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In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music

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In a series of indelible portraits of country music stars, Dawidoff reveals, among others, Jimmie Rodgers, the “father of Country”; Johnny Cash, the “Man in Black”; and Patsy Cline, a lonely figure striding out bravely in a man’s world. In the Country of Country is a passionate and expansive account of a quintessentially American art form and the performers that made country music what it is today.
Both deeply personal and endlessly evocative,  In the Country of Country pays tribute to the music that sprang from places like Maces Springs, Virginia, home of the Carter Family, and Bakersfield, California, where Buck Owens held sway. Bestselling author Nicholas Dawidoff takes readers to the back roads and country hollows that were home to Chet Atkins, Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris, and many more.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Nicholas Dawidoff

12 books38 followers
Nicholas Dawidoff is the best-selling author of five books, including The Catcher Was a Spy and In the Country of Country. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, he has been a Guggenheim, Berlin Prize, and Art for Justice Fellow. He lives in Connecticut.

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5 stars
67 (28%)
4 stars
116 (49%)
3 stars
43 (18%)
2 stars
8 (3%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews
Profile Image for Whitney Borup.
1,010 reviews53 followers
July 30, 2019
In preparation for an upcoming trip to Nashville. Super informative about some well-known country stars and some new-to-me country legends. Also, he ends the book with Bruce Springsteen, so we know he's right.
Profile Image for East Bay J.
586 reviews20 followers
August 11, 2016
In The Country Of Country is enthralling. Nicholas Dawidoff has compiled hours of research and interviews with country singers and musicians and their acquaintances to put together a real down home study of some of those folks who have made country music great. From Jimmie Rodgers to Jimmie Dale Gilmore & The Flatlanders, Dawidoff uses the experiences of the people who have been there to go a long way towards explaining what country music is all about.

There's a great deal of (deserved) rancor for the then current spate of Nashville rock stars masquerading as country singers. Guys like Garth Brooks don't hold much water with the real country folk, the hard core country people. While those pop singers in tight jeans and cowboy hats were pulling down millions and getting airplay all over the world, the surviving originators and torch carriers were doing what they'd always done; making music for and about the common people. They're the same people who get left out of history books and who are more or less ignored when it comes time to pass laws, get opinions or take stock of the situation. They're you and me and, if they ain't you, you ain't like me.

Probably the best chapter here is on the late Johnny Cash. Somehow, maybe because of his angle for In The Country Of Country, Dawidoff puts forth a view of The Man In Black that I hadn't encountered before. That alone makes this book worth reading.

But even more important is the thread of purity and purpose that runs through every story on every character in this book. Real life folks living real life and writing the songs to prove it.

The historical information on life in America in the late 19th and early 20th century is as valuable as the stories of the performers. Because the performers covered range across a large expanse of years, you get a real and very clear picture of America during that time. At least, a real clear picture of what the have nots had and what they made of themselves. These stories are poetry and they contain a clean, simple beauty having little to do with rock star excess or mainstream appeal. Which isn't to say Hank Williams or Johnny Cash didn't destroy themselves with the best of them.

Getting an intimate, inside look into the lives and personalities of Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard or Earl Scruggs is a real treat. Reading about these people, regardless of the obstacles they faced or the choices they made, is inspirational. I'd like to shake Dawidoff's hand and personally thank him for this book. It's something else!
43 reviews
May 6, 2012
In The Country of Country bills itself as a look at the history of country music. But if apply the same method of picking and choosing what you consider "country music" as does author Nicholas Dawidoff, then half of this book has nothing to do with country music. Dawidoff is plainly not a fan of "Hot Country", which is the equivalent of Top 40 in the pop world. By discounting that as a separate style of music, then one must also throw out his chapter on Bill Monroe (not country: bluegrass), Johnny Cash (not country: rockabilly), Jimmie Dale Gilmore (not country: alternative country), and all of his references to Bob Wills (not country: western swing).

