Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

American Studies

Major Professor

Andrew Berish, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Daniel Belgrad, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Maria Cizmic, Ph.D.


Music, space, country, class, western


The goal of this thesis is to analyze the development of the Nashville and Bakersfield sounds in the 1950s and 1960s through the lens of space. I will examine the role class plays in country music by examining the places in which it developed. Beginning with a historical perspective of the music, I will show that a middle-class outlook controlled labeling of the music. While the early country music industry professed to "discover" the sounds of rural America, this sound was only allowed to be expressed if it conformed to corporate interests.

With the advent of the honky-tonk bar, the working class had an important opportunity to step outside this mold and fashion a music that better reflected its own interests. The developing honky-tonk sound became rougher in its lyrical content, voicing the concerns of failed marriages, alcohol filled nights and urban frustrations. The instrumentation began to include steel and electric guitars. Over time, the developing honky-tonk sound influenced the recording industry. Through the use of jukeboxes in the honky-tonks, patrons voiced a preference for the new, rougher and louder sound.

After establishing the sound of the honky-tonks I will focus attention on the developments of the Nashville and Bakersfield sounds, examining how each responded to the honky-tonk. For the architects of the Nashville Sound, the issue of class remained king. Chet Atkins professed a goal of making the music more respectable. Respectable in this case meant middle class, prompting Atkins to abandon the honky-tonk altogether by smoothing over the rough edges of honky-tonk music. With respect to the Bakersfield Sound, Buck Owens, in striving to carve out an identity as an "authentic" country performer, identified the honky-tonk as a site of authentic country music, and sought to retain much of the same instrumentation. However, like Chet Atkins, Buck Owens made his own changes to the lyrical content of the music, downplaying some of the rougher themes to honky-tonk music. For Owens, authenticity laid in keeping the artist authentic to the honky-tonk which was more about instrumentation and singing style than it was lyrical content.