The Hippie Movement and Traditional Music

The hippie movement started in the early 1960s in the United States and as the decade progressed, the culture grew around the world. It was a movement that was typified by a number of factors, such as dress, political ideology and social drug use, but one of the most important aspect was the music that was played. The music that was most popular was psychedelic rock which was supposed to replicate the experience of taking hallucinogenic drugs. This music genre was created by a number of blues, folk and jazz musicians taking their music and electrifying it.

Jefferson Airplane folk instruments ready

The peak time for the psychedelic rock was between 1966 and 1969 and it started in the San Francisco area of California. This was fuelled by the summer rock festivals where many of the bands were able to showcase their new music. It was also an arena for political protest, where the Vietnam War, women’s rights and Black Civil rights were the main issues.

One of the first bands to emerge were Jefferson Airplane who started to bridge the change from traditional music to Psychedelic rock. Many of the members were former folk performers and their popularity increased when lead singer Grace Slick was recruited, as she was a former model. The band performed at all of the major festivals in the States and even travelled to Britain for the Isle of Wight Festival in 1968. Most of their following was in the San Franciso area and although they split in 1972, they made a major contribution to the new emerging music scene.

“The Blues” singer Janis Joplin

Another psychedelic band with a female lead singer was the Big Band and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin fronting the group. With members of the group coming from country blues and jazz backgrounds the traditional feel of the group was complimented with the recruitment of Joplin who herself was a blues singer.

Like many of the bands at this time, the group simply married the new electric instruments with their musical talents. Their album “Cheap Thrills”, released in 1968, is widely regarded as one of the most influential albums during this period. Like Jefferson Airplane, the drug usage by the band members took its toll and the original line-up disbanded in 1972. One of the most famous musician to emerge from this era was Bob Dylan. He had started as a folk singer but he gradually immersed himself into political protest. His main strength was his song writing skills and it did not matter what style of music, he played he could always write great songs.

During the late 1960s he created folk rock by simply electrifying his sound. This actually caused great controversy as the main protagonists in the protests movement disliked Dylan moving away from his folk roots. His success saw other artists being drawn to folk rock with one of the most popular bands being the Byrds whose members included many folk musicians.

Both Dylan and the Byrds were popular among the hippie fans, but they were not psychedelic musicians as their music did not concentrate on the hallucinogenic experience. In Dylan’s case, he never really left writing protest songs, he just did it accompanied by electric guitars. This era was definitely the time when traditional music evolved into different genres.


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