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Folk musician Yusuf Islam performing in 1976, when he was named Cat Stevens

Folk rock is a musical genre, combining elements of folk music and rock music. In its earliest and narrowest sense, the term referred to a genre that arose in the United States and the UKmarker around the mid-1960s. The sound was epitomized by tight vocal harmonies and a relatively "clean" (effects- and distortion-free) approach to electric instruments epitomized by the jangly 12-string sound of the Byrds' guitarist Roger McGuinn as used sparingly by George Harrison in 1964 and 1965. The repertoire was drawn in part from folk sources, but even more from folk-influenced singer-songwriters such as Bob Dylan. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds has also stated The Beatles inspired him to mix folk with rock music. Allmusic also credits The Beatles, along with Dylan, as being heavily influential on the folk rock explosion of 1965.


This original folk rock directly led to the distinct, eclectic style of electric folk (a.k.a. British folk rock) pioneered in the late 1960s by Pentangle and Fairport Convention. Starting from a North-American style folk rock, Pentangle, Fairport and other related bands deliberately incorporated elements of traditional Britishmarker folk music. At the same time, in Brittany, Alan Stivell began to mix his Breton roots with Irishmarker and Scottishmarker roots and with rock music. Very shortly afterwards, Fairport bassist Ashley Hutchings formed Steeleye Span in collaboration with traditionalist folk musicians who wished to incorporate electrical amplification, and later overt rock elements, into their music.

This, in turn, spawned several other variants: the self-consciously Englishmarker folk rock of the Albion Band and some of Ronnie Lane's solo work, and the more prolific current of Celtic rock, incorporating traditional music of Irelandmarker, Scotlandmarker, Walesmarker, Cornwallmarker, and Brittany. Through at least the first half of the 1970s, Celtic rock held close to folk roots, with its repertoire drawing heavily on traditional Celtic fiddle, pipe and harp tunes including traditional vocal styles, but making use of rock band levels of amplification and percussion.

In a broader sense, folk rock includes later similarly-inspired musical genres and movements in the English-speaking world (and its Celtic and Filipino fringes) and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Europe. As with any genre, the borders are difficult to define. Folk rock may lean more toward folk or toward rock in its instrumentation, its playing and vocal style, or its choice of material; while the original genre draws on music of Europe and North America, there is no clear delineation of which folk cultures music might be included as influences. Still, the term is not usually applied to rock music rooted in the blues-based or other African American music (except as mediated through folk revivalists), nor to rock music with Cajun roots, nor to music (especially after about 1980) with non-European folk roots, which is more typically classified as world music.



Folk rock arose mainly from the confluence of three elements: urban/collegiate folk vocal groups; singer-songwriters and the revival of North American rock and roll after the British Invasion. Of these, the first two owed direct debts to Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Popular Front culture of the 1930s. The first of the urban folk vocal groups was the Almanac Singers, whose shifting membership during the late 1930s and early 1940s included Guthrie and Lee Hays. In 1947 Seeger and Hays joined Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman to form the Weavers, who popularized the genre and had a major hit with a cleaned-up cover of Leadbelly's "Goodnight, Irene", but fell foul of the U.S. Red Scare of the early 1950s.

Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio (founded 1957), the Chad Mitchell Trio, New Christy Minstrels, and the (usually less political) "collegiate folk" groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and (in some cases) topical songs. The successors of such groups were bands such as We Five and The Mamas & the Papas (1965-8).

When the term singer-songwriter was coined in the mid-1960s, it was applied retroactively to Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and other (mainly New Yorkmarker-based) folk-rooted songwriters. Paul Simon, Australian Bruce Woodley of The Seekers, and the Scottishmarker singer Donovan also fit this mould. Dylan's material would provide much of the original grist for the folk rock mill, not only in the U.S. but in the UK as well. None of this would likely ever have intersected with rock music, though, if it had not been for the impulse of the British Invasion. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and numerous other British bands reintroduced to America the broad potential of rock and roll as a creative medium. One of the first bands to craft a distinctly American sound in response was the Beach Boys; while not a folk rock band themselves, they directly influenced the genre, and at the height of the folk rock boom in 1966 had a hit with a cover of the 1920s West Indianmarker folk song "Sloop John B", which they had learned from The Kingston Trio, who, in turn, had learned it from the Weavers.

