Chuck Stewart’s photography provided by Fireball Entertainment Group, courtesy of Chuck Stewart Photographs of John Coltrane, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
I kept returning to the subject of the Nuwaubians, unable to let it go. Even a cursory amount of research showed that the group was a strange phenomenon of the modern age—a true American religion, sworn to a proto-hip-hop preacher sworn to nonsense, that attempted a takeover of a small Georgia town in the late 1990s before a joint federal-local raid brought down its leader. Beneath that historical account was a tangle of details bizarre and bottomless.
Since I removed myself from San Francisco, where I spent my university-teaching career, and relocated to the South, I am again reveling in the food that my little silver spoon first dipped into down in South Georgia, where everyone in my family knew, and I soon would, too, that dinner, the midday meal, was the event of the day . . .
In the kitchen of the McCullers house, my boom box picked up an Alabama public radio station; after writing all day, and before reading all night, I would listen to the radio and cook, in the very room from which warm meals once emerged to feed the girl who grew up to write The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.
Gordon Tanner was seventeen when he found himself thrust before a microphone, fiddle in hand, at a makeshift Bluebird recording studio in San Antonio’s Texas Hotel. His father Gid—cofounder of the original Skillet Lickers—stood beside him, along with the blind guitarist and singer Riley Puckett, a prolific recording artist and bona fide hillbilly star.
Since joining the Oxford American in 2014, I’ve taken the occasion of our annual music issue to offer our readers a variety of special poetry features. I feel that our Georgia issue, aligned with the spirit of that state, acts as a little archive of a certain time and place, a bound capsule of song and sensibility.
Ray Stevens is a slippery one. He’ll don an endless succession of zany personas, then suddenly play it straight and savvy when you least expect it. In the music video for “The Streak” he’s all over the place, making his entrance as a voluble TV news reporter, chasing down the scoop on a flashing incident at the local Bi-Rite.