In an age when country music seems to be shooting off in a dozen different directions, it is important to remind ourselves that there was once, and still is, a broad mainstream that genuinely defined the genre. It was not called “power country” or “alt country” or “retro country” or “country rock” or “cowboy country,” but just “country.” It was the home of a large number of performers who shared a range of values and beliefs about the music, and who shared a common body of tradition and history. This great unifying, nourishing stream runs through the history of country music, from the pioneer Appalachian harmonies of the Original Carter Family through the varied vocal styles of Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Grandpa Jones, Kitty Wells, Martha Carson, the Statler Brothers, and dozens of others. Some have taken to calling this broad mainstream tradition “Classic Country,” in the same manner that we speak of “classic” rock or “classic” jazz. This book is a collection of some fifty profiles of musicians, past and present, who were part of this great stream.
Though the subjects seen here range from pioneers of the 1920s—the first generation of professional country musicians—to stars of the present, they all have certain things in common. First and foremost is that each artist has serious ties to country music’s past, and to the country music tradition. It is true that most of these stars have created their own distinct style and image, and this has made them unique and worthy of interest; but most have accomplished this by building on older, earlier traditions. And many of them are willing and even anxious to pay homage to their teachers. Roy Acuff could not get out of his head the sound of the old mountain ballad singer in eastern Tennessee; Lefty Frizzell stuck his head inside the old Victrola to try to better hear the archetypal recordings of Jimmie Rodgers; fiddler Tommy Magness was obsessed with the old fiddle tune he learned growing up in the north Georgia hills that people later came to call “Black Mountain Rag.” Bill