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Air Castle of the South
WSM and the Making of Music City
Craig Havighurst
University of Illinois Press, 2013

Started by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company in 1925, WSM became one of the most influential and exceptional radio stations in the history of broadcasting and country music. WSM gave Nashville the moniker “Music City USA” as well as a rich tradition of music, news, and broad-based entertainment. With the rise of country music broadcasting and recording between the 1920s and ‘50s, WSM, Nashville, and country music became inseparable, stemming from WSM’s launch of the Grand Ole Opry, popular daily shows like Noontime Neighbors, and early morning artist-driven shows such as Hank Williams on Mother’s Best Flour.

Sparked by public outcry following a proposal to pull country music and the Opry from WSM-AM in 2002, Craig Havighurst scoured new and existing sources to document the station’s profound effect on the character and self-image of Nashville. Introducing the reader to colorful artists and businessmen from the station’s history, including Owen Bradley, Minnie Pearl, Jim Denny, Edwin Craig, and Dinah Shore, the volume invites the reader to reflect on the status of Nashville, radio, and country music in American culture.

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Americanaland
Where Country & Western Met Rock 'n' Roll
John Milward; Portraits by Margie Greve
University of Illinois Press, 2021
A musical genre forever outside the lines

With a claim on artists from Jimmie Rodgers to Jason Isbell, Americana can be hard to define, but you know it when you hear it. John Milward’s Americanaland is filled with the enduring performers and vivid stories that are at the heart of Americana. At base a hybrid of rock and country, Americana is also infused with folk, blues, R&B, bluegrass, and other types of roots music. Performers like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Gram Parsons used these ingredients to create influential music that took well-established genres down exciting new roads. The name Americana was coined in the 1990s to describe similarly inclined artists like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and Wilco. Today, Brandi Carlile and I’m With Her are among the musicians carrying the genre into the twenty-first century.

Essential and engaging, Americanaland chronicles the evolution and resonance of this ever-changing amalgam of American music. Margie Greve’s hand-embroidered color portraits offer a portfolio of the pioneers and contemporary practitioners of Americana.
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Bean Blossom
The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festivals
Thomas A. Adler
University of Illinois Press, 2011
Bean Blossom, Indiana--near Brown County State Park and the artist-colony town of Nashville, Indiana--is home to the annual Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, founded in 1967 by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. Widely recognized as the oldest continuously running bluegrass music festival in the world, this June festival's roots run back to late 1951, when Monroe purchased the Brown County Jamboree, a live weekly country music show presented between April and November each year. Over the years, Monroe's festival featured the top performers in bluegrass music, including Jimmy Martin, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, the Goins Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, and many more.
 
Thomas A. Adler's history of Bean Blossom traces the long and colorful life of the Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festival. Adler discusses the development of bluegrass music, the many personalities involved in the bluegrass music scene, the interplay of local, regional, and national interests, and the meaning of this venue to the music's many performers--both professional and amateur--and its legions of fans.
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Bill Clifton
America's Bluegrass Ambassador to the World
Bill C Malone
University of Illinois Press, 2016
The most atypical of bluegrass artists, Bill Clifton has enjoyed a long career as a recording artist, performer, and champion of old-time music. Bill C. Malone pens the story of Clifton's eclectic life and influential career. Born into a prominent Maryland family, Clifton connected with old-time music as a boy. Clifton made records around earning a Master's degree, fifteen years in the British folk scene, and stints in the Peace Corps and Marines. Yet that was just the beginning. Closely allied with the Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Mike Seeger, and others, Clifton altered our very perceptions of the music--organizing one of the first outdoor bluegrass festivals, publishing a book of folk and gospel standards that became a cornerstone of the folk revival, and introducing both traditional and progressive bluegrass around the world. As Malone shows, Clifton clothed the music of working-class people in the vestments of romance, celebrating the log cabin as a refuge from modernism that rang with the timeless music of Appalachia. An entertaining account by an eminent music historian, Bill Clifton clarifies the myths and illuminates the paradoxes of an amazing musical life.
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Bill Monroe
The Life and Music of the Blue Grass Man
Tom Ewing
University of Illinois Press, 2021
From cradle to great, the comprehensive real story of Bill Monroe

The Father of Bluegrass Music, Bill Monroe was a major star of the Grand Ole Opry for over fifty years; a member of the Country Music, Songwriters, and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame; and a legendary figure in American music. This authoritative biography sets out to examine his life in careful detail--to move beyond hearsay and sensationalism to explain how and why he accomplished so much.

Former Blue Grass Boy and longtime music journalist Tom Ewing draws on hundreds of interviews, his personal relationship with Monroe, and an immense personal archive of materials to separate the truth from longstanding myth. Ewing tells the story of the Monroe family's musical household and Bill's early career in the Monroe Brothers duo. He brings to life Monroe's 1940s heyday with the Classic Bluegrass Band, the renewed fervor for his music sparked by the folk revival of the 1960s, and his declining fortunes in the years that followed. Throughout, Ewing deftly captures Monroe's relationships and the personalities of an ever-shifting roster of band members while shedding light on his business dealings and his pioneering work with Bean Blossom and other music festivals.

Filled with a wealth of previously unknown details, Bill Monroe offers even the most devoted fan a deeper understanding of Monroe's towering achievements and timeless music.
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Black Country Music
Listening for Revolutions
Francesca T. Royster
University of Texas Press, 2022

2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
2023 ARSC Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research, Association for Recorded Sound Collections​
2023 The Judy Tsou Critical Race Studies Award, American Musicological Society


How Black musicians have changed the country music landscape and brought light to Black creativity and innovation.

After a century of racist whitewashing, country music is finally reckoning with its relationship to Black people. In this timely work—the first book on Black country music by a Black writer—Francesca Royster uncovers the Black performers and fans, including herself, who are exploring the pleasures and possibilities of the genre.

Informed by queer theory and Black feminist scholarship, Royster’s book elucidates the roots of the current moment found in records like Tina Turner’s first solo album, Tina Turns the Country On! She reckons with Black “bros” Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, then chases ghosts into the future with Valerie June. Indeed, it is the imagination of Royster and her artists that make this music so exciting for a genre that has long been obsessed with the past. The futures conjured by June and others can be melancholy, and are not free of racism, but by centering Black folk Royster begins to understand what her daughter hears in the banjo music of Our Native Daughters and the trap beat of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” A Black person claiming country music may still feel a bit like a queer person coming out, but, collectively, Black artists and fans are changing what country music looks and sounds like—and who gets to love it.

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Bluegrass
A HISTORY 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Neil V. Rosenberg
University of Illinois Press, 2005

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Bluegrass Ambassadors
The McLain Family Band in Appalachia and the World
Paul O. Jenkins
West Virginia University Press, 2020
Bluegrass Ambassadors is the first book-length study of the McLain Family Band, which has spread the gospel of bluegrass for more than fifty years. Rooted in bluegrass but also collaborating with classical composers and performing folk, jazz, gospel, and even marches, the band traveled to sixty-two foreign countries in the 1970s under the auspices of the State Department. The band’s verve and joyful approach to its art perfectly suited its ambassadorial role. After retiring as full-time performers, most members of the group became educators, with patriarch Raymond K. McLain’s work at Berea College playing a particularly important role in bringing bluegrass to the higher education curriculum.

Interpreting the band’s diverse repertoire as both a source of its popularity and a reason for its exclusion from the bluegrass pantheon, Paul Jenkins advances subtle arguments about genre, criticism, and audience. Bluegrass Ambassadors analyzes the McLains’ compositions, recordings, and performances, and features a complete discography.
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Bluegrass Bluesman
A Memoir
Josh Graves; Edited by Fred Bartenstein; Foreword by Neil Rosenberg
University of Illinois Press, 2012
A pivotal member of the hugely successful bluegrass band Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Dobro pioneer Josh Graves (1927-2006) was a living link between bluegrass music and the blues. In Bluegrass Bluesman, this influential performer shares the story of his lifelong career in music.
 
In lively anecdotes, Graves describes his upbringing in East Tennessee and the climate in which bluegrass music emerged during the 1940s. Deeply influenced by the blues, he adapted Earl Scruggs's revolutionary banjo style to the Dobro resonator slide guitar and gave the Foggy Mountain Boys their distinctive sound. Graves' accounts of daily life on the road through the 1950s and 1960s reveal the band's dedication to musical excellence, Scruggs' leadership, and an often grueling life on the road. He also comments on his later career when he played in Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and the Earl Scruggs Revue and collaborated with the likes of Boz Scaggs, Charlie McCoy, Kenny Baker, Eddie Adcock, Jesse McReynolds, Marty Stuart, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, and his three musical sons. A colorful storyteller, Graves brings to life the world of an American troubadour and the mountain culture that he never left behind.
 
Born in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, Josh Graves (1927-2006) is universally acknowledged as the father of the bluegrass Dobro. In 1997 he was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
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Bluegrass Breakdown
The Making of the Old Southern Sound
Robert Cantwell
University of Illinois Press, 1984

Bluegrass Breakdown is an expansive foray into the makings of bluegrass. More than any other book of its kind, it gets to the roots of a uniquely American music that is deeply linked to working-class ideals and romanticism. 

Robert Cantwell engages the historical background, commercial origins, internal workings, and cultural and social significance of popular, old-time music to provide a unique musicological and sociological perspective. Well-versed in the history of the tradition and equally as interested in those who listen to the music as in those who create it, Cantwell links bluegrass to its hillbilly roots in Appalachia and shows how the music was transformed by African American folk traditions, the influence of jazz, ragtime, blues, and country music, and the growth of radio and recording technology.

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Bluegrass Generation
A Memoir
Neil V Rosenberg
University of Illinois Press, 2018
Neil V. Rosenberg met the legendary Bill Monroe at the Brown County Jamboree. Rosenberg's subsequent experiences in Bean Blossom put his feet on the intertwined musical and scholarly paths that made him a preeminent scholar of bluegrass music.

Rosenberg's memoir shines a light on the changing bluegrass scene of the early 1960s. Already a fan and aspiring musician, his appetite for banjo music quickly put him on the Jamboree stage. Rosenberg eventually played with Monroe and spent four months managing the Jamboree. Those heights gave him an eyewitness view of nothing less than bluegrass's emergence from the shadow of country music into its own distinct art form. As the likes of Bill Keith and Del McCoury played, Rosenberg watched Monroe begin to share a personal link to the music that tied audiences to its history and his life--and helped turn him into bluegrass's foundational figure.

An intimate look at a transformative time, Bluegrass Generation tells the inside story of how an American musical tradition came to be.

[more]

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Bluegrass Odyssey
A Documentary in Pictures and Words, 1966-86
Carl Fleischhauer and Neil V. Rosenberg
University of Illinois Press, 2006
The fruit of four decades of collaboration between bluegrass music’s premier photographer and premier historian, Bluegrass Odyssey is a satisfying and visually alluring journey into the heart of a truly American music. Combining more than two hundred of Carl Fleischhauer’s photographs with Neil V. Rosenberg’s expert commentary, this elegant visual documentary captures the music-making with the culture and community that foster it.
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Bonfire of Roadmaps
By Joe Ely
University of Texas Press, 2007

Since he first hitched a ride out of Lubbock, Texas, at the age of sixteen, singer-songwriter and Flatlanders band member Joe Ely has been a road warrior, traveling highways and back roads across America and Europe, playing music for "2 hours of ecstasy" out of "22 hours of misery." To stay sane on the road, Ely keeps a journal, penning verses that sometimes morph into songs, and other times remain "snapshots of what was flying by, just out of reach, so to savor at a later date when the wheels stop rolling, and the gears quit grinding, and the engines shut down."

