Sunday, June 25, 2017

Music Years Of My Life: 1990

Today it's known as Americana, but back in the 70's/80's the phrase was Progressive Country.  It's most famous radio station was located in Gilroy, CA, and was called KFAT on your FM dial.  From 1975-1983, KFAT played anything that was left-of-center Country, Bluegrass, Blues and whatever other mainstream channels weren't playing.
After it went off the air in 1983, most of the staff relocated to Freedom, CA (near Watsonville or near Monterey) and began KPIG-FM which signed on in 1988.

As someone who lives on the Monterey Peninsula I was aware of KFAT, but at that time my car presets were on Top 40, Old School Soul and mainstream Country.  Progressive Country was a genre that I knew of from music mags, but wasn't something I would buy.

At some point in 1990,  a colleague of mine asked me what radio stations I listened to.  This was pre-Internet and pre-Sirius.  He mentioned that KPIG was an ear-opener.  So, on his suggestion I started listening to it.  He was right.  Most of the artists they played I was familiar with:  Joe Ely, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams.  Bigger names like the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers were already in my collection.  But there were acts played that even I never heard of.   Suddenly, I'm hearing modern Hawaiian, Folk, Blues names that were a revelation.  The great thing about KPIG is that it wasn't and still isn't always about Americana.  They'll throw in some older R&B names like Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding.  Elvis Presley? Beatles?  Yep.

The Americana tag didn't begin until 1995.  Good old Wikipedia tells me that was the first year an airplay chart was published with the Americana word on it.  (Besides KPIG, Texas' KFAN was the other Americana staple at the outset.   Today, the weekly chart is a must-look for me.

The good thing about going deep with another genre is that you discover artists and songs that make you wonder how you missed them.  But they were right there,  on my book shelf at least.  One of the great music books, John Morthland's 1984 Best of Country Music included records from the early days of Prog-Country.  Morthland's book can still be found used, and even though he refused to pring any updates, is a must for any music lover. He passed away in 2016.  But thanks to his book, I had easy access to some of the acts played on KPIG.  

Now, some 22 years later the Americana genre is as strong as ever with a yearly Award show, more radio stations (Sirius' Outlaw Country is basically their Americana channel).  KFAT is still alive, but only as a streaming online station.  KPIG continues to roll along.   Years ago, the company that owns KPIG was thinking of changing its format.  An outcry occurred and the public won.  And my dial preset remained as it has for a couple of decades.  

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