on a Tennessee farm, and as he developed his musical talent, he would play local barn dances when he wasn’t working in the fields.  Like many artists of his time, he first gained popularity on local radio stations, eventually moving to Memphis, where his radio work brought him widespread acclaim.

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100 Greatest Men: #13. Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Few artists can claim creative ownership over an entire genre of music.   Bill Monroe is one of those few artists, as the Father of Bluegrass led the way for a vibrant subgenre of country music that is still thriving today.

Monroe grew up in a musical family, honing his mandolin skills from a young age.  When his parents died before he was a teenager, he went to live with his Uncle Pen, who would eventually become the namesake of one of Monroe’s classic bluegrass tunes.  After he came of age, he followed his older brothers to Indiana, where he played in a band with his siblings on nights and weekends.  When one brother departed, Monroe continued performing with the other as the Monroe Brothers.

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