In Bonfire of Roadmaps, Ely takes readers on the road with him. Using verse passages from his road journals and his own drawings, Ely authentically re-creates the experience of a musician's life on tour, from the hard goodbyes at home, to the long hours on the road, to the exhilaration of a great live show, to the exhaustion after weeks of touring. Ely's road trips begin as he rides the rails to Manhattan in 1972 and continue up through recent concert tours with fellow Flatlanders Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock.

While acknowledging that "it is not the nature of a gypsy to look in the rearview mirror," Joe Ely nevertheless offers his many fans a revelatory look back over the roads he's traveled and the wisdom he's won from his experiences. And for "those who want to venture beyond the horizon just to see what is there... to those, I hope these accounts will give a glint of inspiration..."

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Broadcasting the Ozarks
Si Siman and Country Music at the Crossroads
Kitty Ledbetter
University of Arkansas Press, 2024

“It’s good to see Si Siman and the Ozark Jubilee get their due in Broadcasting the Ozarks.”
—Willie Nelson

Broadcasting the Ozarks explores the vibrant country music scene that emerged in Springfield, Missouri, in the 1930s and thrived for half a century. Central to this history is the Ozark Jubilee (1955–60), the first regularly broadcast live country music show on network television. Dubbed the “king of the televised barn dances,” the show introduced the Ozarks to viewers across America and put Springfield in the running with Nashville for dominance of the country music industry—with the Jubilee’s producer, Si Siman, at the helm.

Siman’s life story is almost as remarkable as the show he produced. He was booking Tommy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Glenn Miller during the mid-1930s while still a high school student and produced nationally syndicated country music radio shows in the decades that followed. Siman was a promotional genius with an ear for talent, a persuasive gift for gab, and the energy and persistence to make things happen for many future Country Music Hall of Famers, including Chet Atkins, Porter Wagoner, the Browns, and Brenda Lee. Following the Jubilee’s five-year run, Siman had a hand in some of the greatest hits of the twentieth century as a music publisher, collaborating with such songwriters as rockabilly legend and fellow Springfieldian Ronnie Self, who wrote Brenda Lee’s signature hit, “I’m Sorry,” and Wayne Carson, who wrote Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.” Although Siman had numerous opportunities to find success in bigger cities, he chose to do it all from his hometown in the Ozarks.

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Buddy Emmons
Steel Guitar Icon
Steve Fishell
University of Illinois Press, 2022
A No Depression Most Memorable Music Book of 2022

The acknowledged maestro of the pedal steel guitar, Buddy Emmons lent his unparalleled virtuosity to over five decades of hit recordings and set standards that remain the benchmark for musicians today.

Steve Fishell’s merger of biography and memoir draws extensively on in-depth interviews with Emmons and the artist's autobiographical writings. Emmons went from playing strip clubs to a Grand Ole Opry debut with Little Jimmy Dickens at age 18. His restless experimentation led to work with Ernest Tubb and Ray Price--and established him in a career that saw him play alongside a who’s who of American music. Fishell weaves in stories and anecdotes from Willie Nelson, Brenda Lee, Linda Ronstadt, Pat Martino, and many others to provide a fascinating musical and personal portrait of an innovator whose peerless playing and countless recordings recognized no boundaries.

A one-of-a-kind life story, Buddy Emmons expands our view of a groundbreaking artist and his impact on country music, jazz, and beyond.

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Come Hither to Go Yonder
Playing Bluegrass with Bill Monroe
Bob Black
University of Illinois Press, 2005

Bob Black was a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the 1970s. Black's memoir of his time with the man he called the Chief offers the unique vantage point of a man who traveled and performed extensively with the Father of Bluegrass at a time when the music had opened up to new audiences--and Monroe had become a living legend. 

Both role model and taskmaster, Monroe exerted a profound influence on Black and the musicians who have carried on the bluegrass tradition. In addition to Black's one-of-a-kind story, Come Hither to Go Yonder includes complete listing of Black's appearances with Monroe, recollections of the memorable experiences they shared while working together, descriptions of other important musicians and bands, and suggestions for further reading and listening. 

Offering a rare perspective on the creative forces that drove one of America's greatest composers and musical innovators, Come Hither to Go Yonder rewards fans of Bill Monroe and bluegrass while offering an insider's view of a crucial time in the music's history.

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Comin' Right at Ya
How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country, or, the Often Outrageous History of Asleep at the Wheel
By Ray Benson, and David Menconi
University of Texas Press, 2015

A who’s who of American popular music fills this lively memoir, in which Ray Benson recalls how a Philadelphia Jewish hippie and his bandmates in Asleep at the Wheel turned on generations of rock and country fans to Bob Wills–style Western swing.

A six-foot-seven-inch Jewish hippie from Philadelphia starts a Western swing band in 1970, when country fans hate hippies and Western swing. It sounds like a joke but—more than forty years, twenty-five albums, and ten Grammy Awards later—Asleep at the Wheel is still drawing crowds around the world. The roster of musicians who’ve shared a stage with the Wheel is a who’s who of American popular music—Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, George Strait, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, and so many more. And the bandleader who’s brought them all together is the hippie that claimed Bob Wills’s boots: Ray Benson.

In this hugely entertaining memoir, Benson looks back over his life and wild ride with Asleep at the Wheel from the band’s beginning in Paw Paw, West Virginia, through its many years as a Texas institution. He vividly recalls spending decades in a touring band, with all the inevitable ups and downs and changes in personnel, and describes the making of classic albums such as Willie and the Wheel and Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. The ultimate music industry insider, Benson explains better than anyone else how the Wheel got rock hipsters and die-hard country fans to love groovy new-old Western swing. Decades later, they still do.

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Country and Midwestern
Chicago in the History of Country Music and the Folk Revival
Mark Guarino
University of Chicago Press, 2023
The untold story of Chicago’s pivotal role as a country and folk music capital.
 
Chicago is revered as a musical breeding ground, having launched major figures like blues legend Muddy Waters, gospel soul icon Mavis Staples, hip-hop firebrand Kanye West, and the jazz-rock band that shares its name with the city. Far less known, however, is the vital role Chicago played in the rise of prewar country music, the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, and the contemporary offspring of those scenes.
 
In Country and Midwestern, veteran journalist Mark Guarino tells the epic century-long story of Chicago’s influence on sounds typically associated with regions further south. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and deep archival research, Guarino tells a forgotten story of music, migration, and the ways that rural culture infiltrated urban communities through the radio, the automobile, and the railroad. The Midwest’s biggest city was the place where rural transplants could reinvent themselves and shape their music for the new commercial possibilities the city offered. Years before Nashville emerged as the commercial and spiritual center of country music, major record labels made Chicago their home and recorded legendary figures like Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, and Gene Autry. The National Barn Dance—broadcast from the city’s South Loop starting in 1924—flourished for two decades as the premier country radio show before the Grand Ole Opry. Guarino chronicles the makeshift niche scenes like “Hillbilly Heaven” in Uptown, where thousands of relocated Southerners created their own hardscrabble honky-tonk subculture, as well as the 1960s rise of the Old Town School of Folk Music, which eventually brought national attention to local luminaries like John Prine and Steve Goodman. The story continues through the end of the twentieth century and into the present day, where artists like Jon Langford, The Handsome Family, and Wilco meld contemporary experimentation with country traditions.
 
 Featuring a foreword from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks and casting a cross-genre net that stretches from Bob Dylan to punk rock, Country and Midwestern rediscovers a history as sprawling as the Windy City—celebrating the creative spirit that modernized American folk idioms, the colorful characters who took them into new terrain, and the music itself, which is still kicking down doors even today.
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Country Boy
The Roots of Johnny Cash
Colin Edward Woodward
University of Arkansas Press, 2022

Winner, 2023 J. G. Ragsdale Book Award from the Arkansas Historical Association

Because Johnny Cash cut his classic singles at Sun Records in Memphis and reigned for years as country royalty from his Nashville-area mansion, people tend to associate the Man in Black with Tennessee. But some of Cash’s best songs—including classics like “Pickin’ Time,” “Big River,” and “Five Feet High and Rising”—sprang from his youth in the sweltering cotton fields of northeastern Arkansas.

In Country Boy, Colin Woodward combines biography, history, and music criticism to illustrate how Cash’s experiences in Arkansas shaped his life and work. The grip of the Great Depression on Arkansas’s small farmers, the comforts and tragedies of family, and a bedrock of faith all lent his music the power and authenticity that so appealed to millions. Though Cash left Arkansas as an eighteen-year-old, he often returned to his home state, where he played some of his most memorable and personal concerts. Drawing upon the country legend’s songs and writings, as well as the accounts of family, fellow musicians, and chroniclers, Woodward reveals how the profound sincerity and empathy so central to Cash’s music depended on his maintaining a deep connection to his native Arkansas—a place that never left his soul.

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Country Music Humorists and Comedians
Loyal Jones
University of Illinois Press, 2008

Q: Is he afraid of work? 

A: No, he can lie down beside it and go to sleep.

This volume is an encyclopedia of the many country music performers who made comedy a central part of their careers. Loyal Jones offers an informative biographical sketch of each performer and many entries include a sample of the artist's humor, a recording history, and amusing anecdotal tidbits. Starting with vaudeville and radio barn dance figures like the Skillet Lickers and the Weaver Brothers and Elviry, Jones moves on to the regulars on Hee Haw and the Grand Old Opry and present-day comedians from the Austin Lounge Lizards to Jeff Foxworthy. 

Jones's introductory essay discusses such topics as stock comic figures, venues for comedic performance, and benchmark performers. Throughout the volume, he places each performer squarely in the context of the country music community, its performing traditions, and each artist's place in the larger cultural milieu.

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Country Music USA
50th Anniversary Edition
By Bill C. Malone and Tracey E. W. Laird
University of Texas Press, 2018

“Fifty years after its first publication, Country Music USA still stands as the most authoritative history of this uniquely American art form. Here are the stories of the people who made country music into such an integral part of our nation’s culture. We feel lucky to have had Bill Malone as an indispensable guide in making our PBS documentary; you should, too.”
—Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, Country Music: An American Family Story

From reviews of previous editions:

“Considered the definitive history of American country music.”
Los Angeles Times

“If anyone knows more about the subject than [Malone] does, God help them.”
—Larry McMurtry, from In a Narrow Grave

“With Country Music USA, Bill Malone wrote the Bible for country music history and scholarship. This groundbreaking work, now updated, is the definitive chronicle of the sweeping drama of the country music experience.”
—Chet Flippo, former editorial director, CMT: Country Music Television and CMT.com

Country Music USA is the definitive history of country music and of the artists who shaped its fascinating worlds.”
—William Ferris, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and coeditor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture

Since its first publication in 1968, Bill C. Malone’s Country Music USA has won universal acclaim as the definitive history of American country music. Starting with the music’s folk roots in the rural South, it traces country music from the early days of radio into the twenty-first century. In this fiftieth-anniversary edition, Malone, the featured historian in Ken Burns’s 2019 documentary on country music, has revised every chapter to offer new information and fresh insights. Coauthor Tracey Laird tracks developments in country music in the new millennium, exploring the relationship between the current music scene and the traditions from which it emerged.

