Your Take: Book ‘Em

Karlie Justus Marlowe | February 26th, 2011

In Monday’s News Roundup, Brody linked to a CMT News item on upcoming books on country artists, the country music industry, songwriting and more.

Country music has no shortage of interesting characters and stories that would exceed even a fiction writer’s imagination. Biographies due out include memoirs from Shania Twain, George Jones’ daughter Georgette and, of course, the Hank Williams clan.

Others cover a broad range of topics, such as bluegrass festivals, protest songs and female Americana singers. One upcoming book that stood out in particular looks to be a crash course in all things Nashville:

The most intriguing title, though, arrives in May. If Liam Sullivan’s Making the Scene — Nashville: How to Live, Network and Succeed in Music City fulfills the promise of its title, it could become a replacement for the Gideon Bible at local hotels and motels.

What country music books have you read and enjoyed? Which country artist’s biography or autobiography did you find most interesting, and what information about his or her life surprised you? What country music books or memoirs are you looking forward to?

  1. luckyoldsun
    February 26, 2011 at 7:40 am

    There’s a certain writer–his name is Tom Carter–who does “autobiographies” with country stars that amazingly manage to make the subjects look horrible. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about Glenn Campbell, but I generally thought positively of him. Then I leafed through his aoutobiography at Barnes & Noble (written with Carter, as I recall)and he came off as a horrible person in his own book.
    Then I bought the George Jones autobiography (also written with Carter) and Jones comes off as petty, graceless and certifiably insane.

    I get the sense that Carter’s “co-writers” may wish to sue themselves for defamation.

    The best curse I could bestow on someone would be “May Tom Carter write your autobiography with you.”

  2. Mike Wimmer
    February 26, 2011 at 8:16 am

    I greatly enjoyed “Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music”. It was a fantastic read, though quite depressing that the record industry has basically killed or made it extremely difficult for any song that even hints at social or political issues to be made, much less released on the radio.

    The fact a song like “Red Ragtop” by Tim McGraw was considered nearly inappropriate by some in the industry says a lot about the narrow minded approach by many execs and has really hurt the genre as well. The music of the common people has become the music of the common people so long as you dont mention any of the issues that actually may relate to the common person’s life it it isnt about someone leaving, drinking beer or family and God.

  3. Waynoe
    February 26, 2011 at 8:45 am

    “…says a lot about the narrow minded approach by many execs and has really hurt the genre as well.”

    It has?

  4. Ben Foster
    February 26, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I’ve read Reba’s 1994 memoir My Story, and I read the Rosanne Cash memoir Composed that came out last year. Rosanne’s book was well-written, and definitely a great read. I also enjoyed the Reba book because she included a great deal of humor in relating her life and career experiences. (It’s been so long since that book came out, Reba could probably write a Part 2 by now)

    I haven’t finished reading Coal Miner’s Daughter yet, but I will soon. I like that nobody tried to clean up Loretta’s grammar, because then it actually sounds like Loretta speaking.

  5. Stormy
    February 26, 2011 at 10:07 am

    I read Ronnie Milsap’s auto-biography back in high school and it was good. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction these days, but there is a fiction book called I Still Miss My Man, But My Aim Is Getting Better that involves a up and coming KT Oslin figure, her guardian angel Patsy Cline, and Patsy’s (fictionalized) old singing partner in a light hearted epic battle between good and evil. Its a pretty fun read.

  6. highwayman3
    February 26, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I enjoyed reading ‘Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna, and Wade Hayes and the Changing Face of Nashville.’ It gave great insights behind the scenes of how the music industry works but manily it took me back to the mid 90’s when to me country music was so great and was also the time I started listening to it.

  7. Paul W Dennis
    February 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

    There have been a lot of good country music books

    DREAMING OUT LOUD
    THREE CHORDS AND THE TRUTH

    Excellent autobiographies by Roni Stoneman Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Hank Snow Jet Williams, Skeeter Davis. Excellent biographies about The Stoneman Family, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young,

    Bill Anderson and Ralph Emery each produced several volumes of recollections and stories
    and Bobby Lord issued a Christian-oriented such book

  8. Leon
    February 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I liked “A Guitar and a Pen” a collection of short stories by country songwriters. It was edited by Robert Hicks.
    Some of the writers were Charlie Daniels, Tom T. Hall, and Bob McDill.

  9. John
    February 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    I also enjoyed “Three Cords and the Truth” along with:

    “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” The Carter Family and their Legacy in American Music:Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg

    “Can’t You Hear Me Callin” The Life of Bill Monroe: Richard Smith

  10. Noeller
    February 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Dreaming Out Loud was a fantastic book, but man did it depress me in parts. Hearing the harsh realities of Wade Hayes career was a tough blow to anyone who clings to the idealism that Nashville likes to sell the fans.

  11. Eric
    February 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Mike- I completely agree with your point regarding “Red Ragtop”. The same goes for Garth Brooks’ “We Shall Be Free”- the industry was scared by it simply for its including of the phrase “When we’re free to love anyone we choose”.

    Speaking of Garth, one country music book that I truly enjoyed was “The Garth Factor: The Career Behind Country’s Big Boom”, by Patsi Bale Cox. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was an enjoyable read. I must admit that I haven’t read many country books, though. It’s something that I’ve been meaning to get to for awhile.

