Archives For Country Music

After a long history in television journalism, Jack Isenhour dove in to writing, publishing two books on well known sports figures (Bobby Knight in 2003 and co-writing the memoir of Dennis Rodman in 2005). In 2011 he published He Stopped Loving Her Today: George Jones, Billy Sherrill, and the Pretty-Much Totally True Story of the Making of the Greatest Country Record of All Time chronicling the life of the song that many call the greatest. On the occasion of the book’s paperback release, Jack took a few minutes to talk to us about it:isenhour

Music Tomes: How did you get interested in telling the stories behind this song?

Jack Isenhour: Waylon Jennings brought me to country in the mid-seventies and George Jones made me stay. I wanted to find out what pulled me in and the story behind the making of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, the best country recording ever, seemed like a good place to start.

MT: One of the themes that runs through the book is the question of authenticity. How do you see that playing out in today’s country music world?

JI: An authentic musician is one that feels genuine emotion when performing and arouses that same emotion in the audience. Add a twang and you’ve got country music. Of course the trick is defining “twang.” I know it when I hear it. Meanwhile, until someone comes up with a better definition, I’ll rely on former Country Music Foundation head Bill Ivey’s decades old “industry definition” of country music as “records that country radio will play and that country fans will buy.”

MT: What part do you believe nostalgia plays into the authenticity question? For example, songs, like “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” were considered too pop sounding when they were released, but are consider examples of “classic country” now.

JI: I think country fans have much more of a sense of history than other fans. In country music, “He’s not country!” is about the worst thing you can say about a singer. I never hear anybody wail, “He’s not pop!” Time is the ultimate decider of what’s country and what’s not. Does anybody still believe that Red Foley was really country?

MT: How do you think Billy Sherrill and his productions will be remembered in the future?

JI: I think Billy Sherrill is a genius and this man who named Tammy Wynette, co-wrote “Stand By Your Man,” produced “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and made Charlie Rich a star, should rank right up there with historic figures in country music like George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Owen Bradley.

MT: What are you currently working on?

JI: I’m writing a television documentary on the history of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. My background is in long-form television news: series and documentaries.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

JI: Although it’s scholarly and a bit hard to read, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity by Richard A. Peterson is the most mind–boggling book I’ve read about country music. It will change how you think about the subject.

Legends are more often than not made rather than born. Take Hank Williams, a man gone from us over sixty years, and yet we still talk actively about his music and his life. The Hank Williams Reader takes a historians look at the man through the eyes of writers throughout Hank’s life, and the many years after, to bring out a picture of the legend. The book is edited by Patrick Huber, David Anderson, and Steve Goodson and Mr. Goodson was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:

Music Tomes: How did the idea for the Reader come about?hank

Steve Goodson: Patrick Huber and David Anderson, my two co-editors, came up with the idea before I came on board. A number of readers were being published about important American musical artists, and they realized that Hank Williams would make an excellent reader topic because of his significance to the history of American popular music and because of the huge amount of writing that has been done about him.

MT: How did the research team come together?

SG: In 1993, I published a scholarly article on Hank Williams in a small academic journal. A few years later, Patrick and Dave published an article about Hank Williams’s father in another small academic journal. In their article, they extensively cited the article I had written. Someone told me about Patrick and Dave’s article. I found a copy, read it, and then e-mailed them at their university addresses to thank them for their use of my article. That initiated the relationship, and we then met face to face at the annual International Country Music Conference in Nashville, where they asked me if I’d be interested in joining them in writing a reader on Hank Williams. I was very interested, of course, and our book is the result.

MT: When looking for pieces to include, what criteria did you set?

SG: First, we wanted to include articles or excerpts from a wide variety of publications – biographies, memoirs by family and band members, newspapers, mass-circulation magazines, fan magazines, academic journals, etc. From these varied sources we tried to choose pieces that were significant in developing the various interpretations of Hank Williams that have evolved over the decades. We also looked for writing that was particularly eloquent and thoughtful. We couldn’t always meet all the criteria – some pieces we included, for example, are historically crucial but are not necessarily beautifully written, while we included other pieces that are gorgeously written but not necessarily crucial in shaping Hank’s image. Sadly, there were many, many outstanding pieces that we wanted to include but had to cut because of space limitations (the two articles I mentioned in answering the previous question ended up on the cutting-room floor, for instance, even though Patrick, Dave, and I had written them).