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Creating Country Music
Fabricating Authenticity
Richard A. Peterson
University of Chicago Press, 1997
In Creating Country Music, Richard Peterson traces the development of country music and its institutionalization from Fiddlin' John Carson's pioneering recordings in Atlanta in 1923 to the posthumous success of Hank Williams. Peterson captures the free-wheeling entrepreneurial spirit of the era, detailing the activities of the key promoters who sculpted the emerging country music scene. More than just a history of the music and its performers, this book is the first to explore what it means to be authentic within popular culture.

"[Peterson] restores to the music a sense of fun and diversity and possibility that more naive fans (and performers) miss. Like Buck Owens, Peterson knows there is no greater adventure or challenge than to 'act naturally.'"—Ken Emerson, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A triumphal history and theory of the country music industry between 1920 and 1953."—Robert Crowley, International Journal of Comparative Sociology

"One of the most important books ever written about a popular music form."—Timothy White, Billboard Magazine
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Crowe on the Banjo
The Music Life of J.D. Crowe
Marty Godbey
University of Illinois Press, 2011
In this first biography of legendary banjoist J. D. Crowe, Marty Godbey charts the life and career of one of bluegrass's most important innovators. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Crowe picked up the banjo when he was thirteen years old, inspired by a Flatt & Scruggs performance at the Kentucky Barn Dance. Godbey relates the long, distinguished career that followed, as Crowe performed and recorded both solo and as part of such varied ensembles as Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys, the all-acoustic Kentucky Mountain Boys, and the revolutionary New South, who created an adventurously eclectic brand of bluegrass by merging rock and country music influences with traditional forms. Over the decades, this highly influential group launched the careers of many other fresh talents such as Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, and Doyle Lawson.
 
With a selective discography and drawing from more than twenty interviews with Crowe and dozens more with the players who know him best, Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J. D. Crowe is the definitive music biography of a true bluegrass original.
[more]

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Czech Bluegrass
Notes from the Heart of Europe
Lee Bidgood
University of Illinois Press, 2017
Bluegrass has found an unlikely home, and avid following, in the Czech Republic. The music’s emergence in Central Europe places it within an increasingly global network of communities built around bluegrass activities.
 
Lee Bidgood offers a fascinating study of the Czech bluegrass phenomenon that merges intimate immersion in the music with on-the-ground fieldwork informed by his life as a working musician. Drawing on his own close personal and professional interactions, Bidgood charts how Czech bluegrass put down roots and looks at its performance as a uniquely Czech musical practice. He also reflects on “Americanist” musical projects and the ways Czech musicians use them to construct personal and social identities. Bidgood sees these acts of construction as a response to the Czech Republic’s postsocialist environment but also to US cultural prominence within our global mediascape.
 
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Detroit Country Music
Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies
Craig Maki with Keith Cady
University of Michigan Press, 2013

The richness of Detroit’s music history has by now been well established. We know all about Motown, the MC5, and Iggy and the Stooges. We also know about the important part the Motor City has played in the history of jazz. But there are stories about the music of Detroit that remain untold. One of the lesser known but nonetheless fascinating histories is contained within Detroit’s country music roots. At last, Craig Maki and Keith Cady bring to light Detroit’s most important country and western and bluegrass stars, such as Chief Redbird, the York Brothers, and Roy Hall. Beyond the individuals, Maki and Cady also map out the labels, radio programs, and performance venues that sustained Detroit’s vibrant country and bluegrass music scene. In the process, Detroit Country Music examines how and why the city’s growth in the early twentieth century, particularly the southern migration tied to the auto industry, led to this vibrant roots music scene.

This is the first book—the first resource of any kind—to tell the story of Detroit’s contributions to country music. Craig Maki and Keith Cady have spent two decades collecting music and images, and visiting veteran musicians to amass more than seventy interviews about country music in Detroit. Just as astounding as the book’s revelations are the photographs, most of which have never been published before. Detroit Country Music will be essential reading for music historians, record collectors, roots music fans, and Detroit music aficionados.

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Dixie Dewdrop
The Uncle Dave Macon Story
Michael D. Doubler
University of Illinois Press, 2018
One of the earliest performers on WSM in Nashville, Uncle Dave Macon became the Grand Ole Opry's first superstar. His old-time music and energetic stage shows made him a national sensation and fueled a thirty-year run as one of America's most beloved entertainers. Michael D. Doubler tells the amazing story of the Dixie Dewdrop, a country music icon. Born in 1870, David Harrison Macon learned the banjo from musicians passing through his parents' Nashville hotel. After playing local shows in Middle Tennessee for decades, a big break led Macon to Vaudeville, the earliest of his two hundred-plus recordings and eventually to national stardom. Uncle Dave--clad in his trademark plug hat and gates-ajar collar--soon became the face of the Opry itself with his spirited singing, humor, and array of banjo picking styles. For the rest of his life, he defied age to tour and record prolifically, manage his business affairs, mentor up-and-comers like David "Stringbean" Akeman, and play with the Delmore Brothers, Roy Acuff, and Bill Monroe.
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Don't Get above Your Raisin'
Country Music and the Southern Working Class
Bill C. Malone
University of Illinois Press, 2002
Combining a high-spirited history of country music's roots with vivid portraits of its principal performers, Don't Get above Your Raisin' examines the close relationship between "America's truest music" and the working-class culture that has constituted its principal source, nurtured its development, and provided its most dedicated supporters.
Widely recognized as country music's ranking senior authority, Bill C. Malone explores how the music's defining themes (home and family, religion, rambling, frolic, humor, and politics) have emerged out of the particularities of working people's day-to-day lives. He traces the many contradictory voices and messages of a music that simultaneously extols the virtues of home and the joys of rambling, the assurances of the Christian life and the ecstasies of hedonism, the strength of working-class life and the material lure of middle-class aspirations. The resulting tensions, Malone argues, are a principal source of the music's enduring appeal.
Country musicians have often been people from undistinguished blue-collar backgrounds who have tried to make their way as entertainers in a society that has little respect for the working class. From this ambivalent position, they have voiced the sometimes contradictory values and longings of their culture while also attempting to fulfill the romantic expectations of outsiders.
"For every Garth Brooks," Malone says, "there are a thousand country musicians who perform in local bars, taverns, and American Legion halls and who have never been able to ‘give up their day jobs.' These are musicians whose middle-class dreams are tempered by working-class realities." A powerful and honest expression of the hopes, longings, frailties, and failings of ordinary people, country music increasingly resonates with listeners beyond its core constituency as they struggle with a complex and uncertain world.
 
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Don't Give Your Heart to a Rambler
My Life with Jimmy Martin, the King of Bluegrass
Barbara Stephens
University of Illinois Press, 2017
As charismatic and gifted as he was volatile, Jimmy Martin recorded dozens of bluegrass classics and co-invented the high lonesome sound. Barbara Martin Stephens became involved with the King of Bluegrass at age seventeen. Don't Give your Heart to a Rambler tells the story of their often tumultuous life together.

Barbara bore his children and took on a crucial job as his booking agent when the agent he was using failed to obtain show dates for the group. Female booking agents were non-existent at that time but she persevered and went on to become the first female booking agent on Music Row. She also endured years of physical and emotional abuse at Martin's hands. With courage and candor, Barbara tells of the suffering and traces the hard-won personal growth she found inside motherhood and her work. Her vivid account of Martin's explosive personality and torment over his exclusion from the Grand Ole Opry fill in the missing details on a career renowned for being stormy. Barbara also shares her own journey, one of good humor and proud achievements, and filled with fond and funny recollections of the music legends and ordinary people she met, befriended, and represented along the way.

Straightforward and honest, Don't Give your Heart to a Rambler is a woman's story of the world of bluegrass and one of its most colorful, conflicted artists.

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Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown
The Making of an American Classic
Thomas Goldsmith
University of Illinois Press, 2019
Recorded in 1949, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" changed the face of American music. Earl Scruggs's instrumental essentially transformed the folk culture that came before it while helping to energize bluegrass's entry into the mainstream in the 1960s. The song has become a gateway to bluegrass for musicians and fans alike as well as a happily inescapable track in film and television. Thomas Goldsmith explores the origins and influence of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" against the backdrop of Scruggs's legendary career. Interviews with Scruggs, his wife Louise, disciple Bela Fleck, and sidemen like Curly Seckler, Mac Wiseman, and Jerry Douglas shed light on topics like Scruggs's musical evolution and his working relationship with Bill Monroe. As Goldsmith shows, the captivating sound of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" helped bring back the banjo from obscurity and distinguished the low-key Scruggs as a principal figure in American acoustic music.Passionate and long overdue, Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown takes readers on an ear-opening journey into two minutes and forty-three seconds of heaven.
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Ernest Tubb
The Texas Troubadour
Ronnie Pugh
Duke University Press, 1996
In this definitive biography of Ernest Tubb, Ronnie Pugh brings one of country music’s greatest performers back to center stage. Tracing a career that began in the 1930s and continued until just a few years before Tubb’s death in 1984, Pugh presents not only the long and legendary life of the Texas Troubadour but also an unparalleled view of the world of country music in which Ernest Tubb played an essential part.
Tubb began his career as an imitator of Jimmie Rodgers, but stormed the country music scene in the 1940s with a new honky tonk sound and a string of hits that included “Walking the Floor Over You.” His innovations marked an important transition in country music to a style and lyric in tune with modern American working people, or at least that offered the real-life themes of hard drinking, divorce, tough times, and ruined lives—changes that helped define the music we recognize today as “country.” A member of the Grand Ole Opry until 1982, Tubb hosted a live radio broadcast from the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville for years and became one of the first country music stars to host his own television show in the mid-1960s. Always popular and on the road much of the time even after his prime hit-making years had ended, he was well-known for promoting the careers of many new performers on the rise.
Delving into fan club journals, songbooks, newspaper broadcast logs, record company files, and hundreds of interviews, Ronnie Pugh draws a picture of Tubb—exploring both his personal and professional life—that is unprecedented in its intimacy, detail, and vitality. We get a close-up view of Tubb riding the crest of his popularity, setting the pace for Nashville, facing the onslaught of Elvis Presley and rock ’n roll, and surviving as a country music legend. Richly illustrated with almost a hundred photographs, many of which are rare unpublished shots from private collections, Ernest Tubb also contains a detailed and complete sessionography, a resource that will be of continuing importance for serious record collectors.
A biography that has been long awaited from Ronnie Pugh, unquestionably the leading authority on Ernest Tubb, this book will delight readers from among the fans of country music, those interested in the history of country music or American popular music and culture generally, and, of course, Ernest Tubb fans.
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Fifty Cents and a Box Top
The Creative Life of Nashville Session Musician Charlie McCoy
Charlie McCoy
West Virginia University Press, 2017
From Ann-Margret to Bob Dylan and George Jones to Simon & Garfunkel, Nashville harmonica virtuoso and multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy has contributed to some of the most successful recordings of country, pop, and rock music of the last six decades. As the leader of the Hee Haw “Million-Dollar Band,” McCoy spent more than two decades appearing on the television screens of country music fans around the United States. And, as a solo artist, he has entertained audiences across North America, Europe, and Japan and has earned numerous honors as a result. Fifty Cents and a Box Top: The Creative Life of Nashville Session Musician Charlie McCoy offers rare firsthand insights into life in the recording studio, on the road, and on the small screen as Nashville became a leading center of popular music production in the 1960s and as a young McCoy established himself as one of the most sought after session musicians in the country. 
 
