Charles Hughes is an astute observer of race and music who has been writing about the two for a number of years on his now defunct blog Shot of Rhythm and more recently at He is currently assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University.hughes_charles

Writers mentioned in this episode:
Craig Werner

Books mentioned in this episode:
Merle Haggard: The Running Kind (American Music (University of Texas)) by David Cantwell

Music heard in this episode:
Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham – “I’m Your Puppet”
Latimore – “There’s a Red Neck In The Soul Band”
Bill Anderson – “I Can’t Wait Any Longer”
Johnny Cash – “Look At Them Beans”
Sten Stevens – “Grizzard”
Theme song by

Books by Charles Hughes:
Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South

This Week’s Releases (5/17-23)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

The Great British Recording Studios, Howard Massey, Hal Leonard, May 19, 2015

Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), Jon Fine, Viking, May 19, 2015

After the Dance: My Life with Marvin Gaye, Jan Gaye and David Ritz, Armistad, May 19, 2015

It’s a Long Story: My Life, Willie Nelson, Sphere, May 21, 2015

Devo’s Freedom of Choice (33 1/3), Evie Nagy, Bloomsbury, May 21, 2015

Dead Kennedys’ Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (33 1/3), Michael Stewart Foley, Bloomsbury, May 21, 2015

The Pop Festival: History, Music, Media, Culture, George McKay, Bloomsbury Academic, May 21, 2015

Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe, Banning Eyre, Duke University Press, May 22, 2015

Highway 61’s place in music history has become almost mythical. In his newest book, On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom, author Dennis McNally takes a trip down the highway making stops along the way to meet the likes of Mark Twain, Muddy Waters, and Bob Dylan.on-highway-61

McNally has written about Jack Kerouac, and penned what is considered the definitive biography of the Grateful Dead, A Long Strange Trip. Today he takes a few minutes to talk about On Highway 61.

Music Tomes: How did you strike on the idea to explore the themes of race and cultural freedom by traveling up Highway 61 and meeting the characters along the way and connecting them?

Dennis McNally: I started research by asking the question, “What created the sixties?” I’d worked on the ‘50s with Kerouac and then the ‘60s with the Dead, and I wanted to go to the deepest roots of all that. There are some obvious things – the war, the civil rights movement, rock and roll, LSD, the birth control pill – but I wanted to see what came before all that.
I decided that America – the country we know – had begun with the economic boom of the early 19th century, with the emergence of the U.S. as an economic superpower. And that established the mainstream that values people’s lives by their economic success – which still seems to be the main goal – “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
And what I looked for was who didn’t fit that paradigm. And the first great voice of the resistance was Thoreau. And after a very long time, I realized that the things we mainly think of with Thoreau (the relationship with nature and the resistance to consumerism) were so outside the mainstream that nobody paid any attention to them until the 1960s. But where he connected to his contemporary society was in learning from the bottom of the social pyramid, from the slaves. And it was his profound resistance to slavery, his abolitionism, that began this long linkage of American rebels learning from the black experience.

When I connected that with Twain, who went from being a pro-slavery Missourian to writing an subversive antislavery masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn, I thought I had the pattern. And from them to the present, you find white people studying black people – mostly through music, and becoming more civilized.

MT: What was the research like for the book? What did you find that surprised you?

DM: Most of my research was in the library and listening to music at home. I spoke with a number of authorities — Stephen LaVere on Robert Johnson, Ben Sandmel on New Orleans culture, Don Marquis on Buddy Bolden – but I also traveled the length of the river twice.

My biggest surprise came when I read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles and discovered that I had correctly intuited a great deal. Perhaps surprise isn’t the right word. Somebody else called it an “Ah-hah” moment. I’d anticipated a great deal, and his book just confirmed it all. I’d contemplated trying to get an interview before that, but it seemed unnecessary after I read the book.

MT: I understand you had to make some hard editing choices. How did you decide what to take out or to pare down?

DM: I jokingly said many times that the research for this book was an excuse to go back to graduate school, but this time I was running the program. I’d wanted to go much more deeply into Thoreau, for instance, and did – to the point of writing 150 pages on him in the first draft. My agent and editor pointed out that it was overkill, and distracting from the main trajectory of the story. It was actually easy to cut that to 5 pages – it was just a matter of focus.

I also had wanted to talk about place, about the River as a place (one place, the whole length of the river – not an obvious thought to most people), and included a lot of description of my trips on the river. No room for that, so it left.