Nonetheless, this book is a compilation of a wide variety of musicians whose music fall into the greater "country" category. Make no mistake: this book is no hagiography. Dawidoff is no fan of Johnny Cash (asserting that he hadn't written a "good" song since 1958), and he shows each persona in a light that reveals their personalities - warts and all.
511 reviews220 followers
August 16, 2015
Written in 1997 so some of the information is a little dated, it is nevertheless an enjoyable tour through country music by using biographical sketches of some of its premier performers. Included in the sweep are the likes of Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, and Emmylou Harris.
Since the book was published, the distinctions between the genres have become increasingly blurred with Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and other prominent crossover artists. This was a source of tension for traditionalists beginning in the 50s. The purists insisted that country was bound to rural roots and emphasized the emotional texture of music. This stands in contrast to "Hot" country embraces a broader range of performers from Elvis to many of the current divas.
Regardless of one's position on defining genres, Dawidoff captures the spirit of the country as it moved from a regional to a national and even international phenomenon, and established itself with a permanent spot on the American musical landscape.
Profile Image for Chrissa.
213 reviews4 followers
September 21, 2011
Reading this was a reminder of songs that I had heard and forgotten growing up. Each section on individual singers or groups sent me to YouTube for hours of hunting through songs both familiar and unfamiliar.

While I'm not a musician, I found the descriptions of the lives in the early and middle part of the twentieth century fascinating. The use of music to mark cultural boundaries and to escape (for the men)the lives they might otherwise have led while remaining connected to a community offered me a perspective on the way music fences us out and links us together that I had not considered.

This was an unexpected pleasure and I'm glad to have read it.
Profile Image for Mike Futcher.
Author 1 book6 followers
January 9, 2022
A strong, conventional ramble through the history of country music. I've always been more into classic rock, but in the last couple of years I've stumbled across a number of great young country musicians (most notably Colter Wall, Charley Crockett, Tyler Childers, Nick Shoulders and Sierra Ferrell) and felt like I didn't know enough about the well they were drawing from. With the notable exception of Johnny Cash, and the occasional Hank Williams song or other country standard covered by a rock band, I didn't know much about country music.

Nicholas Dawidoff's 1997 book In the Country of Country was a useful remedy to this. While of course there is no substitute to listening to the music directly, this book did provide a useful orientation to the genre, particularly the early pioneers like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. I learned about the integration of yodelling into country music, the importance of the Grand Ole Opry, and the differences between bluegrass and country (the former is defined by its restrictions (pg. 86); it's what Bill Monroe called "hillbilly jazz" (pg. 109)). Dawidoff wrote when many of these country giants were still alive, and it's a mark very much in favour of his book that he's able to pick the brains of Cash, Monroe, Charlie Louvin and Rose Maddox (among others) directly.

The book does have its disadvantages. Starting out, as the subtitle puts it, as 'a journey to the roots of American music', In the Country of Country soon develops tunnel vision. Initially, as we learn about Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family and Bill Monroe, we get a real sense of how this genre was built, but it all becomes a bit isolated. It's like blues and folk music don't exist here, though in reality the cross-pollination was considerable, and Dawidoff's brief interaction with Bob Dylan reminds us that there's plenty of hinterland here which he hasn't even touched. The second half of the book loses its dynamism, focusing on more contemporary artists in a way that becomes a bit more paint-by-numbers and magazine-profile-like. These later chapters are often colourless, end abruptly, and don't really contribute to our 'journey to the roots of American music'.

That said, In the Country of Country covers many of the relevant bases, and if it can't be said to be an essential book, or even an essential introduction, it's certainly a solid approach. While it's always better to hear a song than read a description of it, this book does communicate some of the real flavour of the genre. Dawidoff addresses, though rarely directly, the central tension in the country-loving community: the battle over authenticity and purity; the earthy, rough music of various regions versus the safe, homogenised 'hat acts' of Nashville. He notes how the music began as "a means of solidarity for people who felt marginalized by American society" but which has since become commodified (pg. 19). We come to realise that the obsession with 'purity' is less to do with gatekeeping and more about a desire to preserve the music's emotional maturity against the assault of tight jeans and songs about pick-up trucks. In the course of his rich but middle-of-the-road journey, Dawidoff reminds us of country's appeal: "This is not music for swinging teens. It's raw stuff for grown-up people who aren't getting any younger and know something about disappointment" (pg. 212).
Profile Image for King Haddock.
459 reviews18 followers
November 27, 2020
I toggled between a 4 and 5 rating on this. I'm feeling generous tonight, so let's give this a 5.

