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Important Pianists of Country Music

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Country’s Most Famous and Influential Piano Players

Almost since its beginning, Country music has been linked to the piano. Although guitar was always the dominant instrument, a good piano line could add that unique flavor that no other instrument could.
Some of the greatest pianists in history were Country players. This article reviews the work of several influential piano players in this most American style of music.

Lillian Hardin Armstrong

Although best known as a jazz musician, Ms. Armstrong played piano on a number of early country songs by Jimmie Rodgers accompanied by her husband, the legendary trumpet player Louis Armstrong. She was also a composer, arranger, singer, and bandleader in her own right.

Aubrey “Moon” Mullican

The “King of the Hillbilly Piano Players” first came into prominence in the late 1920s, and was a huge influence on later country artists such as Hank Williams and Jim Reeves. He was also responsible for a raucous, blues-infused style of playing that would influence early rock n’ rollers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Bill Haley. He was a player, bandleader, and singer who had a career spanning 4 decades. He also wrote many country songs during his time, including the number 1 hit “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone.”

Floyd Cramer

Cramer was one of the architects of what was to be known as the Nashville Sound, which replaced the harder-edged honky-tonk style with a smoother pop style in the1950s and 1960s. He was known for his "slip note" piano style, where an out-of-key note slides into the correct note. This highly influential pianist recorded and performed with a number of legendary artists such as Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, and Elvis Presley. (He performed the famous tinkling piano solo on Elvis’ breakthrough song “Heartbreak Hotel.”)

In addition to his session work, Cramer recorded a number of solo albums and singles and frequently toured with Chet Atkins and Boots Randolph. He was active until his death in 1997.

Hargus “Pig” Robbins

Accidentally blinded at age 4, Robbins learned how to play piano at the age of seven at a school for the blind. He has been a session player since 1957, working with such greats as Kenny Rogers, Neil Young, George Jones, Bob Dylan, Alan Jackson, Loretta Lynn, and Merle Haggard. He has also released nine albums. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.

Ray Charles

This legendary piano player’s work spanned so many genres of music that his influence is felt everywhere in popular music. He was responsible for the groundbreaking albums MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC VOLUMES ONE AND TWO, which blended his soulful big-band style with country. He continued to record Country albums throughout his long career, and collaborated with the likes of Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Mickey Gilley.

Charlie Rich

Charlie Rich had, both figuratively and literally, a unique voice in popular music. One of the most acclaimed songwriters in country, he also had a uniquely bluesy piano style and a soulful voice with a large range. “Behind Closed Doors,” “There Won’t Be Anymore” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” all #1 hits, were but a few of his influential and highly popular songs.

This is only the beginning

There are many other great Country piano players that were not mentioned here. But a listen to the work of any of these artists would be a great starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about this great style of music.

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