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by Linda Ryan

January 26, 2011

Cheat Sheet: Twangin' Twosomes: Country Duos

by Linda Ryan  |  January 26, 2011

The idea of singing -- harmonizing -- as a duo has gone hand in hand with country music since long before labels started recording it in the 1920s. Family acts, who would have been harmonizing with each other at home and in church for years, became a popular attraction in the '30s and '40s, and laid the foundation for duos (related or not) for decades to come.

Over the past couple of years, there has been a spate of releases by duos trying to make a name for themselves: Florida Georgia Line, Steel Magnolia, Thompson Square, the JaneDear Girls and Joey + Rory are among a clutch of new artists hoping to be the next big country music duo. With that in mind, let's take a look at some classic country duos -- twosomes who have made an indelible impression in the country music world, and set the bar for all the newcomers.

We've only scratched the surface here.

The Stanley Brothers
Ralph and Carter Stanley were Virginia boys who infused their bluegrass music with the mountain traditions they grew up with. By 1947, the two were playing around, mixing it up with peers such as Bill Monroe, whose more commercial sound influenced the brothers' approach to bluegrass. The following year, the Stanleys signed to Columbia Records, and over the next three years they recorded 22 songs, many of which have become classic bluegrass mainstays. The duo left Columbia for Mercury in 1953 and continued to push the boundaries of bluegrass, adding flourishes of gospel and honky-tonk to their original songs.

The Monroe Brothers
Bill and Charlie Monroe started out making hillbilly music and square-dance songs, touring frequently with a square-dance company. In 1934, the duo found sponsorship through, of all things, a laxative company, which gave the brothers the opportunity to play on radio shows for more than a year. Their radio appearances paved the way for live shows, which further bolstered their popularity. RCA's Bluebird imprint signed the Monroes, and they recorded there for two years. By 1938 personality clashes became too much, and they parted ways -- Charlie to the Kentucky Pardners and Bill to the Blue Grass Boys. Bill, whose innovative sound revolutionized hillbilly music, would go on to be known as the "father of bluegrass."

Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
Porter Wagoner was already signed to RCA Records and had a handful of hits -- as well as a successfully syndicated television show -- by the time he hired Dolly Parton to replace the fired Norma Jean in 1967. Parton was hugely popular with the show's audience, as evidenced by the duo's first single, "The Last Thing on My Mind," which rocketed into the Top 10. The relationship was a rocky one, however, as Wagoner continued to record solo material but refused to let Parton do the same. Despite a healthy string of Top Ten hits, the twosome parted ways in 1975.

Tammy Wynette and George Jones
George Jones and Tammy Wynette each enjoyed a successful solo career before they married in 1969. Once married however, the duo would record some of the most popular songs in country music history. Each single ("The Ceremony," "We Can Make It," "Loving You Could Never Be Better," etc.) was an eagerly awaited chapter in their marriage that their fans lapped up. Unfortunately, Jones' drug and alcohol use was spiraling out of control during this time, and the couple divorced in 1975. Despite this, the pair recorded together as late as 1995's One.

Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty
Conway Twitty's string of hits with Loretta Lynn began in 1971, when "After the Fire Is Gone" went to No. 1. Four more singles — "Lead Me On," "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone" and "Feelins'" — followed suit. The pair worked together throughout the '70s (and into the '80s), releasing duet albums in between solo recordings and racking up 14 Top Ten duet hits.

The Judds
Naomi Judd and her daughter, Wynonna — are one of the most successful country duos of the 1980s. The Judds signed with RCA Records in 1983 and recorded more than ten studio albums, which spawned 14 No. 1 hits. In 1990, Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and announced she would retire, paving the way for Wynonna's solo career. In 2000, the two reunited for a highly successful millennium concert and a subsequent full-fledged reunion tour.

Foster & Lloyd
Radney Foster (lead vocals, guitar) and Bill Lloyd (background vocals, guitar) got their break after their "Since I Found You" became a hit for the Sweethearts of the Rodeo. In their short time together, the duo yielded nine hit singles, including their debut single, "Crazy Over You," which peaked at No. 4. Founded in 1986, Foster & Lloyd recorded three albums for RCA Records before disbanding in 1990.

Brooks & Dunn
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn each tried making it in Nashville as solo artists before Arista executive Tim DuBois suggested the two work together. DuBois was rewarded for his foresight when their debut yielded four No. 1 singles. Over the past two decades, Brooks & Dunn have become the most successful duo to date — in any genre — having sold more albums than all others in the Nielsen/SoundScan era. In 2010, they announced that they were parting ways, leaving behind a legacy that includes ten studio albums, 50 charting singles (23 of which were No. 1) and 23 million albums sold.

Big & Rich
Big Kenny and John Rich came together in 1998, in a casual performing group dubbed the MuzikMafia. The two worked on writing and performing both together and as solo artists, but when Martina McBride hit with their "She's a Butterfly," Warner Nashville came calling. In 2004, Big & Rich hit big with the kitschy novelty song, "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)." The duo recorded three albums together before taking a break starting in 2009 to record solo albums.

Sugarland
Although Sugarland started out as a trio, the group trimmed down to a duo shortly before the release of its sophomore effort, Enjoy the Ride. Since then, Sugarland have gone on to enjoy tremendous success in country circles and beyond, as catchy singles such as "All I Want to Do" and "Stuck Like Glue" garnered them a huge crossover following.

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