MT: What is something that surprised you in the research?

SG: I’m not sure that I was surprised by anything I learned about Hank Williams – I knew going in that he had been the subject of a lot of excellent writing by a broad array of people. I was more surprised by more mundane matters such as how much some publications wanted to charge for reprinting their material, and on the other hand how kind and generous some individuals were (like noted southern author Lee Smith) in allowing us to use their work free of charge. I guess I was also a little surprised by how much my co-editors and I disagreed about a few of the pieces we considered for the reader. One of us might have seen a particular writing as deserving to be in the reader while the other two failed to see its value. So a lot of negotiation went into deciding what would make the final cut.

MT: What are you currently working on?

SG: I am a professional historian, and I am working on one project that has nothing to do with music. It involves an attempted lynching that occurred in 1901 in the city in which my university is located. But I also have plans for a volume of essays about various aspects of Hank Williams’s life and work. I have been fascinated by him since I was a child – I grew up near Montgomery, Alabama, which he considered home – and I think I still have a lot I’d like to say about him.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

SG: One of my favorite nonfiction books about music is Jonathan Gould’s Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America. But my very favorite music tomes are probably novels such as The Commitments by Roddy Doyle and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. For me, novels can capture the elusive magical quality of music in a way that nonfiction books by their very nature often can’t.

In the new book Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens, Randy Poe helped Buck Owens posthumously tell his own story. With the intention of writing his own story on Owens, Poe met with the family and was instead asked to us tapes left behind at the death of Owens to assemble an autobiography. The result is a fantastic telling of the life of one of the biggest stars in country music, in his own words. Randy was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.buck em

Music Tomes: In the intro to the book you talk about meeting with Buck’s family about doing a biography and then being presented with the idea of turning it into an autobiography. First of all, what made you want to do a biography of Buck Owens?

Randy Poe: I wanted to do a book on Buck because I felt he was a phenomenal country artist who was incredibly under-rated, if not forgotten to a certain extent. It was much the same reason I wrote Skydog: The Duane Allman Story. Buck and Duane are both extremely important figures in American music, and up to this point very little has been written about either of them. In fact, Skydog was the first book ever written about Duane Allman, even though he’d passed away over thirty years before my book came out. So, I like to write about musicians who I feel deserve more attention than they’ve gotten, and to me, Buck Owens definitely qualifies as one of those.

MT: What kind of complications are there in creating the autobiography of someone who is no longer around to answer new questions or clarify anything?

RP: You bring up an excellent point. I can’t tell you the number of times I regretted not having the opportunity to ask Buck follow-up questions. On the tapes I was working with, he told so many great stories about his life. But, since he was just sitting alone talking into a cassette recorder, there was nobody there with him to get him back on track if he changed stories in mid-stream, or if he didn’t finish a sentence. Luckily, Buck’s office had kept literally thousands of newspaper and magazine articles that quoted Buck, so many times I was able to find him telling the same stories in greater detail than he’d told them on the tapes. Like I said at the beginning of the book, writing this thing was like trying to put together the most complicated jigsaw puzzle ever created.

MT: Owens worried that Hee Haw would damage his legacy, but, of course, the payday was too good to pass up and people told him he was wrong. Then when he died, that was the most common identifier used by the media. After he left Hee Haw” do you think he tried to rebuild his reputation as a performer?

RP: First of all, when I wrote Buck’s obituary for Sing Out! magazine, one of the things I said was that I hoped all of the other obits wouldn’t focus primarily on his Hee Haw years. To tell you the truth, when Buck ended his long run with that show, I don’t know if he was even giving much thought to his reputation. By then he was a businessman with so many other interests. I think he began to pay more attention to his legacy later in life. It was certainly on his mind by the time he started recording his life story in the mid-1990s. As you know, it wasn’t until his days on Hee Haw had been over for a few years that he got back into recording and performing, thanks primarily to the encouragement of Dwight Yoakam. For people listening to country radio in those years, “Streets of Bakersfield” was the last major recording of his that they heard. Those who wanted to see him live got to see him performing concerts from the late-1980s on through much of the rest of his life. And for those who first discovered Buck’s music via “Streets of Bakersfield,” a lot of them were probably too young to even know he was ever on Hee Haw.

MT: What are you currently working on?

