Does Canadian Country Music Have an Identity?

Editor’s Note: see the three previous reflections in this series on country music and American values: “3 Reasons Why I Like Country Music," "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?" "Why Politics and Music Are Like Oil and Water."

When it comes to Canadian country music, one may legitimately wonder: why has Canada produced no equivalent of an American country great? Where are our Tim McGraws and Alan Jacksons, our Dolly Partons and Reba McEntires?

Perhaps an insecure relation to homeland has something to do with the matter. True country music is nothing if not committed to honoring the ordinary people who live on the land and work it, who produce its crops and foodstuffs, who run the shops and the greasy spoons, who drive the trucks and man the factories; it celebrates their lives as the backbone of the nation. Canadian country does this rarely.

It is not so much that we are devoid of national pride and patriotic feeling, but that our tendency is more toward a native chauvinism that is limiting in its expression—of the “American woman, stay away from me” variety that propelled The Guess Who into the spotlight. It is difficult to build an authentic tradition on rejection of another culture. One thinks of Neil Young’s put-downs of the American south as racist, “bullwhip crackin’” and “cross burning” in “Southern Man” and “Alabama,” appropriately mocked in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” Young later came to regret his hectoring manner, but the priggish self-satisfaction inherent in those lyrics expresses a great deal about Canadian attitudes.