Rob Perks at the Natural Resources Defense Council has just unveiled a wonderful website tribute to Grammy Award-winning country and rock musicians banding together to stop mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Featuring Kathy Mattea, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Big Kenny Alphin, the Music Saves Mountains campaign is a great reminder of the indisputable role of the Appalachian mountains in shaping country, folk, jazz, bluegrass, blues and rock music–and why we need to protect the mountains and mountain heritage from the ravages of mountaintop removal mining.
No one has been more important to this growing movement than Kathy Mattea, the beloved country music star, whose many number one hits include “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”, “Come from the Heart” and “Burnin’ Old Memories.” A coal miner’s granddaughter, the West Virginia native released a powerful album last year, COAL, that explored the vast range of coal mining songs in a beautiful tribute to “my place and my people.”
The Appalachians, of course, have been the great crossroads of American music; there would be no Grand Ol’ Opry without Roy Acuff; the modern-day Nashville scene could not have emerged without Chet Atkin’s guitar licks and recording-producing genius, or the household recognition of Appalachian singers like Ralph Stanley, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakum and the Judds. The first family of country, the Carter Family from Clinch Mountain, took part in the Big Bang of Country Music at the historic Bristol recordings with Jimmy Rodgers in 1927. The first country recording ever took place in 1923, by Appalachian fiddler John Carson.
With the introduction of the banjo and guitar by African Americans, Appalachian musicians include blues empress Bessie Smith and Black Mountain Blues, Alabama hill native WC Handy, the father of the blues, and the High Priestess of Soul Nina Simone, who’s breakthrough recording of the “House of the Rising Sun” was actually preceded by an eastern Kentucky coal miner’s rendition of the great ballad. The treasury of music from folk musicians like Florence Reece (author of “Which Side Are You On?”), Jean Ritchie, Roscoe Holcomb and Hazel Dickens continue to shape folk and country traditions today.
“The beauty of the Appalachian Mountains has inspired countless songs in country, bluegrass, gospel and folk music. We must do everything possible to protect them,” says Big Kenny. “This campaign was founded out of the respect musicians, and especially people from Appalachia, have for our beloved mountains. We’re calling on everyone to help keep the ‘country’ in country music.”