Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South

Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South


"Contrary to popular belief, American country music did not have its roots solely on southern farms or in mountain hollows. Rather, much of this music recorded before World War II emerged from the bustling cities and towns of the Piedmont South. No group contributed more to the commercialization of early country music than southern factory workers. In Linthead Stomp, the first book-length study of southern millhands' musical culture, Patrick Huber explores the origins and development of this music in the Piedmont's mill villages and chronicles the enduring contributions that the region's millhands made to American popular music. Huber offers vivid portraits of a colorful cast of Piedmont textile worker musicians, including Fiddlin' John Carson, Charlie Poole, Dave McCarn, and the Dixon Brothers, and considers the impact that urban living, industrial work, modern technology, and mass culture had on their lives and music. He also demonstrates how a variety of influences - including phonograph records, radios, fiddlers' conventions, industrial welfare programs, labor strikes, and even the nature of textile work itself - dramatically shaped the evolution of this music in the Piedmont. Drawing on a broad range of sources, including rare 78-rpm recordings and unpublished interviews, Huber reveals how the country music recorded between 1922 and 1942 was just as modern as the jazz music of the same era. Linthead Stomp celebrates the Piedmont millhand fiddlers, guitarists, and banjo pickers who combined the collective memories of the rural countryside with the upheavals of urban-industrial life to create a distinctive American music that spoke to the changing social realities of the twentieth-century South."


The textile mills not only produced an important body of folksongs;
they also spawned a high percentage of commercial country singers
(a phenomenon that needs to be explored

—Bill C. Malone, Country Music, U.S.A., rev. ed. (1985)

“Many of the present generation, having moved to mill towns and coal camps, are being cut off from their inheritance of traditional music. But they are beginning to make 'ballets' of their own,” wrote Bruce Crawford in the New Republic in 1933, after visiting the celebrated White Top Folk Festival in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. “Textile workers have songs to express sorrow and revolt. Coal miners are beginning to sing 'blues' of their making…. Most songs of the industrial sections express abject hopelessness and are howled in tones more woe-begone than the wails of Negro blues. They have, in fact, little in common with the older folk-songs sung in the hollows which coal mines and textile mills haven't yet invaded.” Crawford's observations provide an excellent starting point for understanding the southern industrial and working-class origins of hillbilly music, an American popular music that was commercially broadcast and recorded between 1922 and 1942 and that eventually evolved into modern country music and the regional genres of western swing, honkytonk, and bluegrass.

Beginning with Archie Green's seminal article, “Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol,” in the Journal of American Folklore (1965), and running through Tony Russell's Country Music Originals: the Legends and the Lost (2007), academic studies of pre–World War II country music over the past four decades have reached far beyond the music itself to tell us much about working-class white southerners and their culture in twentieth-century America. This impressive body of scholarship has fundamentally reshaped our understanding of this music, yet relatively little attention has so far been paid to the tremendous impact that large-scale industrialization and urban growth had on the development of hillbilly music before World War II. Nor has the significant role of southern textile workers in the evolution . . .

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