MT: What are you currently working on?
DM: A cultural history of San Francisco, tentatively entitled City of Weird.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?
DM: Don Marquis, In Search of Buddy Bolden, Count Basie, Good Morning Blues, Louis Armstrong In His Own Words, Howard Reich and William Gaines, Jelly’s Blues, Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe, Miles, Douglas Henry Daniels, Lester Leaps In, Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of Bebop

Keep up with Dennis McNally at his website.

This Week’s Releases (5/10-16)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

That’s Entertainment: My Life in the Jam, Rick Buckler and Ian Snowball, Omnibus Press, May 11, 2015

Psychedelic Bubble Gum: Boyce & Hart, The Monkees, and Turning Mayhem into Miracles, Bobby Hart, SelectBooks, May 12, 2015

How to Be a Man: (and other illusions), Duff McKagan and Chris Kornelis, Da Capo Press, May 12, 2015

The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Jessica Hopper, Featherproof Books, May 12, 2015

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman, Grand Central Publishing, May 12, 2015, Paperback Edition

MTpodcastPreston Lauterbach released his first book, The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ’n’ Roll, in 2011 and it went on to be named book of the year by the Wall Street Journal and NPR. His newest book is Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis.

Places in this episode:
Oxford Conference for the Book

Writers mentioned in this episode:
Peter Guralnick

Books mentioned in this episode:
Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

Music heard in this episode:
WC Handy – “Mr. Crump Blues”
WC Handy – “Memphis Blues”
Louis Armstrong and the All Stars – “Beale Street Blues”
Tom T. Hall – “That’s How I Got To Memphis”preston
Sten Stevens – “Grizzard”
Sten Stevens – “Hitman Heartbreak”
Theme song by

Books by Preston Lauterbach:

Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis

The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Keep up with Preston Lauterbach:
Twitter: @PresLauterbach

This Week’s Releases (5/3-9)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann and Benjy Eisen, St. Martin’s Press, May 5, 2015

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, Brett Morgen and Richard Bienstock, Insight Editions, May 5, 2015

Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals, Edith Bowman, BLINK, May 7, 2015

The new Music Tomes Podcast is coming next Wednesday, May 6! The debut episode will featuring a conversation with Preston Lauterbach, author of Beale Street Dynasty: Sex, Song, and the Struggle for the Soul of Memphis.

Subscription information will be posted with the first episode and I hope you’ll tune in!

MT podcast

This Week’s Releases (4/26-5/2)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music: Sixth Edition, Greil Marcus, Plume, Apr 28, 2015, Revised Sixth Edition

So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead, David Browne, Da Capo Press, Apr 28, 2015

Punk Rock Warlord: The Life and Work of Joe Strummer (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series), Barry J. Faulk and Brady Harrison, Ashgate Publishing Company, Apr 28, 2015

The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes (Popular Music History), Simon Spillett, Equinox Publishing, Apr 30, 2015

Brook Benton: There Goes That Song Again, Herwig Gradischnig and Hans Maitner, Music Mentor Books, Apr 30, 2015

One Chord Wonders: Power and Meaning in Punk Rock, Dave Laing, PM Press, May 1, 2015
Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion, Jason C. Bivins, Oxford University Press, May 1, 2015

On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys: Forty Years of Untold Stories and Adventures, Joseph S. Bonsall, Harvest House Publishers, May 1, 2015

Blood, Sweat, and My Rock ‘n’ Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star?, Steve Katz, lyons Press, May 1, 2015

Public Enemy: Inside the Terrordome, Tim Grierson, Omnibus Press, May 1, 2015

This Week’s Releases (4/19-25)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Diary of a Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rap, Brad “Scarface” Jordan and Benjamin Meadows Ingram, Dey Street Books, Apr 21, 2015

Christian Metal: History, Ideology, Scene (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), Marcus Moberg, Bloomsbury, Apr 23, 2015

Religion in Hip Hop: Mapping the New Terrain in the US (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), Monica R. Miller and Anthony B. Pinn, Bloomsbury, Apr 23, 2015

This Week’s Releases (4/12-18)newreleases

[Note: These are affiliate links, but if you are going to buy it anyway, why not help out the site at the same time?]

Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock, Bob Kealing, University Press of Florida, Apr 15, 2015

Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues, Joel Selvin, Counterpoint, Apr 15, 2014 Paperback Edition

The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music, Paul Hemphill, University of Georgia Press, Apr 15, 2015, New Edition

Funk & Soul Covers, Joaquim Paulo and Julius Wiedemann, Taschen, Apr 15, 2015