Folk rock  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Folk rock is a musical genre, combining elements of folk music and rock music.

In its earliest and narrowest sense, the term referred to a genre that arose in the United States and Canada around the mid-1960s. The sound was epitomized by tight vocal harmonies and a relatively "clean" (effects- and distortion-free) approach to electric instruments epitomized by the jangly sound of the Byrds' guitarist Roger McGuinn. The repertoire was drawn in part from folk sources, but even more from folk-influenced singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan.

This original folk rock directly led to the distinct, eclectic style of Electric folk (a.k.a. British folk rock) pioneered in the late 1960s by Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Starting from a North-American style folk rock, Pentangle, Fairport and other related bands deliberately incorporated elements of traditional British folk music. At the same time, in Brittany, Alan Stivell began to mix his Breton roots with Irish and Scottish roots and with rock music. Very shortly afterwards, Fairport bassist Ashley Hutchings formed Steeleye Span in collaboration with traditionalist British folk musicians who wished to incorporate electrical amplification, and later overt rock elements, into their music.

This, in turn, spawned several other variants: the self-consciously English folk rock of the Albion Band and some of Ronnie Lane's solo work, and the more prolific current of Celtic rock, incorporating traditional music of Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and Brittany. Through at least the first half of the 1970s, Celtic rock held close to folk roots, with its repertoire drawing heavily on traditional Celtic fiddle and harp tunes and even traditional vocal styles, but making use of rock band levels of amplification and percussion.

In a broader sense, folk rock includes later similarly-inspired musical genres and movements in the English-speaking world (and its Celtic fringes) and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Europe. As with any genre, the borders are difficult to define. Folk rock may lean more toward folk or toward rock in its instrumentation, its playing and vocal style, or its choice of material; while the original genre draws on music of Europe and North America, there is no clear delineation of which folk cultures music might be included as influences. Still, the term is not usually applied to rock music rooted in the blues-based or other African American music (except as mediated through folk revivalists), nor to rock music with Cajun roots, nor to music (especially after about 1980) with non-European folk roots, which is more typically classified as world music.


The roots of folk rock

Folk rock arose mainly from the confluence of three elements: urban/collegiate folk vocal groups, singer-songwriters, and the revival of North American rock and roll after the British Invasion. Of these, the first two owed direct debts to Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Popular Front culture of the 1930s.

The first of the urban folk vocal groups was the Almanac Singers, whose shifting membership during the late 1930s and early 1940s included Guthrie and Seeger and Lee Hayes. In 1947 Seeger and Hayes joined Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman to form the Weavers, who popularized the genre and had a major hit with a cleaned-up cover of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene", but fell afoul of the U.S. Red Scare of the early 1950s. Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio (founded 1957), the Chad Mitchell Trio, New Christy Minstrels, and the (usually less political) "collegiate folk" groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and (in some cases) topical songs. The successors of such groups were bands such as We Five and the Mamas and Papas (1965-6).

When the term singer-songwriter was coined in the mid-1960s, it was applied retroactively to Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and other (mainly New York-based) folk-rooted songwriters. Scottish songster Donovan also fit this mould. Dylan's material would provide much of the original grist for the folk rock mill, not only in the U.S. but in the UK as well.

None of this would likely ever have intersected with rock music, though, if it had not been for the impulse of the British Invasion. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and numerous other British bands reintroduced to America the broad potential of rock and roll as a creative medium. One of the first bands to craft a distinctly American sound in response was the Beach Boys; while not a folk rock band themselves, they directly influenced the genre, and at the height of the folk rock boom in 1966 had a hit with a cover of the 1920s West Indian folk song "Sloop John B", which they had learned from The Kingston Trio, who, in turn, had learned it from the Weavers.

However, there are a few antecedents to folk rock in pre-British Invasion American rock; one could cite Link Wray (a full-blooded Apache drawing upon tribal drum rhythms) in "Fatback and Beans", as well as some of the later recordings of Buddy Holly, which strongly influenced artists like Dylan and the Byrds, and to some extent some recordings by country-influenced performers like The Everly Brothers. This was not a recognized trend at the time, and probably would have not been noticed if not for subsequent events.

The original folk rock impulse

In the United States the heyday of folk rock is likely between the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, not only aligning itself but also becoming the medium of expression for the hippie movement. Cities such as San Francisco, Denver, New York and Phoenix became centers for the folk rock culture, playing on their central locations among the original folk circuits.

