Worth Reading: A Modern Country Music History, Part One: From Bars to Barcodes (1989-1996)

Country Universe writer and founder of The Musical Divide Zack Kephart has launched his long-awaited deep dive into the history of Modern Country Music:

If there’s any common thread linking together country music history, it’s a yin-and-yang debate between holding onto tradition and pushing forward to form new sounds. This history will not explore country music’s first 60 or so years as a commercial genre; it will cover its last 30 or so years from a point where the age-old debate raged on and a new chapter formed in country music’s history – the 1980s, or rather, the end of it. From there, we’ll explore a history defined not only by that popular debate, but also by sweeping technological and structural changes that forever redefined what it means to be a country music star in the modern era. Along the way, too, we’ll delve into several of the artists who were either responsible for or met those changes to stake their own chapters in the history books, for better and worse. This is an examination of country music’s last 30 years, and we start this story with 1989, a year that would both close a chapter in country music history and pave the way for a new one to be written.

Part One of this feature goes into extraordinary detail, capturing the essential artists and industry trends that intersected to create what was, quite simply, the most artistically and commercially successful period in country music history.   As someone who lived through this period, which dovetails perfectly with my discovery of the genre, Zack has accomplished what I thought was impossible: teaching me something new about that era and putting what I already knew into more meaningful context.

The time and effort that Zack has put into this project is clearly evident.  You won’t read anything better about country music this year. Once you get there, remember to bookmark The Musical Divide, which is an essential source of news, reviews, and features covering the country music of yesterday and today.



  1. Kevin,

    As always, you are too kind. I very much appreciate you sharing and hope that you like the rest of it, too! Your leadership and own writing skills have always served as constant inspirations for me, and to be able to call Country Universe another home means a lot to me!

  2. Very interesting. I read most of Part 1 this morning. I was glad to see that coverage was given to Cleve Francis. It’s a shame that he never had a top 40 country hit.

  3. Well done, Zack! This has to be one of the most well written pieces on this golden era of country that I’ve read yet, and like Kevin, I actually learned a few new things, as well. I also like how you gave a nod to certain artists (Sammy Kershaw, Suzy Bogguss, Cleve Francis, etc.) and songs (She Went Out For Cigarettes) that don’t normally get much if no mention when discussing 90’s country. As I’ve said a million times before, this era of country and my childhood pretty much occurred at the same time, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. That only made reading this more enjoyable.

    Looking forward to part 2, which I’m assuming will cover the late 90’s and early 00’s, which is another era in country I’m fond of (except for the whole Dixie Chicks getting banned thing, of course).

    • Thanks, Jamie! Very much appreciate that! Ironically enough, Kershaw and Bogguss weren’t in my first draft, and were only included in one of my final edits. The tough part was thinking of who/what to include without it getting to be too much. The entire project is around 60,000 words, so I might have failed in that department. Ha!

      I hear you on the nostalgia thing. I think it honestly was what kept fueling the inspiration for me.

      Yes, part 2 pretty much covers exactly that and actually went live last night! It’s probably my favorite part, next to part one.

  4. OK, bit late here, but…

    Great write up, Zack. I remember Cleve Francis and Trini Griggs both and thought they were both pretty good.

    And Iris DeMent’s cover of “Big City” was SPECTACULAR. I bought it for Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ramblin’ Fever,” and the whole album was really great. I also liked Dwight Yoakam’s “Holdin’ Things Together,” Joe Ely’s “White Line Fever,” and Tom Russell’s “Tulare Dust/They’re Tearin’ the Labor Camps Down.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.