Country music is considered to be America’s music, but the roots of what we call Country Music go back as far as the 1920’s in which the emerging genre at the time fused the style of Appalachian folk music and the blues. But even the roots go further than that if you look towards Wales, Scotland, England, and Ireland, and very much that island (most of it under the United Kingdom) laid the groundwork of what many people call Western or Cowboy music. Contrary to popular belief Western music did not have its start with the Cowboy but rather a young Native American woman as depicted in what many call the first Western song called “The Blue Juniata.” In the song, she awaits the return her warrior…be that her husband or whom she wants to wed. Western Music would also be tagged Country Music as far as the 1940’s, but the overall genre of Country Music would continue to evolve. As Western music declined in the 1960’s, new subgenres were emerge including Countrypolitan, Country Rock/Rockabilly, Country Soul, the sound of Bakersfield, Outlaw, and Neotraditional. More recently Country became fused with the styles of popular Hip-Hop and that style was dubbed Bro-Country. Just like every other genre even America’s Music so called has seen its styles change. From the Cowboy/Western style to the overall Nashville Music machine and even artists that tend to rebel against Nashville establishment especially the Texas Americana sound which has its own niche. Now this list of all-time Top 20 Country artists (determined by their overall performance on Billboard Magazine’s Country Singles/Songs chart) mostly fit the Nashville profile although likes Willie Nelson keep their music closer to Texas and the band Alabama kept its heart very close to the namesake state and the small town in which they formed their band (Fort Payne), and Merle and Buck stayed closer to California.All the above are in the top 20. The question is, where do they rank? It’s time to find out.
20. Ronnie Milsap: Blind since his birth, Ronnie Millsap acquired a taste of music in the Rock, Country, and R&B genres. His biggest influences were Ray Charles, Little Richard along with The King of Rock and Roll Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In the mid 1960’s Millsap would score a hit on the R&B chart called “Never Had It So Good,” written by Ashford & Simpson. It would peak at #19. After recording an album with Warner Bros. Records in 1971, he moved to Nashville and met up with Charley Pride who heard Milsap perform at a local nightclub. Pride connived Milsap to switch from straight R&B music to Country which Milsap did and was for the best, career wise. With the help of Pride and his manager Milsap secured a recording contract with RCA Records.In spite of going Country, he did not give up his love of R&B music which was integrated into his style of music. Milsap took off like a rocket in the Country, scoring his first top ten with “I Hate You” from his first album for RCA titled “Where My Heart Is.” Ronnie would score 12 Number One Country hits in the 1970’s, and would have a streak of number one Country hits from 1980-82 and another streak of Number ones from 1985-1987. Ronnie would have his final Top five hit in 1991 with “Turn That Radio On” after which his string of radio hits overall came to an end. His biggest crossover hit was in 1981 with the song “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me.” Ronnie Milsap had no special known nickname but when you think the Country Soul, he is the first name that comes to mind.
19. Kenny Chesney: He began as one of the underdogs in the 1990’s Young Country movement but before the millennium came to pass, he proved that he was in it for the long haul. Thanks to hits like “How Forever Feels,” and “You Had Me from Hello,” (inspired by the line from the movie “Jerry Maguire”) Chesney proved his worth. That would be solidify with his 2001 album “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems” album which the title track and “The Good Stuff” were among his biggest hits. Chesney was married four months to Renée Zellweger’ who starred in “Jerry Maguire” but that married nor his annulment hurt his career.
18. Dolly Parton: Dolly grew up dirt poor in the Smoky Mountains in Sevier County, Tennessee. Her father worked constructionand was a farmer to help feed his family. Her mother stayed at home, looking after Dolly and what would be 12 total children. Dolly was the fourth child in the family living in a single room cabin. Her grandfather was a Pentecostal Church Pastor in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) denomination. Her love of music began in that very church that her grandfather pastored. She found success as a songwriter in Nashville in the mid 1960’s, and while Monument Records wanted to pigeon hole Dolly Parton as a bubblegum singer, it was yet another fight that Dolly had to take on. Her biggest hits in the late 1960’s was with her duet partner at the time Porter Wagoner. She would finally score her first solo top five country hit with “Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)” and her follow up “Joshua” would be Dolly first Country Number One. Her true to life song “Coat of Many Colors” would peak at #4 in 1971 and the hits kept coming so after. Dolly would try her hand at acting (especially co-starting in the box office smash “9 To 5”) and going into other business ventures especially her biggest one, her Dollywood theme park. Her signature song thanks to the magnification of it as done by Pop R&B singer Whitney Houston in the early 1990’s is “I Will Always Will Love You” which was originally written for Wagoner. Classical Crossover singer Katherine Jenkins did her own cover of “I Will Always…” sung in Italian with Parton’s blessing.