It is to be noted that the earthy "unplugged" musically simplified sound of the music and common presentation reflected the genre's connection to a more earthy look at society's state of affairs. Unlike pop music's escapist lyrics that were disconnected from reality, a fantasy distraction from the problems in life, folk artists were actually speaking to masses their connected-to-life messages for peace, global awareness, and other touchstones of the revolutionary era.

Country folk

Arising originally from the folk-influenced music of Bob Dylan and earlier musicians, the folk revivalist vocal combo, and the rock music of the British Invasion, it folk rock later incorporated elements of country music, drawing on Hank Williams and others. Such success in the country folk blend led to pioneering records for '60s folk singers like John Denver and Judy Collins.

Electric folk

The British style of folk rock (often called electric folk) was established by the band Fairport Convention, who formed in North London in the late 1960s, and by Pentangle who were also influenced by classical and jazz traditions and avoided electric instruments for several albums. Steeleye Span, also prominent in this vein, was formed by folk musicians who wished to add electric instruments and experiment with song structures. Nick Drake's music has had a large impact on modern folk rock. Several temporary groups, such as the duo, Bert and John, also contributed to the development of the genre. Bert and John, in particular, developed a style of intricate acoustic guitar duet sometimes referred to as 'folk=baroque'.

Across the English Channel in Brittany or France, a similar fusion of folk and rock elements can be found in the Breton folk rock music of Alan Stivell (1970s and later) and the French Malicorne, founded by one of Alan Stivell's musicians.

British folk rock was also influenced by some experimental work, found for example in The Incredible String Band, who found considerable popularity in the university town of Cambridge, Massachusetts, for several years, and this line of development eventually contributed to prog rock.

Elsewhere in Europe and the Mediterranean

In Hungary fusion of rock and folk music began in 1965, when the band Illés introduced Hungarian folk music elements in their beat-influenced music, winning everything could be won in that time at festivals, tv-contests, etc. Their rock-musical István, a király (King Stephen of Hungary), released in 1980 contains heavy folk-influences and traditional folk songs as well. The film made based on the rock-opera was one of the biggest box-office hits in 1980. Later on bands like Barbaro, Gépfolklór, Kormorán and Drums have developed a unique sound using odd rhythms, progressive rock, Hungarian and Greek/Bulgarian/etc. folk traditions.

In Romania Transsylvania Phoenix (known in Romania simply as Phoenix), founded in 1962, introduced significant folk elements into their rock music around 1972 in an unsuccessful attempt to compromise with government repression of rock music. The attempt failed, and they ended up in exile during much of the Ceauşescu era, but much of their music still retains a folk rock sound. The present-day bands Spitalul de Urgenţă (Romanian) and Zdob şi Zdub (Moldova) also both merge folk and rock.

Other fusions of folk and rock include New Flamenco (Spain), the pop-oriented forms of North African raï music. From Anglo-Irish culture there is The Pogues, and from Ireland itself, Horslips. Spain has produced two folk-rock-bagpipers, Susana Seivane and Hevia, who mix traditional with modern dance tunes. Dropkick Murphys also draw on traditional Irish music and punk rock.

Turkey, during the 1970s and 1980s, also sustained a vibrant folk rock scene, drawing inspirations from diverse ethnic elements of Anatolia, the Balkans, Eurasia and the Black Sea region and thrived in a culture of intense political strife, with musicians in nationalist and Marxist camps. See Music of Turkey.

Another folk rock band is Gåte from Norway who combines Norwegian folk songs (Stev) and rock.

Italian folk rock

It is too difficult to define the boundaries between folk and ethnic music in Italy, because of its geographic position and its history.

The basis on folk side were founded by the Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare at the end of sixties with the aim of search and diffusion of popular music of Campania. A lot of artists alternated in the group Eugenio Bennato, Giovanni Mauriello, Peppe Barra and Roberto De Simone, Fausta Vetere and Patrizio Trampetti. In 1964 was born Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano that number Ivan Della Mea, Gualtiero Bertelli, Paolo Pietrangeli, Giovanna Marini, and the peasant singer Giovanna Daffini. The Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano was characterized by musical search and a strong political commitment, that was bring in the play Ci ragiono e canto (I think and sing) by Dario Fo.

