Monday, 3 January 2011

The Ulster-Scots roots of country music (2)

The Ulster contribution to country music was also noted in The Story of English by Robbert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil:
The Scots-Irish brought with them a rich oral culture, aphorisms, proverbs, superstitions and an ability to turn a striking phrase - mad as meat axe, dead as a hammer, so drunk he couldn't hit a wall with a handful of beans.  It was the frontiersmen who first spoke of someone with an axe to grind or someone who sat on the fence when he could perhaps go the whole hog.  Their rhymes and ditties came from the traditions of Scotland and Ireland.  Their ballads, such as Edward, tell the stories of their ancestors, and the tunes of the Scottish lowland ballads of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have been an important influence in the making of American country music.  Today the ballads of the Scots-Irish ... are imitated and reproduced from Arkansas to Alberta, by singers like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers who have internationalised a style that was once confined to the hills.
Peter Coats Zimmerman, a Tennessee journalist and music enthusiast, wrote Tennessee Music and in it he also highlighted the Scotch-Irish roots of country music:
Many of the European early settlers were Scotch-Irish Protestants, originally from Scotland, who migrated first to Ireland and then to America, trying to escape poverty, political chicanery and religious intolerance.  In 1790, this ethnic group constituted some 10 per cent of the US white population.  They brought their easily portable fiddles and, in their heads, memories of their native songs ... The Scotch-Irish influence still lingers in old-time fiddling.
According to Dr Bill Ivey, a former director of the American Country Music Foundation in Nashville and a historian and ethnomusicologist:
The sounds of drone notes, associated with the pipes and fiddles, are very pronounced.  The story telling elements of balladry of the Scots-Irish also remain strong.  They may not be as strong or dominant as they were in the 1920s because country music, like blues and jazz, has since come into contact with other forms of music but the roots of the Scots-Irish in country music are very pronounced.
It was the Scotch-Irish rather than the Celtic Irish who provided the roots of country music.

  • Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English: 2002
  • Peter Coats Zimmerman, Tennessee Music: San Francisco, 1998
  • Billy Kennedy, The Scots-Irish in the Hills of Tennessee: 1995

No comments:

Post a Comment