However, there are a few antecedents to folk rock in pre-British Invasion American rock; one could cite Link Wray (part Shawnee, drawing upon tribal drum rhythms) in "Fatback and Beans", as well as some of the later recordings of Buddy Holly, which strongly influenced artists like Dylan and the Byrds, and to some extent some recordings by country-influenced performers like The Everly Brothers. This was not a recognized trend at the time, and probably would have not been noticed if not for subsequent events.

1960s origins

Much of the early folk-rock music emerged during a time of general global upheaval, the Vietnam War, and new concerns for the world by young people. In the United Statesmarker the heyday of folk rock was arguably between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, when it aligned itself with the hippie movement and became an important medium for expressing radical ideas. Cities such as San Franciscomarker, Denvermarker, New Yorkmarker and Phoenixmarker became centers for the folk rock culture, playing on their central locations among the original folk circuits. The "unplugged" and simplified sound of the music reflected the genre's connection to a critical view of a technological and consumerist society. Unlike pop music's escapist lyrics, arguably a fantasy distraction from the problems in life, folk artists attempted to communicate concerns for peace, global awareness, and other touchstones of the era.

Some artists, originally produced with a harder edged rock sound, found the ability to communicate more easily and felt more genuine in this method of delivery. In this category was Cat Stevens, in Londonmarker, who began, much like the Byrds in the United States, but toned down the sound more frequently, with acoustic instruments, performing songs that contained concern for the environment, war, and the future of the world in general.


Country folk

Arising originally from the folk-influenced music of Bob Dylan and earlier musicians, the folk revivalist vocal combo, and the rock music of the British Invasion; folk rock later incorporated elements of country music, drawing on Hank Williams and others. This success in the country folk blend led to pioneering records for 1960s folk singers such as John Denver and Judy Collins.

Electric folk

Electric folk is the name given to the form of folk rock pioneered in Englandmarker from the late 1960s, by the band Fairport Convention. It uses traditional music, and compositions in a traditional style, played on a combination of rock and traditional instruments. It was most significant in the 1970s, when it was also taken up by groups such as Pentangle, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band. It was rapidly adopted and developed in the surrounding Celtic cultures of Brittany, where it was pioneered by Alan Stivell and bands like Malicorne; in Irelandmarker by groups such as Horslips; and also in Scotlandmarker, Walesmarker and the Isle of Manmarker and Cornwallmarker, to produce Celtic rock and its derivates. It has been influential in those parts of the world with close cultural connections to Britain, such as the US and Canada and gave rise to the sub-genre of Medieval folk rock and the fusion genres of folk punk and folk metal. By the 1980s the genre was in steep decline in popularity, but has survived and revived in significance as part of a more general folk resurgence since the 1990s.

Medieval folk rock

Medieval folk rock developed as a sub-genre of electric folk from about 1970 as performers, particularly in England, Germany and Brittany, adopted medieval and renaissance music as a basis for their music, in contrast to the early modern and nineteenth century ballads that dominated the output of Fairport Convention. This followed the trend explored by Steeleye Span, and exemplified by their 1972 album Below the Salt. Acts in this area included Gryphon, Gentle Giant and Third Ear Band. In Germany Ougenweide, originally formed in 1970 as an acoustic folk group, opted to draw exclusively on High German medieval music when they electrified, setting the agenda for future German electric folk. In Brittany, as part of the Celtic rock movement, medieval music was focused on by bands like Ripaille from 1977 and Saga de Ragnar Lodbrock from 1979. However, by the end of the 1970s almost all of these performers had either disbanded or moved, like Gentle Giant and Gryphon, into the developing area of progressive rock. In the 1990s, as part of the wider resurgence of folk music in general, new medieval folk rock acts began to appear, including the Richie Blackmore project Blackmore's Night, German bands such as In Extremo and English bands like Circulus.

Regional varieties

British Isles

Many performers influenced by Celtic music can be found in the nations of the islands with a strong Celtic past. Dropkick Murphys draw on traditional Irish music and punk rock. There are others in Wales, Cornwall and Scotland e.g. Runrig, the Battlefield Band.

Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean

In Hungarymarker the fusion of rock and folk music began in 1965, when the band Illés introduced Hungarian folk music elements into their beat-influenced music, winning everything which could be won in that time at festivals, TV contests, etc. Their rock-musical István, a király (Stephen I, King of Hungary), released in 1980 contains strong folk-influences and traditional folk songs as well. The film made based on the rock-opera was one of the biggest box-office hits in 1980. Later on bands like Barbaro, Gépfolklór, Kormorán and Drums have developed a distinctive sound using odd rhythms, progressive rock, Hungarian and Greek/Bulgarian/etc. folk traditions.