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Foggy Mountain Troubadour
The Life and Music of Curly Seckler
Penny Parsons
University of Illinois Press, 2016
With his trademark mandolin style and unequaled tenor harmonies, Curly Seckler has carved out a seventy-seven-year career in bluegrass and country music. His foundational work in Flatt and Scruggs's Foggy Mountain Boys secured him a place in bluegrass history, while his role in The Nashville Grass made him an essential part of the music's triumphant 1970s revival.

Written in close collaboration with Mr. Seckler and those who know him, Foggy Mountain Troubadour is the first full-length biography of an American original. Penny Parsons follows a journey from North Carolina schoolhouses to the Grand Ole Opry stage and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, from boarding houses to radio studios and traveling five to a car on two-lane roads to make the next show. Throughout, she captures the warm humor, hard choices, and vivid details of a brilliant artist's life as he criss-crosses a nation and a century making music.

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Folk Music in Overdrive
A Primer on Traditional Country and Bluegrass Artists
Ivan Tribe
University of Tennessee Press, 2018
Folk Music in Overdrive is a reader of music scholar Ivan Tribe’s more significant published articles, revised and updated from their original publication in magazines such as Bluegrass Unlimited, Precious Memories: Journal of Gospel Music, Old Time Music, and Goldenseal: West Virginia Traditional Life, as well as two never-before published essays. Tribe delivers essays on well-known solo artists such as Charlie Monroe and Mac Odell; country music duos like husband and wife team Joe and Stacy Isaacs or the brotherly duos of The Bailes, Callahan, and Goins brothers; famous and lesser-known sidemen such as fiddlers Tater Tate and Natchee the Indian, or dobro player Speedy Krise; and musical groups such as the enigmatic Coon Creek Girls. This collection represents an important contribution to music studies and spans bluegrass as a genre from its beginnings to the present. 

Originally built around interviews with these figures and their close associates, these thirty-nine revised articles yield new information from a variety of sources, much from Bear Family boxed sets as well as counsel, advice, and knowledge shared by other music scholars. Tribe's profiles cover musicians and bands that were bluegrass pickers and singers themselves, as well as some musicians who are often characterized as traditional country musicians. Some led bands for all or part of their careers, while others ranked as noted sidemen or band members. Others composed songs that have become popular, indeed often standard, fare in the bluegrass field. 

As part of the Charles K. Wolfe Music Series, formed in honor of the late music scholar, Folk Music in Overdrive succinctly advances traditional music scholarship and Wolfe’s own love of early country and bluegrass. 
 
IVAN TRIBE is emeritus professor of history at the University of Rio Grande in Ohio. He is the author of The Stonemans: An Appalachian Family and the Music That Shaped Their Lives, Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia, and Country: A Regional Exploration. 

 
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The Glory Road
A Gospel Gypsy Life
Anita Faye Garner
University of Alabama Press, 2021

Stories and songs from a childhood spent in a vanished world of revivals and road shows

 Anita Faye Garner grew up in the South—just about every corner of it. She and her musical family lived in Texarkana, Bossier City, Hot Springs, Jackson, Vicksburg, Hattiesburg, Pascagoula, Bogalusa, Biloxi, Gulfport, New Orleans, and points between, picking up sticks every time her father, a Pentecostal preacher known as “Brother Ray,” took over a new congregation.

In between jump-starting churches, Brother Ray took his wife and kids out on the gospel revival circuit as the Jones Family Singers. Ray could sing and play, and “Sister Fern” (Mama) was a celebrated singer and songwriter, possessed of both talent and beauty. Rounding out the band were the young Garner (known as Nita Faye then) and her big brother Leslie Ray. At all-day singings and tent revivals across the South, the Joneses made a joyful noise for the faithful and loaded into the car for the next stage of their tour.

But growing up gospel wasn’t always joyous. The kids practically raised and fended for themselves, bonding over a shared dislike of their rootless life and strict religious upbringing. Sister Fern dreamed of crossing over from gospel to popular music and recording a hit record. An unlikely combination of preacher’s wife and glamorous performer, she had the talent and presence to make a splash, and her remarkable voice brought Saturday night rock and roll to Sunday morning music. Always singing, performing, and recording at the margins of commercial success, Sister Fern shared a backing band with Elvis Presley and wrote songs recorded by Johnny Cash and many other artists.

In her touching memoir The Glory Road, Anita Faye Garner re-creates her remarkable upbringing. The story begins with Ray’s attempts to settle down and the family’s inevitable return to the gospel circuit and concludes with Sister Fern’s brushes with stardom and the family’s journey west to California where they finally landed—with some unexpected detours along the way. The Glory Road carries readers back to the 1950s South and the intersections of faith and family at the very roots of American popular music.

For more information about the book and Anita Garner, visit
www.thegloryroad.com or www.anitagarner.com

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Gone to the Country
The New Lost City Ramblers and the Folk Music Revival
Ray Allen
University of Illinois Press, 2010
Gone to the Country chronicles the life and music of the New Lost City Ramblers, a trio of city-bred musicians who helped pioneer the resurgence of southern roots music during the folk revival of the late 1950s and 1960s. Formed in 1958 by Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley, the Ramblers introduced the regional styles of southern ballads, blues, string bands, and bluegrass to northerners yearning for a sound and an experience not found in mainstream music.
 

Ray Allen interweaves biography, history, and music criticism to follow the band from its New York roots to their involvement with the commercial folk music boom. Allen details their struggle to establish themselves amid critical debates about traditionalism brought on by their brand of folk revivalism. He explores how the Ramblers ascribed notions of cultural authenticity to certain musical practices and performers and how the trio served as a link between southern folk music and northern urban audiences who had little previous exposure to rural roots styles. Highlighting the role of tradition in the social upheaval of mid-century America, Gone to the Country draws on extensive interviews and personal correspondence with band members and digs deep into the Ramblers' rich trove of recordings.

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The Hayloft Gang
The Story of the National Barn Dance
Edited by Chad Berry
University of Illinois Press, 2007
The National Barn Dance was the nation's most popular country music radio show during the 1930s and 1940s. The pioneering radio program defined country and western entertainment until the Grand Ole Opry and rock 'n' roll supplanted it in the 1950s. Broadcast for more than three decades from Chicago on WLS's powerful 50,000-watt signal, the show reached listeners throughout the Midwest, the East Coast, and South, delivering popular entertainment to both rural and urban areas while celebrating the fading folk traditions of an increasingly urbanized America.

The Hayloft Gang draws on the colorful commentary of performers and former listeners to analyze the National Barn Dance, its audience, and its impact. Contributors trace the history of barn dance radio, explore the paradox of a foundational country music program broadcast from a major city, investigate notions of authenticity in the presentation of country music and entertainment, and delve into provocative issues raised by the barn dance phenomenon.

Contributors: Chad Berry, Michael T. Bertrand, Lisa Krissoff Boehm, Don Cusic, Wayne W. Daniel, Loyal Jones, Kristine M. McCusker, Stephen Parry, Susan Smulyan, Paul L. Tyler, and Michael Ann Williams.

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Hidden in the Mix
The African American Presence in Country Music
Diane Pecknold, ed.
Duke University Press, 2013
Country music's debt to African American music has long been recognized. Black musicians have helped to shape the styles of many of the most important performers in the country canon. The partnership between Lesley Riddle and A. P. Carter produced much of the Carter Family's repertoire; the street musician Tee Tot Payne taught a young Hank Williams Sr.; the guitar playing of Arnold Schultz influenced western Kentuckians, including Bill Monroe and Ike Everly. Yet attention to how these and other African Americans enriched the music played by whites has obscured the achievements of black country-music performers and the enjoyment of black listeners.

The contributors to Hidden in the Mix examine how country music became "white," how that fictive racialization has been maintained, and how African American artists and fans have used country music to elaborate their own identities. They investigate topics as diverse as the role of race in shaping old-time record catalogues, the transracial West of the hick-hopper Cowboy Troy, and the place of U.S. country music in postcolonial debates about race and resistance. Revealing how music mediates both the ideology and the lived experience of race, Hidden in the Mix challenges the status of country music as "the white man’s blues."

Contributors. Michael Awkward, Erika Brady, Barbara Ching, Adam Gussow, Patrick Huber, Charles Hughes, Jeffrey A. Keith, Kip Lornell, Diane Pecknold, David Sanjek, Tony Thomas, Jerry Wever

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Hillbilly Maidens, Okies, and Cowgirls
Women's Country Music, 1930-1960
Stephanie Vander Wel
University of Illinois Press, 2020
A PopMatters Best Non-Fiction Book of 2020

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the booming popularity of country music threw a spotlight on a new generation of innovative women artists. These individuals blazed trails as singers, musicians, and performers even as the industry hemmed in their potential popularity with labels like woman hillbilly, singing cowgirl, and honky-tonk angel.

Stephanie Vander Wel looks at the careers of artists like Patsy Montana, Rose Maddox, and Kitty Wells against the backdrop of country music's golden age. Analyzing recordings and appearances on radio, film, and television, she connects performances to real and imagined places and examines how the music sparked new ways for women listeners to imagine the open range, the honky-tonk, and the home. The music also captured the tensions felt by women facing geographic disruption and economic uncertainty. While classic songs and heartfelt performances might ease anxieties, the subject matter underlined women's ambivalent relationships to industrialism, middle-class security, and established notions of femininity.

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I'd Fight the World
A Political History of Old-Time, Hillbilly, and Country Music
Peter La Chapelle
University of Chicago Press, 2019
Long before the United States had presidents from the world of movies and reality TV, we had scores of politicians with connections to country music. In I’d Fight the World, Peter La Chapelle traces the deep bonds between country music and politics, from the nineteenth-century rise of fiddler-politicians to more recent figures like Pappy O’Daniel, Roy Acuff, and Rob Quist. These performers and politicians both rode and resisted cultural waves: some advocated for the poor and dispossessed, and others voiced religious and racial anger, but they all walked the line between exploiting their celebrity and righteously taking on the world. La Chapelle vividly shows how country music campaigners have profoundly influenced the American political landscape.
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Industrial Strength Bluegrass
Southwestern Ohio's Musical Legacy
Edited by Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison
University of Illinois Press, 2021
In the twentieth century, Appalachian migrants seeking economic opportunities relocated to southwestern Ohio, bringing their music with them. Between 1947 and 1989, they created an internationally renowned capital for the thriving bluegrass music genre, centered on the industrial region of Cincinnati, Dayton, Hamilton, Middletown, and Springfield. Fred Bartenstein and Curtis W. Ellison edit a collection of eyewitness narratives and in-depth analyses that explore southwestern Ohio’s bluegrass musicians, radio broadcasters, recording studios, record labels, and performance venues, along with the music’s contributions to religious activities, community development, and public education. As the bluegrass scene grew, southwestern Ohio's distinctive sounds reached new fans and influenced those everywhere who continue to play, produce, and love roots music.

Revelatory and multifaceted, Industrial Strength Bluegrass shares the inspiring story of a bluegrass hotbed and the people who created it.

