All That Glitters: Country Music in America

All That Glitters: Country Music in America

All That Glitters: Country Music in America

All That Glitters: Country Music in America


This collection of essays examines modern country music in America, from its roots to today's music. Contributors look at aspects of the music as diverse as the creation of country culture in the honky tonk; the development of the Nashville music industry; and why country music singers are similar to the English romantic poets. Historians, sociologists, musicologists, folklorists, anthropologists, ethnographers, communication specialists, and journalists are all represented.


Crude with a tang of the Indian wilderness, strong with the strength of the mountains, yet, in a way, mellowed with the flavor of Chaucer's time—surely this is folk-song of a high order. May it not one day give birth to a music that shall take a high place among the world's great schools of expression?

The Spirit of the Mountains Emma B. Miles, 1905

It was cold that Tuesday night in Nashville, and the Exit In was nearly deserted. Although December had not yet arrived, it had snowed—was still snowing lightly—and the streets of Music City were white and quiet. On this night in 1973, I sat with Steve Goodman, who was drinking bourbon and working on something he called the ultimate country and western song. Steve had already gotten prison, mama, pickup trucks and trains into it. He was working hard on rain and lost love.

On stage, the singer began a tune that had been a hit for him nine years before. Steve stopped talking and listened, his dark eyes glowing. "Damn!" he finally said. "That guy's so good! You know his stuff?"

I nodded, but Steve had turned back to the singer. "It's the touch," he said softly, as if in a dream. "With the great ones, it's in the touch."

The Touch is something you recognize when you hear it. Hank Williams' cry as he moaned the blues, the high lonesome sound of Bill Monroe's bluegrass, or the manic rush of Carl Perkins' rock-a-billy classic, "Dixie Fried." It's also present in the work of contemporary artists. Listen to Randy Travis' quiet despair in "Diggin' Up Bones," the weary desolation of Emmylou Harris' "Boulder To Birmingham," or the bright bluegrass fiddle of Alison Krauss on her "Too Late To Cry" album.

The Touch is talent, but it is also connectedness—an awareness of and linkage to, the deep country roots of the music. Indeed, fiddling and singing were present at the time the first settlements were made in the New World. Nick Tosches, in Country, writes of John Laydon, a pioneer of Jamestown who, in the 1630s, played his fiddle like "a Man wilde by Fever," as his friend Nathaniel Powell wrote in his diary. And the October 7, 1737 issue of the Virginia Gazette contained an announcement of fiddling and singing competitions to be held as part of the year's St. Andrew's Day festivities:

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