RP: Right now the only thing I’m doing writing-wise is focusing on promoting Buck ’Em! I began this project five years ago, watched it fall apart (a story that’s way too long to tell here), wrote another book called Stalking the Red Headed Stranger while I waited for the Buck book to get back on track, and then went back to work on this one literally the day after I finished Stalking the Red Headed Stranger. As with most authors in the modern world, I have a day job. Mine is in the music industry, so it’s fun and challenging, but it means my writing hours are usually from midnight to 4:00 a.m. At this moment I have no idea what my next project will be. Over the years I’ve written a half-dozen books on that schedule. Who knows? Maybe my next project should be a book on how to be productive when you suffer from extreme insomnia.

MT: What are some of your favorite music tomes?

RP: As far as my favorite music tomes are concerned, I could go on forever. First of all, absolutely anything written by Peter Guralnick. He’s the music tome writer all the rest of us worship at the feet of. Also near the top of the list would be Nick Tosches’ Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams. Then there’s Life by Keith Richards, The Incompleat Folksinger by Pete Seeger, A Pirate Looks at Fifty by Jimmy Buffett, Straight Life by Art and Laurie Pepper, It Shined: The Saga of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils by Michael “Supe” Granda, and Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography. (Full disclosure: I’ve run Leiber & Stoller’s music publishing companies for the last 28 years, but it’s one of my favorites because the whole book is the two of them going back and forth telling the story of their songwriting years together, interrupting each others’ sentences exactly as they did in real life.) I’m also a huge fan of books about radio. Among my favorites are Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City by Craig Havighurst, Border Radio by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford, and Have Mercy! by Wolfman Jack.

If you’re a fan of Buck Owens and/or country music, you’ll want this book. Enjoy an excerpt and find out how you can win a copy of Buck ‘Em! The Autobiography of Buck Owens.

The following is an excerpt of Buck ‘Em: The Autobiography of Buck Owens by Buck Owens with Randy Poe, publishing be Backbeat Books, an imprint of Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group. Reprinted here with permission of the publisher.


The Buck Owens Sound

I got signed to Capitol Records in 1957. By that time, I’d been playing in bars and honky-tonks for over a decade. When I signed that contract with Capitol, I thought, “Man, this is it! After all these years workin’ my ass off in all those dark, smoky clubs and taverns, I’ve finally got it made.” Well, it didn’t take very long for me to find out just how wrong I was.

Things got off to a really bad start because my first few singles didn’t even hit the bottom of the charts. On those early records, the producer had insisted on including all these damn background vocals—lots of guys and gals singing “oohs” and “aahs” under my stone country vocals. It sounded ridiculous. As a matter of fact, those singles came out sounding a whole lot like the kind of stuff they were recording in Nashville back in those days—and the last thing I wanted was for my records to sound like those pop-country things they were doing down there.

The next time I went into the studio, the producer let me do things my own way, which turned out to be a pretty good idea since we ended up having a little success with a song I wrote called “Second Fiddle.” The record came and went pretty fast, but it made it to No. 24 on the charts—high enough for Capitol to want me to keep recording for ’em.

At the next session, I cut a song called “Under Your Spell Again.” We had a Top Five hit with that one, and all of a sudden things were starting to look pretty good for ol’ Buck.

When “Under Your Spell Again” hit the charts, I was living up around Tacoma, Washington. After those early singles had flopped, I’d left Bakersfield and gone up there to work at a radio station, and to play in a band with a fellow by the name of Dusty Rhodes. A few months after I moved to Washington, Dusty found the band a teenaged fiddle player named Donald Eugene Ulrich. Since nobody knew how to pronounce his last name right, I did him a favor and changed his name to Don Rich.

While “Under Your Spell Again” was still going strong, I got a call from Capitol to hurry up and come down and make another record. It was just before Christmas of 1959. I decided to take Don to the studio to play fiddle for me on the four songs I planned to cut.

Dusty Rhodes didn’t play on my records, but he’d co-written one of the songs I was going to be doing on the session, so he volunteered to drive me and Don to Los Angeles in his ’57 Cadillac.

It’s over a thousand miles from Tacoma to LA, so we were doing anything we could to keep from being bored out of our minds. At some point after we’d crossed into California, I started singing “Above and Beyond”—one of the songs we were going to record. As I was singing the song, Dusty said, “Hey, Don, why don’t you sing along with him?”