Contributors: Fred Bartenstein, Curtis W. Ellison, Jon Hartley Fox, Rick Good, Lily Isaacs, Ben Krakauer, Mac McDivitt, Nathan McGee, Daniel Mullins, Joe Mullins, Larry Nager, Phillip J. Obermiller, Bobby Osborne, and Neil V. Rosenberg.

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Johnny Cash International
How and Why Fans Love the Man in Black
Michael Hinds and Jonathan Silverman
University of Iowa Press, 2020

2023 Peggy O'Brien Book Prize, winner

Across all imaginable borders, Johnny Cash fans show the appeal of a thoroughly American performer who simultaneously inspires people worldwide. A young Norwegian shows off his Johnny Cash tattoo. A Canadian vlogger sings “I Walk the Line” to camel herders in Egypt’s White Desert. A shopkeeper in Northern Ireland plays Cash as his constant soundtrack. A Dutchwoman co­ordinates the activities of Cash fans worldwide and is subsequently offered the privilege of sleeping in Johnny’s bedroom. And on a more global scale, millions of people watch Cash’s videos online, then express themselves through commentary and debate.

In Johnny Cash International, Hinds and Silverman examine digital and real-world fan communities and the individuals who comprise them, profiling their relationships to Cash and each other. Study­ing Johnny Cash’s international fans and their love for the man reveals new insights about music, fandom, and the United States.

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Live Fast, Love Hard
The Faron Young Story
Diane Diekman
University of Illinois Press, 2012

As one of the best-known honky tonkers to appear in the wake of Hank Williams’s death, Faron Young was a popular presence on Nashville’s music scene for more than four decades. The Singing Sheriff produced a string of Top Ten hits, placed over eighty songs on the country music charts, and founded the long-running country music periodical Music City News in 1963. Flamboyant, impulsive, and generous, he helped and encouraged a new generation of talented songwriter-performers that included Willie Nelson and Bill Anderson. In 2000, four years after his untimely death, Faron was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Presenting the first detailed portrayal of this lively and unpredictable country music star, Diane Diekman masterfully draws on extensive interviews with Young’s family, band members, and colleagues. Impeccably researched, Diekman’s narrative also weaves anecdotes from Louisiana Hayride and other old radio shows with ones from Young’s business associates, including Ralph Emery. Her unique insider’s look into Young’s career adds to an understanding of the burgeoning country music entertainment industry during the key years from 1950 to 1980, when the music expanded beyond its original rural roots and blossomed into a national (ultimately, international) enterprise. Echoing Young’s characteristic ability to entertain and surprise fans, Diekman combines an account of his public career with a revealing, intimate portrait of his personal life.

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Lonesome Cowgirls and Honky-Tonk Angels
The Women of Barn Dance Radio
Kristine M. McCusker
University of Illinois Press, 2007
American barn dance radio of the 1920s-1940s evoked comforting images of a nostalgic and stable past for listeners beset by economic problems at home and worried about totalitarian governments abroad. Sentimental images such as the mountain mother and the chaste everybody's-little-sister "girl singer" helped to sell a new consumer culture and move commercial country music from regional fare to national treasure.

Drawing on personal interviews and rich archival material from the Grand Ole Opry, Kristine M. McCusker examines the gendered politics of the images through the lives and careers of six women performers: Linda Parker, the Girls of the Golden West (Milly and Dolly Good), Lily May Ledford, Minnie Pearl, and Rose Lee Maphis.

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Looking Back to See
A Country Music Memoir
Maxine Brown
University of Arkansas Press, 2005
A vocal group without peer, The Browns were central artists in the changing sound of country and American popular music at mid-century. They were part of major changes in the entertainment business and American culture, participated in the folk music movement in the ‘60’s, and saw the steady birth of rock ‘n’ roll up close as they worked with Presley and others. Illustrated with many never-before-published photographs, Looking Back to See is a remarkable story told here for the first time.
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Making Music in Music City
Conversations with Nashville Music Industry Professionals
John Markert
University of Tennessee Press, 2021

At least since the rise of the “Nashville sound” in the 1950s, Tennessee’s capital city has attracted numerous books and articles offering insight into the celebrity machine known as Music City. But behind the artist in the limelight are a host of support personnel and contributors who shape the artist’s music. Of these myriad occupations within the music industry, only two have received significant attention: executives at the major labels and elite songwriters who have forged a path to the top of the charts. In Making Music in Music City, sociologist John Markert compiles and assesses more than one hundred interviews with industry professionals whose roles have been less often examined: producers, publishers, songwriters, management, studio musicians, and more.

The book naturally pivots around the country music industry but also discusses Nashville’s role in other forms of modern music, such as rock, Christian, and rap. Markert’s in-depth interviews with key music professionals provide a fresh perspective on the roles of critical players in Nashville’s music industry. This book sheds light not only on the complexities of the industry and the occupational changes taking place but on the critical role of those who work behind the scenes to shape the music that ultimately reaches the public.

Through firsthand accounts, Making Music in Music City analyzes just what it takes to create, produce, and disseminate the Nashville sound.

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The Man in Song
A Discographic Biography of Johnny Cash
John M. Alexander
University of Arkansas Press, 2018

There have been many books written about Johnny Cash, but The Man in Song is the first to examine Cash’s incredible life through the lens of the songs he wrote and recorded. Music journalist and historian John Alexander has drawn on decades of studying Cash’s music and life, from his difficult depression-era Arkansas childhood through his death in 2003, to tell a life story through songs familiar and obscure. In discovering why Cash wrote a given song or chose to record it, Alexander introduces readers anew to a man whose primary consideration of any song was the difference music makes in people’s lives, and not whether the song would become a hit.

The hits came, of course. Johnny Cash sold more than fifty million albums in forty years, and he holds the distinction of being the only performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. The Man in Song connects treasured songs to an incredible life. It explores the intertwined experience and creativity of childhood trauma. It rifles through the discography of a life: Cash’s work with the Tennessee Two at Sam Phillips’s Sun Studios, the unique concept albums Cash recorded for Columbia Records, the spiritual songs, the albums recorded live at prisons, songs about the love of his life, June Carter Cash, songs about murder and death and addiction, songs about ramblers, and even silly songs.

Appropriate for both serious country and folk music enthusiasts and those just learning about this musical legend, The Man in Song will appeal to a fan base spanning generations. Here is a biography for those who first heard “I Walk the Line” in 1956, a younger generation who discovered Cash through songs like his cover of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt,” and everyone in between.

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Mandolin Man
The Bluegrass Life of Roland White
Bob Black
University of Illinois Press, 2022
A No Depression Most Memorable Music Book of 2022

Roland White’s long career has taken him from membership in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass to success with his own Roland White Band. A master of the mandolin and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, White has mentored a host of bluegrass musicians and inspired countless others.

Bob Black draws on extensive interviews with White and his peers and friends to provide the first in-depth biography of the pioneering bluegrass figure. Born into a musical family, White found early success with the Kentucky Colonels during the 1960s folk revival. The many stops and collaborations that marked White's subsequent musical journey trace the history of modern bluegrass. But Black also delves into the seldom-told tale of White's life as a working musician, one who endured professional and music industry ups-and-downs to become a legendary artist and beloved teacher.

An entertaining merger of memories and music history, Mandolin Man tells the overdue story of a bluegrass icon and his times.

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The Music of the Stanley Brothers
Gary B. Reid
University of Illinois Press, 2015
The Music of the Stanley Brothers brings together forty years of passionate research by scholar and record label owner Gary B. Reid. A leading authority on Carter and Ralph Stanley, Reid augments his own vast knowledge of their music with interviews, documents ranging from books to folios sold by the brothers at shows, and the words of Ralph Stanley, former band members, guest musicians, session producers, songwriters, and bluegrass experts. The result is a reference that illuminates the Stanleys' art and history. It is all here: dates and locations; the roster of players on well-known and obscure sessions alike; master/matrix and catalog/release numbers, with reissue information; a full discography sorting out the Stanleys' complex recording history; the stories behind the music; and exquisitely informed biographical notes that place events in the context of the brothers' careers and lives.

Monumental and indispensable, The Music of the Stanley Brothers provides fans and scholars alike with a guide for immersion in the long career and breathtaking repertoire of two legendary American musicians.

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My Curious and Jocular Heroes
Tales and Tale-Spinners from Appalachia
Loyal Jones
University of Illinois Press, 2017
We were going down the road, and we came to this house. There was a little boy standing by the road just crying and crying.

We stopped, and we heard the biggest racket you ever heard up in the house.

“What’s the matter, son?”

“Why, Maw and Paw are up there fightin’.”

“Who is your Paw, son?”

“Well, that’s what they are fightin’ over.”

Brimming with ballads, stories, riddles, tall tales, and great good humor, My Curious and Jocular Heroes pays homage to four people who guided and inspired Loyal Jones’s own study of Appalachian culture. His sharp-eyed portraits introduce a new generation to Bascom Lunsford, the pioneer behind the “memory collections” of song and story at Columbia University and the Library of Congress; the Sorbonne-educated collector and performer Josiah H. Combs; Cratis D. Williams, the legendary father of Appalachian studies; and the folklorist and master storyteller Leonard W. Roberts. Throughout, Jones highlights the tales, songs, jokes, and other collected nuggets that define the breadth of each man’s research and repertoire.

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Natural Acts
Gender, Race, and Rusticity in Country Music
Pamela Fox
University of Michigan Press, 2009

"'All I gotta do is act naturally,' Buck Owens sang, and Pamela Fox knows where the acting comes in. From early hillbilly acts to alt.country, Natural Acts lays bare, with wide-ranging scholarship and incisive analysis, the ideologies of authenticity on which country music rests. As engrossing and useful as any book I know on country music."
---Eric Lott, author of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

"The first completely mature book of country music historical criticism. It is a deep investigation of country music's power to articulate the displaced pleasures and anxieties of a society wracked by structural change. Historically rigorous, Fox uncovers documents that demonstrate the ongoing power of minstrelsy in barn dance programs across the country past World War II; musically and lyrically astute, she shows how the best honky-tonk music simultaneously critiques the dangers of that setting while seductively luring listeners to those sawdust and alcohol drenched environments; with her ear attuned to the formal complexities of autobiography, Fox directs our attention to the contradictory performance of identity that characterizes the life stories of Reba McEntire, Naomi Judd, Dolly Parton, and others. Natural Acts is provocative, stunning, and engagingly written. Country music studies has come of age."
---Barry Shank, The Ohio State University

Whether found in country barn dances, the plaintive twang of Hank Williams, the glitzy glamour of Dolly Parton, or the country-pop sound of Faith Hill, country music has always maintained an allegiance to its own authenticity. Its specific sounds and images have changed over the past century, but country music has consistently been associated with rusticity, a notion connected to the working class and rooted in ideals like unspoiled rural life and values and humble origins. The music suggests not only uncomplicated musical arrangements and old-time instruments such as the banjo and fiddle, but performers who identify with their everyday fans.

Natural Acts explores the ways that country musicians---particularly women artists---have established a "natural" country identity. Pamela Fox focuses on five revealing moments in country performance: blackface comedy during country music's "Golden Age" of pre-1945 radio and stage programming; the minstrel's "rube" or hillbilly equivalent in the same period; postwar honky-tonk music and culture; the country star memoir or autobiography of the '80s and '90s; and the recent roots phenomenon known as alt.country.

