As someone who has been studying and collecting American popular music for more than four decades now I am always on the lookout for new resources to add to my knowledge and understanding of this music. I am quite excited to report that the London based music historian Tony Russell has come up with a real gem with his splendid new book "Country Music Originals: The Legends and the The Lost". This book is a virtual treasure trove of information for anyone who is interested in the origins of the genre that would eventually evolve into what we now call country music.
I am in complete agreement with another reviewer who indicated that for most collectors and country music afficianados "Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost" is probably more appropriate as a reference volume. As a cover to cover read I found that the book could become a bit tedious at times. But having said that I learned an awful lot about the early history of country music in this volume. Tony Russell introduces his readers to a whole host of colorful and quirky vocalists, duets, fiddlers, stringbands and groups that would make an indelible mark in the development of this genre. You have to love the names of some of these artists. There is Fiddlin' John Carson, The Skillet-Lickers, The Carolina Tar Heels, Dr. Smith's Champion Hoss Hair Pullers, The Georgia Yellow Hammers, Light Crust Doughboys and Lulu Belle and Scotty to name but a few. Now some of those featured in "Country Music Originals" were regional acts who were popular for a relatively short period of time. Others would go on to long and prosperous careers in the music business. All in all, Tony Russell offers up essays on more than 100 artists who made a name for themselves in the period from about 1926 when this music was in its infancy until the late 1950's or early 1960's. Russell also presents revealing portraits of some of the better known figures in early country music such as Vernon Dalhart, Bradley Kincaid, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff. And of course no book about the history of country music would be complete without a close look at the careers of legendary figures Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter family. It is positively fascinating to discover how this music has evolved over the decades. In addition, the text is sprinkled with more than 200 rare photos and illustrations depicting many of the artists being discussed as well as images of some of the actual record labels, newspaper clippings and advertisements from the period. I found that this material greatly enhanced my enjoyment of this book. It was also quite interesting to learn how many of the earliest recordings were done. In the middle to late 1920's it was fairly common for the three major record companies of this period, namely Victor, Columbia and Gennett to send recording equipment directly to towns like Bristol, Tenn. in search of promising new artists to record. This is precisely how both Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and dozens of other important acts of this period were discovered. It was certainly a much different world in those days!
As I indicated earlier "Country Music Originals: The Legends and The Lost" succeeds more as a reference volume than as a narrative. I plan to add a copy to my library in the very near future. This is a book that I am likely to refer to again and again in future years. There is so much new information in this book about the rich heritage of country music that I simply have not seen anywhere else. A well thought out and nicely done project! Highly recommended!
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Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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Winner of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections 2008 Award for Best Research in Recorded Country Music In this sparkling collection, "roots" music authority Tony Russell offers vivid portraits of the men and women who created country music, the artists whose lives and songs formed the rich tradition from which Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Dixie Chicks, and so many others have drawn their inspiration. Included here are not only such major figures as Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Fiddlin' John Carson, Charlie Poole, and Gene Autry, who put country music on America's cultural map in the 1920s and '30s, but many fascinating lesser-known figures as well, such as Carson Robison, Otto Gray, Chris Bouchillon, Emry Arthur and dozens more, many of whose stories are told here for the first time. To map some of the winding, untraveled roads that connect today's music to its ancestors, Russell draws upon new research and rare source material, such as contemporary newspaper reports and magazine articles, internet genealogy sites, and his own interviews with the musicians or their families. The result is a lively mix of colorful tales and anecdotes, priceless contemporary accounts of performances, illuminating social and historical context, and well-grounded critical judgment. The essays are enhanced by more than 200 illustrations, many of them seldom seen and some never before published, including artist photographs, record labels, song sheets, ...