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Country: The Twisted Roots Of Rock 'n' Roll

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  743 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Celebrating the dark origins of our most American music, Country reveals a wild shadowland of history that encompasses blackface minstrels and yodeling cowboys; honky-tonk hell and rockabilly heaven; medieval myth and musical miscegenation; sex, drugs, murder; and rays of fierce illumination on Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others, famous and forgotten, whose demonology is A ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 22nd 1996 by Da Capo Press (first published 1977)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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Five foot stomping, hand clapping stars. Mr. Tosches is a man after my own heart, tracing the lineage of country songs back to their origins. This exhaustive book is a work of love about country and roots music. It is an account of certain mystiques, and the folklore surrounding some of the artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, and many others. Some who were a revelation to me, and led me on a music hunting voyage of discovery on You Tube and iTunes. It is written in a wonderful, non pret ...more
May 10, 2009 rated it did not like it

First of all, let me say that I worked in indie/collector record stores off and on for over 10 years. I've seen record collectors up close and personal, and honestly I really admire their passion for their interest. I've verged on it myself. Until I did it for a living for more than, say, 6 months.
My issues with this book:
This is not about country music. It is about blues, minstrelry, and Jerry Lee Lewis. And it's a lot of "...and this can be seen when [artist:] recorded [song:] in [ye
Paul Bryant
Dec 08, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: folk-music
It took me a long time to get a handle on the way that British and American music developed in the last century. Well, it's a big subject. In America you had a mindbending wealth of popular music recorded from the early 1920s onward, thanks to such entrepreneurs as Ralph Peer. You had blues, ragtime, jazz, gospel, cajun and old timey in their multifarious genius recorded on thousands of 78s which were subsequently rescued from total oblivion in the 1950s and 60s by such collectors as Joe Bussard ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-books
While Mr. Tosches certainly has a wealth of information to share, this book is turgid to the extreme. Except a long glowing passage about the wonders of Jerry Lee Lewis, little of this book touches on rock n' roll and its country roots. Which isn't a terrible thing if you're looking for a book that's about the roots of country music and the intersections of early 20th century American music - particularly country and blues, with slight touches on jazz and other forms. Whatever you've come to thi ...more
James Horn
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
The depth research that went into this book is astounding. Tosches’ voice is clear and opinionated and his prose is unmatched in non-fiction. A bit heavy on the record collector release and date information, I think this may be an arduous read taken just as it is. I combatted this by finding a Spotify playlist by groovekit (search Nick Tosches Country, you’ll find it) and even though some of the songs are not available(most can be found on YouTube), enough were there that the companion playlist ...more
Ben Chinn
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
A great survey of the messy, multi-ethnic, spicy world of American popular music. This book is really about the ways that black and white, country and city, North and South have always been co-creators of the musics invented in America: blues, country, jazz, and everything in between. Tosches view is constrained by an inability to recognize the winners and losers in this game, but the politics and commerce of music aren't really what he's interested in. His portraits are of the personalities and ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Like listening to the Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast on shuffle, tho reading it takes less time than listening to one episode (and some passages are repeated verbatim on the podcast) (and the Spade Cooley chapter is, mercifully, only 2 pages). Doesn’t actually tell you much about the history of country music, focusing more on rockabilly. But worth it for the historical digressions, lyrics from dirty old blues and country songs, songs traced from pop song back to old Irish ballad to beyond, and ...more
Gustav Gerät
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
very good book, I like it
Aveugle Vogel
"against a wooden wall"
Steven Davis
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Extensive research on Author's end...I for one enjoyed reading some musical history I'd not known about prior...Twisted roots indeed and a long way to Memphis...
Jul 25, 2012 rated it liked it
Second Tosches book in two days....he (Tosches) intrigues me. His prose is scintillating and often takes brilliant flights that absolutely transmogrify my world weary,skeptical soul. Excuse the hyberbolic purple prose here...but i'm really bananas with Tosches right now. I finished Tosches bio on Jerry Lee Lewis,entitled Hellfire,yesterday and gave it 4 stars. I am simultaneously reading Where Dead Voices Gather and that is gonna get five stars for sure. The subject of this review,Country is a w ...more
Feb 15, 2016 rated it liked it
I was given a used paperback copy of this book for my birthday, after many years of absent-mindedly passing it by in bookstores over the years, do I finally decided to read it. I found it instantly intriguing, as I had let my interest in the various American roots music forms become less fanatical over the years. After a while, I felt as if this book was just a compilation of lists of various old-timey songs and small anecdotal snippets from the lives of some of the author's favorite performers ...more
Roz  Milner
Dec 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I went into this looking for something detailing the roots of Rock: a book about the early, dusty years of 78 RPM records and the faceless artists contained therein. It's not quite that, but Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock and Roll is an interesting read with a lot of information and colour.

