Country music in the 1970s of my adolescence was music for the hopelessly uncool. It was Saturday afternoon television with Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, outlandish in their rhinestones, extolling the virtues of their sponsor, Breeze detergent. It was “Okie from Muskogee,” Merle Haggard’s 1969 hit denouncing drugs, war protesters, and long hair. Country was Hee Haw, and what the football coach who taught Driver’s Ed—he of the short haircut, white polyester shirts, and fierce Texas twang—made us listen to when we drove with him, because it soothed his nerves.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, on the other hand, was a country-rock group from Southern California, “a bunch of long-haired West Coast boys,” as country patriarch Roy Acuff called them. But in August 1971 they made their way to Nashville, a little tentatively, to record the album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a collaboration with an unlikely gathering of old-time country stars that instantly achieved classic status and has never gone out of print.
On the afternoon of April 9, 1987, a man stood outside the United States penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. He had been convicted of one count of willful failure to file an income tax return and sentenced to a year in prison. His orders from the court were to surrender himself to the institution before April 10. While an accomplice rolled videotape, the man outside the prison, who was both a literalist and something of a showman, held up the day’s newspaper and announced: “I surrender to the institution!”
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.
I think the best that we can do as songwriters is try to document and try to record something about the time that we’re living in. If you want to connect with people who are alive now—unless you’re singing to ghosts—you better talk about things that are happening in the present.
When I got the news I pulled off I-65 North and nosed into the Spalding University Library. En route from Nashville to Cleveland, it felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Chet Flippo—the storied Rolling Stone editor who’d gone toe-to-toe with Mick Jagger, smoked cigars with Uma Thurman, helped land Willie Nelson dressed as Uncle Sam on the cover of the magazine, igniting my pre-teen imagination—had died.
An installment in our weekly series, The By and By.
Even when Ridley pans a movie, he does it with heart. His takedown of Luc Besson’s The Messenger is written as “a short story that imagines a film executive in purgatory summoning Carl Theodore Dreyer [director of the ethereal and perfect The Passion of Joan of Arc] to his office.” Haruch says this is “a doff of the cap, of sorts, to Godard’s notion that one should make a movie to criticize a movie.”
To Adia Victoria, Donald Trump is just the latest thing in the history of American oppression.
“The blues to me is personal music. The blues to me is political. And what’s happening politically right now requires artists to get up, pay attention, report about what’s going on.”
If you’re good enough to back somebody up or play in the recording studio, then Nashville is the town for you. That’s not enough, though. Everybody plays and sings great; that’s a given. But you get jobs because you’re a good hang, relaxed and easy to deal with.