Look Back at Outlaw Country’s Roaring ’70s

A new exhibit at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame celebrates country music’s original cowboys

In the mid-1970s, Music Row bigwigs dubbed them outlaws—Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Bobby Bare. “But they didn’t want to be called anything—they just wanted the freedom to be artists,” says Michael Gray, the cocurator of the Country Music Hall of Fame’s new exhibit, Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s (through February 14, 2021). “For a long time, music was made from the top down. Record executives decided everything.” The Nashville Sound—a slick pop-country hybrid forged in the fifties and sixties in response to rock and roll—sold records, but Jennings and crew hungered for the ability to write, record, and produce their own songs.

Word was that musicians could find creative license in Austin, Texas, where strands of country, bluegrass, folk, blues, rock, and conjunto melded. “The exhibit shows the complicated but surprising relationship between the two music cities,” Gray says.

Catch a sneak peek of the exhibit by clicking through the following slideshow. For more on Outlaws & Armadillos, visit the Country Music Hall of Fame’s website.

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