American Country: Bluegrass, Honky-Tonk, and Crossover Sounds
By: Lloyd Sachs
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
Publication Date: August 2012
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: December 6, 2012
A lot of kids think country isn’t cool, but in reality it emanates from a lot of different styles, styles that just may have influenced what they are listening to. Country music “had its roots in the fold songs that immigrants brought to the United States from England, Scotland, and Ireland. For a long time the sounds were part of southern culture and it wasn't until talent scouts traveled to the South in search of talent during the 1920s and 1930s they were rediscovered. The talent they found would amaze the rest of the country when they found artists like Jimmie Rodgers and family groups like the Carters. Patsy Montana (Ruby Blevins) could yodel with the best of them and was “also one of country music’s first female session musicians.”
After Patsy sold a cool million copies of one song, WWII rolled around and southern culture began to move across the nation. Even singers like Bing Crosby wanted in on the act and had a hit record. It may have been a hit, but some country folk still like the old-time music Roy Acuff and his group performed, “a traditional mountain-time music lineup of fiddle, string bass, rhythm guitar, and banjo.” In the 1940s country began to rock when the rowdy honky-tonk style took hold. Hank Williams may have "made the term honky-tonk famous, but artists such as Floyd Tillman, Al Dexter, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, and others wowed their audiences."
The honky-tonk artists had to share the stage with the likes of Bill Monroes and the Blue Grass Boys and other bluegrass musicians and bands. One stage they all wouldn’t share was the “Grand Ole Opry’s,” who didn’t quite approve of another style dubbed Western swing. Hank Williams, “widely thought to be the greatest country artist of all time, finally made it to the Opry stage with his life-like emotional style. Ever hear the “Ballad of Jed Clampett” from The Beverly Hillbillies? Flatt and Scruggs were bluegrass artists from this era. Even Bob Dylan was influenced by Hank Williams’s songs. The roots of country didn’t stay in the South, but made inroads into many other types of music.
In the 1950s the nation was certainly opening its eyes and saw the influence of country music for the first time when Elvis came on the scene with rockabilly. It was a cross between rock and hillbilly and boasted such artists as “Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, and Johnny Cash.” Country music was branching out and has continued to do so to this day. Anyone see Kayne West diss Taylor Swift’s “Best Female Video acceptance speech?” It was Hip Hop meets country. You’ll also read about the evolution of country music, stars such as Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Buck Owens, Garth Brooks, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Dolly Parton, Red Foley, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and you’ll learn a lot about the history of American country music.
This is a fabulous foray into the lives of the artists and history of country music the young reader will enjoy. Naturally in a book of this nature one cannot expect to touch on the lives of every country performer and group, but the overview was amazingly well done. For example, this book missed Merle Travis, an artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The layout of the book is peppered with photographs, “Must Download Playlists,” short biographical sketches, and numerous informative sidebars. The different styles of country music were covered very nicely and there were several interesting vignettes about both the artists and the evolution of American country music. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a timeline (1927 to 2012), a selection of “Mini Bios,” a list of “Country Must-Haves,” major awards, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional book, film, and website resources to explore.
Quill says: If you think country isn't cool, you may just change your mind after reading this book!