So there we were—riding along in this big ol’ Cadillac—with me in the front seat playing the guitar, Don sitting in the back seat, and Dusty driving. I started to sing the song again, and Don started singing right along with me. I couldn’t believe my ears. Our voices blended and matched perfectly. Somehow, he knew exactly the way I was going to sing every word. He came in at exactly the right times. If I slurred a word, he slurred the same word in harmony with me. He had the greatest ability to anticipate that I’d ever heard in my life. I swear to you, somehow he could tell—even that very first time we sang together— what I was going to sing and how I was going to sing it.

Now, a lot of folks talk about this thing called the Bakersfield Sound, and a lot of ’em seem to think they know exactly who and how and when it all started. The problem is, everybody’s got their own definition of what the Bakersfield Sound is. Your definition might be different from mine, so I’m not going to try to tell you when the Bakersfield Sound started—but I can tell you exactly where and when the Buck Owens Sound started. The Buck Owens Sound kicked in right before Christmas of 1959, in a 1957 Cadillac, on a long, lonely stretch of California highway. But I didn’t create it alone. Don Rich was as much a part of that sound as I was.

When me and Don finished singing “Above and Beyond,” I knew right then and there that I had found the sound I’d been searching for. I knew “Above and Beyond” was going to be a hit. I knew Don was going to be my musical partner for life. I knew that the two of us would be having hit records together for years to come. And believe me, we did. From 1960 to 1974, hardly a week went by that we weren’t on the charts. And during that time, twenty of those singles went all the way to number one.

Then—in the blink of an eye—it was all over.

The Buck Owens Sound ended just the way it began—on a long, lonely stretch of California highway.

buck emBackBeat Books has been gracious enough to give me one copy of the book to give away to one of you great readers. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment with your favorite Buck Owens song or memory. A winner will be randomly selected from those entries and announced on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Good luck!

Craig Maki and Keith Cady take a deep look at the country music history of a city not often associated with country in Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.The book tells in-depth and well-researched stories of musicians that got their start in Detroit, those that went on and those that stayed there to fan the flames of a burgeoning scene. Today the authors talked a bit about the book:

Music Tomes: What inspired you to write the history of a specific genre in a specific place?DCMcover

Craig Maki: In terms of culture, Detroit and its history has been our rock. As teen-agers, we both started collecting records. With guidance from other collectors, we discovered some great 1950s rockabilly and country on Detroit labels such as Fortune, and Happy Hearts. During the 1990s, we interviewed (independently) country musicians who were active in Detroit during the 1950s while producing our own broadcasts for radio. We shared stories, pictures, music, and our concepts of the Detroit C&W scene with friends, and they all concluded: The history of country music in Detroit needed to be told. Our scope focused on the 1930s through the 1960s, when migration of workers from the South and country music activity in Detroit reached their peaks.

MT: Detroit isn’t often associated with Country music. How did you first discover the amount of Country music Detroit had to offer?

CM: The moment I realized Detroit supported a decades-old country music scene was in 1995, on the night I first saw musician Eddie Jackson’s wall of vintage photos – five decades of images pinned up behind the bar in his basement. I was 24 years old, and understood only an inkling of what I would research during the next dozen years. Before then, I hadn’t associated the city with country music, except for its annual Downtown Hoedown festival.

Keith Cady: While learning how to play music in my teens, I pal’d around with several veteran musicians. Over time, I realized these men and women knew fascinating stories of an era when Detroit and its suburbs overflowed with country music. I met Craig because we shared similar interests, and we both hung out with retired musicians who had amazing stories and music careers that, in some cases, not even their families knew about. In 2000 we decided to collaborate in documenting stories of these pioneers that otherwise would have been lost to history.

MT: How can a scene thrive today, a time when regionalism is in danger of being erased, in some ways, due to the increased accessibility of music from around the world?

CM: The best way for a regional music scene to thrive is for the community to generate it and support it. Detroit’s factories attracted hundreds of thousands of people from the South during the 20th century. Country music thrived in its neighborhood bars, as well as in showcases such as weekend barn dances, TV, and radio. During the 1950s and 1960s, a stream of musicians coming and going between Detroit and Nashville kept things exciting. Despite the changes in Detroit since then, we believe there will always be a place for local music in any community, whether it’s made in churches, schools, nightclubs, or back porches.

