100 Greatest Men: The Complete List The Poet of the Common Man. Merle Haggard emerged from the Bakersfield music scene in the mid-sixties, and over the course of time, became the greatest man in the history of country music. Born during the height of the Great Depression, the son of a honky tonk fiddler and a church-going mother, Haggard’s life was a hard one from early on. When he lost his father at age nine, he rebelled to the point that much of his youth was spent in juvenile detention centers. His only positive outlet was country music, and he listened to and studied obsessively the work of his heroes Bob Willis, Hank Williams, and Lefty Frizzell, all of whom would shape his singing and his songwriting.
100 Greatest Men
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List Quite possibly country music’s most distinctive vocalist, George Jones wrapped his distinguished vocals around great songs for more than five decades. Jones was born and raised in Texas, and his earliest musical tastes were shaped by the gospel he heard at church, and by the Carter Family songs he heard on the radio. After his dad bought him a guitar, he would play on the streets of Beaumont for tips. He was singing on the radio by his late teens, and after a brief stint in the military, he returned to Texas, where he was discovered by a local record producer named Pappy Daily.
100 Greatest Men: The Complete List He started out as an unconventional songwriter trying to be a conventional artist. But when Willie Nelson let his hair down, he became a country legend for the ages. Nelson was raised by his grandparents in Texas, who encouraged him to play the guitar and to write songs. When his sister Bonnie married fiddle player Buddy Fletcher, Nelson joined his band as the frontman, staying with him until he graduated high school and did a brief stint in the Air Force.
100 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.
100 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.”
100 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.
100 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.
100 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.
100 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.
100 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.