Reading Nicholas Dawidoff’s In The Country of the Country: A Journey To The Roots Of American Music and really enjoying it. Still amusing to think that there was a time not so long ago when I met the very idea of Country/Hillbilly/Old Time music with strong feelings of displeasure if not outright hostility. I belonged to that camp that admitted smatterings of Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson and saw fit to narrowly generalize the rest of the genre as a vestige of
Dawidoff, like Peter Guralnick’s awesome trilogy on Blues, Country, Rhythm and Blues and Rock ‘N Roll, knows when to provide context and when to disappear and allow his subjects to talk and tell their stories.
A few interesting anecdotes:
Elvis Presley’s all-time favorite country gospel group was the Louvin’ Brothers, but he never recorded one of there songs because Ira Louvin, (a sad template for redneck clichés if ever there was one- though his singing voice is magnificent) upon hearing Elvis sing a gospel song to unwind after a show in the mid-50’s, humiliated him by shouting, “You fuckin’ white nigger. If that’s the kind of music you like, why don’t you do that out there instead of that shit you do?” Ira Louvin was eventually shot 5 times by his third wife.
The head of Doc Watson’s first banjo was made out of his grandmother’s decrepit old cat. His brother, asked to put the thing out of its misery, scraped off its hair, tanned it and his father stretched it across the hoop. Watson tells Dawidoff, “The catskin made a great head and a beautiful sound.”
Johnny Cash once recorded a song called, Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart. In 1983 he tried to hit his pet ostrich with a two-by-four only to be kicked in the chest and have three of his ribs broken.
George Jones, who many believe to possess one of Country Music’s greatest voices, was once one so filled with delusions and self-loathing that he sang live concerts in the voice of Daffy Duck. Believe it or not! No, it’s true, and I have to say, that may be my favorite anecdote- I mean, can you imagine?
Now we’re going to watch Wattstax.