17. Loretta Lynn: Like Dolly, Loretta Webb (her birth name) grew up in a poor family. She was the second of eight children. The last of which would have her own career in Country music as Crystal Gayle. Her father worked as a coal miner and died of black lung disease at the age of 52. Loretta married young to a then 21-year-oldOliver Vanetta “Doolittle” “Doo” Lynn, Jr. Some say she was 15, others say she was 13 but in any case, she was legally underage. Doo brought Loretta a guitar and encouraged her perform at local venues and local radio. By 1960, Lynn had her first Country hit with a song she wrote title “I’m A Honkey Tonk Girl” which was released by upstart Canadian record label Zero Records and peaked at #14 on the Country Singles chart. Soon after she signed a record deal with Decca Records and she was on her way to stardom. Her marriage to Doo was often turbulent but she stayed with him to the very end…but she let him have it on many occasions through her music. Songs like “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,””One’s on the Way,” and “Rated X,” were among the many songs inspired by Loretta and Doo’s marriage and their personal lives and issues. Many of these stations drove Country Radio Programmers up the wall and nine of her songs would be banned from the format itself. Still the fans stood by Lynn and she held her ground. Her overall signature song however is the very personal “Coal Miner’s Daughter” which she wrote and recorded in 1969 and released in 1970.The song would go to Number one on the Country chart, and would also serve as the title of her 1976 autobiography and the 1980 movie based on that respected book with Sissy Spacek as Loretta and Tommy Lee Jones as Doo. The movie was a success. Also of note, when Lynn was the human gueston The Muppet Show during its third season, Lynn was content on using a “train station” (done on soundstage) that the Muppet crew had to use instead of the regular Muppet Theater and reminding Kermit the Frogthat Country singers “can sing anywhere.” Her sister Crystal Gayle would be the guest performer soon after in the following season…but unlike her big sister it was the Muppet Theater and everyone else who’s name is not Loretta Lynn. In 2004, eight years give or take after the passing of her husband Doo, Lynn recorded “Van Lear Rose” which was produced by Jack White who was one half of the alternative rock duo The White Stripes.
16. George Jones: Hank Williams Sr. was one of the biggest influences on George Jones (aka The Possum) and would help Jones become one of the most fiscally successful artists in Country Music ever. He would score his first top five Country hit in 1955 with “Why Baby Why” but would not have a number one until “White Lighting” which came out four years later. Jones had a midlife crisis in the mid 1960’s in which he was known to appear drunk on stage. His alcoholism and declining health nearly ended his career in the 1970’s. However, he would get his act together and would have a comeback hit in 1980 which not only hit the top of the Country chart but would become his signature song (He Stopped Loving Her Today). Jones would score his final Top five hit in 1988, and tried to lead a boycott of Country Music radio when a crop of younger artists were taking over the commercial radio airplay in the 1990’s. Jones would live into his early 80’s passing away at 81 in 2013.
15. Kenny Rogers: Kenny Rogers dabbled in rock and roll, Folk, Jazz,psychedelic rock before settling down on his style of Pop Country. Rogers played with the groups The Bobby Doyle Three, and the New Christy Minstrels before he and few members of NCM decided to form their own group called Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. The Rogers/First Edition dynamic scored several pop and country hits including; “”Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” and “Reuben James.” In 1976, the First Edition would fold and Kenny’s solo career kicked in with hits like “Lucile,” “The Gambler,” and Pop crossover hits “Coward of The County,” and the Lionel Richie penned power ballad “Lady.” In 1983, he would come under the production crew headed by Bee Gee Barry Gibb who would produce his “Eyes That See in The Dark” album. That album cranked out another crossover hit. It was penned by elder Gibbs who were the core Bee Gees and Rogers would sing it with Dolly Parton (Islands in The Stream). The hits came to an end after the 1980’s, but in 1999 Rogers would score one more number one hit on the Country chart with “Buy Me a Rose.” He was 61 of age and would be oldest artist to have a number one country hit…until Willie Nelson who was 70 years old took that honor.