This book is a series of portraits of famous country music personalities based on interviews Dawidoff did himself. Dawidoff focuses on famous musicians whose sounds evoke the old heart of country music rather than contemporary, pop-infused Hot Country. Truly these are portraits, painted with color, detail, and a lifelike descriptive vividness that yanked me viscerally into the environment with the book's first page. Dawidoff is wonderful at describing images and making you feel as though you are there.

Each portrait is colorful, distinct, and helped me get a good sense of the interviewee's personality and vibe. I consumed the first half of this book quickly. The portraits are properly sized, delightfully meaty but consumable in a bite. That said, because they are bite-sized, you're not going to learn everything about these musicians in their respective chapters, and in many cases, significant portions of their lives might barely be touched upon. Because these are portraits, Dawidoff will create a focus, a lens, and look at the artist through that, rather than try to create a straightforward biography. Dawidoff is interested in capturing certain colors and angles, not giving you an unfiltered, bland objective explanation of everything.

That said, these are informative. They are biographical narratives intertwined with his personal interview experiences. And exactly because of how Dawidoff painted the personalities, I noticed I had higher retention for information. Some of these artists, I already know the details of their lives well. Others, I knew only the basics. And I often forgot that much about them. Well, Dawidoff's book DEFINITELY helped me retain my memories better... because I could recall the paintings he made of them. And for the music artists (like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, and Jimmie Rodgers) I knew fairly well, it was highly enjoyable to read a new interview by them and capture yet another angle of who they are.

The reason I waffle between a 4 or 5 is because of the second half of the book. I'm having difficulties deciding why the second half of the book was a little harder for me to read (still enjoyable, but not voraciously consumed). I think it's a combination of factors. One is that I was more interested with the people in the first half of the book. The second is that the style of portrait-painting became familiar and ergo less interesting as I read more repeated portraits... there was redundancy of style to fight off. Your interview chapters only feel fresh for so long. The third is I think some musicians had better-written (or better angles for them) chapters than others.

Altogether, I think this was a highly enjoyable book and well-worth me picking it up.
Profile Image for Steve Kohn.
67 reviews
February 8, 2018
IN THE COUNTRY OF COUNTRY is an enjoyable book, if not an indispensable one, where we learn about some of the roots of our marvelous American country music tree.

The author has a clear respect for this music, and to understand it better, spent much time with some of its legends and traveled to their childhood homes to talk with friends and neighbors. Young fans of modern Country might not even recognize some of these legends: Harlan Howard (the great songwriter); Bill Monroe; Ralph Stanley; Earl Scruggs; Buck Owens; Emmylou Harris (one of my ten Deserted Island Music favorites); Doc Watson; Iris Dement; and others.

Not a scholarly reference, it's only until you get to the Notes at the end of the book to realize how deeply the author seeped himself in his subject. His sources list many books, articles and videos, as well as many interviews.

Remarkably, this young man, in his early 30s, a Harvard grad and raised in Connecticut (yeah, maybe southern Connecticut) was made welcome by so many who were so different. Maybe even more remarkable is that not until almost the book's end does he offhandedly say, in describing how one musician led him to another, "I met Emmylou Harris at Harlan's birthday party. Emmylou then took me along to Bill Monroe's birthday party. And so it went."

To have Emmylou Harris take you to a party and not tell anybody about it until page 315 ... now, that's class. As well as to have interviewed Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, and we learn it deep in the Notes, not on the cover.