In Italy many songwriters imported American models: is enough to think to Folk beat n. 1 by Francesco Guccini or to Edoardo Bennato who mixes country, tarantella and rock.

The original folk rock roots can be found in two Italian songwriters: Fabrizio De André and Angelo Branduardi. Angelo Brandurdi is a classical musician, graduated at Genova's conservatory in violin. His first LP Branduardi '74 is near to progressive sound, later he approaches to medieval and rinascimental and Celtic music; in 1985 he sang W. B. Yeats poetries. The violin, the harp, the sitar, the banjo and the lute are accompanied by electric bass and drums. Later he substituted violin with electric violin.

In 1984 Fabrizio De André published the LP Creuza de ma, in Genoese dialect (an ancient dialect, with ancient and obsolete words, imported from Arabian, with linguistic difficulties among the same Genoese). On the musical aspect, De Andrè used musical instruments from Bosporus to Gibraltar: oud, andalusian guitar, macedonian bag pipe, flute, turkish shannaj, lute, greek bouzuki and neapolitan mandolin. A record that was out of market rules, but was a hit and opened the doors to ethno-folk-rock.

In 1982 Lou Dalfin formed an occitanian group. It is among the first to resume traditional music with traditional instruments: ghironda, accordion and organetto, violin, flute, boha and bag pipe and singing in occitanian language. They broke up in 1985 but reunited in 1990 with a new line up with different roots: folk, jazz and rock; they introduced to folk instruments bass, drums, electric guitar, keyboard and saxophone. It's no longer only folk but folk rock.

In 1988 Gigi Camedda, Gino Marielli and Andrea Parodi founded Tazenda, one of the first Italian ethno-folk-rock, flag of Sardinia in the world. In their first record they created their own style: launeddas (the oldest reed instruments of the Mediterranean), the sampled "canti a tenore", the diatonic accordions are mixed with electric guitars.

The Gang were born in 1984 as a punk group, inspired by The Clash, but in 1990 they had an important u-turn: to talk about Italian political and social situation they have to sing in Italian. They had also a musical turn, they left Clash's punk, the electric guitar was substituted by acoustic twelve string guitar, were added violin, accordion, harmonica, flutes and bands. The Gang produced three albums Le radici e le ali (1991), Storie d'Italia (1993), with the collaboration and artistic production by Massimo Bubola, Una volta è per sempre (1995) that can be considered among the best Italian folk rock records. On the stage the previous songs and also I fought the law by The Clash, ever performed by the Gang, were revised in acoustic way. In 2004, after two rock discs, Gang recorded Nel tempo e oltre cantando insieme with La Macina, band of musical search from Marche lead by Gastone Pietrucci. Traditional songs and Gang's songs were revised rearranged: an example of fusion between rock and popular tradition.

In 1991 some emilian boys founded Modena City Ramblers, the band that influenced the most the Italian folk rock in the last 15 years. Their first demo-tape was Combat Folk: a musical manifesto: a fusion of Combat Rock by The Clash and folk: traditional Irish excerpt, political songs (Contessa) and partisans' songs (Fischia il vento and Bella Ciao rearranged with Irish sound. Combat folk will be a new muscal genre: folk rock with a strong political and social message. Later M.C.R. travelled in South America, Marocco, Palestine and South Africa, world sound met rock, punk, loops and samples: the new genre is Celtic patchanka. Many groups were born by M.C.R.: Casa del Vento, Fiamma Fumana lead by Alberto Cottica (electronic folk); Caravane de Ville of Giovanni Rubbiani; Ductia of Massimo Giuntini; Paulem and La strana famiglia lead by Luciano Gaetani; and at least Cisco (former singer of M.C.R.) now soloist.

Canadian folk rock

Canadian folk rock is particularly, although not exclusively, associated with Celtic folk traditions. Bands such as Figgy Duff, Wonderful Grand Band and Spirit of the West were early pioneers in the Canadian tradition of Celtic-influenced rock, and were later followed by acts such as Crash Test Dummies, Great Big Sea, The Mahones, The Dukhs, Jimmy George, Rawlins Cross, Captain Tractor, Mudmen and Celtae.

Other notable Canadian folk rock acts include The Band, The Grapes of Wrath, Lava Hay, The Waltons, Kashtin, Great Lake Swimmers and Beau Dommage, as well as singer-songwriters such as Gordon Lightfoot, David Wiffen and Stan Rogers.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Folk rock" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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