14. Johnny Cash: He was Country hands down, but his style fused it with Rock and Roll and tingled with Folk and even Gospel. He was also one of the first artists in the Outlaw movement before it was a movement. Cash was studying to become a radio announcer in Memphis but Cash could play guitar and he eventually worked up the courage to audition for Sam Phillips for his famous Sun Studios and record label. It got him his first record deal and he scored several big Country hits for the little independent label including “So Doggone Lonesome/Folsom Prison Blues,”“I Walk The Line,”and “Hey Porter.” His growth as an artist compelled Cash to seek a better record deal and would sign with Columbia Records in 1958. Cash would do prison concerts frequently. His first prison concert was done at San Quentin State Prison (which would soon house Merle Haggard for a few years) on January 1, 1958. His concerts at Folsom Prison and San Quentin Prison were recorded and released by Columbia Records in 1968 and 1969 respectfully. Cash established his wearing of black clothing on stage with nothing fancy added like Rhinestones or whatever. In 1971, he released a song about why the color Black became his dress of choice (The Man In Black). He wore black for all the people that were down on their luck and those who would not take heed of the Gospel of Jesus as well. Cash’s chart run ended by the 1970’s but “The Man In Black” was far from finished. He would be 1/3 of the supergroup The Highwaymen (three of the four men are in the top 20 of this survey) in the mid 1980’s and by 1994 famed rock produced Rick Rubin would sign Cash to his label American Recordings to which Cash would stay and record under Rubin until his death in September 2003. Among his final recordings is his cover of Trent Renzor’s song “Hurt” (as done under Trent’s outfit Nine Inch Nails) which Cash made into his own.
13. Hank Williams Jr.: Hank Jr. wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but was musically lost until the mid-1970’s. His years with the famed MGM Records label would be mentioned in his 1987 hit “Born ToBoogie.” However,coupled with a near-death mountain climbing accident and a drug and alcohol problem, Hank Jr. moved Alabama and began to embrace the Southern Rock music style and began to incorporate them into his music. By 1979, Bocephus (nickname given to Hank Jr. by his late father inspired by the namesake dummy portrayed by ventriloquistRod Brasfield ) now signed to Elektra/Curbwas scoring many top ten country hits and was among the popular Country artists of the 1980’s among the Outlaws of Country Music, that was accepted by the Nashville establishment. While he wrote about his Rowdy Friends settling down in 1981, he would revisit that theme in 1984 with a more upbeat tune about them wanting to “drink” and “party.” That also inspired Hank to do the opening theme for Monday Night Football on ABC for much of the 1990’s. Hank Jr.’s offspring, Hank Williams III and Holly Williams are also following what their father and grandfather did, but they are bucking the Nashville establishment more than their famous relativities did.
12. Buck Owens: While Nashville embraced the string-laden sounds that was dubbed “the Nashville Sound” which later evolved into “Countrypolitan,” Buck Owens lead the pushback in making sure that Country stayed closer to its Western roots, and to the common man while adding a spice of rock and roll to the mix. Owens called his style of Country Music the “Bakersfield Sound” named after the city that would consider to be his hometown…at least his adoptive hometown; Bakersfield California. Owens reign on the Country Chart peaked in the 1960’s but begin a slow decline by the 1970’s, He was kept busy as one of the co-hosts of the Country Music-Comedy show “Hee Haw” with his signature Red, White, and Blue guitar in tow. He also was a big influence on Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard, and more importantly Dwight Yoakam who found greater success in California than in Nashville with Yoakam’s brand of Hillbilly Music. Yoakam would duet with Owens on the song “Streets of Bakersfield” in 1988 which was done in a Tejano style. Owens focused on other business interests including the ownership of four radio stations. KNIX-AM-FM in Phoenix, AZ and KUZZ-AM-FM in Bakersfield, CA. Owens would sell off his Phoenix radios stations to two different companies with the FM becoming part of Clear Channel’s (now iheart Media) growing portfolio of radio stations, while he held on to KUZZ-FM which to this date is still owned by Owens’s company/estate long after he passed away in 2006.
