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2- By Any Other Name? North American Progressive Rock, Fusion, and Stylistic Genealogies - Chris McDonald, Cape Breton University

4:00 PM, Friday 24 May 2019 (2 hours)
As a musical and historical formation, progressive rock has received a fair bit of critical academic attention (see Moore 1993; Macan 1997; Martin 1998; Holm-Hudson 2002), and its position in the popular music canon seems well-established. However, an overwhelming amount of that attention has been lavished on British progressive rock, while American and Canadian versions have received less historical and stylistic analysis. This paper surveys the reasons for this oversight, and considers how progressive rock in North America in the 1970s was shaped by different genres and choices for stylistic fusion in comparison to British counterparts. On the one hand, southern American roots genres like bluegrass, country, and gospel had a greater influence on American groups like Kansas, the Dixie Dregs, and Seatrain. On the other hand, hard rock and heavy metal was fused with progressive rock more frequently among Canadian and American groups with large followings in the American east and Midwest (Styx, Rush, and later, Dream Theatre). Fusions with classical music, especially avant-garde approaches taken by artists like the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, and Pere Ubu were rarely framed as “progressive” or “art rock,” and this paper assesses why other genre positions were preferred by these artists and their champions in the rock press. By considering the differing stylistic genealogies, mixes and positionings within North American prog during the 1970s and 80s, we can learn a lot about how genres like folk, classical music, and rock had different social meanings among North American musicians in comparison to the British colleagues, and offers a different way of understanding progressive rock’s social history.
Cape Breton University
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