My only complaint (and why rated 4 stars, not 5) is in the artists the author chose to include and those he chose not to. I've never been a fan of George Jones the singer, and after reading about George Jones the person, think even less of him. I wish many more pages had been given to Emmylou Harris, and that Ricky Skaggs and Willie Nelson had been profiled, not just interviewed. In truth, country music has so many legends, it's hard to know where to begin in listing omissions. There's another book here waiting to be written.

I started the book knowing what it was about but not knowing which artists would be profiled. After starting it, I couldn't wait to get to it at night, wondering who would be next ("Will he do Emmylou? YES!), but knowing this book would be waiting by the reading lamp for a brief time into another place.
Profile Image for Ted Lehmann.
225 reviews16 followers
November 18, 2016
In the Country of Country by Nicholas Dawidoff (Random House, 1997, 365 pp., $18.95/14.99) explores country music from its earliest recognized and recorded luminaries (The Carter Family & Jimmy Rodgers) through the great periods of classic and outlaw country to the newest musicians on tour at the time of the book's writing in the late 1990's. The book is filled with anecdotes that surprise and enlighten. For instance, Dawidoff recounts a story heard from Charlie Louvin about a boy near a show in Dyess Arkansas who showed him to the nearest bathroom. On the way back, Charlie ate a soda cracker. When the boy asked him why, he said, “To keep from starving.” The kicker: that's why Johnny Cash ate crackers before every performance. Such connections between the early practitioners who emerged in the 1940's and great stars of the last decades of the twentieth century appear everywhere. While I read the book, I listened to recordings of the subjects of each chapter, thereby enriching my experience and deepening my understanding.
Individual chapters focus on major figures in the development of country music, including bluegrass. Dawidoff interviewed all of his subjects, including Bill Monroe, Earle Scruggs, George Jones, Kitty Wells, Doc Watson, Buck Owens, EmmyLou Harris, and more) except Jimmie Rodgers, Sara Carter, and Patsy Cline, all of whom were deceased at the time of the writing. One other luminary is strangely not included, although his name crops up in almost every chapter: Hank Williams. Perhaps Williams, who died in 1953) was simply too big and dominating a character to be adequately covered in simply a chapter.

It's a joy to read a book about music by a writer who's taking on a subject rather than a fan who decided to write. The use of lively imagery, thoughtful narrative, careful structure and apt description raise Dawidoff's writing above the pedestrian, bringing life to the characters who've enriched country music for nearly a hundred years. Published in 1998, the book uses living artists and extensive interviews with those who knew the subjects, bringing them to life in a way no other book I've read has managed.

In the chapter on Doc Watson, the actual voices of Tom Ashley and Ralph Rinzler give the descriptive passages a greater reality that brings Watson's background and development as a performer to life. Insights, such as the fact that Doc grew up with music he heard on an old gramophone and the radio differentiated his music from that of others who learned theirs in church or on the front porch, giving it the distinctive precision that other country and bluegrass musicians of the time lacked. Such connections, found in each chapter distinguish Dawidoff's pellucid writing as they permeate Watson's playing.

The Johnny Cash chapter examines the role of celebrity on productive song writing along with his image, life, and the road with comments from Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. In the George Jones chapter, I learned more about the reality of Jones in one short chapter than I did in the entire Grand Tour bio by Rich Kienzle. Part of this comes from the quality of Dawidoff's writing, and I think also from the distance he achieves by not being fully tied to the music community. While the book is often admiring, it never falls into hero worship as it keeps a clear, though sympathetic but never sycophantical eye on the character and development of each person in every profile.

Dawidoff gives attention to the social and geographical mass movements of the mid- and late-twentieth century. Often, this is a book of displacement and connection. Most of the singers profiled came to stardom in music when they brought their music to honky tonks, theaters, and recording studios far removed from the southern poverty so many of them were born into during the depression. Even performers, like Rose Maddox and Buck Owens, who were from California, are the of product of southern migrations to places where they or their parents could find more lucrative employment or escape the rigors of depression era farming conditions. His insights punctuate and extend the insight that today's country musicians don't share that experience, leading their music to go into other directions, because it has often come from less challenging circumstances. EmmyLou Harris represents a changing voice and sensibility in country music. Discussing her view of country's past and future, she says, “We're bringing a different experience to it, and that's right. Mimicking the past because the past is a safe bet is the worst thing to do.”

