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Rolling Stone Goes Country

A letter from the editor

June 1, 2014 12:00 PM ET

In the beginning, the music all blurred together. It was the sound of America starting to listen to itself – its real self, its vernacular truths, emerging from the crackle of AM radio and vinyl: Hank Williams, trained at the knee of a local bluesman, was playing something close to rock in 1947; Elvis Presley covered Bill Monroe on his first B side; Johnny Cash, as much as anyone, invented rockabilly; the rhythm guitar of Chuck Berry's first hit was pure country. Even the political rifts of the Sixties couldn't keep rock and country apart for long, and the cross-pollination never stopped, from the Eagles' influential hybrid hits to Garth Brooks' Billy Joel fandom to Eric Church's AC/DC power chords.

So we're proud to announce the launch of RollingStoneCountry.com, a new website dedicated to the genre – which we're celebrating in a special issue. Rolling Stone has always chronicled country: Cash, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, Kris Kristofferson, Brooks, Shania Twain and Taylor Swift have all been on our cover. This year, we opened our first Nashville office, and we'll dive deeper than ever in our website's daily coverage and in the pages of the magazine.

It's a perfect time for it: Now more than ever, music is all mixed up again. Listen to country radio today, and you'll hear heavy-metal guitar solos, hip-hop rhythms and EDM flourishes alongside pedal steel and twang: Country now encompasses all of American pop, decked out in cowboy boots and filtered through Music Row. Listen to pop radio, in turn, and you might hear Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum or Florida Georgia Line.

When I visited Nashville earlier this year, it felt like coming home. The first song I ever sang was "Silver Wings," by Merle Haggard. A few years later, my friend Gibby Haynes introduced me to the music of George Jones, Tom T. Hall, Parton and Junior Brown. And all the while, Bob Dylan's records opened a whole world of country influences. For all the excitement and power of computer-generated pop, it's good to know there's still a place on the charts for what Lucinda Williams called "real live bleeding fingers and broken guitar strings."

Rolling Stone has always been about storytelling, as has country music – and we're excited to have a new world of stories to tell. We will treat country the way we treat every other subject we cover: We will take it seriously, we will look beneath the surface, and we will always focus on what brought us here in the first place – the music.

—Gus Wenner
Director, RollingStone.com

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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