The golden age of country music operated more like a machine than an artistic industry — artists sang the songs the labels wanted them to and that was that. But when a few artists decided they wanted to start writing their own rules, outlaw country as born.
Outlaw country is a rollercoaster. From hootin’ and hollerin’ songs about raisin’ hell to slow, heart-wrenching tales of lost love, here are some of our favorite acts known for playing by their own rules.
Townes Van Zandt
Townes never really fancied himself part of Nashville’s big-time country scene. He opted instead to forge his own path and make a name for himself. He did just that and recorded the best version of “Pancho & Lefty” along the way.
A quick glance at Kris Kristofferson’s Wikipedia page will show you what kind of badass he is. Helicopter pilot? Check. Army captain? Double check. Groundbreaking country music artist? You bet. Border Lord is his best.
The modern torchbearer of outlaw country, Sturgill has publicly declared his disdain for the Country Music Awards and openly mocked the country music establishment. Listen to a few tracks, and you’ll know the future of outlaw country is in good hands.
Outlaw country is often seen as a man’s game, but Jessi Colter stands that notion on its head. Colter was a trailblazer in songwriting and production, paving the way for many of most famous female country acts around today.
Waylon may be the OG outlaw. He basically invented the genre by taking no prisoners and made major-label creative control a possibility for country superstars.
Another artist who doesn’t need any introduction. Willie made his name by breaking the rules. From his love for fine cannabis to his pigtails, Willie has never given a damn what people thought about him, and his music’s been better because of it.
Not an outlaw per se, Gram Parsons was no stranger to the fast lifestyles of some of the other folks on our list. He developed his own brand of country music and never let a label dictate his sound or songwriting.
Did we miss your favorite outlaw country artist? Let us know who it is and hit was with some tracks!