Donny and Marie might have been on to something when they first sang about being a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n roll back in 1976. Though the cheeky song poked fun at the Osmond sibling “rivalry” as they co-hosted a variety show on ABC, when it comes to the two music genres at least, they have more in common than might appear at first.
Both can be traced to American roots music – as Elvis Presley was changing the game for early rock ‘n’ roll, Johnny Cash was establishing a new kind of country music, with the two legends even teaming up that fateful night at Sun Record Studios in what has become “Million Dollar Quartet” infamy.
Decades later, and those dividing lines are becoming even blurrier as many artists dip their hands in both styles – viewed as the country capital of the world, Nashville has now become a mecca for rock stars as well. Staind’s Aaron Lewis, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Hootie himself Darius Rucker have all successfully released country music while Detroit cowboy Kid Rock has made a whole career of toeing the line between both styles (with some hip-hop thrown in, of course).
This fall, Five Finger Death Punch and country singer Brantley Gilbert are even teaming up for a co-headlining arena tour that shows plenty of music fans in fact like both rock ‘n’ roll and country.
As we get further away from standard record store bin categorization as more and more artists genre blend, it’s no surprise these two styles are becoming bedfellows. For these 13 acts, some imbue rock ‘n’ roll with country heart and soul, while others have turned the twang up to 11 with songs that could just as well be rock anthems.
Joining Five Finger Death Punch and Brantley Gilbert on the upcoming U.S. arena tour, which kicks off Nov. 9, is this self-described country rocker.
Marks hails from the Great White North but sounds like he could just as well be from the American south with his gritty growl on songs such as “Outlaws and Outsiders,” a track that not only features country star Travis Tritt but also rockers Ivan Moody and Mick Mars (his labelmates on Better Noise Music).
With that song, Marks is notable for being the first country Canadian artist to score a Top 10 on U.S. rock radio.
She might give off Taylor Swift vibes at first glance, but make no mistake – this young gun talent from South Carolina is no prototypical country cutie. The guitar licks Wicklund writes on tunes such as “Bomb Through the Breeze” are downright dirty with a bluesy/psych rock edge… and she first started writing music at the ripe age of 8. The now 20-year-old has vocal chops to back it all up and the powerful combo has even caught the attention of Greta Van Fleet’s Sam Kizka who is reportedly producing Wicklund’s upcoming material.
Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown
It’s no coincidence this rootsy act is compared to southern rock gold like Lynyrd Skynyrd and blues rock master Stevie Ray Vaughn. Bryant has that same X factor that taps into the soul of the land with stripped-back methods for recording that come off at their most authentic.
The latest material, such as the single “Ain’t None Watered Down” from 2022 album Shake Your Roots, puts an even bigger emphasis on getting back to basics and adds in some slide guitar for good measure. The new song was co written with Bryant’s wife, Rebecca Lovell, behind Larkin Poe, another act who could just as well fit on this list.
The inaugural winner of Season 1 of Hit Parader’s No Cover competition show was set up for success from the start with a truly unique sound on songs such as “Thunderhead” that combines bluegrass and thrash metal, or as the band has geniusly termed it, “thrash-grass.”
Even more curious is the fact that the quartet hails from Michigan, a far cry from both the Bay Area and Kentucky where the two disparate music styles originated. No Cover judges Alice Cooper, Lzzy Hale, Gavin Rossdale, Tosin Abasi and Bishop Briggs were unanimous in their praise for the victors who now have a deal with Sumerian Records.
Dorothy Martin has never followed standard conventions. The Hungary-born, L.A.-based singer – whose impeccable voice has drawn comparisons to Grace Slick – was notably the first rock act to be signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label.
Along with her three-piece backing band, she’s delivered the goods on songs such as “After Midnight” and “Raise Hell” that have a bluesy, garage rock spin with some real country swagger. Some outlets have even hailed them as a “combination of whiskey and heartbreak,” a title that’s just begging for its own country single.
Rebellion can be a big part of being a country songwriter, too. Take the enigmatic Nikki Lane. Her renegade style (a fusion of retro Loretta Lynn with modern indie rock ingenues such as Angel Olsen) is the byproduct of a religious Baptist upbringing in South Carolina where music became her refuge.
