Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942

By Lowry, Peter B. | Western Folklore, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942


Lowry, Peter B., Western Folklore


Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942. By Tony Russell, with editorial research by Bob Pinson, assisted by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. xi + 1183, acknowledgments, introduction, discography, bibliography, indices. $95.00 cloth)

Why would a thousand-page alphabetical list of commercial music recordings from the first half of the twentieth century assembled by a Briton capture the interest of students of American folk music? The answer is that in those early days, the commercial recording companies were doing our fieldwork for us. Not that they knew what they were doing. Still clueless, at this early stage, about their emerging market, they took chances and offered commercial releases of all kinds, thus preserving much music that would today be called folk music or community music. Recordings by white Southern artists came to be known as old-time music, and those by African American artists, race records. There was a multi-ethnic recording enterprise as well. All such commercial music products played a role in the dispersal of tunes and styles throughout the world, flying upon the wings of a new and exciting technology. Though the mode of transmission was still aural/oral, the unseen potential audience was huge. Performance styles and musical repertoires could now be heard worldwide and could therefore be extremely influential, as shown in the present tome's alphabetical entries for Gene Autry, Vernon Dalhart, and Jimmie Rodgers.

I have known author Tony Russell since he was editor of the now-defunct British journal Old Time Music (founded in 1971, foundered in year unknown), and have observed the present work's gestation over decades. I remember talk of its promised publication over the years-that it would be "soon." Well, soon has finally happened, and Tony Russell has given birth to a toe-breaker of a tome. We are all relieved and pleased and we hope that the father is doing as well as his offspring appears to be, with no postpartum depression. It was worth the wait: the first three decades of old-time music, a.k.a. hillbilly music and old favorite tunes, both secular and sacred, will be found here in exhaustive but user-friendly detail.

Russell begins with capsule histories of the many labels extant during the three decades covered by the discography. He then offers his main text, beautifully laid out and cross-referenced six ways to Sunday-listings of artists, songs, side musicians, release numbers, recording dates. The layout is clean and workable, the indices chockablock: it's a true "compleat" work of love. (Though admittedly a work of this kind can never be called complete, I predict that any additions or adjustments to Russell's work will be minor.)

There are many discographic reference works with roughly the same cutoff date (somewhat arbitrary, but any such cutoff point is), because during and after World War II the record business and its technologies changed greatly. …

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