11. Waylon Jennings: His discontent of Nashville’s musical trends in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s only pushed the man also dubbed “The Eagle” to magnify (along with Willie Nelson) the Outlaw Country Movement. He not had to fight the Nashville Establishment, Waylon also had fight his ailing health as well. He successfully overcame both and later moved to Austin, TX to gain control of his music and make the music he wanted to make. RCA Records already lost Willie Nelson to the Outlaw Country movement and they were not going to let Jennings slip through their fingers. They gave Jennings creative control and he would stay with RCA until 1985. Along the way Jennings would be casted as “the Ballader” on the TV series “The Dukes of Hazzard” singing the show’s iconic theme song (Going to #1 Country and #21 Pop) and narrating the storylines in every episode during the show’s seven-year run. He would appear on camera as himself in show’s final season as a friend of the family. Other than that episode, we only saw his “hands” and guitar “on the TV.”In the mid-80’s he joined the supergroup The Highwaymen (with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson). Jennings also appeared in the first movie tie-in with Sesame Street (“Follow That Bird”) playing a truck driver giving Big Bird a lift and singing the number “Ain’t No Road Too Long.” Record deals with MCA and Epic Records followed and Jennings would peak at #5 on the Country Chart with his cover of the Los Lobos classic “Will The Wolf Survive” in 1986. Jennings final #1 country hit was in 1987 with “Rose In Paradise.” While his string of Country radio singles came to an end in 1991, he was still a big concert draw in the 1990’s. He would tour less in 1997 and focus on this family. His health was also in decline and Jennings would pass away on February 13, 2002.
10. Tim McGraw: His breakthrough single “Indian Outlaw” made him sound like just another Outlaw Country artist in the making, but in the long run, he was really a romantic. Something that was quickly proven with his follow-up single “Don’t Take the Girl.” His style of Country also changed, beginning as part of the Neo-Traditional and transition to Country-Crossover that was a perfect fit with his romantic themed songs. McGraw’s music career and marriage to fellow Country star Faith Hill are still both going strong. Heck even Taylor Swift’s breakthrough hit was named after him.
9. Alan Jackson: If any artist kept Neo-Traditional Country music alive in the 1990’s other than George Strait, it would be Alan Jackson who was in his early 30’s when he secured a record deal with Arista’s then startup Nashville division and the very first artist on Arista Nashville. Jackson’s musicals tastes in his youth was gospel, but his friend introduced him to the likes of Gene Watson, John Anderson, and Hank Williams Jr. He was hooked and wanted to chase the “neon rainbow” and live the “honky tonk” dream. Jackson found work in TNN’s mailroom while his wife of then six years Denise got her husband connected with Country superstar Glen Campbell to help jumpstart his career and secure his first record contract. He would record his first album “Here In The Real World” in the summer of 1989, and was released in February 1990. His very first single “Blue Blooded Woman” failed to crack the Country Top 40 (peaking at #45) but his follow-up singles all made the Top five with his finale single “I’d Love You All Over Again” becoming his first Number One Country single. His follow-up album “Don’t Rock The Jukebox” is best known for its George Jones refences. First in the title track’s chorus and the song “Just Playin’ Possum” in which Jones himself makes a musical cameo at song’s end. Jackson and Jones would become and remain very close friends. The album also has a tribute to Hank Williams Senior in the haunting “Midnight in Montgomery” which was the only single from the album that failed to top the Country singles chart (it did however peak at #3). After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York City and Washington DC, Jackson took up the challenge of writing a song about the tragic events. He found it a challenge because he wanted to wrote something different other than a typical patriotic themed song or a song declaring vengeance. On October 28 of that same year he came up with the melody, opening lines, and a chorus early in the morning. He sung them in a digital recorder and when his wife and children were off to church, Jackson was entrenched in his study and completed the song. The result: “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” in which Jackson asked were his fans were and how they reacted on September 11, 2001. The chorus turns the focus on Alan himself admitting he is a singer of simple songs, and not a political activist. He admits to watching cable news network CNN but can’t make the difference between Iraq and Iran and that Faith, Hope & Love and trust in Jesus Christ is what his life is built on. He premiered the song on the 2001 Country Music Association’s (CMA) awards show on November 7, 2001 and this would go to Number 1 on the Country Airplay chart after Christmas and before 2001 came to an end. Alan’s radio singles have dwindled but he is still living “that honky tonk dream.”