MT: Share with us one of your favorite discoveries as you researched the project.

CM: Besides finding music I never heard before … The connections of Detroit entertainers to musicians and groups from all over the country brought exceptional vitality to Detroit’s country music scene. Finding these associations was a blast, because it made one realize how important Detroit was to the national scene. The biggest surprise for me was learning of Chief Redbird’s multi-faceted background and accomplishments, including working with the first cowboy band (true cowboys based in Oklahoma) that ever broadcast on radio.

KC: I was surprised by how connected Detroit musicians remained through the years. Many of them had bands and regular venues they played, but they also visited each other, not only to sit in and promote themselves, but to support and enjoy each others’ music. The caliber of musicianship rated extremely high, and you can trace the best pickers circulating in the most popular bands in Detroit. There was competition, but also friendships that lasted a lifetime.

MT: What are you currently working on?

CM: For the past year, we’ve posted updates at, where we’ve expanded the research presented in the book. (The book could have been twice as long as it is.) The website has also introduced us to people who were related to, or knew (sometimes still know) musicians within the scope of the project.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?

CM & KC: Nick Tosches: Where Dead Voices Gather, Country, Unsung Heroes Of Rock’n’Roll, Hellfire, Save The Last Dance For Satan. Cary Ginell: Milton Brown And The Founding Of Western Swing. Bill C. Malone: Singing Cowboys And Musical Mountaineers. Charles K. Wolfe: Kentucky Country. Nathan Gibson: The Starday Story. Martin Hawkins and Colin Escott: Good Rockin’ Tonight. Rich Kienzle: Southwest Shuffle. Susan Whitall: Fever – The Fast Life And Mysterious Death Of Little Willie John. Peter Guralnick: Last Train To Memphis. Linell Gentry: A History And Encyclopedia Of Country, Western, And Gospel Music. Lars Bjorn and Jim Gallert: Before Motown – A History Of Jazz In Detroit, 1920-1960. Martin Hawkins: A Shot In The Dark – Making Records In Nashville, 1945-1955. Barry R. Willis: America’s Music – Bluegrass.

While I’ll always enjoy reading about the history and exploits of name artists like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, or bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stone, and The Beatles, all of which receive at least a book a year, it seems, What I really enjoy reading about are the adventures of the musicians who work behind the big stars. In a lot of cases their stories flesh out the narratives of the big names, and can often offer some historic perspective on the music and the business. But let’s face it, the problem is these books don’t sell widely and the musicians don’t have the name recognition of a Cash or Dylan. Luckily, there are publishers that will release these books, like Schiffer Publishing has done with Don Davis’ Nashville Steeler: My Life in Country Music.

Nashville SteelerDon Davis is probably not a household name, unless you are an avid reader of liner notes. Davis was born in Alabama in 1928 and fell in love with music at a young age. Trading a bicycle, which was a hot commodity in war time, for a guitar he began to take lessons on how to play Hawaiian guitar, placing a piece of metal beneath the nut to raise the string off of the fretboard. From there he moved to a Sears electric steel guitar and by age thirteen he was playing around town in a variety of bands helping to support the family making $1.75 a night.

Listening to his heroes on the Grand Ole Opry on clear-channel WSM and over XERA border radio, he began to pick up more nuances in his playing and at the age of 16 got an audition with Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys. Leaving school, his home, and his family, Davis became a professional musician and began to tour with King, along with artists like Minnie Pearl and Cowboy Copas. He began to appear regularly with King on the Grand Ole Opry playing instrumental breaks as the show went into commercials and also gaining the opportunity to back other artists who didn’t have their band with them.

In 1947 King decided to get off of the road and settle in Louisville to work regionally. Davis took the opportunity to move to Memphis to work with Eddie Hill and the Louvin Brothers on a radio program on WMPS. Opportunity knocked again and Davis left Memphis for the West Coast to tour with another of his heroes, Tex Ritter. Aside from touring Davis was recording with Ritter and Gene Autry on a regular basis. He also began recording with nearly any artist who could get studio time because the American Federation of Musicians was going on strike on January 1, 1948 banning all recordings with instrumental accompaniment  This meant a bit of a mad-rush to record so that artists would have a stockpile of recordings available to release during the strike (the strike lasted until December 1948 and helped give birth to the 33 1/3 and the 45 record formats).