Her 2022 album Denim & Diamonds takes her even further into the bonafide rock realm with help from Josh Homme, fellow QOTSA alum Alain Johannes on guitar and Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys on drums. It has a feel of what Jack White recorded with Wanda Jackson – and we are here for it.
Guitar brands love this standout young axeman. Not only did he win the Gibson Les Paul Tribute Contest early in his career, but Nichols has also partnered with Epiphone on a couple of occasions to recreate instrument models targeted toward a new generation of players.
He was also named Gibson’s Global Ambassador in 2021, sharing that title with big leaguers such as Dave Mustaine, Slash and Lzzy Hale. All of that bodes well for some serious rock cred, yet Nichols’ clean vocals and catchy songwriting on songs such as “Skin N Bone” teeter on country and blues rock, drawing inklings of Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top.
Ushering in the country rap aka “hick-hop” movement on a large mainstream scale is
this affable, attention-grabbing artist who hails from just outside Nashville. Early on in
his career, Jelly Roll partnered with hip-hop stars like Lil Wyte and Struggle Jennings on
dirty South drill tracks like “Pop Another Pill” though he’s always remained country-
adjacent, fully exploring that side of himself on 2021’s Ballads of the Broken that
features drawling crooner songs like “Son of a Sinner.” And really when you feud with
Waffle House – like he did on a 2013 mixtape
Thick guitars are the cornerstone of American roots music, and one artist who covers the gamut of what the instrument can do is this South Carolina-bred shapeshifter. Marcus King is not only an ace guitarist (a fourth-generation talent taught by his star father, Marvin King, when he was just 3-years-old) but an incredible vocalist, too, whose style ranges from country to blues to rock.
His latest album Young Blood finds him teaming up again with his go-to producer, the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, and brings in a stacked list of ‘70s influences not to mention some hearty inspiration for the songwriting. From breakups to addiction to salvation, it’s the stuff that bleeds rock and country.
Michael Wilson Hardy might not be a household name yet – though most people have unknowingly heard his work. The Mississippi-born talent is a songwriting powerhouse, having scribed megahits for country stars such as Florida Georgia Line (where he’s credited as a writing partner), Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett and Morgan Wallen, among others.
A few years ago, he was encouraged to step out of the shadows and signed his own recording deal with Big Loud Records under the project name Hardy. His music — such as the track “Rednecker” — has obvious roots in country (he was named the Academy of Country Music's 2022 Songwriter of the Year, after all), but Hardy has also tapped rock bigwigs such as Zakk Wylde for contributions, too.
The Texan guitar slinger’s unique upbringing was a breeding ground for his one-of-a-kind musical path. The son of a pastor, Meade first cut his teeth on six strings when he played in the church band. Though his father was also a huge fan of metal and classic rock and took a young Meade to Judas Priest and Whitesnake shows when they weren’t doing Bible studies.
The artist’s style on tracks such as the slick “Dopamine Drop” is a keen mix of Americana and ‘70s rock ‘n’ roll with some Oklahoma/Texas grit thrown in for good measure. He’s also notably signed to Spinefarm Records, the home of heavy bands such as Atreyu and, formerly, a fellow list maker, Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown.
Elle King looks like a rock star and she sounds like one, too, on songs like her first big hit, the hip-slapping “Ex’s & Oh’s.” But in the years since, the raspy-voiced star (also the daughter of comedian Rob Schneider) has found her place in the country world.
One of her biggest tracks is “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” with Miranda Lambert that reached the Np. 1 pinnacle spot on country radio and she preceded it with “Different For Girls,” a track with Dierks Bentley. Now based in Nashville, the merger will likely keep growing for King.
Country and grunge music find a middle lane with this renegade talent who's been on the fast track since debuting in 2015 and most recently signing with major label Columbia Records in 2020. Wetzel himself brands songs such as “Creeps” as “hillbilly punk rock” with songwriting that combines country storytelling and a lot of amped up attitude.
Born in Texas, Wetzel’s mother was a country star and brought him with her on the road, introducing the budding talent to the scene in his formative years. He immersed himself in rock music in his teens, eventually landing on his breakthrough style. To support his latest album, Hell Paso, Wetzel is hitting the road tagging another genre smasher, Jelly Roll, for some dates.