8. Garth Brooks: At first it seems that Garth Brooks was in the shadow of newcomer Clint Black, but Brooks would eventually become the Country superstar that he wanted to be. Garth was more of a rocker at heart in his early childhood years in Oklahoma, although he was a fan of Folk/Soft rockers James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg. After hearing George Strait’s very first single “Unwound” Garth was hooked on Country all the way, and wanted to play that style of music for himself. He began his professional career in 1985 playing the local bars and Country Music clubs in Oklahoma. He would soon move to Nashville later and secure his first recording contract with Capitol Nashville. Garth’s self-titled album would focus on the neotraditional style of Country music. The four singles released from that album all went top ten, and the ballads of that bunch “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Dance” going to number one. His follow up album “No Fences” would move Garth to his well-known Pop-Country Rock sound with all of his singles from that album going to #1 including the controversial “The Thunder Rolls” and the video dealing with a woman abused by her husband and shooting him in self-defense. Garth Brooks never made a lot of music videos but that did not hinder him in the least. Garth was able to retire around 2005 in order for to focus on his children. He signed a deal with Walmart allowing that retailing outlet to sell his back catalog exclusively once he got the rights of his masters from Capitol Nashville which he served his ties with. Around this time, he started his own record imprint called Pearl Records. Once his children were grown Garth would return to performing frequently, especially with a Las Vegas residency from 2009-2013. In 2014 Garth signed a new record deal with Sony Music Nashville via its RCA imprint and was allowed to use his own Pearl Records imprint. Also by this time you could buy his music outside of Walmart once again.
7. Reba McEntire: Her father and grandfather were champion steer ropers and her mother only dreamed about being a Country Superstar but worked as a schoolteacher instead…but that dream would be made into a reality via her daughter Reba as she taught her and her siblings how to sing. Reba was going to follow into her mother’s profession but after singing the National Anthem at the National Rodeo in Oklahoma City she caught the ear of Red Steagall who was doing a performance at the rodeo himself took the young Reba under his wing. She recorded a demo tape and signed with Polygram’s Mercury Records in 1975. Reba was a developing artist during her years with Mercury, finally breaking into the top ten in 1980 with “(You Lift Me) Up to Heaven.” She scored her first number one country single with “Can’t Even Get the Blues” and followed it up with another #1 with “You’re the First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving.” Eventually Reba got tired of Mercury’s Country Pop production style, and by 1984 signed a new record deal with MCA. Reba still wanted to shrug off her Country Pop reputation, and she complain to MCA president Jimmy Bowen about her predicament. Bowen then ordered Reba to find material that best suited her. For her second album for MCA “My Kind of Country” she looked to her record collection looking for songs she could record. Those songs coupled with the newer songs “How Blue” and “Somebody Should Leave” (both released as singles and both going to #1) and a more traditional country sound gave finally Reba her breakthrough album. Reba attempted a pop styled Bakersfield sound with her “Reba” in 1988. While the critics did not approve her fans had her back. While touring for her “Rumor Has It” album Reba would lose much of her touring band in charter plane crash near San Diego, California. The aftermath of that tragedy was her 16th studio album “For My Broken Heart” which features songs of heartache, emptiness, and even sad outcomes as featured in her cover of the Vicki Lawrence hit “The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia.” Reba would break into acting, wining various cinema and Made-for-TV movie roles and even starting in her own sitcom from 2001-2007 that aired on upstart networks The WB and later The CW. Dolly Parton may have had the humbling beginnings, the perfect body figure, and the business sense but Reba always had to fight for what she wanted and many her songs describe women that had to fight throughout their lives…this is why Reba outranks Dolly in this survey. As her #3 Country Hit in 2001, declares; “I’m A Survivor.”
