The saying, "That ain't country" isn't new. It's been going on the 43 years I've been in country radio. This is the final installment of artists that helped supply a bit more street cred with young fans that we had a hard time attracting. But these fringe acts were incredibly influential to our future stars. - ICYMI (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)
For a group that never charted a song country, and did not really enjoy the chart success you might think on any chart, they have an incredible following with many country fans. From Jacksonville, Florida, for many they are the sheer definition of Southern Rock. Sweet Home Alabama is an immensely popular song with rock fans and country fans as well. And who on earth has not yelled, "Free Bird" at some concert somewhere at some point? The two Van Zandt Brothers went country and recorded a country album that I loved, Get Right With The Man (2005), with the single, Help Somebody (#8) that was a fantastic song. That album went to #2. They did a few other country albums as well. But clearly, much of their stuff is way outside of our spectrum still today, but their popularity with our fans is absolute, along with Kid Rock and others of that ilk. In the end a no, BUT their influence to future stars and popularity with listeners was resolute and can not - and should not - be ignored. It is undeniable. That is their real gift to us.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Before I go on, these guys are in the end - a hard - YES! But it didn't start that way. Formed in the mid 1960's by exceedingly talented singers and musicians and Mr. Bojangles of course became a gigantic hit and classic in the early 70's. Flash forward to the mid 1980's and country is very pop sounding. They show up in Nashville and are clearly very country sounding and go on to great success for about a 6 year period garnering a ton of hit songs, award show nominations and just recorded some fantastic music. Fishin' In The Dark is such a great song, and was HIGHLY influential to many rising stars it's hard to explain it properly. It is also still today, some 37 years later one of the most loved country songs ever. Garth performs that song many times in concert and gives them major props on stage. Funny about them, they were a pop/country/folk style band at first. Then became far more country than most of the "country" being recorded in the mid-80's. Great singles, great albums, great musicians and great success. It didn't start that way, but in the end a resounding yes!
Jim Croce died very young and the career that was ahead for him seemed very britght and endless. He was very good friends with Jimmy Buffett and they each early on shared that wonderful acoustic sound that was a blend of pop/country/and folk. But Croce and much of his music was very hard to categorize, and yes, some of his songs ended up in country radio's gold libraries for a time as his sound was similar to Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor and others that did the same. We did not play Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown, but we did play a couple of others. Much of his music was released after his tragic death and a few songs did chart mildly on the country charts but nothing significant. But the popularity of his music was very vast and he had fans from all genres including ours. His story is a sad one dying so young but his music lives on. In the end, a no, but his music was and is loved and isn't light years away.