Piano in roots music

I wanted to get the community's thoughts on the role of the piano or keyboards in Roots / Americana.

Does it belong in the genre or not? 

What music do you recommend that challenges this notion? 

In concert, it is not unusual for a folk singer or singer/songwriter type to put down the guitar and sit down at a piano.

Though I listened to a lot of Fats Domino on AM radio as a teen, it was not until decades later that I discovered the long line of great New Orleans players.  Examples include Huey "Piano" Smith, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, "Fess" (Professor Longhair), Dr. John, Henry Butler, and Champion Jack Dupree.  Here is what Jelly Roll Morton said about making a good whorehouse piano:

“Find a salon, or a madam, that owns an upright. Old and loose in

action*. If it’s in tune, beat it until it takes on that special out-of-tune

twang. Don’t make your sound too clean. It’s a dirty old tone we’re

after. Pad the strings with old newspapers, or a burlap bag, and kick

the front board hard for the Drum effect. Don’t care how she looks,

just how she sounds*"

*I assume he's talking about the piano, not the madam

It's all good as long as I like it. ;)

"Better Hearts Than Yours"

Hey Jack - Thanks for posting. Dennis is correct. I just wanted different opinions as to what is 'authentic'. I mentioned earlier that I'm very interested to see where different people 'draw the line' - it's just a curiosity of mine that allows me to understand how people think of music. 

Thank you everyone for some amazing recommendations and thoughtful responses!

Bill Payne.  

David Egan-check out his last self-titled cd

his style of playing is in the Dr. John New Orleans mode-his previous cd's are also recommended

Marcia Ball.

I think Ivan answered that when he said he posed the question to get different opinions about what's "authentic." I feel anyone that would deny that piano belongs in roots music are the same type of folks who booed Dylan when he went electric. After all, I've heard Dave Alvin say that the Blasters played electric folk music and, as someone mentioned, the Blaster's Gene Taylor was a big part of their sound. So, of course, piano can be an ingredient of roots music as all those mentioned attest.

Not sure why this is even in question.  Why would piano not belong in roots music?

Here are two ladies that played fantastic piano back in 40s and into the 50s:

Hadda Brooks

Camille Howard

If you haven't heard these gals you owe it to yourself to check them out.

Listen to the wonderful CDs of Jude Johnstone - all six are piano-dominanted

Leon Russell?

The Band!  so ridiculously talented...

Thanks for these! Regarding the instrument being in or out comment, I just wanted to spark conversation. It's interesting to me how people interpret the word Authentic in different ways, and at what degree some combination of instruments, rhythm and notes crosses the line.

Thanks again!

Gene Taylor of The Blasters. That's about as Roots/Americana as you can get.

Tench is one of the best out there.

The Band of Heathens have an excellent keyboard player in Trevor Nealon(check out their "Live at Momo's CD with tracks like "You're Gonna Miss Me" and "Somebody Tell the Truth"). Jason Isbell's band, The 400 Unit, also has one in Derry deBorja. Look to the recent release of John Fullbright's "Songs" - there is a huge piano presence. The Roots/Americana genre itself is such a rich fusion of so many other genres, just about every instrument is in play. Piano/keys absolutely belong in the genre. And by the way, I feel the same way about horns as well - some folks feel otherwise.

Well, the first thing that comes to mind is The Band.  

The second is Benmont Tench's studio credits including work with The Jayhawks, Lone Justice, Carlene Carter, Dave Rawlings, Johnny Cash, John Prine, Lucinda Williams and Peter Case among many others.

I agree with the comments already entered...such a broad genre...so, sure piano fits..think of Marcia Ball...or what about Dr. John?  more recently the Ricky Skaggs- Bruce Hornsby collaborations...In any case, why would one instrument be in or out?

Thanks for your reply and recommendation!

If anybody else has any more, keep 'em coming - thanks again.  

"Roots music" is a pretty broad category.  From the New Orleans piano tradition to widespread use in blues (think Skip James in addition to Chicago guys like Pinetop Perkins), the piano has been a key instrument.  Nothing should be off limits anyway.

However, if you mean "No Depression" type music, give Eric Taylor a close listen, and in particular, "Resurrect" or "Scuffletown," both of which use piano brilliantly in a country/folk/blues kind of way.

Seems to me that Alt-Country / Roots / Americana is heavily influenced by honky tonk which clearly has piano (hello, Jerry Lee Lewis)

I offer Jeff Littlle as an example:




Listen to Mac and tell me what you think... http://youtu.be/cXJP1xp5FH8

BTW my apologies, I tried to leave a video here instead of  a link but the site wouldn't  allow me to embed one. 

Iris DeMent's "Sing The Delta" was the ND community's album of the year for 2012. It's primarily a piano and vocal album.

Try to find a locate of Peter Silvester's 1988, 300 page book A Left Hand Like God. That should that should dispel any notion concerning piano not belonging to the genre. :)

Yeah to be honest, I'm surprised this is even a question being posed. Unless someone is of the strictest Woody Guthrie ilk, we could point to a piano somewhere on just about every "roots" record ever made. My favorite of course being Mr. Terry Allen- 'Lubbock on Everything'