Country Music: not just for Americans!
May 27, 2009 11:45 AM   Subscribe

German country music. You may remember Texas Lightning from Eurovision 2006, but the rabbit hole goes much deeper than that. Oh yes.

(NB: If you don't like American country music, that's fine, just skip down to the bottom quarter or so of the post. Trust me.)

American country music has been known in Germany since the 1920s and the days of The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. One of the first German country songs is perhaps Belgian singer Bobbejaan's country-inflected version of A Pub with no Beer, Ich steh an der Bar und ich habe kein Geld, written by Peter Kreuder. The song hit the German charts in 1960 and stayed for 30 weeks.

But there were original acts, too, like Bruce Low with the 1957 hit Es hängt ein Pferdehalfter an der Wand (Bonus: Lyrics and this version by the Kilima Hawaiians, a group from Holland). Lest there be any doubt that this is bona fide country, it's a song about a cowboy who is sad because the halter, saddle, and bridle on the wall remind him of his deceased best friend, his horse.

In the 1970s there were artists like Gunter Gabriel, Tom Astor, and Truck Stop. From Gunter Gabriel, who's still around and making music) From Tom Astor, who worked with Johnny Cash, John Denver, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, and others: Truck Stop: Traditional country continues into the modern era with bands like Slow Horses and Markus Rill, who sing in English.
Slow Horses: Markus Rill: After that, things start to get a little weird, with bands that often do country renditions of decidedly non-country songs. Previously mentioned Texas Lightning, here with one of the odder covers of Like a Virgin ever recorded as well as the more mainstream Man of Constant Sorrow. It should be mentioned that the lead singer of Texas Lightning is actually Australian, although the rest of the band is German.

The BossHoss brings their unique country aesthetic to some unusual covers: Lastly, we get to alternative German country, where the train starts to leave the rails a bit. The Waltons, an English-singing cowpunk band from Berlin, produce a surprisingly listenable psychobilly as well as ironic renditions of country classics. Also recommended, a bit of psychobilly squaredancing.

The inspiration for this post came from the German Wikipedia page on country music in the German-speaking world. As an added feature for German learners, much of the singing in these songs is slow and clearly enunciated, so it should be easy to follow.

Extra Bonus: German country music radio personality and author Walter Fuchs playing the blues at his 74th birthday party.
posted by jedicus (47 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Much appreciated.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:46 AM on May 27, 2009

An excellent introduction, and an epic post.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2009

Sauerkrautcowboys is a blog examining all aspects of the European fascination with American counry culture, from cowboys to C&W, by author Ruth Gruber, who is working on a book about the topic. She goes to Europe's Wild West Parks so you don't have to...
posted by zaelic at 12:00 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great post. Thanks. It'll take a while to wade through all of this.
posted by umbú at 12:03 PM on May 27, 2009

Sauerkrautcowboys is a blog examining all aspects of the European fascination with American counry culture

Does it explain why I see Confederate flags all the time in Bavaria? Because that makes my brain hurt.
posted by cmonkey at 12:14 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Johnny Cash recorded German versions of his own songs:
Wer kennt den Weg
Viel zu spät
Besser So
Wo ist zuhause, Mama?
Here's an NPR story about these recordings and other similar efforts by such artists as David Bowie and The Beatles.
posted by Kattullus at 12:24 PM on May 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

jedicus, ich liebe dich für immer.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:40 PM on May 27, 2009

I like Germany but they're usually kinda slow on musical trends, except obviously metal, which kinda derives from German composers. Any German kids I've met recently listen to German rap & hip hop, which frankly sucks. All other countries, including France, have largely dumped the rap & hip hop scene.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:41 PM on May 27, 2009

Ah, I love the German language, especially when used in song. With German, no matter what you're trying to sing, even if you're singing about the woman that you love, it always sounds like you're going to war.
posted by Effigy2000 at 12:41 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jippi jei jei ä!!