The following year Davis returned to Nashville to join the band of Ernest Tubb and began also recording at the Castle Recording Company, founded by moonlighting WSM engineers in 1946. Staying off the road for a bit he recorded with artists Little Jimmy Dickens, Hank Williams, Leon Payne, and others. Itching to get back on the road again he began to tour with George Morgan where he remained until Uncle Sam came calling in 1950. Just before that he became reacquainted with an old friend, Anita Carter. Soon after returning from the service he and Carter married. The country music business was changing and Davis and Carter moved to Alabama where Davis began a television show with a new band of musicians.

In the mid-1960s he returned to Nashville to be near his children after he and Anita had divorced. He began a career in song publishing with the great Harlan Howard, plugging songs and hanging out with writers Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, and Shel Silverstein. Following this he did some producing, including Johnny Cash’s last #1 solo hit, “One Piece At A Time.” In the 1980s he worked for Waylon Jennings and in the early 1990s retired in Alabama.

Nashville Steeler is filled with great stories about the people Davis played with, sharing road stories and history of both Nashville and Country Music. These are the stories of someone who lived the musicians life when travel was on two-lane roads in large sedans. When shows were in small venues and a career in country music was out of love of the music and performing. Davis and co-writer Ruth B. White have put together a great set of stories full of humor, insight, and history.


This review originally appeared on the earlier version of this site, but in an effort to bring the most pertinent info, I’m re-running it with a little expansion.

yoakamSince finding out about “Dwight Yoakam: A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” by Don McCleese I had been excited to dive in. Right off the bat I was pleased to find two things: 1) The book was less biography and more an exploration of Yoakams’ art and 2) that McLeese was a longtime fan of Yoakam.

These were two important things for me because I am less interested (and increasingly so as I grow older and more curmudgeonly) in the details of his time with, say, Sharon Stone, and more interested in the music and the process of how it came to be. Especially with an artist as distinct as Dwight Yoakam.

There is, of course, a bit of biography throughout, to set context or, occasionally, intent. The book features extensive interviews with Yoakam and with long-time guitarist/producer Pete Anderson. These are keys to the proverbial kingdom in this narrative as these are the two figures who loom most promiently in the story. Since their split, there hadn’t been much from either on the subject. Without one or the other, the tale could seem one-sided. But if you are looking for snark lobbed from one side to the other, you’ll not find it here. Both men offer their insights and are complimentary to each other while offering

I was familiar with McLeese from his days at the sadly defunct No Depression and have always enjoyed his writing, so I waded in with at least some idea of what to expect. Here he does a great job of balancing journalist/critic and fan allowing the participants such as Yoakam, Anderson, and others, to flesh out the bulk of the story while inserting interesting and important cultural mile markers with which to see how Yoakam fits into the Country music story.

If you are a fan of Yoakam, I can’t recommend this highly enough. And if it doesn’t make you dive headlong into Yoakam’s catalog, nothing will!

There is no other family in music steeped in as much mythos as the Williams family. Three generations of Hanks each with their own story tied together through the years. In Family Tradition: Three Generations of Hank Williams, available in paperback next week, Susan Masino traces the lives of all three Hanks and how each impacted the one following. Today she tells a little about the book and what is next for her.

Family TraditionMusic Tomes: Your first couple of books are centered squarely on rock groups such as AC/DC. What drew you to the Hank Williams story?

Susan Masino: I grew up listening to Hank Sr.’s music, and have always enjoyed country along with rock, classical and the blues. In my opinion, Hank Sr. was one of the original rock stars that even Elvis looked up to. As I point out in my book, I believe his version of “Move It On Over,” is the first rock and roll song ever recorded.

MT: There are several books on Hank Williams, but you set yours apart by deatiling the lives on three generations of Hank. How did you concieve the book?

SM: I have a friend who is a big Hank III fan, and he was the one who actually brought up the idea to write a book about him. When I looked into his life, it was obvious there was no other way to tell his story than to include the story of his grandfather, Hank Sr. and his father, Hank Jr. It is uncanny how much they all have in common.

MT: You feature lengthy interviews with Hank III in the book. Did you have any input from Hank, Jr.?

SM: I did spend two days with Hank III and we recorded almost 9 hours of conversation. Throughout the writing of my book, I contacted Hank Jr., his management and his record company more than once, and never received a response. If you read the book, it is pretty obvious that Hank III and Hank Jr. don’t have the best relationship, but I am confident that I was fair to Hank Jr. and covered all of his amazing accomplishments.

