Since the magazine's founding in 1995, No Depression has reported on and helped define the music that goes by names such as alt.country, Americana, and roots music. Though dismissed by the commercial country music establishment as “music that doesn't sell,” alternative country has attracted thousands of listeners who long for the authenticity and rich complexity that come from its potent blend of country and rock 'n' roll and any number of related musical genres and subgenres. To celebrate No Depression's tenth anniversary and spotlight some of the most important artists and trends in alt.country music, editors Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock have compiled this anthology of twenty-five of the magazine's best and most representative feature articles. Their subjects range from venerated country artists such as Johnny Cash and Ray Price to contemporary songwriters such as Lucinda Williams and Buddy and Julie Miller to the post-punk country-influenced bands Wilco and the Drive-By Truckers. All of the articles included here illustrate No Depression's commitment to music writing that puts the artist front-and-center and covers his or her career in sufficient depth to be definitive. Alden and Blackstock have also written a preface to this volume in which they discuss the alt.country phenomenon and the history and editorial philosophy that have made No Depression the bible for everyone seeking genuine American roots music.
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 nine 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.
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.
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.
From his formative years playing pure, hardcore honky-tonk for mid-’80s Los Angeles punk rockers through his subsequent surge to the top of the country charts, Dwight Yoakam has enjoyed a singular career. An electrifying live performer, superb writer, and virtuosic vocalist, he has successfully bridged two musical worlds that usually have little use for each other—commercial country and its alternative/Americana/roots-rocking counterpart. Defying the label “too country for rock, too rock for country,” Yoakam has triumphed while many of his peers have had to settle for cult acceptance. Four decades into his career, he has sold more than 25 million records and continues to tour regularly, with an extremely loyal fan base. In Dwight Yoakam, award-winning music journalist Don McLeese offers the first musical biography of this acclaimed artist. Tracing the seemingly disparate influences in Yoakam’s music, McLeese shows how he has combined rock and roll, rockabilly, country, blues, and gospel into a seamless whole. In particular, McLeese explores the essential issue of “authenticity” and how it applies to Yoakam, as well as to country music and popular culture in general. Drawing on wide-ranging interviews with Yoakam and his management, while also benefitting from the perspectives of others closely associated with his musical success (including producer-guitarist Pete Anderson, Yoakam’s partner throughout his most popular and creative decades), Dwight Yoakam pays tribute to the musician who has established himself as a visionary beyond time, an artist who could title an album Tomorrow’s Sounds Today and deliver it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RICHARD CURRY West Virginia University Press, 2005 Library of Congress PS3553.U6665L67 2005 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Richard Currey's Lost Highway has attracted a legion of admirers since its initial publication in 1997. The book depicts the epic struggle of an ordinary person living his dreams and following his passion. Lost Highway is the story of Sapper Reeves, a gifted country musician from the small town of Maxwell, West Virginia. Sapper’s story covers the events of more than half a century, from his birth in a poor coal mining town through his travels on the back roads of Appalachia in search of recognition and respect. Along the way, Sapper’s embattled love for his wife and struggle to come to terms with his combat-wounded son form the basis of his artistic and personal redemption.
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.
Merle Haggard has enjoyed artistic and professional triumphs few can match. He’s charted more than a hundred country hits, including thirty-eight number ones. He’s released dozens of studio albums and another half dozen or more live ones, performed upwards of ten thousand concerts, been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and seen his songs performed by artists as diverse as Lynryd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. In 2011 he was feted as a Kennedy Center Honoree. But until now, no one has taken an in-depth look at his career and body of work. In Merle Haggard: The Running Kind, David Cantwell takes us on a revelatory journey through Haggard’s music and the life and times out of which it came. Covering the entire breadth of his career, Cantwell focuses especially on the 1960s and 1970s, when Haggard created some of his best-known and most influential music, which helped invent the America we live in today. Listening closely to a masterpiece-crowded catalogue (including songs such as “Okie from Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” “Working Man Blues,” “Kern River,” “White Line Fever,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and “If We Make It through December,” 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.
For much of his career, Johnny Cash opened his shows with the tagline, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." This introduction seemed unnecessary, since everyone in the audience knew who he was—the famous musical artist whose career spanned almost five decades, whose troubled life on and off the stage received wide publicity, and whose cragged face seemed to express a depth and intensity not found in any other artist, living or dead.
