Each year on September 6, bookworms across America celebrate National Read A Book Day. Though this is a fine thing to celebrate, reading is, of course, important and pleasurable every day of the year. If one wants to learn more about country music history, what better place to start than with a book? While you can find all of the selections below through online sellers, these and other fine selections can also be found at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in our museum store – so stop on by and pick one up. Here are just a few of my favorites to get you started!
Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost by Tony Russell
If you want to learn more about the important players in the world of country music, Tony Russell’s Country Music Originals is a great place to start. World-renowned scholar Russell presents biographies of figures in country music from the earliest days of recordings until the late 1940s. Highlighting superstars such as Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family and celebrating obscure figures such as Bernard “Slim” Smith and John Dilleshaw, Russell provides articles that are short enough to be approachable for the casual reader, but also in depth enough to spark interest for further reading. It’s a great place to start your country music reading journey!
Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler: My Life with Jimmy Martin, the King of Bluegrass by Barbara Martin Stephens
While bluegrass music is widely regarded as having been born in late 1945, one could argue that the music did not achieve the “high lonesome” sound until a young guitar player and singer from Sneedville, Tennessee, joined Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in late 1949. Jimmy Martin is widely regarded as “The King of Bluegrass” and is one of most charismatic and controversial figures in bluegrass. Don’t Give Your Heart To A Rambler was written by Barbara Martin Stephens, Martin’s longtime partner and the driving force behind his rise to success in the music business. Barbara spares her readers no gritty details as she gives an inside look into life with the King. Through all the abuse and hardship she suffered in her personal life, Barbara was still able to become the first female booking agent on music row. Nothing short of inspiring, this book is a must-read for all bluegrass fans and those interested in women in country music.
Dixie Dewdrop: The Uncle Dave Macon Story by Michael D. Doubler
Uncle Dave Macon is one of the most iconic figures of early country music, and his style of banjo playing and showmanship has inspired countless musicians – and so Dixie Dewdrop tells the story of one of country music’s first stars. Michael Doubler, the great-grandson of Uncle Dave, spins a narrative that ties together Uncle Dave’s personal life and the music and culture of the world in which Uncle Dave lived, giving readers a glimpse into a different side of this legendary performer. If you’re curious about this book and Uncle Dave Macon, you can join Doubler at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum at 1pm on Sunday, November 4 for a special talk and book-signing.
In Tune: Charley Patton, Jimmie Rodgers and the Roots of American Music by Ben Wynne
Before record companies began marketing music to specific audiences, music flowed across cultural lines, and the line between traditional African American and white rural music was blurred. With the wonderfully informative In Tune, Ben Wynne compares and contrasts these two giants of roots music within that context. Both men were born in Mississippi around the same time, and both passed away much too early in their musical careers and their lives, dying within a year of each other. Though from separate sides of a deeply segregated society, these men lived hard lives and had experiences that were remarkably similar. This book provides commentary on the social dynamics that shaped country music, and it gives readers a detailed look into the lives and legacies of these two important figures.
Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South by Patrick Huber
Geography and country music go hand-in-hand, and regionalisms are part of what makes early country music so diverse. Bristol with its significant music history is heralded as the “Birthplace of Country Music,” but in reality, American roots music was shaped all across the nation. Patrick Huber explores the impact of textile mills in the Piedmont region of the Carolinas in Linthead Stomp. With a high population of displaced rural southerners seeking work in the mills, a new market for early country music entertainment was opened. Rural music moving to town also changed the music, and the changes that were taking place in the 1920s and 1930s in the Piedmont set the stage for country music as we know it. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the commercialization of country music.
And finally a “special mention”: Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921–1942 by Tony Russell
All of the books previously mentioned are easily digestible reads for the casual country music fan. However, if you find yourself hungering for all the facts about early county music records, this is the book for you. Roughly the size of your local phone book and twice as dense with information, this book contains the dates, locations, and personnel of every commercial country record recorded before 1942. A must have for any diehard country music fan and connoisseur of fine shellac.
So…I’ve given you my favorites. Now tell us: what are your favorite music reads?!