Pamela Fox is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University. She is the author of Class Fictions: Shame and Resistance in the British Working-Class Novel, 1890-1945 and coeditor (with Barbara Ching) of Old Roots, New Routes: The Cultural Politics of Alt.Country Music.

Photo: Lulu Belle Wiseman and Red Foley, 1930s. Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame ® and Museum.

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On the Bus with Bill Monroe
My Five-Year Ride with the Father of Blue Grass
Mark Hembree
University of Illinois Press, 2022
A backstage audition led Mark Hembree into a five-year stint (1979–1984) as the bassist for Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. Hembree’s journey included playing at the White House and on the acclaimed album Master of Bluegrass. But it also put him on a collision course with the rigors of touring, the mysteries of Southern culture, and the complex personality of bandleader-legend Bill Monroe. Whether it’s figuring out the best time for breakfast (early) or for beating the boss at poker (never), Hembree gives readers an up-close look at the occasionally exalting, often unglamorous life of a touring musician in the sometimes baffling, always colorful company of a bluegrass icon.

The amusing story of a Yankee fish out of water, On the Bus with Bill Monroe mixes memoir with storytelling to recount the adventures of a Northerner learning new ways and the Old South.

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Pilgrimage to Dollywood
A Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee
Helen Morales
University of Chicago Press, 2014
A star par excellence, Dolly Parton is one of country music’s most likable personalities. Even a hard-rocking punk or orchestral aesthete can’t help cracking a smile or singing along with songs like “Jolene” and “9 to 5.” More than a mere singer or actress, Parton is a true cultural phenomenon, immediately recognizable and beloved for her talent, tinkling laugh, and steel magnolia spirit. She is also the only female star to have her own themed amusement park: Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Every year thousands of fans flock to Dollywood to celebrate the icon, and Helen Morales is one of those fans.

In Pilgrimage to Dollywood, Morales sets out to discover Parton’s Tennessee. Her travels begin at the top celebrity pilgrimage site of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, then take her to Loretta Lynn’s ranch in Hurricane Mills; the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville; to Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; and finally to Pigeon Forge, home of the “Dolly Homecoming Parade,” featuring the star herself as grand marshall. Morales’s adventure allows her to compare the imaginary Tennessee of Parton’s lyrics with the real Tennessee where the singer grew up, looking at essential connections between country music, the land, and a way of life. It’s also a personal pilgrimage for Morales. Accompanied by her partner, Tony, and their nine-year-old daughter, Athena (who respectively prefer Mozart and Miley Cyrus), Morales, a recent transplant from England, seeks to understand America and American values through the celebrity sites and attractions of Tennessee.

This celebration of Dolly and Americana is for anyone with an old country soul who relies on music to help understand the world, and it is guaranteed to make a Dolly Parton fan of anyone who has not yet fallen for her music or charisma.
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Pressing On
The Roni Stoneman Story
Roni Stoneman as told to Ellen Wright
University of Illinois Press, 2006
Roni Stoneman was the youngest daughter of the pioneering country music family and a woman who overcame poverty and abusive husbands to claim the title of "The First Lady of Banjo," a fixture on the Nashville scene, and, as Hee Haw's Ironing Board Lady, a comedienne beloved by millions.

Drawn from more than seventy-five hours of recorded interviews, Pressing On reveals Roni's gifts as a master storyteller. With characteristic spunk and candor, she describes her "pooristic" ("way beyond 'poverty-stricken'") Appalachian childhood, and how her brother Scott taught her to play the challenging and innovative three-finger banjo picking style developed by Earl Scruggs. She also warmly recounts Hee Haw-era adventures with Minnie Pearl, Roy Clark, and Buck Owens; her encounters as a musician with country greats like Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, June Carter, and Patsy Cline; as well as her personal struggles with shiftless and violent husbands, her relationships with her children, and her musical life after Hee Haw.

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Pretty Good for a Girl
Women in Bluegrass
Murphy Henry
University of Illinois Press, 2013
The first book devoted entirely to women in bluegrass, Pretty Good for a Girl documents the lives of more than seventy women whose vibrant contributions to the development of bluegrass have been, for the most part, overlooked. Accessibly written and organized by decade, the book begins with Sally Ann Forrester, who played accordion and sang with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys from 1943 to 1946, and continues into the present with artists such as Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, and the Dixie Chicks. Drawing from extensive interviews, well-known banjoist Murphy Hicks Henry gives voice to women performers and innovators throughout bluegrass's history, including such pioneers as Bessie Lee Mauldin, Wilma Lee Cooper, and Roni and Donna Stoneman; family bands including the Lewises, Whites, and McLains; and later pathbreaking performers such as the Buffalo Gals and other all-girl bands, Laurie Lewis, Lynn Morris, Missy Raines, and many others.

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Queer Country
Shana Goldin-Perschbacher
University of Illinois Press, 2022
  • A Variety Best Music Book of 2022
  • A No Depression Most Memorable Music Book of 2022
  • A Library Journal Best Arts and Humanities Book of 2022
  • A Pitchfork Best Music Book of 2022
  • A Boot Best Music Book of 2022
  • A Ticketmaster Best Music Book of 2022
  • A Happy Magazine Best Music Book of 2022
  • Awarded a Certificate of Merit in the 2023 ARSC Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research in the category Best Historical Research in Country, Folk, Roots, or World Music.

Though frequently ignored by the music mainstream, queer and transgender country and Americana artists have made essential contributions as musicians, performers, songwriters, and producers. Queer Country blends ethnographic research with analysis and history to provide the first in-depth study of these artists and their work. Shana Goldin-Perschbacher delves into the careers of well-known lesbian artists like k.d. lang and Amy Ray and examines the unlikely success of singer-songwriter Patrick Haggerty, who found fame forty years after releasing the first out gay country album. She also focuses on later figures like nonbinary transgender musician Rae Spoon and renowned drag queen country artist Trixie Mattel; and on recent breakthrough artists like Orville Peck, Amythyst Kiah, and chart-topping Grammy-winning phenomenon Lil Nas X. Many of these musicians place gender and sexuality front and center even as it complicates their careers. But their ongoing efforts have widened the circle of country/Americana by cultivating new audiences eager to connect with the artists’ expansive music and personal identities.

Detailed and one-of-a-kind, Queer Country reinterprets country and Americana music through the lives and work of artists forced to the margins of the genre's history.

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Reading Country Music
Steel Guitars, Opry Stars, and Honky Tonk Bars
Cecelia Tichi, ed.
Duke University Press, 1998
With its steel guitars, Opry stars, and honky-tonk bars, country music is an American original. The most popular music in America today, it’s also big business. Amazing, then, that country music has been so little studied by critics, given its predominance in American culture. Reading Country Music acknowledges the significance of country music as part of an authentic American heritage and turns a loving, critical eye toward understanding the sweep of this peculiarly American phenomenon.
Bringing together a wide range of scholars and critics from literature, communications, history, sociology, art, and music, this anthology looks at everything from the inner workings of the country music industry to the iconography of certain stars to the development of distinctive styles within the country music genre. Essays include a look at the shift from "hard-core" to "soft-shell" country music in recent years; Johnny Cash as lesbian icon; gender, class, and region in Dolly Parton’s star image; and bluegrass’s gothic tradition. Originally published as a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly, this expanded book edition includes new articles on the spirituality of Willie Nelson, the legacy and tradition of stringed music, and the revival of Stephen Foster’s blackface musical, among others.

Contributors. Mary A. Bufwack, Don Cusic, Curtis W. Ellison, Mark Fenster, Vivien Green Fryd, Teresa Goddu, T. Walter Herbert, Christine Kreyling, Michael Kurek, Amy Schrager Lang, Charmaine Lanham, Bill Malone, Christopher Metress, Jocelyn Neal, Teresa Ortega, Richard A. Peterson, Ronnie Pugh, John W. Rumble, David Sanjek, Cecelia Tichi, Pamela Wilson, Charles K. Wolfe

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Real Country
Music and Language in Working-Class Culture
Aaron A. Fox
Duke University Press, 2004
In Lockhart, Texas, a rural working-class town just south of Austin, country music is a way of life. Conversation slips easily into song, and the songs are full of conversation. Anthropologist and musician Aaron A. Fox spent years in Lockhart making research notes, music, and friends. In Real Country, he provides an intimate, in-depth ethnography of the community and its music. Showing that country music is deeply embedded in the textures of working-class life, Fox argues that it is the cultural and intellectual property of working-class people and not only of the Nashville-based music industry or the stars whose lives figure so prominently in popular and scholarly writing about the genre.

Fox spent hundreds of hours observing, recording, and participating in talk and music-making in homes, beer joints, and garage jam sessions. He renders the everyday life of Lockhart’s working-class community in detail, right down to the ice cold beer, the battered guitars, and the technical skills of such local musical legends as Randy Meyer and Larry “Hoppy” Hopkins. Throughout, Fox focuses on the human voice. His analyses of conversations, interviews, songs, and vocal techniques show how feeling and experience are expressed, and how local understandings of place, memory, musical aesthetics, working-class social history, race, and gender are shared. In Real Country, working-class Texans re-imagine their past and give voice to the struggles and satisfactions of their lives in the present through music.

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River of Tears
Country Music, Memory, and Modernity in Brazil
Alexander Sebastian Dent
Duke University Press, 2009
River of Tears is the first ethnography of Brazilian country music, one of the most popular genres in Brazil yet least-known outside it. Beginning in the mid-1980s, commercial musical duos practicing música sertaneja reached beyond their home in Brazil’s central-southern region to become national bestsellers. Rodeo events revolving around country music came to rival soccer matches in attendance. A revival of folkloric rural music called música caipira, heralded as música sertaneja’s ancestor, also took shape. And all the while, large numbers of Brazilians in the central-south were moving to cities, using music to support the claim that their Brazil was first and foremost a rural nation.

Since 1998, Alexander Sebastian Dent has analyzed rural music in the state of São Paulo, interviewing and spending time with listeners, musicians, songwriters, journalists, record-company owners, and radio hosts. Dent not only describes the production and reception of this music, he also explains why the genre experienced such tremendous growth as Brazil transitioned from an era of dictatorship to a period of intense neoliberal reform. Dent argues that rural genres reflect a widespread anxiety that change has been too radical and has come too fast. In defining their music as rural, Brazil’s country musicians—whose work circulates largely in cities—are criticizing an increasingly inescapable urban life characterized by suppressed emotions and an inattentiveness to the past. Their performances evoke a river of tears flowing through a landscape of loss—of love, of life in the countryside, and of man’s connections to the natural world.

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Roots Music in America
Collected Writings of Joe Wilson
Fred Bartenstein
University of Tennessee Press, 2017

Joe Wilson served for twenty-eight years as executive director of the National Folk Festival and National Council for Traditional Arts. Throughout his impressive career, Wilson wrote extensively and colorfully about many facets of vernacular music in North America, including works on major folk instruments, as well as on characteristic musical styles, especially old-time, bluegrass, modern country, blues, cowboy, a cappella gospel, and others. This volume, a companion to Lucky Joe’s Namesake: The Extraordinary Life and Observations of Joe Wilson, compiles Wilson’s best writings on musical topics, including some previously unpublished works.

