“We was on the radio at Del Rio,” recalls one of the Cowboy Kings in Clem Maverick, R. G. Vliet’s multi-voiced epic poem about the high-lonesome lovesick rise and fall of a country-western singer. “That night Clem yodeled from his toes up. Had to tote him from the mike.” Clem and the Cowboy Kings tore up their tunes as phantoms of a poet’s muse, but their flesh, blood, and whiskey kin conjured their sound into every corner of North America and beyond. Clem’s audience would have known that “the radio at Del Rio” meant one of the high-powered radio stations that dotted the northern frontier of the Republic of Mexico and blasted their signals northward in English from 1930 to 1986. Over the course of those fifty-six years, border radio’s continent-spanning coverage played a major role in popularizing just about every kind of music that came out of Texas: hillbilly, cowboy, gospel, Mexican, Tex-Mex, country-western, blues, r&b, rockabilly, and rock & roll.
The fiftieth anniversary ceremony began with the singing of a corrido. As the guests of honor found their seats on the stage of the octagonal-roofed Kiosk on the first day of June, Daria Vera shuffled to the mic, gripping an official program with the lyrics on the back cover. The guitarist and accordionist struck up the first chord. Her deep, gravel-lined, distinctive contralto struggled to carry over the rumble of the cross-border freight trucks hemming us in on parallel one-way arteries of Highway 83 through downtown Rio Grande City, Texas.
A story by Stephanie Soileau from our Fall 2016 issue.
Yesterday your old daddy was nearly a goner.
Let me tell you.
There’s an old song on one of these long-plays you sent last year for Christmas. “Poke Salad Annie, gators got your granny,” something like that. Well, old Poke Salad Annie and her no ’count daddy don’t have a thing to eat, so Annie goes out and picks her daddy a mess of greens in what they call a poke sack, which is I believe how the plant got its name—
My friend Dan Philips, a wine importer, likes to drag me into discussions of the Civil War. Though he lives in California, Dan has roots in the South, eats and drinks his way through the region often, and reads voraciously. Dan is smart. And he asks great questions. But I rarely take the bait. The reasons are complicated.
The village of Ludowici, in the deep piney lowlands of southeast Georgia, got its name from a German fellow who came there in 1904 to manufacture clay roof tiles. But it was not his accomplishments that made the town famous. Rather, it took thousands of inhospitable acts toward thousands of out-of-town visitors to put Ludowici on the map—to give it a national reputation as one of the most venomous of a particular breed of Southern hamlet. In short: Ludowici was a classic speed trap.
“I will fix this, if they let me,” says Will Harris of White Oak Pastures as he machetes through a briar-tangled bamboo thicket and scampers over a mossy boulder, plunging toward a ruined concrete-bordered public pool glossed with emerald slime and swarmed by dragonflies. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this bottom-of-the-bluff park at the heart of Bluffton, a farming town on Georgia’s southwestern fringe, was a symbol of civic commonwealth for white settlers who staked claims after Andrew Jackson killed off and kicked out the Creek Indians in 1814.
The first Japanese Americans began leaving for internment camps in the spring of 1942, effectively banished from their homes by the United States government. Norman Sagara, six years old at the time, can still recall how it played out for him: the FBI visiting his farmhouse in southern California; his older siblings translating for his parents, simple chicken ranchers; his family packing up their belongings and, then, late that summer, boarding a train. “We didn’t know where we were going,” recalls Sagara, now seventy-eight. “They wouldn’t tell us. And three days later we ended up in McGehee, Arkansas.”
With eight kids to feed, and making everything from scratch, Mamie McCrary didn’t have time to negotiate supper. So to anything her picky eaters might refuse—pinto beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans—she added a spoonful or two of sugar. Almost fifty years later, whenever her four daughters sit down to eat, sugar bowls come out, adding some sweetness to lives that have seen more than enough hard times.
The sisters—Ann, Regina, Alfreda, and Deborah—continue an even sweeter McCrary tradition, blending their voices in the sanctified harmony that’s their birthright as daughters of Rev. Sam McCrary, one of the key members of Nashville gospel greats the Fairfield Four.