Vielen dank.
posted by not_on_display at 12:56 PM on May 27, 2009

My friend and I had an argument about Country music. He declared it must be something limited to America, while I was sure that it was made elsewhere, too. He was sure no one would want to (or perhaps understand how to) make Country music. In short, thanks for proving my side.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:56 PM on May 27, 2009

Country is also big in Norway, the Czech Republic, Cameroon, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia (Aboriginal country has its own history going back to the 40s, see Clint Walker's excellent documentary *Buried Country*), Ireland, in Grenada and St. Lucia (and throughout the Anglophone Caribbean), Brazil, Mexico, and -- although fading -- throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Expanding the stylistic boundaries to include musics unrelated to American country in musical terms, but expressive of similar social histories and cultural politics, there are genres such as Musica Caipira in Brazil, Pleng Luk Thung in Thailand, and Kroncong in Indonesia that deserve to be called "country" musics.

Country spread globally the same ways Black American musics did, and importantly (as the list of places above indicates, with Germany very much included) on the heels of American military occupations and residencies, given that a majority of enlisted soldiers have been southern, especially.

The generic trope of "surprise" that country has major (and often non-white) constituencies in places like Ghana, Jamaica, and Belgium gets a little old sometimes. Country wasn't "white" music in the US in the way it is now thought to be by many Americans until relatively late in its commercial history. Indeed, the string band styles of the southeast in the first half of the 20th century were thrived across the color line. The major influences on country (even as a "white" style) have always included Black musics (now including hip hop) and -- significantly -- there has been a lot of international stylistic traffic even within the North American country tradition; the modern steel guitar flows from the fingers of Bob Dunn, who studied by mail with a Hawai'ian slide guitar performer; while the yodeling of Jimmie Rodgers may be rooted in Black traditions, there has long been a significant cross-influence between Swiss yodeling and American country yodeling styles. Latin and Caribbean rhythms have a distinguished history in the genre (as does a broader influence from Jazz, itself an international music by the 1940s, when its influence on country became profound.

We have no problem thinking of hip hop or rock or even R&B as -- now -- global styles with distinct national traditions. It's not as if country was in a walled garden all those years.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:03 PM on May 27, 2009 [10 favorites]

Tex Haper mixes Country and New Wave with deadly results.
posted by MrBaliHai at 1:04 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I left out Japan and Korea, where there have been local country performance traditions, recording stars, and nightclubs since the 1940s as well.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:06 PM on May 27, 2009

And my own personal favorite hidden country tradition: Native American country also goes back to the 1940s, and especially in the Southwest it has a very distinctive and important history.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:10 PM on May 27, 2009

fourcheesemac: Thanks for the global perspective. The linked German Wikipedia article mentions that Walter Fuchs felt that a lot of the late-70s German country hits lacked the African-American elements found in American country music.

While I might've liked to have put together a more all-encompassing post, I felt it would be a bit more music history thesis and a bit less A Good Post for Metafilter™. Also, I only speak English and German, so it's harder to pull from primary sources. I'd love to see posts from other perspectives, though.
posted by jedicus at 1:11 PM on May 27, 2009

MrBaliHai: Oh god, deadly is right. That is...something else. Quite possibly the worst song I have ever heard, an active assault on the senses. It's a shame his website doesn't work anymore.
posted by jedicus at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2009

I'm no expert, but ... errr ... having been exposed in my formative years to such songs as Siebentausend Rinder by Peter Hinnen I initially thought the yodeling parts were something very German, added to a foreign style of music to make it more palatable to us. Yodeling was something that the Swiss and Germans did (maybe the odd Austrian), but it was definitely not something I associated with the Wild West I had learned of from reading Karl may books...