MT: What are you currently working on?

SM: Currently I am waiting on a new deal that would be another rock biography. While I am waiting, I am writing a book called The Secrets of the Universe-Universal Laws, Past Lives, Ghost Adventures and More. This book will cover more of my passions outside the music business, and will be self-published before the end of this year.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite music tomes?Susan Masino

SM: Personally I love biographies, and have probably read hundreds of them over the years. Some of my favorite music tomes would be Keith Richards’ Life, Steven Tyler’s Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? and David Lee Roth’s Crazy From The Heat.

On January 26, 2011 Charlie Louvin lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. The same sentiment echoed online and offline: ‘We’re losing the legends.” Fortunately for us, this legend took the time to get his story down for future generations. The result is Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers. Putting Louvin’s memories on paper was the task of author Benjamin Whitmer. Her, Whitmer gives us a bit of insight into working with Louvin and chronicling what became the last words of a Country legend.

Music Tomes: How did you get introduced to Charlie Louvin?

Benjamin Whitmer: I actually met Charlie through Neil Strauss. The whole project was Neil’s brainchild. He’d interviewed Charlie before and knew what a great story he had to tell. I was hired based on excerpts of my first novel which my agent sent him. Obviously, I was thrilled at the idea. The possibility of sitting around with somebody with Charlie Louvin’s history and getting to hear all those stories first hand, it was amazing.

We knew Charlie was sick, though we had no idea how sick, so we began work less than a week after Neil and I had our first phone call. Charlie and I began daily talks on the phone immediately, and I was on the plane down to Nashville within three weeks. It was a pretty crazy schedule, but Charlie was up for it and more. No matter how long we’d talk, or how exhausted you could tell he was, I’d have to all but force him to take a break. He had the kind of work ethic that most of us just aspire to.

MT: How much of the Louvin Brothers story were you familiar with when you started your interviews?

BW: Well, I was lucky enough to grow up with a mother who listened to a lot of traditional country, folk, and bluegrass, so I was steeped in that music from a very young age. And it’s something I’ve always gravitated back to no matter how far I strayed. As you know, it’s pretty hard to listen to much of that kind of music at all without running into Louvin Brothers songs, so I knew the basics. I mean, the story was legend. What I didn’t know was how much of it was true or false, and it turned out a lot of it that I thought I knew was complete junk. I’d always heard that Ira’d tried to strangle Elvis, for one thing, and that it’d turned into a full-on backstage brawl. That never happened, as I learned.

MT: I know there have been some people that were surprised, or even shocked, by some of the things in the book, such as some of the punishment administered to the boys by their father. I got the sense that Charlie took this in stride, that it was a “different time.” What was your reaction as you heard these stories for the first time?

BW: I was shocked by those stories, too. And, yeah, I think Charlie did take them in stride to some degree, but they also haunted him. You could tell that. Especially the way Ira took the brunt of it. That was something that he kept coming back to over and over as we talked. It was like he was circling it and trying to figure out if that was the reason that Ira had such a tough time, and if not that, then what?

Some folks have commented that they wish Charlie and I had been better able to pin Ira’s troubles on a specific source, but I don’t think that’s really possible. I mean, we spent hours and hours talking about why people get lost the way Ira did, and neither of us ever came up with anything like an answer. I’ve known people in my own life who went off track like that, and I’ve never been able to figure out why either. We tried to show some possible reasons, and one of those was the punishment he endured at the hands of his father, for sure, but neither of us were comfortable with giving a definitive answer.
MT: Having been fortunate enough to have interviewed Charlie myself, I know he was a great storyteller and wasn’t shy about laying the truth out there. When you were starting the book, what made you decide to keep the telling completely in his voice?

BW: It was just hearing him. Especially as he stopped telling the official story, if you know what I mean. Once he loosened up and really started working through his life, I knew that I wanted the book to contain as much of his voice, profanity and all, as I could fit in there. I mean, so many of these books, even by folks I love, read as if they’re remembered through a soft focus lens. Charlie didn’t remember things that way, he didn’t talk that way, and I didn’t have any interest in presenting things that way. It became real clear real early that the heart of the book had to be his great, irascible, timeless voice. I didn’t think anything else could’ve done him justice. I hope we came close, if nothing else.