In Romaniamarker Transsylvania Phoenix (known in Romania simply as Phoenix), founded in 1962, introduced significant folk elements into their rock music around 1972 in an unsuccessful attempt to compromise with government repression of rock music. The attempt failed, and they ended up in exile during much of the Ceauşescu era, but much of their music still retains a folk rock sound. The present-day bands Spitalul de Urgenţă (Romanian) and Zdob şi Zdub (Moldovamarker) also both merge folk and rock.

In SFR Yugoslaviamarker a great number of (mostly 1970s progressive rock) bands incorporated folk music elements into their sound. Korni Grupa, YU grupa and S Vremena Na Vreme were one of the pioneers in incorporating Balkan folk music elements into rock on the Yugoslav scene, and were followed by Smak, Leb i Sol and Dah. At the mid 1970s emerged the band Bijelo Dugme, who had huge success with their fusion of hard rock an folk music. At the beginning of 1980s Bijelo Dugme switched to New Wave, and it the late 1980s to pop rock, but their last several releases also featured folk music elements. Late Bijelo Dugme albums influenced a number of pop rock/folk rock bands, mostly from Sarajevomarker: Crvena Jabuka, Plavi Orkestar, Merlin, Valentino and Hari Mata Hari. Singer–songwriter Đorđe Balašević incorporated elements of folk music of Vojvodinamarker into a number of his songs, while some of his albums, like Naposletku and Rani mraz, were completely folk rock-oriented. Another notable act whose music featured a combination of rock and Vojvodina folk music were the band Garavi Sokak. Some hard rock/heavy metal bands, like Vatreni Poljubac, Divlje Jagode and Griva incorporated folk music elements into some of their songs, Divlje Jagode during their 1970s hard rock era, and Griva after their third album Griva. The band Galija incorporated some folk music elements into their music during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in 1999 released the album Južnjačka uteha with covers of Serbianmarker traditional songs. During the 1990s Serbian band Orthodox Celts emerged. They saw major success with their Irish folk/Celtic rock sound, influencing a number of younger bands, most notably Tir na n'Og and Irish Stew of Sindidun.

Other fusions of folk and rock include New Flamenco (Spainmarker), the pop-oriented forms of North African raï music. Spain has produced two folk-rock-bagpipers, Susana Seivane from Galicia and Hevia, who mix traditional with modern dance tunes. Triquel is another Spanish Celtic rock band that combines rock music with Celtic folk roots.

Other areas
Russiamarker and the Soviet Unionmarker produced a large amount of folk music, which was often mixed with modern music styles. Bands like Pesneri (Belarussian), Melnitsa (Russian), Yalla (Uzbek) and others combined rock, pop and traditional music. Turkey, during the 1970s and 1980s, also sustained a vibrant folk rock scene, drawing inspirations from diverse ethnic elements of Anatoliamarker, the Balkans, Eurasia and the Black Seamarker region and thrived in a culture of intense political strife, with musicians in nationalist and Marxist camps. See Anatolian rock and Music of Turkey.From Norwaymarker, Gåte combines Norwegian folk songs (Stev) and rock.


It is difficult to define the boundaries between folk and ethnic music in Italymarker, because of its geographic position and its history. The folk side was founded by the Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare at the end of 1960s. The Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano was characterized by musical search and a strong political commitment. In Italy many songwriters imported American models, such as Folk beat n. 1 by Francesco Guccini or to Edoardo Bennato, who mixes country, rock and tarantella.

Folk rock roots can be found in two Italian songwriters: Fabrizio De André and Angelo Branduardi. In 1984, Fabrizio De André published the LP Creuza de ma, in Genoesemarker dialect (an ancient dialect, with ancient and obsolete words, imported from Arabian, with linguistic difficulties among the same Genoese). De Andrè used musical instruments from Bosporusmarker to Gibraltarmarker: oud, andalusian guitar, Macedonian bag pipe, flute, Turkish shannaj, lute, Greek bouzuki and neapolitan mandolin. Brandurdi is a classical musician whose first LP Branduardi '74 is near to progressive sound, later he approaches to medieval and rinascimental and Celtic music. In 1985 he sang William Butler Yeats poetry. The violin, the harp, the sitar, the banjo and the lute are accompanied by electric bass and drums. Later he substituted violin with electric violin.