Imagine my surprise when I learned later on that, yes, yodeling was actually something associated with at least some country / western styles - that really blew my mind at the time. It's like the punchline in that joke where a guy comes home to find his friend in bed with his not very attractive wife: "John, I have to - but you?"
posted by PontifexPrimus at 1:31 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

All on YouTube except where noted:
Hawai'ian Paniolo
(Or hear the queen of Paniolo Country, Melveen Leed, sing "We Are Samoa.")
Indonesian Dangdut version of Hank Williams' "Your Cheating Heart."
Have some Navajo country. (MySpace)
Charlie Nagatani (Japan) sings "Rose of San Antone."
Roger Knox (Aboriginal Australia) sings his classic "Streets of Tamworth" (One of the greatest country songs of all time, I think.)
The late Queen of Thai Lukthung music, Pumpuang Duangchan
Texan Don Williams performs in Zimbabwe for thousands -- Harare held a parade for him. (Williams made a film of this concert called "Into Africa." Through the 1980s, at least, he was one of the biggest American stars in Africa. Look for the crowd shots.)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Dolly Parton.

Just a taste of what's out there.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:31 PM on May 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

I'll tell you what, I spent 10 day's in Germany after the start of the Iraq War, and every goddamn place I went, from the Irish Pub in Weisbaden to the small pub in some nameless Rhine hamlet, played Sweet Home Alabama and Country Roads. I thought it was the strangest thing ever until I made it to an Amsterdam disco where they played the theme song from Friends at 3AM and the whole place went apeshit.
posted by daHIFI at 1:33 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

A couple more while I'm at it, sorry to do this across several posts. And Jedicus, my point was a criticism of your post at all -- like I said, I really appreciated the work that went into it.

Musica Sertaneja (Brazil)
and the bluegrass to Sertaneja's country:
Tonico and Tinico -- biggest stars of Brazilian Musica Caipira
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:36 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Quite possibly the worst song I have ever heard, an active assault on the senses.

This one isn't any better: Wüste Wüstensöhne - Der Cowboy Jim aus Texas.
posted by iviken at 1:41 PM on May 27, 2009

Ah, heck, one more:

My old friend Joe Country Greenidge (Brooklyn, from Grenada) put his Obama tribute song ("He's The One") on Youtube too. Joe's the coolest yodeling Caribbean Cowboy you'll ever meet.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:41 PM on May 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

Norwegian country music: The International Tussler Society (aka Motorpsycho):

Laila Lou
posted by Dumsnill at 1:57 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently read a book on Abba (great book BTW) wherein the genre of schlager was discussed as being a German/Scandinavian equivalent of country.
posted by stinkycheese at 2:09 PM on May 27, 2009

I've been reading up on the whole German (and general European) obsession with the Wild West since I ran into a copy of "Das Leben Old Shatterhands" in a bookstore in Munich. Thanks for doing all this research on the musical side of it!
posted by ubersturm at 2:15 PM on May 27, 2009

One of the first German country songs is perhaps Belgian singer Bobbejaan's country-inflected version of A Pub with no Beer

"A Pub With No Beer" is Australian country, recorded by Oz legend Slim Dusty.

The song was adapted by Gordon Parsons from the original poem "A Pub Without Beer" by Dan Sheahan of Ingham, North Queensland (originally from Newmarket, Ireland). In 1957, "A Pub With No Beer" became the first Australian single to go gold and was the biggest-selling record by an Australian to that time and the first and only 78 rpm record to be awarded a gold disc in Australia. It also went top 20 in the UK.
posted by Wolof at 2:43 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am thrilled that this post exists. Tex Haper has long served as my heavy artillery in "who can post the most awkward music video" link-war email threads at work. Our next one will be a bloodbath.
posted by jake at 2:55 PM on May 27, 2009

Wolof: Sorry, I hadn't heard the original Australian version, just the one by the Dublin City Ramblers, so I had assumed it was an Irish song. Thanks for the correction!
posted by jedicus at 3:37 PM on May 27, 2009

From the Wikipedia bio for Slim Dusty (who is an amazing character):
"Slim Dusty was the first artist broadcast from space when astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen played his rendition of Waltzing Matilda from Space Shuttle Columbia as it passed over Australia on its maiden flight in 1981."
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:48 PM on May 27, 2009

This is a really great FPP, and I have been loving all the international country links. More!
posted by Forktine at 4:01 PM on May 27, 2009

Kind of off topic, but is "A Pub With No Beer" related to Tom Waits' "A Town With No Cheer"?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:10 PM on May 27, 2009

Totally unrelated, but the same theme.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:12 PM on May 27, 2009

He declared it must be something limited to America, while I was sure that it was made elsewhere, too. He was sure no one would want to (or perhaps understand how to) make Country music.

