IN THE COUNTRY OF COUNTRY by Nicholas Dawidoff


People and Places in American Music
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 This pleasing collection of short, intimate biographies of performers conveys the essence of the traditional country genre by focusing on icons such as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Buck Owens, Chet Atkins, George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Cline. Dawidoff (The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, 1994) explores the masters of old-time country music (contemporary country stars such as Garth Brooks are dismissed as ``hat acts'') from the ``Father of Bluegrass Music,'' Bill Monroe, and his banjo player Earl Scruggs, both of whom cranked up country to breakneck speed, to country contemporaries in the old tradition, such as Emmylou Harris. Though chapters focus on one performer or act, Dawidoff frequently stresses the way in which friendships and collaborations keep country music vital. Many of his subjects provide rich, elucidating vignettes: Cash recalls the time he hit his pet ostrich with a plank and the bird retaliated by breaking three of the singer's ribs; Charlie Louvin, of the famous Louvin Brothers duet, notes that he still habitually moves off to one side of the microphone when he reaches the harmony part, making room for his long-dead brother; and George Jones, once a drinking terror, insists that he now enjoys nothing more than staying home and mowing his lawn. The author's reverence for his subjects is tempered with an astute assessment of their strengths and weaknesses: Johnny Cash, Dawidoff suggests, is a driven performer and self-mythologizer who has sustained a lengthy career by repeatedly repackaging the work produced during an early burst of creativity. Women country stars are well represented here, including Sister Rose Maddox and Sara Carter, among others. Dawidoff's fine book puts country music in its place: an American phenomenon with deep, heartfelt roots. The collection's thoughtfully notated discography will undoubtedly be used to feed the reader's new or rekindled interest in country music. (40 b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: March 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-41567-X
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997


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