The term 'roots rock music' was coined in the mid 1980's when some bands rebelled against the sticky sweet, pop-oriented new wave kind of music that had become so popular in that decade. These bands reverted back to the rock 'n' roll values and sounds of the 50's and 60's. The blues, rock 'n' 'roll and country were brought back to their roots by these groups of musicians. This rebellion created an alternative kind of music that became extremely popular with the American college crowd and produced heavy airplay on college radio stations.
Think of Creedence Clearwater Revival, John Fogerty, John Mellancamp, Steve Earle and Ry Cooder – that is the type of music that roots rock is – along with bands like Beat Farmers and Long Ryders. The genre became less popular in the American underground by the late 1980's but there were still bands that continued recording and performing their music well into the 1990's.
Although the term roots rock came about in the 1980's, it actually started showing itself in the music of such legends as Bob Dylan way back in 1966. Dylan went the opposite direction of many of the rock artists that were moving into psychedelia type rock music. With the help of musicians like Charlie McCoy, Dylan went to a back to basics type of music, back to the roots so to speak, when he recorded Blonde on Blonde in Nashville. This same movement that Bob Dylan spearheaded started other bands (like Creedence Clearwater Revival) to follow the same musical sounds and style. This style also helped to launch the careers of Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder.
Today, roots rock is still prevalent with the music of The Eagles, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris still very much played on the airways and sold on iTunes. New artists are writing back to the roots style music because of the profound effect legendary musicians have had on them growing up. They have the same sincerity, passion and honesty in their music and lyrics that listening to and loving roots rock music has taught them. This newer breed of artists are still telling stories and setting them to the glorious sounds of guitars, pedal steel and throbbing drum sets.
Roots rock is not gimmicky nor is it trying to be mainstream or the next top 40 hit as many pop music artists are attempting to do today. It is about story telling and has depth and integrity. It's rawness, openness and reality will continue to appeal to a forever growing audience of fans.