So many great country singers have had careers that spanned decades, in some cases, 50 to 60 years. It can be argued then that some of the names on this list were also great country singers in the 1960s, the 1980s, and beyond.
With a long career comes a multitude of hits. However, our focus is on male country singers who were at the peak of their profession during the 1970s. Every singer on this list may have had successful singles in other decades, but they were synonymous with country music in the ‘70s.
1. Johnny Cash
Born in Kingsland, Arkansas, Johnny Cash started singing as a young child while picking cotton with his family. He rose to prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s with hits like “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” and “Ring of Fire.”
Known as the “Man in Black” due to his dark attire, Cash explained in an interview and through the lyrics of his same-named song that it was his way of drawing attention to the important issues of racism, poverty, and judicial injustices, among others.
He famously recorded live shows in front of convicted felons, most notably at Folsom Prison and San Quentin. Between the prison performances and all-black wardrobe, Cash cemented his rebellious image.
Cash continued his legendary career throughout the 1970s, entering the new decade with his own primetime series on ABC, The Johnny Cash Show. He would sell more than 90 million records worldwide over his career.
2. Willie Nelson
Rebelling against the restrictive Nashville establishment, Willie Nelson was one of the first musicians, alongside Waylon Jennings, who demanded his own production rights. As such, they started the outlaw movement and the subgenre of outlaw country music.
Nelson achieved critical and commercial success in the 1970s. The decade made Nelson the most recognizable artist in country music. He released fifteen albums in the ’70s, featuring such country classics as “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before” and “On The Road Again.”
He became a prolific actor during his singing career, appearing in over fifty productions.
Nelson is also known for his activism, supporting everything from Farm Aid, animal welfare causes, and the legalization of marijuana. Most recently, he lent his voice to the importance of getting the COVID vaccine.
3. Waylon Jennings
In the winter of 1959, Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on a small charter plane to J. P. “Big Bopper” Richardson that Buddy Holly had arranged instead of a long bus ride. Joking about a plane crash, Jennings would be haunted by his comment for decades following the deaths of Holly, Richardson, and Ritchie Valens.
Frustrated at how Nashville wanted everything done to their standards and encouraged by seeing audiences mixed with younger fans, Jennings pioneered the outlaw movement. Following his 1972 release, Ladies Love Outlaws, a new image was born.
In 1979, Jennings wrote and recorded “Good Ol’ Boys” for a television episode of Dukes of Hazzard in which he made a cameo. It would become his signature song, his twelfth single to reach #1 on the Hot Country chart and his biggest crossover success.
4. Conway Twitty
Harold Lloyd Jenkins was born in Friars Point, Mississippi, and would become a country legend under the name Conway Twitty.
Earning the nickname the High Priest of Country Music, Twitty scored hits with sentimental country songs like “Hello Darlin’” and “Linda On My Mind.” He would have a total of 55 number-one hits over a nearly forty-year career.
Twitty had great success singing duets with Loretta Lynn throughout the 1970s, racking up a number of Country Music Awards. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously in 1999.
5. Merle Haggard
Johnny Cash performed a concert at San Quentin State Prison. Merle Haggard did time there. That concert inspired Haggard to turn to music to turn his life around.
When he was released from prison, he and his band, the Strangers, would embark on a commercially successful career in the late ‘60s into the ‘70s. One of their biggest singles “Okie From Muskogee” represented Middle America’s conservative values during the Vietnam War.
Haggard would amass 38 number-one hits on the country charts over his career. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994.
6. Charley Pride
Before becoming one of country music’s all-time great recording artists, Charley Pride had his sights set on becoming a professional baseball player. When he and another player were traded for a team bus, he focused on his second love: singing.
Pride would become the most successful recording artist at RCA Records since Elvis Presley. His breakout hit, “Just Between You And Me,” earned him his first Grammy Award nomination.
The 1970s would cement Pride’s country-star status. He became only the third African-American member of the Grand Ole Opry. His signature song, “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” sold over a million copies and earned him the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award.
7. John Denver
Born in Roswell, New Mexico, Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. would become one of country music’s most beloved artists under the name of John Denver.
Coming from a folk music background, Denver would go on to have a multitude of hits that crossed over from the Hot Country Singles to Adult Contemporary to the Billboard Hot 100. Some of his biggest commercial successes include “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
Denver was recognizable with his blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses. He hosted several television music specials, winning an Emmy Award for An Evening With John Denver in 1974–75.
8. Ronnie Milsap
Blind since birth, pianist Ronnie Milsap caught his first big break in 1972 when country legend Charley Pride saw his show at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles. Milsap would go on the road with Pride as his opening act.
By the mid-1970s, he had become one of the biggest names in country music. He had a run of seven consecutive number-one singles, including “(I’m A) Stand By My Woman Man” and “It Was Almost Like A Song.”
Milsap would join George Strait and Conway Twitty as the top 3 country artists with the most number-one country hits, winning six Grammy Awards along the way. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
9. Glen Campbell
Next up is Glen Campbell, who came from humble beginnings, picking cotton to make ends meet on a farm without electricity. He started playing guitar at the age of four.
Born in Delight, Arkansas, Campbell moved to Los Angeles in his early twenties and became an in-demand session player. He recorded with some of the most well-known acts of the time and struck up a close friendship with Elvis Presley.
Campbell’s solo career took off in the late ’60s and into the 1970s with hits like “Wichita Lineman,” “Southern Nights,” and his signature song, “Rhinestone Cowboy.” The latter hit #1 in several countries and topped the Billboard Hot 100, the Billboard Hot Country Singles, and the Adult Contemporary charts.
10. Kenny Rogers
Second to the last on the list is Kenneth Ray Rogers, who grew up poor in Houston, Texas, and became one of the most successful country-crossover artists of all time.
As the frontman for First Edition, Rogers had several hits in the late ‘60s through the mid-70s. When the group disbanded in 1976, Rogers embarked on a solo career.
His second album, Kenny Rogers, reached #1 on the Billboard Country Album chart featuring the mega-hit “Lucille.”
Rogers followed that up with the multi-Platinum album The Gambler. He also had a number of successful duets with other country artists, most notably “Islands In The Stream” with Dolly Parton.
11. George Jones
Despite a tumultuous life, George Jones was highly regarded as one of the greatest country singers ever, having recorded one of the best country songs of all time, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Jones married country singer Tammy Wynette in 1969, and the couple would tour together, earning them the nickname Mr. & Mrs. Country Music. One of their biggest hits was the duet “We’re Gonna Hold On.”
He would have 13 number-one country hits to his credit after a career that spanned nearly 60 years. He is not just one of the great country singers of the 1970s but one of the greatest country singers ever.
Summing Up Our List Of The Greatest Male Country Singers In The 1970s
That’s it for now, we hope you enjoyed reading about these male singers. As you can see, the ’70s was indeed a decade rich in country music!
But the names on this list are only a small representation of the many country singers who came before them. However, each of these singers has inspired countless country music stars that have come since.
Who do you think we missed? Let us know and we’ll add them in.