Nicholas Dawidoff is the author of six books. One of them, The Fly Swatter, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and another, In the Country of Country, was named one of the greatest all-time works of travel literature by Conde Nast Traveller. His first book, The Catcher Was A Spy: The Mysterious Life Of Moe Berg was a national bestseller and appeared on many 1994 best book lists. His latest book, Collision Low Crossers: Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football was published in 2014. A graduate of Harvard University, he has been a Guggenheim, Civitella Ranieri and Berlin Prize Fellow, and is a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and the American Scholar. The fact that he chooses a wide range of topics, including sports, family history, and country music suggests that Dawidoff brings broad experience to his writing, allowing unusual, piercing insights to emerge.

In the Country of Country by Nicholas Dawidoff (Random House, 1997, 365 pp., $18.95/14.99) was written after all the people he interviewed were well past their prime. Fortunately, he was able to interview them in their own contemporary setting before they left us. He portrays a time when what so many people today call “real” country was still a close memory, even while it had been replaced in popular music by rock and roll, contemporary pop, and hip hop. His vivid profiles, along with my listening contemporaneously to the performers themselves, helped clarify their place in music history for me and to realize why the music so many people seem to yearn for lies in our past rather than our present. I consider this book to be essential reading for anyone interested in the growth and development of country music. I read In the Country of Country in a used trade paperback version I bought through Thriftbooks.

Note: All books mentioned in my reviews are linked to the book through my Amazon.com account. If you wish to purchase the title in any format, you can do so thorough my link. This will result in a small commission to me with no increase in the price for you. It helps maintain our travels, writing, and photography while assuring your complete privacy
Profile Image for Tim Basuino.
211 reviews
September 30, 2020
I've been studying a lot about Americana, so when I found this book used, it was an easy decision to purchase.

And what a worthy purchase it was. Obviously, Ken Burns' "Country Music" was heavily influenced by this effort - in fact, given that that series essentially concludes around 1996, about the time this was published, you could consider this a substitute (or is "Country Music" the substitute... I'll let the reader decide).

As for this.... Dawidoff focuses on a lot of the old time country superstars, such as George Jones and Johnny Cash, and finishes with a couple who don't quite fit the "Hot Country" format such as Iris DeMint (trivia: The Goo Goo Dolls' 1998 smash "Iris" was in fact named for DeMint). A lot of effort is expended in analyzing how such performers came to be, and the point that Hot Country quite sucks is brought up quite a bit. So there's a little bit of "back in my day" that detracts from the score, but all in all this was more than worth it.
Profile Image for RetroHound.
59 reviews
February 25, 2022
It was pretty good except he seems to have something against Johnny Cash. It sort came unexpected after how he treated the others. Dawidoff covers country and bluegrass and the places the music comes from; hills of the US southeast, the plains of Texas, the oil and cotton fields of California. The people covered include Harlan Howard, Chet Atkins, The Carter Family, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, The Louvin Brothers, Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Rose Maddox, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Iris DeMent, Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders, along with others mentioned throughout the text. He spent time interviewing each of the subjects, except the ones who were already passed by the time he wrote the book in the 1990s. Overall a pretty good, if opinionated, read. One thing is he keeps trashing 1990s country music, but lots of people had the same opinion of Chet Atkins in his day.
Profile Image for Ian Hamilton.
456 reviews7 followers
April 30, 2018
Dawidoff's portraits dig deep into the souls of many of country music's greats. One theme that transcends most of the artist profiles is this notion of how geography indelibly shaped their music, whether it was Appalachia, the Arkansas delta, or the desert climate of Bakersfield. Finely layered and a dense 300-page read.
155 reviews
December 12, 2019
If you enjoyed Ken Burns' PBS documentary on Country Music, this book is a good follow-up. The book was published in 1997, so 15 of the 18 musicians Mr. Dawidoff features were still alive and available for interviews. Burns, by contrast, had to address his subjects in the past tense. This book is as much about the people, their backgrounds and the places they lived as it is about their music.
Profile Image for Ralphz.
172 reviews2 followers
February 17, 2022
"In The Country of Country" surprised the heck out of me. It's a wonderful look at some of the key figures of Country music, and their stories.