  12. Ollie
    February 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    In addition to some of the others named above, my favorite country music books include:

    Nicholas Dawidoff’s “In the Country of Country: A Journey to The Roots of American Music”

    Frye Gaillard’s “Watermelon Wine: Remembering the Golden Years of Country Music”

    Barry Mazor’s “Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century”

  13. Fizz
    February 26, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I enjoyed Paul Hemphill’s “Lovesick Blues,” although I don’t know that it really said anything that any other Hank Williams bio hadn’t already. It was his opening chapter that snared me, where he talked about Hank’s impact on his own life, of going for a ride with his trucker dad at the age of thirteen, for the first time, and hearing “Lovesick Blues” and being completely blown away by it. I’ve always been interested in that kind of thing, the way music affects people (and being the son of a trucker myself didn’t hurt).

    Waylon’s autobiography was pretty interesting, and I’m looking forward to Coal Miner’s Daughter, but overall, I’m not really big on autobiographies. There’s always a thing in the back of my mind, wanting to know how honest the subject is being, and if there’s some whitewashing or sugarcoating, or history-revising going on. Or how much these people can even remember. For that reason, although it’s not a country book, I enjoyed Nikki Sixx’s “The Heroin Diaries,” because that’s what it was: his diaries from 1987, so you got to see things as they unfolded, in addition to his and others’ comments from 20 years later.

    Fiction? My favorite would have to be a little novel called Cowboy Angst, by Jasen Emmons. Our hero, Dennis McCance, son of a lawyer is miserable in law school (where he never really wanted to be in the first place), and would much rather be back home in Montana, playing drums in his country band. The book isn’t so much “about” country music as it is about the family turmoil Dennis causes by dropping out of law school (to the consternation of his overachieving parents, and the smirking I-knew-you-wouldn’t-make-it attitude of his older brother), and just everybody coming to terms with changing dreams and life not always being what you plan, and standing up for your own dreams.

  14. J.R. Journey
    February 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I know I’ve said this before, here and other places, but I will repeat that one of my favorite authors on country music is Ralph Emery. I think it’s mostly because he had a front-row seat for all the stories he tells.

    Some more I’ve enjoyed recently:

    The Selling Sound by Diane Pecknold
    How Nashville Became Music City USA: 50 Years of Music Row by Michael Kosser
    Rick Rubin In The Studio by Jake Brown
    The Garth Factor

    I could go on and on …

    … and Wynonna’s novel, Restless Heart, was better than I expected. Her story-telling talent far exceeds her ability to create cogent sentences, as the book was filled with lots of extended dialog passages that made it hard to follow. But it was a neat story that had me eager to turn the page.

  15. Peter
    February 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock” by Jan Reid

    “The Nashville Sound” by Paul Hemphill

    These are both excellent looks at country music in the early 1970s.

  16. PaulaW
    February 28, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Bobby Braddock — Down In Auburdale (A Songwriters Youth in Old Florida)

    This book goes from Bobby’s early childhood, til the day he is in the car headed to Nashville. I am anxiously awaiting Part II.

  17. Chris N.
    March 1, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I never miss an opportunity to pimp Kelley Lovelace’s ‘If You’ve Got a Dream, I’ve Got a Plan’ (terrible title, I know). It’s short, easy to understand and outlines in concrete detail how the Nashville music business (in particular the songwriting aspect) actually works in practice. For years I’ve been recommending it to anyone who asks me how to get started as a songwriter in Nashville.

  18. Jon
    March 1, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation, Chris N., I’ll check that out.

    Pretty much everything Bill Malone has written is worth reading; I’m especially partial to _Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’_ – after, of course, the monumental _Country Music, USA_.

    Charles Wolfe is another guy who never wrote anything not worth reading. The collection called _Classic Country_ offers a good selection of pieces written over the years about subjects both famous and obscure, and is therefore a good place to start.

    Pete Peterson’s _Creating Country Music_ and Joli Jensen’s _The Nashville Sound_ came out around the same time (late 90s), and offer two complementary and extremely valuable looks at issue of authenticity, commercialization, etc.

    I also got a real kick out of John Einarson’s _Desperados: The Roots Of Country Rock_, as well as his more recent book on the Flying Burrito Brothers. A very different kind of flavor, but an equally enjoyable one, can be found in Aaron Fox’s _Real Country_.

    On bluegrass, Neil V. Rosenberg’s _Bluegrass: A History_ is the equivalent of _Country Music, USA_, while the Tommy Goldsmith-edited _The Bluegrass Reader_ dishes up a lot of good stuff, including some historically valuable early pieces (disclaimer: it also contains a couple of things I wrote).

    Craig Havighurst’s _Air Castle Of The South_ and Barry Mazor’s _Meeting Jimmie Rodgers_ are two recent books by friends that have inspired me to think more seriously again about a long-delayed project of my own, and I have no doubt that Jewly Hight’s brand-new one will do the same.

    I will also recommend the Country Music Foundation’s _Will The Circle Be Unbroken_ as an easy-to-digest but sound survey of country music history, though that also comes with a disclaimer, as I wrote the chapter on bluegrass.

    Lastly, while it’s not a country music book, the guy who wrote it is a very sharp thinker with some familiarity with country music in all its forms, and it is one of my favorite books about music of any sort: _Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste_ by Carl Wilson.

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