steffan may




Standing on the shoulders of giants.  Johnny Cash, Ralph Stanley, Neil Young, Willie Nelson (esp. Shotgun Willie/Phases and Stages), Gram Parsons/International Submarine Band/Flying Burrito Brothers, Jay Farrar/Uncle Tupelo, the Grateful Dead (esp. American Beauty/Workingman’s Dead) and too many others to name.  The founders, the pioneers, the revivalists and neo-revivalists. What do they have in common? They all understood the power and presence of traditional country and bluegrass music. All brought this genre, all too often marginalized, stereotyped, and dismissed, to the forefront of a musical culture waiting to hear it. They did this in a way that refused to bend to the will of an industry that would love to pervert and destroy it.  But these musicians were more than just preservationists. They added their own originality in songwriting, arrangement, and musicianship that would brand their sounds as unique.  Some of these musicians were recognized by the masses while others continue to remain in relative obscurity.  All of them have had a massive impact on countless other musicians that represent a multitude of genres.




Here is a rough categorization of some of my favorite artists: 


Founding fathers of country: Hank Williams, Johnny Cash 


Bluegrass: Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Stanley Brothers 


Bakersfield: Merle Haggard, Buck Owens (who influenced) The Beatles, The Rolling Stones  


Psychadellic: Gram Parsons (International Submarine Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers), Chris Hillman, The Byrds, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, The Grateful Dead, Michael Nesmith


Austin (“Outlaw”): Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings 


“Alternative” Country (Americana?): Jay Farrar/Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt,  Gillian Welch, The Jayhawks, Old Crow Medicine Show


Other influences:  The Lemonheads/Evan Dando, The Shins, Band of Horses, Blitzen Trapper, Cake, The Flaming Lips, Tim Easton, The Beach Boys, Mike Gordon, Robbie Fulks, Sturgill Simpson, Leo Rondeau


(Did he forget about Townes Van Zandt ?) 


This list is not comprehensive, but includes those who have had some of the biggest influence on my music. 


A common link that some of the above musicians share is the ability to break down barriers and unite ideas and groups previously divided.  The late 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s created and forged the traditional sounds that came to be known as country and bluegrass music.  By the mid to late 1960s, America was a country in turmoil with deep dividing lines separating different classes and ideologies.  Country music belonged to the conservative traditionalist while the rapidly evolving genre of rock and roll was becoming the soundtrack of the hippie movement.  At this time, many were defining themselves by their stark contrast to their opposition.  Country music was seen by the hippie as an antiquated artifact of a backward part of society that was best left behind. Rock and roll was seen by the conservative as loss of traditional values and an emblem of the misguided and morally devoid hippie lifestyle. But there were those who sought to break down the barriers and obscure the divisions. Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Gram Parsons, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, and Neil Young, to name a few, were some of the pioneers who introduced country music to new audiences and refuted the stale sounds coming out of Nashville.  They reminded the world that at its heart, country music is a unique piece of American culture that can continue to evolve and at the same time, stay true to its original form.