When I decided to read about music genres, I thought it would be nice to read something about Country, and I found this one at Thrift. Books. I was hoping for a history of the music, but fortunately I ended up with this look at some of the top artists.

The author travels around the nation to talk to some of the artists (and those who knew them). Along the way, we get stories about Chet Atkins, Kitty Wells, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris and more. That the book came out in 1997 doesn't really hinder it at all. The stories are compelling and worth knowing.

If you're a fan of Garth Brooks and his ilk, don't bother. This is true Country.
Profile Image for Richard Schaefer.
167 reviews6 followers
June 29, 2022
This book is based on the author’s first hand interviews with either the people he’s profiling or those who knew them, as well as his travels to the places they hail from. Many of the chapters are interesting, if not exactly covering new ground (the Johnny Cash profile, for example, is very well written but pretty similar to other profiles written about Cash in the 90s). Dawidoff is at his best when he engages more critically with his subjects, as opposed to just reporting their stories. There’s some mercurial distinction between a music writer and a person writing about music, and while Dawidoff clearly loves the music he writes about, he falls into the latter category. He doesn’t dig into his subjects quite as deeply as more seasoned music writers might, though the book is overall a pleasant read. My favorite chapters covered Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
207 reviews
August 30, 2022
This is not a comprehensive book on the history of country music. Rather it features various performers and their contexts. Very informative and a good read.
914 reviews5 followers
May 5, 2020
A late-90s examination of country music's rise from the Carter Family to Garth Brooks. Excellent on the importance of Nashville.
Profile Image for Dusty.
753 reviews178 followers
December 5, 2013
I have to admire Nicholas Dawidoff, the Ivy League Yankee who liked country music and decided to interview his favorite artists for a book. As another reviewer points out, it's a kind of incongruous read, with Dawidoff reflecting on poverty and southern values he knows only through music. But still, I think it's an effective although eccentric introduction to the development of country music between Jimmie Rodgers and Emmylou Harris. It has certainly kept me busy downloading songs from iTunes.

Of course, the author is unable to cover everybody important. Great older performers like Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and Charley Pride are sidelined, presumably because Dawidoff just doesn't find them terribly interesting. Similarly, money-raking newer performers like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Shania Twain (the book's from the 90s) are summoned only as examples of the foul state of current country music. If you're a Brooks fan, you had better brace yourself for some harsh, and not terribly well-informed, criticism.

