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The Story of Outlaw Country in 33 Songs

Townes Van Zandt doing his thing.

The story of outlaw country starts in very different places, depending on who is spinning the yarn. Historian Joe Nick Patoski wonders if it all started in 1972, after Willie Nelson’s home outside Nashville caught fire, prompting him to move back to Austin and play dancehalls around Texas. “Outlaws & Armadillos,” the Country Music Hall of Fame’s current exhibition, insists the movement started with Bobby Bare in the 1970s, when the headstrong country star negotiated a new contract with RCA Records that allowed him to produce his own albums; soon, Nelson and Waylon Jennings scored similar deals and made thematically cohesive albums like 1974’s Phases & Stages and 1973’s Honky Tonk Heroes. Or, as Steve Earle recalls—and he’s an expert—the whole affair happened because of Doug Sahm. (More on that in a minute.) Read more >

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