6. Charley Pride: He is a handful of African Americas to have success in the Country Music industry. The first Country Music superstar of American heritage was DeFord Bailey and his success would pave the way for Charley Pride. His prime time was between the years of 1967-1987. He would score 52 top ten Country hits in his career. Out of those 52 hits, 29 would could to Number One (including what would be his signature “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”). Like Bailey before him, Pride is a member of the Grand Ole Opry and it still an active performer in his 80’s. He recently became an investor and minority owner of the Major League Baseball club, the Texas Rangers. Pride lead the way showing that in spite of his skin being black…he was also Country he could perform with the best of them. His influence would help keep the door open for Darius Rucker (former lead vocalist for Hootie& the Blowfish) who found success as a Country Music solo artist and acceptance in the Grand Ole Opry as well.
5. Conway Twitty: He would have a Number One Pop with the song “It’s Only Make Believe.” While it was known for its rockabilly sound it would not chart on Country. He would have modest success on the pop chart, but when truly embraced Country, the hits would eventually come rolling in. He scored his first Top five Country hit in 1968 with “The Image in Me” and its follow-up “Next In Line” would be Twitty’s first number one. His Country signature “Hello Darlin” would top the Country Chart in 1970. A year later while he would continue to have a streak of solo Country hits he would also begin a run of Country Hits with the Coal Miner’s Daughter herself Loretta Lynn which the bulk of singles was between the years of 1971 and 1981. He would have his final top five Country hits in 1990 as the Young Country movement was taking hold.Two years later Conway Twitty passed away at the age of 59.
4. Alabama: Up until Alabama came on the scene, the ideal of a Country Music bands was quite rare. You had your solo acts, the duos but not a whole lot of Country bands. The group formed in Fort Payne, AL (somewere between Chattooga, TN and Huntsville, AL) originally called themselves Wildcountry. They changed their name to “Alabama” in 1977 which of course was named after their home state. By 1980, Alabama would begin their streak of Number One Country hits in the 1980’s with only “My Home’s In Alabama” and “Tar Top” being the only singles that failed to go to number one during that decade. In the 1990’s they’re were still an item on Country Radio and scoring top five hits, but not getting that Number spot like they used to. Their final top five hit was their version of ‘NSync’s “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time On You” which featured the boyband backing the REAL Country music band. Alabama did play their own instruments you know. Alabama would help popularize the Country band, and soon others followed with varied degrees of success. Among them; Restless Heart, Diamond Rio, Shenandoah, Highway 101, Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum, and before they became a duo, Sugarland. Still it’s unlikely that they or any other group will top Alabama.
3. Willie Nelson: He was a successful songwriter in Nashville writing hit songs for other artists especially “Hello Walls” for Faron Young, which put Willie on the map at least as a songwriter. “Crazy” was written for Patsy Cline, and the Christmas standard “Pretty Paper” was popularized by Roy Orbison. However, Willie would not have his own success as a musician in his own right until he became the face of the Outlaw Country movement which he wore from head to toe. RCA Records could not handle Willie’s direction and was signed to Atlantic Records who was trying to build a Country Music roster in the 1970’s, and Willie seemed to be the perfect choice to build upon. However Atlantic bowed out of Country in 1975 (for the time being until the early 1990’s), and soon afterwards Willie signed with Columbia Records (and allowed Willie complete control of his content) and really hit pay dirt with his first album for the label titled “Red Headed Stranger.” It was a concept album about a man who murders his unfaithful wife and begins a long journey to redemption and new love. One of the songs, on the album was written by Fred Rose and originally performed by Roy Acuff. That song was “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain” and would be Willie Nelson’s first number one country hit as an artist in 1976. In 1978, he recorded an album of pre-rock pop standards done in his Outlaw Country style which he titled “Stardust” which was named after the pop standard and was recorded for the album. He recorded the album in only ten days in December 1977. His takes on “Georgia On My Mind” and “Blue Skies” however would top the Country Singles chart, and “All of Me” would peak at #3. His biggest hits came out in the 1980’s, with songs like, “On the Road Again” and his cover of “Always On Mind” which would be his overall crossover hit. He was also part of The Highwaymen (the top member of this overall survey) which also included Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings both of whom made this Top 20 list. He also is the oldest Country artist to date to score a number one hit. He did as part of a duet he did with Toby Keith in 2003 called “Beer for My Horses.”