Ultimately, the book's greatest contribution is its interviews. Though it was published only fifteen years ago, it already reads a bit like a time capsule. Two of its main subjects, Bill Monroe and Rose Maddox, died before the book hit shelves, and in the years since then almost all of the other musicians interviewed -- Buck Owens, Chet Atkins, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Harlan Howard, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, and, most recently, George Jones -- have also died. Hopefully, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris will be with us for a good while longer, but they too are not as young as they used to be. Sure, the book has its limitations, but I think for a lot of these artists, Dawidoff provided one last, great chance to explain what was so country about their country. This is an easy book to recommend.
Profile Image for Mark.
42 reviews17 followers
February 5, 2013
It's all too easy, when thinking of country, to think of singers and bands that are called country because marketing needed a label to fix on them. Living in the town where Garth Brooks went to college does not help that impression. This book is on the other side of country, that which falls into what Emmylou Harris calls 'roots music.' It's the music of the people, their sorrows, their joys, their lives, and at its best, it's powerful in the same way as the best of the blues. Visceral, it's like a punch in the stomach, and reminds you that though the specifics of experience differ from person to person, there are still emotions that are universal enough that we can all hear them in a refrain, a fragment of lyric. This book covers some of the historical country musicians who might have captured some of this feeling at some point in their careers. Short biographical sketches of such luminaries as Kitty Wells, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Patsy Cline and Earl Scruggs, among many others. I'm not a country fan, per se, but I am always likely to fall into music that captures some part of what America is, what it can be and what it was. A pretty readable book. Recommended for those who are interested in music in general.
Profile Image for Denise Ballentine.
496 reviews8 followers
April 29, 2011
Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this book, which consists of essays about several different country artists. The author's insights proved interesting and I learned a lot I didn't know about the "old-timey" music. Dawidoff has a real disdain for the "hat acts" of new country, and the newer pop sounding music. Because the book was published in the late 90's some of his references are a bit dated. Many of the sketches of the people he wrote about really struck me. Many struggled through really difficult times, and hard a hard life. I found the chapter on Doc Watson fascinating. Although blind, he amazingly functioned better than many sighted people, able to repair broken things, fix automobiles, and build stuff, as well as play a mean guitar. I thought one of the saddest chapters in the book was the one about Johnny Cash, who despite his success and his faith, was never really able to conquer his personal demons and live a contented and happy life. Good read!
Profile Image for Morris.
14 reviews1 follower
November 3, 2012
An excellent book on Country Music. It highlights the movers and shakers of Country Music and separates the wheat from the chaff... Garth Brooks, bad country... Buck Owens, good country... the author interviews many personalities from the world of country, songwriters, and musicians... great stories and good up close looks at some of country's brightest stars and innovators... I discovered, Iris Dement and picked up a Kitty Wells cd, she was great... Country Music, the old stuff, not the slick, big hat crap of today, was just good music without studio tricks, honest players, singing and pickin'...
Profile Image for Anthony Gerace.
120 reviews1 follower
September 28, 2020
Huge, huge yeesh energy. Another misfire from Faber Social. I feel like this book ought to be confined to history’s dustbin as it completely misses everything happening right under its nose. Even though it’s written in 1997 there are only passing utterances to No Depression and everything happening in Chicago, Johnny Cash is spoken about as essentially an also ran (“...but I hear he’s teamed up with Rick Ruben, we’ll see how *that* goes”), and Merle Haggard is venerated as “true” country. Politics is left at the door, Townes Van Zandt is barely mentioned, and it’s just... perplexingly bad?
Profile Image for Catherine.
8 reviews1 follower
July 30, 2008
Excellent book! Takes you to the roots of country music and how it originated as a regional sound, from bluegrass to Texas swing to the Nashville sound, and the influence of the particular cultures in each area (a big one being the African-American community that is often overlooked as a huge influence). Also, discusses all of the greats from The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Jones, Cash, Loretta, Rose Maddox, etc. Historical and entertaining!
Profile Image for Fraser.
324 reviews10 followers
April 12, 2013
This book was a revelation to me as I clearly knew so very little about the formation and artists of country music. Certainly names were often familiar but this book gave me a much greater understanding not only of them but the music.

An enjoyable read which has led me to explore so much further.
Profile Image for Nick.
678 reviews29 followers
June 30, 2008
Great set of essays about country music and the people who make it. Kind of quirky, in that some people, like Steve Earle, are mentioned but not profiled. But an excellent tour of past and present giants in the genre.
Profile Image for Eyani.
108 reviews
October 5, 2016
Totally engrossing personal account of the lives of some of the most famous and not so so famous people invovled in country music. Dawidoff uses Garth Brooks as the cut off line for what true country is, and is not. as such it may not be agreeable to some modern country listeners.
Profile Image for Erin.
Author 6 books42 followers
April 9, 2007
Fantastic collection of essays on the giants of country music that really gets to the heart of what makes good country music great - think sorrow, regret and everything we've ever lost and will.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
Author 1 book97 followers
April 3, 2009
A series of essaies about country music and the people who make it. Organized by geography. A great read.
Profile Image for Cindy Regan.
69 reviews2 followers
January 10, 2017
Revisited this excellent survey of the state of country music ca. mid-1990s.
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