MT: Are there any stories that didn’t make the book?

BW: Tons. I’d never done anything like this before, so I just interviewed and interviewed, trying to get as much as possible. Then, at one point, I was talking to another guy who’d done a couple of ‘em, and he said something about how you need to have 15 to 20 hours of good interview tape to write one. I just laughed, because I had something like 30 or 40.

Then there were the stories that he told me off the record. Now and then he’d say, “Hey Ben, does that thing have an off button?” and I’d turn off the recorder so he could give me one that wasn’t meant for public consumption. I’ll never tell those, of course.

MT: What are you working on now?

BW: Too much, as usual. My first novel, Pike, is kicking off in France with Editions Gallmeister next month, and I’m finishing up my next novel with Oliver Gallmeister for publication over there as well. I’ve also got another novel about three-quarters done, and am researching for a fourth.

MT: Can you share some of your favorite music tomes?

BW: They’re embarrassingly basic. I loved Johnny Cash’s autobiography, Cash, and Waylon’s, too. But, of course, I got the feeling they were both pretty hugely sugar-coated. And I always enjoy spending time with Willie, who doesn’t? And Roy Acuff’s was also pretty good.

I read all those when I was working with Charlie, though. And once I started talking to Charlie, the book no longer felt like a music tome, so I stopped. To me it felt more like a story about two brothers than a musical act. So I found myself no longer reading music books and gravitating towards other kinds.


Questions: What music legend would you most like to write a book?

Diane Diekman had published two brief memoirs when she decided to take on the biography of Country music great Faron Young. That book Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story, published by University of Illinois Press, chronicles Young’s life with great detail. Diekman then turned that attention to detail to another Country legend, Marty Robbins in Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins.

Today she talks a bit about those books and about interacting with readers.

Music Tomes: You’ve written books on two of country music’s greats. Why do you feel it is important for their stories to be told?Live Fast Love Hard

Diane Diekman: Faron Young and Marty Robbins are important figures in the history of music in this nation. They both have fans who still care about them and want to learn about their lives. I wrote the books because they deserve to be remembered, and I want their music to be played forever. It’s that good, and it’s timeless. In addition to documenting their lives, I was able to document the lives of traveling musicians and pay tribute to the many sidemen who worked with Faron and Marty. My circle of friends has increased by meeting many of these individuals and their family members.

MT: As you did your research for your latest book, did you come across anything that surprised you in Robbins life?

DD: I was surprised to learn that Marty was such a shy and insecure person. His friendliness and clowning around were the image he developed, and he kept his inner self at a distance. He always worried about security and having enough money. I think growing up with an abusive father and living on welfare scarred him permanently.

MT: On your Web site and your email newsletter, you provide a lot of additional stories and information. Does that come from surplus or continuing research?

DD: That information comes mainly from manuscript drafts and recorded interviews. All my drafts are still on my computer, as are several hundred transcribed interviews. I collect additional material as it turns up, but I don’t seek it.

robbinsMT: Do you feel that it is important for an author to establish a rapport like the one your e-mail list does with their audience?

DD: Oh, yes, both for doing research and for marketing the finished books. As a result of connections made through the newsletter, I’ve received photographs from Canada, audio tapes from England, and articles from France and Holland. I’ve mailed books to Canada and Australia. Some of my newsletter friends came to my book release events in Nashville. People occasionally ask me questions, and when I can’t provide answers, newsletter readers do.

MT: Can you recommend some of your favorite Music Tomes?

DD: Jan Howard tells an amazing story in her autobiography, Sunshine and Shadow. She wrote the book herself, unlike most celebrity stories.

Colin Escott did a great job of research and writing in Hank Williams: The Biography. I’m referring to the original 1994 edition, not the revised edition with errors added.

Loretta Lynn’s Still Woman Enough, with Patsi Bale Cox, felt like sitting next to Loretta at the kitchen table and listening to her talk.

Barbara Mandrell’s Get To the Heart: My Story, with George Vecsey, does a great job of helping us understand how an injured/ill person can make things tough for a loving caregiver. I used Barbara as an example when a friend once wondered why her husband was so mean to her after he got injured.

Pride, The Charley Pride Story, with Jim Henderson, is well done, and Charley educates readers on his manic-depressive personality and the importance of medication in regulating the condition.

Question: Who are your favorite Country Music Legends?