2. Merle Haggard: He lost his father to a brain tumor when he was about eight years old, and he turned to the wrong side of the law. No matter how his family tried, he could not stay out of trouble. He would finally wind up in San Quentin Prison in February 1958. During his time at San Quentin, he would be sent to solitary confinement in which he met death row inmate Caryl Chessman. Also, one of his fellow prison mates did escape (and Haggard planned to escape with but stayed behind) and shot a police officer along the way and was returned to San Quentin with a death sentence that was carried out. That and Chessman’s eventual execution were the events that finally helped turn Haggard around. He was able to keep a steady prison job in the textile plant. He also turned to music by playing in the San Quentin Prison Country music band and was inspired to try his hand at music by a performance of Johnny Cash who famously did a concert at San Quentin on New Year’s Day in 1959. Haggard was released from San Quentin in 1960 and would work as a ditch digger for this brother’s electrical contracting company. He would take up music again this time as a free man, and recording for Tally Records. Buck Owens and the Bakersfield sound was emerging and Haggard was determined to be part of that subgenre of Country music. He would sign with Capitol Records in the mid 1960’s and would score his first number one country with the true to life song “”I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” (even though he did not write it himself), and his string of Country hits would last until the late 1980’s. In 1972 then Governor of California Ronald Reagan would a full and unconditional pardon for his past crime. Prison and eventually Country Music would be life savers for a man that would forever be haunted by the death of his father at a young age. Haggard would live to be 79 years of age, passing away on April 6, 2016.
1. George Strait: He may have to share the title “King of Country” with Garth Brooks and Brooks might have been inspired by Strait when he first came out; but according Billboard, the crown solely belongs to George Harvey Strait. If anyone took Country music back to its roots and popularized the Neotraditional subgenre of Country in the early 1980’s, it was Strait. Not only musically but in his public appearances usually dressed like a Cowboy…Cowboy hat and all. While he was influenced by the big Country acts of the day, one of his biggestnon-country influences on Strait would beThe Chairman of the Board of the board himself Frank Sinatra. Strait served in U.S. Army from 1971 and was honorable discharged in 1975. Strait did not have any close connections to anyone in the music business except for Erv Woolsey who operated a bar in which Strait’s band played at and Woolsey once worked at MCA Records. Woolsey was able to convince a few representatives from Nashville to hear Strait and his band play. They turned him down and Strait was almost ready to give it up. MCA Records signed him to a one shot single deal…if the single was a hit then they would consider him for an album. His first single released on April 6, 1981 that could have been his only one (Unwound) would peak at Number Six on the Country Singles chart.His first full debut album “Strait Country” was released in September of that very same year. His follow album in 1982 “Strait from the Heart” would score him two number one Country singles (Fool Hearted Memory, and A Fire I Can’t Put Out) and his best-known track from the album “Amarillo by Morning” peaking at number four. His third album “Right or Wrong” had every single going to the top of the Country singles chart including the tear jerker “You Look So Good in Love.” His 1987 album “Ocean Front Property” scored three number ones including the title track and “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” (the song was recently featured in the recent “Power Rangers” movie for the record). Another Strait signature was “Love Without End, Amen” which was on his “Livin It Up” album in 1990, and the “Pure Country” soundtrack gave us “I Cross My Heart.” When Strait’s first Box Set came out, he put out a fun but simple song but a love going back to the days of passing notes in grade school (Check Yes or No). Strait’s final top five hits to date came out in 2011 and his final top ten in 2012. Unlike other artists that change labels in order to better themselves or whatever, Strait has stayed with MCA Nashville since he first signed with them in 1981. He may not embrace the newest trends in Country Music but the songs he does are downhome, speak to the heartland, and true to the roots of Country. That is why Strait is the number one All Time Country Artist and the True King of Country.
To see the complete list of the Top 100 All Time County Artists click this link. http://www.billboard.com/charts/greatest-country-artists