The Warratahs, from New Zealand.
posted by rodgerd at 5:04 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

German bluegrass. I can think of (a very few) American dobro players who're probably as good as Martin Gross. But if you ask for one who's clearly better there's going to be a long silence. Soldier's Joy. Cripple Creek. Red Haired Boy.
posted by jfuller at 6:03 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's a brazilian cover of Achey Breaky Heart by Chitãozinho e Xororó.
posted by umbú at 6:36 PM on May 27, 2009

Funnily enough, most of the Youtube links don't work here in Germany.
This video is not available in your country.
posted by dominik at 5:22 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I knew that the Italians had a thing for the 'Wild West', but I had no idea that there was any real affinity for country music in Europe generally. I especially wouldn't have pegged it on Germany, which makes it all the more interesting.

This is the best post in a long time. Thanks!
posted by spirit72 at 5:29 AM on May 28, 2009

South African Country Music Hall of Fame
Australian Country Music Hall of Fame
Japan's Country Gold Festival -- Official Site (in Japanese)
Photo Essay on Japan's Country Gold Festival (Awesome!)
Norwegian Country -- WFMU's Beware the Blog article and sound files (esp. get Bjor Haland's "I Love Norwegian Country" (mp3])
Reggae Cowboys home page (US)
John James writes in CityBeat about country-reggae fusion in Jamaica (it's big!)
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:46 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Somewhere out there, although I can't find it online, exists a full LP of amazing -- AMAZING -- Hindustani/Bluegrass fusion by the Indian guitar virtuoso Krishna Mohan Bhatt and bluegrass/celtic musician Jody Steicher. It is one of the coolest fusion sounds I've ever heard.

Prize to the person who finds it!
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:57 AM on May 28, 2009

Aww heck, I need to correct the above. Krishna Bhatt is a *sitarist,* it's his brother Vishna who's the slide guitar pioneer of Hindustani music. The fusion record was Krishna on sitar with Jody Stecher on guitar, banjo, and bouzouki, and the mix was amazing.

The good news is that I found it online in a streaming radio show I did myself (former DJ here) a few years ago, which also has another hour's worth of world country music songs relevant to this thread. It's a realplayer stream link. I don't want to post it for privacy reasons, but if you MeMail me I'll send you the link.

posted by fourcheesemac at 7:34 AM on May 28, 2009

There's a fusion album called Bourbon & Rosewater that is a collaboration between Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer. Amazon has samples.
posted by jedicus at 7:36 AM on May 28, 2009

This FPP is absolutely wonderful and must have been a lot of work! Vielen Dank, jedicus.
posted by The Toad at 8:29 AM on May 28, 2009

Right, Vishwa, not Vishna. Ack.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:51 AM on May 28, 2009

Thanks for that post. I'm from germany and my father is a huge country fan. I grew up on Johnny Cash and Criss Cristopherson, but thankfully not the german version with Truckstop and the like. Allthough you couldn't possibly escape them if you grew up here. I immediatly had "Take It Easy Altes Haus" playing in my head as soon as I read the title here...

There's also no street-fair here in Berlin where there won't be a german country-band playing in a beer tent in front of a greasy crowd of the workless and alcoholic, maybe also with some Country & Westerntanz.

Country also inspired some of german electronic musicians. One of my favourite songs is Acid Pauli feat. Johnny Cash - I see a dark(er)ness.
posted by kolophon at 10:27 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The stecher/bhatt record is called Rasa, and here's a fourcheesemac-free blog post about it (I assume that it's fourcheesemac-free, since the blog poster says that he's french).
posted by umbú at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yep, that's fcm-free, and it contains what appears to be a link to download the entire album, which is long out of print so no harm done.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:10 PM on May 28, 2009

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