With wry humor, Wilson covers the origins of roots music in eighteenth-century America and its subsequent dispersion through races, classes, ethnic groups, and newly settled regions. Wilson knew, worked with, and wrote about many iconic artists of the twentieth century, including Willie Nelson, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, the Stanley Brothers, Kenny Baker, Cephas & Wiggins, John Jackson, and members of the Hill Billies—the band whose name came to signify an entire genre of the earliest recorded roots music. This carefully curated volume is comprised of works previously scattered in liner notes, small-circulation magazines, tour booklets, and unpublished manuscripts, all collected here and organized by theme.

The writings of this legendary, internationally recognized figure will be indispensable to roots music fans and will delight readers and students interested in the traditional arts and dedicated to preserving historic folkways.

Fred Bartenstein teaches country and bluegrass music history at the University of Dayton. He is the editor of Bluegrass Bluesman: Josh Graves, a Memoir and coauthor and editor of The Bluegrass Hall of Fame: Inductee Biographies, 1991–2014

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The Running Kind
Listening to Merle Haggard
David Cantwell
University of Texas Press, 2022

2022 Belmont Award for the Best Book on Country Music, International Country Music Conference/Belmont University

New and expanded biography of one of country music’s most celebrated singer-songwriters.


Merle Haggard enjoyed numerous artistic and professional triumphs, including more than a hundred country hits (thirty-eight at number one), dozens of studio and live album releases, upwards of ten thousand concerts, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and songs covered by artists as diverse as Lynryd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.

In The Running Kind, a new edition that expands on his earlier analysis and covers Haggard's death and afterlife as an icon of both old-school and modern country music, David Cantwell takes us on a revelatory journey through Haggard’s music and the life and times out of which it came. Covering the breadth of his career, Cantwell focuses especially on the 1960s and 1970s, when Haggard created some of his best-known and most influential music: songs that helped invent the America we live in today. Listening closely to a masterpiece-crowded catalogue (including “Okie from Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” and “Working Man Blues,” among many more), Cantwell explores the fascinating contradictions—most of all, the desire for freedom in the face of limits set by the world or self-imposed—that define not only Haggard’s music and public persona but the very heart of American culture.

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Ryan Adams
Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown
By David Menconi
University of Texas Press, 2012

Before he achieved his dream of being an internationally known rock personality, Ryan Adams had a band in Raleigh, North Carolina. Whiskeytown led the wave of insurgent-country bands that came of age with No Depression magazine in the mid-1990s, and for many people it defined the era. Adams was an irrepressible character, one of the signature personalities of his generation, and as a singer-songwriter he blew people away with a mature talent that belied his youth. David Menconi witnessed most of Whiskeytown’s rocket ride to fame as the music critic for the Raleigh News & Observer, and in Ryan Adams, he tells the inside story of the singer’s remarkable rise from hardscrabble origins to success with Whiskeytown, as well as Adams’s post-Whiskeytown self-reinvention as a solo act.

Menconi draws on early interviews with Adams, conversations with people close to him, and Adams’s extensive online postings to capture the creative ferment that produced some of Adams’s best music, including the albums Strangers Almanac and Heartbreaker. He reveals that, from the start, Ryan Adams had an absolutely determined sense of purpose and unshakable confidence in his own worth. At the same time, his inability to hold anything back, whether emotions or torrents of songs, often made Adams his own worst enemy, and Menconi recalls the excesses that almost, but never quite, derailed his career. Ryan Adams is a fascinating, multifaceted portrait of the artist as a young man, almost famous and still inventing himself, writing songs in a blaze of passion.

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San Antonio Rose
The Life and Music of Bob Wills
Charles R. Townsend; Discography and filmusicography by Bob Pinson
University of Illinois Press, 1976

"Until Hank Williams came along, it was just Bob Willis," says Willie Nelson. "He was it." And indeed he was, especially for the thousands in the Southwest who knew and loved the King of Western Swing. The colorful band leader-composer-fiddler from Turkey, Texas, lassoed the emotions of country-and-western fans nationwide. In the early 1940s, his records outsold those of any other recording artist. He was voted not only into the Country Music Hall of Fame but also into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the only performer other than Gene Autry to be so honored. 

Affectionately written by a Texan who responded to the legendary fiddler's style, San Antonio Rose captures Wills's magnetism and the musical excitement he created. Charles R. Townsend traces Wills's dynamic life from his birth into a family of frontier fiddlers through his career and stardom and on to the poignant last recording session in 1973 and his death two years later. Townsend shows how Wills brought black and white music together and examines the tremendous impact he had on both popular and country music through the more than 550 selections he recorded and the forty years he and his Texas Playboys performed in dance halls and on radio.

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Segregating Sound
Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow
Karl Hagstrom Miller
Duke University Press, 2010
In Segregating Sound, Karl Hagstrom Miller argues that the categories that we have inherited to think and talk about southern music bear little relation to the ways that southerners long played and heard music. Focusing on the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, Miller chronicles how southern music—a fluid complex of sounds and styles in practice—was reduced to a series of distinct genres linked to particular racial and ethnic identities. The blues were African American. Rural white southerners played country music. By the 1920s, these depictions were touted in folk song collections and the catalogs of “race” and “hillbilly” records produced by the phonograph industry. Such links among race, region, and music were new. Black and white artists alike had played not only blues, ballads, ragtime, and string band music, but also nationally popular sentimental ballads, minstrel songs, Tin Pan Alley tunes, and Broadway hits.

In a cultural history filled with musicians, listeners, scholars, and business people, Miller describes how folklore studies and the music industry helped to create a “musical color line,” a cultural parallel to the physical color line that came to define the Jim Crow South. Segregated sound emerged slowly through the interactions of southern and northern musicians, record companies that sought to penetrate new markets across the South and the globe, and academic folklorists who attempted to tap southern music for evidence about the history of human civilization. Contending that people’s musical worlds were defined less by who they were than by the music that they heard, Miller challenges assumptions about the relation of race, music, and the market.

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The Selling Sound
The Rise of the Country Music Industry
Diane Pecknold
Duke University Press, 2007
Few expressions of popular culture have been shaped as profoundly by the relationship between commercialism and authenticity as country music has. While its apparent realism, sincerity, and frank depictions of everyday life are country’s most obvious stylistic hallmarks, Diane Pecknold demonstrates that commercialism has been just as powerful a cultural narrative in its development. Listeners have long been deeply invested in the “business side” of country. When fans complained in the mid-1950s about elite control of the mass media, or when they expressed their gratitude that the Country Music Hall of Fame served as a physical symbol of the industry’s power, they engaged directly with the commercial apparatus surrounding country music, not with particular songs or stars. In The Selling Sound, Pecknold explores how country music’s commercialism, widely acknowledged but largely unexamined, has affected the way it is produced, the way it is received by fans and critics, and the way it is valued within the American cultural hierarchy.

Pecknold draws on sources as diverse as radio advertising journals, fan magazines, Hollywood films, and interviews with industry insiders. Her sweeping social history encompasses the genre’s early days as an adjunct of radio advertising in the 1920s, the friction between Billboard and more genre-oriented trade papers over generating the rankings that shaped radio play lists, the establishment of the Country Music Association, and the influence of rock ‘n’ roll on the trend toward single-genre radio stations. Tracing the rise of a large and influential network of country fan clubs, Pecknold highlights the significant promotional responsibilities assumed by club organizers until the early 1970s, when many of their tasks were taken over by professional publicists.

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So Lonesome
Hank Williams and the Creation of Country Music
Richard A. Peterson
University of Chicago Press, 1997
Hank Williams (1923–53) was an American singer-songwriter and musician regarded as the most important country music artist of all time, creator of an unforgettable sound and persona that helped to define the genre from its infancy and beyond. Though unable to read or notate music to any substantive degree, Williams recorded 11 number one hits between 1948 and 1953, which carried him to music’s mainstream and left an enduring legacy. In So Lonesome, Richard A. Peterson captures the free-wheeling entrepreneurial spirit of an era gone by, when the Grand Ole Opry put Nashville’s star on the map, while detailing how Williams came to fame and helped launch country music both during his life and after his death. More than just a history of the music and one of its most celebrated performers, So Lonesome explores what it means to live an authentic life within the confines of marketing popular culture.

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Stringbean
The Life and Murder of a Country Legend
Taylor Hagood
University of Illinois Press, 2023
The artist’s impact on country music and how his death changed the genre

A beloved member of the country music community, David “Stringbean” Akeman found nationwide fame as a cast member of Hee Haw. The 1973 murder of Stringbean and his wife forever changed Nashville’s sense of itself. Millions of others mourned not only the slain couple but the passing of the way of life that country music had long represented.

Taylor Hagood merges the story of Stringbean’s life with an account of murder and courtroom drama. Mentored by Uncle Dave Macon and Bill Monroe, Stringbean was a bridge to country’s early days. His instrumental savvy and old-time singing style drew upon a deep love for traditional country music that, along with his humor and humanity, won him the reverence of younger artists and made his violent death all the more shocking. Hagood delves into the unexpected questions and uneasy resolutions raised by the atmosphere of retribution surrounding the murder trial and recounts the redemption story that followed decades later.

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Sweet Dreams
The World of Patsy Cline
Edited by Warren R. Hofstra
University of Illinois Press, 2013
One of the most influential and acclaimed female vocalists of the twentieth century, Patsy Cline (1932–63) was best known for her rich tone and emotionally expressive voice. Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, she launched her musical career during the early 1950s as a young woman in Winchester, Virginia, and her heartfelt songs reflect her life and times in this community. A country music singer who enjoyed pop music crossover success, Cline embodied the power and appeal of women in country music, helping open the lucrative industry to future female solo artists.
 
Bringing together noted authorities on Patsy Cline and country music, Sweet Dreams: The World of Patsy Cline examines the regional and national history that shaped Cline's career and the popular culture that she so profoundly influenced with her music. In detailed, deeply researched essays, contributors provide an account of Cline's early performance days in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, analyze the politics of the split between pop and country music, and discuss her strategies for negotiating gender in relation to her public and private persona. Interpreting rich visual images, fan correspondence, publicity tactics, and community mores, this volume explores the rich and complex history of a woman whose music and image changed the shape of country music and American popular culture.
 
Contributors are Beth Bailey, Mike Foreman, Douglas Gomery, George Hamilton IV, Warren R. Hofstra, Joli Jensen, Bill C. Malone, Kristine M. McCusker, and Jocelyn R. Neal.
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Tex Morton
From Australian Yodeler to International Showman
Andrew K. Smith
University of Tennessee Press, 2023

Born in 1916 at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, the teenaged Robert William Lane became obsessed with the singing and expressive yodeling of country music’s Jimmie Rodgers. By the 1940s, his obsession and subsequent focus on his own guitar playing, singing, and yodeling led him to achieve musical stardom as Tex Morton, master showman and influential progenitor of Australian country music. Tex Morton: From Australian Yodeler to International Showman offers the first full-length biography of this country music phenomenon from down under.

“From the time he first left the security of his home and set out to discover the world, life was a continual journey for Tex Morton,” Smith writes in chapter 1. And it was: Beginning with Morton’s early life and chronicling his burgeoning career and ultimate stardom, Smith’s study showcases Morton’s multi-faceted creative endeavors over the years, from showman and sharpshooter to hypnotist and academic. His talents took him all over the world, from Australia and New Zealand and countries throughout Asia to the United States, Canada, and England. Smith’s carefully constructed narrative captures the nuance of a versatile yet driven, flawed yet talented figure who ultimately became both an influential country artist and an entertainer of international standing over the course of an almost fifty-year career.

