10 Best Outlaw Country Artists of All-Time

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In the 1970s, country music was out of touch.  It consisted of lush, orchestral arrangements known as the Nashville Country Sound.  By the end of the decade, a few artists were so highly critical of the entire country music system (where artists were often told what songs they could sing), they rebelled against the executives at Music Row and offered up a rougher, more complicated sound.  This would soon be called the Outlaw Movement in country music.  Though the stars of the Outlaw world detested being labeled as such, the movement is regarded as one of the most influential subgenres of country music.

10 Best Outlaw Country Artists of All-Time

10. Townes Van Zandt

He knew how to perfectly express his world of deep sadness with his whiskey-wrung smile.  It takes a certain kind of fatalist outlaw to name your album posthumously when you’re still alive, which is exactly what he did.

9. Billie Joe Shaver

An excellent, gruff-voiced interpreter of song, Shaver is among the most respected living writers of country music. In fact, much of Billy Joe Shaver’s life feels like an actual country song.

8. Kris Kristofferson

An outlaw poet. His epic journey has taken him from Oxford to the Army Rangers to Nashville and Hollywood.  Somehow Kristofferson has always managed to unite hippie ideals with his shit-kicking Texas spirit.

7. Johnny Paycheck

He is probably the purest of the pure outlaw country artists, as well as one of country music’s great survivors.

6. Hank Williams, Jr.

The son of country music’s greatest name, and a superstar in his own right.  In order to step out of his father’s shadow, he painted himself as a rowdy redneck country-outlaw in the ’70s, and hasn’t slowed down since.

5. Merle Haggard

Haggard’s genius is the gift he delivers with every performance.  He has one of the most pure and profoundly powerful voices in music.  His tough but smooth baritone epitomized the style of outlaw country.

4. Johnny Cash

While primarily remembered as a country music icon, his songs and sounds encompassed many genres — consisting of the blunt emotional honesty of folk, the rebelliousness of rock & roll, and the world-weariness of country.

3. David Allen Coe

An outlaw’s outlaw, he is a colorful, enigmatic singer-songwriter who has been a staple in the outlaw country movement  —  by fusing traditional honkytonk country with a no-holds barred rock-and-roll attitude. And while he hasn’t had many big hits, he still is one of the biggest cult figures in country music.

2. Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson is one of the most significant musicians of the last century not only in country music, but across all genres.  He started doing his own thing at birth — and eight decades later he hasn’t slowed down a bit.

1. Waylon Jennings

Waylon was an honest artist who always fought to record the music inside him — the way he wanted to hear it.  If anyone ever embodied the outlaw country movement, it was Waylon.

Notable others:

Jerry Jeff Walker, Charlie Daniels, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Hank Williams, Jessi Colter, Steve Earle, Steve Young

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