Country music is more popular, widely defined, and controversial than ever.
While the incredible success of the soundtrack to the movie O Brother
Where Art Thou? has brought Bluegrass music and artists like Ralph Stanley
into the mainstream, pop-flavored offerings from Nashville still top the
charts. Subverting it all, bands from the Redneck Underground are making
perhaps the greatest social statement in music since the punk movement,
playing on redneck stereotypes even as they question them and giving
attention to issues such as AIDS awareness.
The third installment in the Country Music Annual series explores these
topics and others, drawing together twelve essays that explore the musical
genre from technical/stylistic, biographical, historical, and sociological
perspectives. That may surprise some people, says James Akenson, coeditor
of the series, especially those who think of country music as the dominant
product put out by Nashville. "Even the dominant commercial product of
Nashville can be studied from a wide number of perspectives which further
deepens our insight," he said. "I like to keep in mind that country music
is a commercial product."
Even traditional "mountain" music is seeing some success, thanks in large
part to the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers movie, O Brother where art Thou?.
In the new Country Music Annual 2002, John Garst traces the roots of the most
popular track of the movie (lip-synched by George Clooney), "Man of Constant
Sorrow." But is the album at the forefront of a new movement in the national
music scene, or a passing fad? "I think O Brother is terrific," Akenson said.
"I suspect, however, that it is a limited phenomenon fueled by intellectuals
who will tire of the Coen Brothers' inspired music and move on to something else.
The core audience for contemporary country music will continue to consume
the mainstream Nashville product."
Far from the mainstream is the Red-neck Underground, a small but culturally
significant musical movement centered about Little Five Points and the Star
Bar in Atlanta. S. Renee Dechert and George H. Lewis's essay examines the function
of subculture in American society and how bands of the Redneck Underground
like the Drive-by Truckers react to the dominant culture with their music.
"The Redneck Underground is an indicator species for long standing currents
in white, southern working class culture," Akenson said. But don't expect
to hear them on your radio anytime soon. "I doubt that any of the bands
or individual artists have the ability or interest to be marketed in a
This third volume of the accalimed country music series explores
topics ranging from the career of country music icon Conway Twitty
to the recent phenomenal success of the bluegrass-flavored soundtrack
to the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The differences between
redneck subculture and the redneck underground, the promotion of early
country music artists with picture postcards and a history of
"the voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains" (North Carolina radio
station WPAQ) are also discussed in these pages. Also included is an
analysis of early marketing strategies for country music and a look
at the formation of the Country Music Assocation as teh "chamber of
commerce" for country music as hillbilly music was commercialized.
Table of Contents
Charles K. Wolfe and James K. Akenson
- Conway Twitty: The Man and His Image
Jimmie N. Rogers
- The Bill Monroe Biography: Journalism Assisting Scholarship
Richard D. Smith
- "Man of Constant Sorrow": Antecedents and Tradition
- The Selling Sound of Country Music: Class, Culture, and
Early Radio Marketing Strategy of the Country Music
- Tex Morton and His Influence on Country Music in Australia
During the 1930s and 1940s
- Country Music Publishing Catalog Acquisition
John Gonas, David Herrera, James L. Elliott, and
- Postcards and the Promotion of Early Country Music Artists
Danny W. Allen
- The Drive-by Truckers and the Redneck Underground: A
S. Renee Dechert and George H. Lewis
- WPAQ Radio: The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains
David B. Pruett
- Politics and Country Music, 1963-1974
- Honky-Tonk Angels and Rockabilly Queens: Oklahoma Divas in American Country Music
- The Bristol Syndrome: Field Recordings of Early Country Music
Charles K. Wolfe
Charles K. Wolfe, professor of English and folklore at Middle Tennessee
State University, is the author of several books, including A Good-Natured
Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry. James E. Akenson, professor of
curriculum and instruction at Tennessee Technological University,
is the founder of the International Country Music Conference.