In 1982 Lou Dalfin formed an occitanian group which performed traditional music with traditional instruments: ghironda, accordion and organetto, violin, flute, boha and bag pipe and singing in occitanian language. A new line-up of the band in 1990 played folk, jazz and rock using electric bass, drums, electric guitar, keyboard and saxophone. In 1988 Gigi Camedda, Gino Marielli and Andrea Parodi founded Tazenda, an Italian ethno-folk-rock group which uses a launeddas (the oldest reed instruments of the Mediterraneanmarker), the sampled "canti a tenore", the diatonic accordions are mixed with electric guitars and drums and harmonicas.

The Gang were formed in 1984 as a punk group, inspired by The Clash, but in 1990 they began to sing about Italian political and social situation and they moved away from punk-style electric guitar and used acoustic twelve string guitar, violin, accordion, harmonica, and flutes. In 2004, after two rock discs, Gang recorded Nel tempo e oltre cantando insieme with La Macina, band of musical search from Marche led by Gastone Pietrucci. Traditional songs and Gang's songs were revised rearranged: an example of fusion between rock and popular tradition.

In 1991 some performers from Emilia Romagna founded Modena City Ramblers, which blends the Combat Rock musical style (The Clash) with folk, traditional Irish music, political songs (Contessa) and partisans' songs (Fischia il vento and Bella Ciao Later M.C.R. used a world music sound, and blended in rock, punk, tape loops and samples, creating a new genre called Celtic patchanka. Many groups were influenced by M.C.R.: Casa del Vento, Fiamma Fumana led by Alberto Cottica (electronic folk); Caravane de Ville of Giovanni Rubbiani; Ductia of Massimo Giuntini; Paulem and La strana famiglia led by Luciano Gaetani; and Cisco (former singer of M.C.R.) now a guitarist and drummer.

Outside Europe

Canadian folk rock is particularly, although not exclusively, associated with Celtic folk traditions. Bands such as Figgy Duff, Wonderful Grand Band and Spirit of the West were early pioneers in the Canadian tradition of Celtic-influenced rock, and were later followed by acts such as Crash Test Dummies, Great Big Sea, The Mahones, The Dukhs, Jimmy George, Rawlins Cross, Captain Tractor, Mudmen, and Michou

Other notable Canadian folk rock acts include The Band, The Weakerthans, Saint John and the Revelations, The Grapes of Wrath, Attack in Black, Lava Hay, The Waltons, Kashtin, Great Lake Swimmers, Beau Dommage and Garolou from Quebec, as well as singer-songwriters such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Cockburn, David Wiffen and Stan Rogers.


Indian folk rock is still in the infant stage.Though some of the songs rendered by bands Indian Oceanmarker,Raghu dixit are popular,it is yet to hit the masses.

Manila Sound is a sub-genre popular in the Philippinesmarker (notably in Manilamarker during the 1970's which combined elements of Filipino folk music and Rock and roll using Taglish (mixed English and Tagalog). Notable musicians using this music include Freddie Aguilar, Sharon Cuneta, the Apo Hiking Society, VST & Co., Florante, Rey Valera, Rico J. Puno, and Ryan Cayabyab.

See also


  1. M. Brocken, The British Folk Revival 1944-2002 (Ashgate, Aldershot, 2003), p. 97.
  2. B. Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 21-5.
  3. B. Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 84, 97 and 103-5.
  4. J. S. Sawyers, Celtic Music: A Complete Guide (Da Capo Press, 2001), p. 1-12.
  5. B. Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 240-57.
  6. E. Macan, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture (Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 135.
  7. S. Winick, Dirty Linen, 128 (February/March 2007).
  8. D. E. Asbjørnsen, Scented Gardens Of The Mind,, retrieved 29/01/09.
  9. C. Snider, The Strawberry Bricks Guide to Progressive Rock (, 2008), pp. 183-4.
  10. D. Simpson, ‘Boogie knights’, Guardian, 29 June 2006,, retrieved 22/01/09.
  11. [1]
  12. [2]

Further reading

  • Laing, Dave, et al. (1975) The Electric Muse: the story of folk into rock. London: Eyre Methuen
  • Pohle, Horst (1987) The Folk Record Source Book: England / Ireland / Scotland / Wales; 2nd ed. Berlin: Horst Pohle (1st ed.: 1984)

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