In a series of alternating chapters, Tosches details the early years of blues and country music. He traces the arc of steel guitars, it's common origin with blues and country and how it split not just into
Feb 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Nick Tosches' first book, in which his trademarked style of "hard-boiled nonfiction" (which I recently described to a colleague as "40% facts, 60% attitude) was still in development. An interesting read to see the directions it would lead the author in his later works--'Unsung Heroes of Rock & Roll' looks at the history of early (black) R&B/rock & roll pioneers that he skims over here; chapters on Jerry Lee Lewis and Emmett Miller were turned into full-length studies of their own ('Hellfire' and ...more
Ray Dunsmore
Sep 02, 2014 rated it liked it
God damn, does this man have some fucked up stories about Jerry Lee Lewis. These drunken hellion tales are by far the highlight of this whiskey-drenched unfiltered history of the origins of country's finest facets. The story of the recording session Tosches sat in on in which Jerry's father comes by after outsmarting the police into not only not arresting him for DUI & speeding, but getting them to drive him to the session themselves; a one-armed man gets drunk and beats his wife who leaves him, ...more
Riley Redd
Oct 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Tosches is a writer who I was destined to find. A rock and roll addict, a bit on the cynical side, and yet at the same time very wrapped up with the ancient myths & other such things...I stumbled upon this book thinking it would be more of a story sort of book but it wound up being chock full of research. Nevertheless there were still some parts of it nicely fleshed out with all sorts of stories (Jerry Lee Lewis seems to be an obsession for this writer...) Overall it wasn't what I was expecting ...more
Jun 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Nick Tosches crafts an unusual history of Rock N Roll and country, arranging the book as a stream of consciousness exploration of the subject, providing a wide picture and scanning the surface of a hundred or more well known (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis) and unknown (Emmett Miller) and providing a decent inroduction to all of them. Much of this material would be expanded on in Tosches' later Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story and so its interesting to see the seeds of the book in these pages.

Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who really care about country music
Shelves: music
Tosches' obsession with the dark places that human being can go can feel a bit tawdry at times, but when he hits it, it really works. Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock and Roll is my favorite of his works of music criticism. He brings to bear the fierce flame of his awe-inspiring (and autodidactic) erudition to great effect in this text, tracing the roots of Country and Western song back to English medieval ballads and beyond, along the way chronicling some of the forgotten progenitors of the ...more
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Maybe tomorrow I'd rate Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll a four-star production, because of the intensity with which Nick Tosches tells the story as he understands of the stew from which rock and roll roiled up out of. Today, though, it's three stars just because I'm worn out by the lists . . . list after list of early musicians who collectively brought us rock and roll. Still, Tosches brings such a fierce style to the telling of this history, a style that is like baptism by fire into ...more
Corey J
Dec 21, 2015 rated it liked it
While I learned a few snippets of information from reading this book, it felt too much like an extended Discogs entry. There was no structure at all to it and it seemed to gloss entirely over the whole premise of the book (I.e. that Country music is a twisted root of Rock n Roll). Instead it seemed unusually obsessed with one performer; appears to pine for the era of blackface; and contains more than a few turns of phrase that seem wildly inappropriate (see the crack about teenage panties in the ...more
Calvin Kenley
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Read this book right before watching Ken Burns Country Doc. It was fascinating and well written, but had a lot of information and I was constantly pausing to google things and YouTube artists and songs. His quest to learn about Emmet Miller was fascinating and I was thrilled to add his limited existing recordings to my brain. Also liked the Jerry Lee stuff, even though I read Hellfire, it is always a shock to read about his antics. Also watched Tales From the Tour Bus which had a great Jerry Lee ...more
Moira Dennison
Jan 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Still amazed as to how a writer of Tosches calibre has managed to pass me buy until fairly recently. This man knows his stuff ~ does not tolerate fools ~ and weaves a torrid tale of sex and drugs and murder and country music and doesn't pull his punches. Some of the artists I knew but some Im now scurrying to seek out. Because he made me want to hear them. If you think you know your music - think again - read this book and learn
Claudia Vaughn
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
This guy clearly has a passion for country music and amazing knowledge of the subject; unfortunately, he doesn't convey either very well. The book reads like a long set of lists of names and dates. Too bad. The intricacy of the lists and the characters who comprise them suggest that there is ample material for a good book here.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: americana
Nick Tosches is a genius when it comes to writing about American popular (and forgotten) music, and this book previsions his transformational biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, "Hellfire" (the best music book I have ever read, and yes, I have read many of them), and stands capably on the shelf next to the best examinations of American song.
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Despite being cluttered with information, this is a spectacular fount of fine writing and fascinating detail about the subject. I do recommend getting the paperback version over kindle, as it'll be easier to flip back and forth, making notes and underlining bits while trying to keep the names, places and tunes straight. If the subject interests, this is essential reading.
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
a passionate, superbly written book about country & western's dark side that i've read twice and will read again someday, for sure. this is truly twisted stuff that you soon won't forget. Tosches fucking rocks! ...more
Sep 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Tosches', fanboy of the ugly and scandalous in music, earliest novel. It's easy to see how he's improved since this one. It reads manically with lists, and isn't really a complete book. It's quite chaotic, but damned if you aren't given some great anecdotes.
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I learned that Jerry Lee Lewis is the wild, ugly and transcendent id of American music. I also learned that the folk song "Black Jack Davey" was an English song about gypsies.
John Schwabacher
Feb 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Definitely strange, and apparently true, but maybe not so much "wonderful", this book is full of incredible stories about musicians you've heard about and many you haven't.
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well researched. Full of interesting little-known (to me) minutea.
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Nick Tosches was an American journalist, novelist, biographer, and poet. His 1982 biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, Hellfire, was praised by Rolling Stone magazine as "the best rock and roll biography ever written."

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