For Cash, as for many celebrities, renown was the product of both hard work and luck. Often a visionary and always a tireless performer, he was subject to a whirlwind of social, economic, and cultural countercurrents. Nine Choices explores the tension between Cash's desire for mainstream success, his personal struggles with alcohol and drugs, and an ever-changing cultural landscape that often circumscribed his options.
Drawing on interviews, archival research, and textual analysis, Jonathan Silverman focuses on Cash's personal and artistic choices as a way of understanding his life, his impact on American culture, and the ways in which that culture in turn shaped him. Cash made decisions about where he would live, what he would play, who would produce his albums, whether he would support the Vietnam War, and even if he would flip his famous "bird"—the iconic image of Cash giving the finger which is now plastered on posters and T-shirts everywhere—in the context of cultural forces both visible and opaque. He made other decisions in consultation with a variety of people, many of whom were chiefly concerned with the reaction of his audiences.
Less a conventional biography than a study of the making of an identity, Nine Choices explores how Johnny Cash sought to define who he was, how he was perceived, and what he signified through a series of self-conscious actions. The result, Silverman shows, was a life that was often tumultuous but never uninteresting.
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.
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
Opening July 4, 1969, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band begins with a raucous Fourth of July gig that abruptly ends with the Red Birds ducking out of the performance in a hilarious hail of beer bottles. By the end of the evening, community member Buffalo Ames is dead, presumed to be murdered, just outside the bar. Sissy Roberts, the band’s singer and the “best female guitar picker on the rez,” is reluctantly drawn into the ensuing investigation by an FBI agent who discovers Sissy’s knack for hearing other people’s secrets.
The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band is part mystery, part community chronicle. Shaped by a cast of skillfully drawn characters, all of whom at one time or another are potential suspects, at the core of the story is smart and compassionate Sissy. Four years past high school, Sissy’s wry humor punctuates descriptions of reservation life as she learns more about Ames’s potential killer, and as she embarks on a personal search for ways to buck expectations and leave rural South Dakota to attend college.
Ames’s death is just an example of the undercurrents of violence and passions that run through this fast-moving novel of singing, loving, and fighting. Following Sissy as she unravels the mystery of both Buffalo Ames’s death and her own future, The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band is the story of Indian Country on the verge of historic change and a woman unwilling to let change pass her by.
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, 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 entire 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.
Few American entertainers have had the explosive impact, wide-ranging appeal, and continuing popularity of country music superstar Hank Williams. Such Williams standards as "Your Cheatin' Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Jambalaya," and "I Saw the Light" have entered the pantheon of great American song while Williams's very name remains synonymous with the genre he helped define.
Sing a Sad Songs tells the story of Hank Williams's rise from impoverished Alabama roots, his coming of age during and after World War II, his meteoric climb to national acclaim and star status on the Grand Ole Opry, his star-crossed marriages and recurring health problems, the chronic bouts with alcoholism and the alienation it caused in those he loved and sang for, and finally his tragic death at twenty-nine and subsequent emergence as a folk hero.
In addition, the book includes an essential discography compiled by Bob Pinson of the Country Music Foundation.
Songwriting in Contemporary West Virginia: Profiles and Reflections is the first book dedicated to telling the stories of West Virginia’s extensive community of songwriters. Based on oral histories conducted by Stimeling and told largely in the songwriters’ own words, these profiles offer a lively overview of the personalities, venues, and networks that nurture and sustain popular music in West Virginia.
Stimeling is attentive to breadth and diversity, presenting sketches of established personalities like Larry Groce, who oversees Mountain Stage, and emerging musicians like Maria Allison, who dreams of one day performing there. Each profile includes a brief selected discography to guide readers to recordings of these musicians’ work.
The Stonemans is an eye-opening slice of Americana---a trip through nearly twenty years of country music history following a single family from their native Blue Ridge Mountains to the slums of Washington, D.C., and the glitter of Nashville. As early as 1924 Ernest V. "Pop" Stoneman realized the potential of what is now known as country music, and he tried to carve a career from it. Successful as a recording artist from 1925 through 1929, Stoneman foundered during the Great Depression. He, his wife, and their nine children went to Washington in 1932, struggling through a decade of hardship and working to revive the musical career Pop still believed in. The Stoneman Family won the Country Music Association's Vocal Group of the Year Award in 1967. After Pop's death a year later, some of the children scattered to pursue their own careers.
Ivan Tribe relies on extensive interviews with the Stonemans and their friends in this chronicle of a family whose members have clung to their musical heritage through good times and bad.
Winner of the ARSC Award for Excellence in Recorded Country Music, 1994.
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.
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.
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.