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Is it country, western or both?

Question: I have never seen a western music chart, only a country-western one. Seems the chart industry sees country-western as just one field of music. Do you?

Answer: No. Anyone involved in the field of western music knows there is definitely a difference. Many essays detailing those differences exist, but here is a condensed explanation:

Western music has probably been around since the mid 1700s when the westward movement began. Since then, the primary focus of western songs has remained the outdoors: the land, sky, livestock, romance, and the cowboys and characters of the Old West. From western, also known as folk music in the early days, came some of what we know as country, also known as hillbilly music early on. Among its charter recording stars are the singing cowboys and groups such as the Sons of the Pioneers and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys.

As for the birth of country, most historians point to Jimmie Rodgers as well as the Carter Family as getting that ball rolling. If western is usually about things outdoors, most country tunes involve rural or blue-collar life, whether set in a house, honky-tonk, factory, or a truck. Many country artists have recorded western music, whereas western performers seem to stick with western songs. Even the Billboard country-western chart has been retitled over the years. It has described this style at one time or another as: folk, hillbilly, country-western, and just country. To my knowledge, there has never been a separate national chart for western music. Here is an interesting conception of these two styles, as expressed by Sharyn R. Sheffer, co-promoter of the Tucson Western Music Association Festival. In Legacy of the Singing Cowboy, a WMA pamphlet, Sheffer writes: Both genres of music have their own unique place in history and both have their vast array of fans. So what's the difference between western and country music? It's the way it makes me feel. Western music lets me fly to the edge of the sunrise and restores hope in the future. Country music keeps me anchored to the ground."

Write Jerry Osborne at Box 255, Port Townsend, WA 98368, e-mail:, or visit his Web site:

World Features Syndicate