This week we will take a look at The Influencers. In the 42 years I've continuously been in Country Radio, I feel these artists are among the most influential in one way or another, each in their own way. They paved the road for the sound, shows, styles and images of the next generation and for today. There are others, but these are the ones that jumped out to me. Keep in mind this list is from 1980 forward. And I can see me doing another installment of this up the road. This is how we got where we are today.
Randy Travis - (Full Profile)
When you save a style of music, you get mentioned first. Travis showed up in 1986 when we were in trouble musically. Pop country was still being recorded as Urban Cowboy was the big and tired trend. In fairness, the music was good, it was just without format. Too country for pop, and far too pop for country. Randy Travis took us back to traditional, but it was the "new traditional." The Storms Of Life album is one of the most important for us ever, fans loved it, loved him, loved his sound, songs and style. The next generation(s) would never duplicate him, but they clearly understood that country was now "country" again, and the door flew open for the class of 1989 and the 90's boom. Travis was the catalyst of it all.
Garth Brooks -
Garth Brooks of course was and is a mega star in every regard. His sales and accomplishments are legendary. The music is incredible and his star power is absolutely and without question unmatched. But with all that said, Garth's huge influence was in the country stage show. His shows were (and are) huge. He was a big fan of Kiss growing up and his shows showed that energy. He completely overhauled and changed the stage show in country. Until Garth, we were not near as daring as his awesome stage shows, and even more his awesome stage presence - was the real game changer for us. Those that followed all saw Garth, and wanted do what he he did. Enormous influence.
Shania Twain - (Full Profile)
With her insane success in the 1990's and beyond, Shania defined the standard of the gigantic star for many and especially for women. Her sales are staggering and her videos have been viewed billions of times. For those that came after her, she was their favorite at one time or another. Shania invented her own "sound" within country that others wanted to emulate. With complete respect to others, Shania elevated to a level that few have. Her Come On Over album was highly influential to up and coming country and pop stars. She was universally loved by all formats including ours. Shania made many young women want to be country singers, she was the perfect star for it. She brought happiness to us in the 90's and fans love it.
Hank Williams Jr. - (Full Profile)
Few have had the influence on the next number of country stars than Hank Jr. His name is written into dozens of country songs and is referenced just as often outside of the music. Hank Jr with his image, his look, especially in the 80's was completely groundbreaking. He was from the outside in every regard and was just cool. He recorded country anthems that are still imitated today. He was country to those who loved country, and was loved by those who only stopped by for a visit. The Pressure Is On album set a different kind of standard at the time too. He was a most imaginative songwriter, and his ability to marry many kinds of music together in his prime is beyond compare. In many ways he was as influential as his legendary father, just in a very different era and in a very different way.
Reba McEntire - (Full Profile)
She influenced millions in so many ways it's hard to categorize. Reba's music for years was chart topping, award winning and loved by millions. She rose to the top and stayed there for a very long time. She of course was loved for that but she was also loved for being her. Her TV show was very popular and her appearances on award shows and concerts endeared her to many. It seemed that there was nothing Reba could not do, and fans loved that about her. A singer, actor, host, and all around funny, witty, and charming celebrity, Reba made it look easy and inspired others to attempt the same. She was and is a star across the board.
John Anderson - (Full Profile)
My respect for this guy goes back to my beginning in country radio. John Anderson showed up in the middle of Urban Cowboy (1979) when country was very pop. He wasn't, and fans loved him for it. His music was deep country, simple and stuck out on the radio. His image was not of the fake cowboy hat wearing crowd. His image was authentic, from his country denim jackets, boots and ragged beard. He was what many had been waiting for with his sound. His music was unapologetic and straight forward. His Wild And Blue album was wildly influential to many that would come later in the 1980's. He deeply influenced virtually every single successful star in country for the next 15 years. Quite frankly, this guy doesn't get near the credit he deserves. He boldly went down a trail that was risky at the time - he bucked the system, and was a hero to countless future country stars. Important artist, highly influenced Alan Jackson.
Dolly Parton - (Full Profile)
Dolly is one of the biggest stars of any kind on the planet. Her international stardom is how she is known today for many. But her music was the key to it all. An incredible songwriter of countless gigantic hit songs is simply mind blowing. She also was a fantastic vocalist that had the incredible ability to make the song her very own. Deeply personal songs that grabbed listeners with her enviable vulnerability. Dolly influenced many future stars both men and women including Keith Urban who said she was his introduction to country. Today her influence continues as her charity work is beyond anything almost any single person has ever done. And we love her for it. Influential across the board in every way.
Earl Thomas Conley - (Full Profile)
He showed up in the early 1980's and was a very different kind of star. His songwriting was amazing and his singing warm and timeless. His albums, especially early on were works of art, as they were dubbed "Thinking Man's Country." At that time, many country albums were recorded with a couple "hit songs" and 8 filler songs. Not ETC. He changed the game of album recording in Nashville. Of course he had about 25 number one hit songs, but his albums were great from start to finish. They were also daring, blending in different styles and instruments. His masterpiece albums, Fire And Smoke and Don't Make It Easy For Me are about as good as country albums get. Many of today's biggest stars like Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan and others point to ETC as one of their musical heroes. Another guy that deserves way more credit that history allows.
Taylor Swift -
Love her or hate her, her influence is undeniable. She is the most influential country singer to today's newer generation of country women. She rose to heights that few have in any kind of music. And even tough she is not country anymore, she was insanely influential when she was with her story songs, her honesty in song, and her outward joy in singing them. And today, at about 30 - and in a different format now, she is still a strong influence to those aspiring young singers with big dreams. Her willingness to call out ex-lovers and haters in song is also a very common thread that has been tried by countless artists since. By the time she's done, Taylor Swift will be as influential as any modern singer across the board, in the fact that she does it all, from singing, writing, producing and performing. Taylor Swift is a chosen one in the fact that she seems to always know what to sing about and who is listening when she does. And that's darn rare.
George Strait - (Full Profile)
He is the most imitated artist of the last 40 years, but never duplicated. Again, referenced in a ton of modern country songs. Strait also hit the charts during Urban Cowboy and was very country. His music was hugely popular as was he personally. His slick, clean image of the nice Texas country singer was THE blueprint for country singers for the next 20 years. Hat, Boots, Jeans, Belt, Pressed Shirts and his clean image was a real hit. From my seat he was the start of the modern "hat act" era as virtually every major star after him for many years wore a hat and had a similar image. As time went on, ball caps became the fashion for many, but not many of them have 60 #1 songs. He was the standard for decades of country excellence in most every regard.