An important contribution to music history scholarship, this volume not only establishes Morton’s significance in the history of Australian country music, but it also draws deep connections between Morton’s Australasian influence and country music in the United States, exploring Morton’s legacy in the wider context of the genre worldwide. Complete with a comprehensive discography of Tex Morton’s works, Smith’s in-depth biography claims for Morton his rightful place as a major founding figure in the history of Australian country music.

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Tom Ashley Sam Tom Ashley, Sam McGee, Bukka White
Tennessee Traditional Singers
Thomas G. Burton
University of Tennessee Press, 1981
Based on a deep understanding of several genres of music, Burton shows the diversity of traditional music, and particularly singing styles, in the state that is the gateway for blues, country, and folk music.
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Twentieth Century Drifter
The Life of Marty Robbins
Diane Diekman
University of Illinois Press, 2012

Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins is the first biography of this legendary country music artist and NASCAR driver who scored sixteen number-one hits and two Grammy awards. Yet even with fame and fortune, Marty Robbins always yearned for more.
 
Drawing from personal interviews and in-depth research, biographer Diane Diekman explains how Robbins saw himself as a drifter, a man always searching for self-fulfillment and inner peace. Born Martin David Robinson to a hardworking mother and an abusive alcoholic father, he never fully escaped the insecurities burned into him by a poverty-stricken nomadic childhood in the Arizona desert. In 1947 he got his first gig as a singer and guitar player. Too nervous to talk, the shy young man walked onstage singing. Soon he changed his name to Marty Robbins, cultivated his magnetic stage presence, and established himself as an entertainer, songwriter, and successful NASCAR driver.
 
For fans of Robbins, NASCAR, and classic country music, Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins is a revealing portrait of this well-loved, restless entertainer, a private man who kept those who loved him at a distance.

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Unlikely Angel
The Songs of Dolly Parton
Lydia R. Hamessley
University of Illinois Press, 2020
Dolly Parton's success as a performer and pop culture phenomenon has overshadowed her achievements as a songwriter. But she sees herself as a songwriter first, and with good reason. Parton's compositions like "I Will Always Love You" and "Jolene" have become American standards with an impact far beyond country music.

Lydia R. Hamessley's expert analysis and Parton’s characteristically straightforward input inform this comprehensive look at the process, influences, and themes that have shaped the superstar's songwriting artistry. Hamessley reveals how Parton’s loving, hardscrabble childhood in the Smoky Mountains provided the musical language, rhythms, and memories of old-time music that resonate in so many of her songs. Hamessley further provides an understanding of how Parton combines her cultural and musical heritage with an artisan’s sense of craft and design to compose eloquent, painfully honest, and gripping songs about women's lives, poverty, heartbreak, inspiration, and love.

Filled with insights on hit songs and less familiar gems, Unlikely Angel covers the full arc of Dolly Parton's career and offers an unprecedented look at the creative force behind the image.

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Waylon
A Biography
R. Serge Denisoff
University of Tennessee Press, 1983
From his earliest recordings to his posthumously released albums, the haunting baritone of Waylon Jennings marked him as an extraordinarily individualistic country music artist. This biography by the late R. Serge Denisoff, first published in 1983, recounts Waylon’s west Texas upbringing, his introduction to music as a radio announcer at thirteen years old, his tutelage by rock star Buddy Holly, and his eventual stellar yet stormy music career. Where the original 1983 biography ends, music scholar Travis Stimeling picks up with the waning years of Waylon’s recording and performing. Stimeling recounts in the new afterword Waylon’s continued musical success in the early 1980s—though his financial troubles and battle with drugs and alcohol would soon cost him both professionally and personally—his triumphant and sober return in the 1990s and collaboration with longtime recording artists in the industry, and his continued musical relevance in an evolving industry driven by Nashville’s urban popularization of country music. Additionally, series editor Ted Olson, in his foreword, touches on Waylon’s legacy and the continued influence of his outlaw style of country music. Fans of Waylon, country music, and the Nashville music scene are sure to find this second edition of R. Serge Denisoff’s classic biography a welcome addition to the publications on the father of outlaw country.
 
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Whiskey River (Take My Mind)
The True Story of Texas Honky-Tonk
By Johnny Bush with Rick Mitchell
University of Texas Press, 2007

When it comes to Texas honky-tonk, nobody knows the music or the scene better than Johnny Bush. Author of Willie Nelson's classic concert anthem "Whiskey River," and singer of hits such as "You Gave Me a Mountain," "Undo the Right," "Jim, Jack and Rose," and "I'll Be There," Johnny Bush is a legend in country music, a singer-songwriter who has lived the cheatin', hurtin', hard-drinkin' life and recorded some of the most heart-wrenching songs about it. He has one of the purest honky-tonk voices ever to come out of Texas. And Bush's career has been just as dramatic as his songs—on the verge of achieving superstardom in the early 1970s, he was sidelined by a rare vocal disorder that he combated for thirty years. But, survivor that he is, Bush is once again filling dance halls across Texas and inspiring a new generation of musicians who crave the authenticity—the "pure D" country—that Johnny Bush has always had and that Nashville country music has lost.

In Whiskey River (Take My Mind), Johnny Bush tells the twin stories of his life and of Texas honky-tonk music. He recalls growing up poor in Houston's Kashmere Gardens neighborhood and learning his chops in honky-tonks around Houston and San Antonio—places where chicken wire protected the bandstand and deadly fights broke out regularly. Bush vividly describes life on the road in the 1960s as a band member for Ray Price and Willie Nelson, including the booze, drugs, and one-night stands that fueled his songs but destroyed his first three marriages. He remembers the time in the early 1970s when he was hotter than Willie and on the fast track to superstardom—until spasmodic dysphonia forced his career into the slow lane. Bush describes his agonizing, but ultimately successful struggle to keep performing and rebuild his fan base, as well as the hard-won happiness he has found in his personal life.

Woven throughout Bush's autobiography is the never-before-told story of Texas honky-tonk music, from Bob Wills and Floyd Tillman to Junior Brown and Pat Green. Johnny Bush has known almost all the great musicians, past and present, and he has wonderful stories to tell. Likewise, he offers shrewd observations on how the music business has changed since he started performing in the 1950s—and pulls no punches in saying how Nashville music has lost its country soul. For everyone who loves genuine country music, Johnny Bush, Willie Nelson, and stories of triumph against all odds, Whiskey River (Take My Mind) is a must-read.

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Why Tammy Wynette Matters
Steacy Easton
University of Texas Press, 2023

How Tammy Wynette channeled the conflicts of her life into her music and performance.

With hits such as “Stand By Your Man” and “Golden Ring,” Tammy Wynette was an icon of American domesticity and femininity. But there were other sides to the first lady of country. Steacy Easton places the complications of Wynette’s music and her biography in sharp-edged relief, exploring how she made her sometimes-tumultuous life into her work, a transformation that was itself art.

Wynette created a persona of high femininity to match the themes she sang about—fawning devotion, redemption in heterosexual romance, the heartbreak of loneliness. Behind the scenes, her life was marked by persistent class anxieties; despite wealth and fame, she kept her beautician’s license. Easton argues that the struggle to meet expectations of southernness, womanhood, and southern womanhood, finds subtle expression in Wynette’s performance of “Apartment #9”—and it’s because of these vocal subtleties that it came to be called the saddest song ever written. Wynette similarly took on elements of camp and political critique in her artistry, demonstrating an underappreciated genius. Why Tammy Wynette Matters reveals a musician who doubled back on herself, her façade of earnestness cracked by a melodrama that weaponized femininity and upended feminist expectations, while scoring twenty number-one hits.

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Woman Walk the Line
How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives
By Holly Gleason
University of Texas Press, 2017

Full-tilt, hardcore, down-home, and groundbreaking, the women of country music speak volumes with every song. From Maybelle Carter to Dolly Parton, k.d. lang to Taylor Swift—these artists provided pivot points, truths, and doses of courage for women writers at every stage of their lives. Whether it’s Rosanne Cash eulogizing June Carter Cash or a seventeen-year-old Taylor Swift considering the golden glimmer of another precocious superstar, Brenda Lee, it’s the humanity beneath the music that resonates.

Here are deeply personal essays from award-winning writers on femme fatales, feminists, groundbreakers, and truth tellers. Acclaimed historian Holly George Warren captures the spark of the rockabilly sensation Wanda Jackson; Entertainment Weekly’s Madison Vain considers Loretta Lynn’s girl-power anthem “The Pill”; and rocker Grace Potter embraces Linda Ronstadt’s unabashed visual and musical influence. Patty Griffin acts like a balm on a post-9/11 survivor on the run; Emmylou Harris offers a gateway through paralyzing grief; and Lucinda Williams proves that greatness is where you find it.

Part history, part confessional, and part celebration of country, Americana, and bluegrass and the women who make them, Woman Walk the Line is a very personal collection of essays from some of America’s most intriguing women writers. It speaks to the ways in which artists mark our lives at different ages and in various states of grace and imperfection—and ultimately how music transforms not just the person making it, but also the listener.

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Working Girl Blues
The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens
Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone
University of Illinois Press, 2007
Hazel Dickens was an Appalachian singer and songwriter known for her superb musicianship, feminist country songs, union anthems, and blue-collar laments. Growing up in a West Virginia coal mining community, she drew on the mountain music and repertoire of her family and neighbors when establishing her own vibrant and powerful vocal style that is a trademark in old-time, bluegrass, and traditional country circles. Working Girl Blues presents forty original songs that Hazel Dickens wrote about coal mining, labor issues, personal relationships, and her life and family in Appalachia. Conveying sensitivity, determination, and feistiness, Dickens comments on each song, explaining how she came to write them and what they meant and continue to mean to her. Bill C. Malone's introduction traces Dickens's life, musical career, and development as a songwriter, In addition, Working Girl Blues features forty-one illustrations and a detailed discography of Dickens's commercial recordings.
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Yankee Twang
Country and Western Music in New England
Clifford R. Murphy
University of Illinois Press, 2014
Merging scholarly insight with a professional guitarist's sense of the musical life, Yankee Twang delves into the rich tradition of country & western music that is played and loved in the mill towns and cities of the American northeast. Scholar and musician Clifford R. Murphy draws on a wealth of ethnographic material, interviews, and encounters with recorded and live music to reveal the central role of country and western in the social lives and musical activity of working-class New Englanders.

As Murphy shows, an extraordinary multiculturalism sets New England country and western music apart from other regional and national forms. Once segregated at work and worship, members of different ethnic groups used the country and western popularized on the radio and by barnstorming artists to come together at social events, united by a love of the music. Musicians, meanwhile, drew from the wide variety of ethnic musical traditions to create the New England style.

But the music also gave--and gives--voice to working-class feeling. Murphy explores how the Yankee love of country and western emphasizes the western, reflecting the longing of many blue collar workers for the mythical cowboy's life of rugged but fulfilling individualism. Indeed, many New Englanders use country and western to comment on economic disenfranchisement and express their resentment of a mass media, government, and Nashville music establishment that they believe neither reflects their experiences nor considers them equal participants in American life.

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