Over thirty years have passed since Country Music, U.S.A. was first published, and more than sixteen years have elapsed since its last revision. Commercially, the music has prospered beyond anyone's dreams or expectations. A musical culture that always yearned for acceptance in mainstream American life has won at least grudging respect, if not universal approbation. When Toby Keith triumphantly sang "How Do You Like Me Now?," his award-winning song and video of 2000, he was gloating about his personal success to a woman who had rejected him when both were in high school. In a sense, though, his message can be taken as an anthem for country music as a whole, an art form that too long has suffered from low self-esteem but, like the singer's songs, is "living in your radio" throughout the world.
While country music has prospered, its look and sound have changed dramatically in the past sixteen years. Many veteran performers moved on to Hillbilly Heaven during those years. The partial list that follows suggests the magnitude of the loss: Roy Acuff, Rex Allen, Jimmy Arnold, Charline Arthur, Bob Atcher, Chet Atkins, Gene Autry, Walter Bailes, Earl Bolick (of the Blue Sky Boys), Cliff Bruner, Archie Campbell, Wilf Carter (Montana Slim), Jerry Clower, Dick Curless, Ted Daffan, Johnny Darrell, Jimmie Davis, John Duffey, Arlie Duff, Stoney Edwards, Dale Evans, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Wally Fowler, Lonnie Glosson, Stuart Hamblen, John Hartford, Bobby Helms, Doc Hopkins, Harlan Howard, Shot Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Grandpa Jones, Rose Carter Karnes (of the Chuck Wagon Gang), Bradley Kincaid, Pee Wee King, Lily May Ledford, Leon McAuliffe, Laura Lee McBride, O. B. McClinton, Rose Maddox, Benny Martin, Roger Miller, Minnie Pearl, Bill Monroe, Patsy Montana, Clyde Moody, Molly O'Day, Hank Penny, Webb Pierce, Wayne Raney, Charlie Rich, Roy Rogers, Johnny Russell, Leon "Pappy" Selph, Bob (Attlesey) Shelton, Hank Snow, Buddy Starcher, Wynn Stewart, Nat Stuckey, Al Terry, Justin Tubb, Townes Van Zandt, Conway Twitty, Keith Whitley, Chubby Wise, Tammy Wynette, and Faron Young. Still others have found themselves excluded from Top Forty radio airplay in order to make room for the rash of young entertainers who have emerged in staggering numbers. The period, in short, witnessed a changing of the guard in country music, the virtual disappearance of the last generation of musicians whose music, with a few exceptions, reflected southern blue-collar origins.
I hope that this book has contributed to both an acceptance and an understanding of country music. My affection for the music has never been hidden, and, for good or ill, that emotional attachment has colored my scholarship. I still submit that the music emerged from southern working-class culture, and I remain persuaded by the evidence that it long carried the marks of those origins in its sound, themes, and perspectives. Although no one can any longer convincingly demonstrate such bonds between southern working-class life and the music that now flows out of Nashville, the precise moment when those cords were severed cannot be dated. Furthermore, public perceptions of country music around the world are still clearly influenced by visions of southern mountaineers, cowboys, or Celtic minstrels, and even the most intelligent performers are still prone to assertions of romantic nonsense concerning their music's alleged Celtic or Appalachian ancestry.
Although some passages in the original text call for correction or improvement, and a few areas exist where I have changed my mind, I have chosen to concentrate largely on the years following 1985. Making sense of those years is as daunting a task as I wish to undertake. I am a poor prophet and have been surprised but pleased by the revivals of hard country music that have periodically occurred within a general context of incessant homogenization, so I will make no predictions. I will instead argue, as I have reaffirmed in the text, that country music exists in many forms outside the Nashville mainstream and those forms can be found if people search for them. If Top Forty country music offends, vibrant alternatives can be enjoyed.
My contention that country music actually comes from the people who write and perform it may be little more than a romantic conceit, but my emphasis continues to be on singers, songwriters, musicians, and the music they have made, and not on the large and complex industry that produces, advertises, and markets the music. While I will not apologize for my perspective, I will readily acknowledge that the industry sorely needs its chroniclers. Now that Bill Ivey, the former head of the Country Music Association, has retired from his post as director of the National Endowment for the Arts and has expressed his wish to write some overdue books, perhaps he will give us the study of music industry producers for which he has long called. And others may write about the most overlooked music industry people of all, the "sidemen" who make the singers sound good and who, like Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys of the late forties and Ray Price's great Cherokee Cowboys of the late fifties and early sixties, fuel country music's most significant innovations.
Again, I wish to acknowledge those people who gave me invaluable support and advice back when this book was in its formative stages: the late Joe B. Frantz, who supervised my doctoral dissertation; the late Bill Pool, who introduced me to Frank Wardlaw, director of the University of Texas Press when the manuscript was being considered for publication; the fine editors at the Press who labored to convert my academic jargon into readable prose; and Archie Green (my favorite folklorist), Bob Pinson (one-time director of acquisitions for the Country Music Foundation Library), and Jo Walker-Meador (former executive director of the Country Music Association), each of whom unselfishly aided my research and writing in many ways. None of them of course are responsible for the mistakes and errors of judgment that may have intruded into the text.
Finally, I wish to dedicate this book to all the folks who have made good bluegrass and old-time music with me down at the Green Room, the Copper Grid, Dudley's Bar, the Speedway Bar, and other jamming venues in Madison, Wisconsin, each Monday night for the past six years, to all the patrons and friends of WORT-FM (89.9) who keep my program "Back to the Country" on the air each Wednesday morning, and of course to my parents, Maude and Cleburne Malone, who introduced me to country music and southern working-class life, and to my wife Bobbie who still sustains me with her love, radiant smile, intelligent counsel, and mandolin playing. The words of one of Ricky Skaggs' most popular songs still sums up my attitude toward her and our relationship, "I wouldn't change a single thing."
Bill C. Malone