50 Years down a Country Road

50 Years down a Country Road

by Ralph Emery, Patsi Bale Cox

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For the past half century, Ralph Emery's incredibly popular radio and television programs have allowed millions to tune into the newest hits and savor their old favorites. Now Ralph combines his unique perspective with an encyclopedic wealth of country lore as he examines the changing face of the music he loves. From Hank Williams, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and

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For the past half century, Ralph Emery's incredibly popular radio and television programs have allowed millions to tune into the newest hits and savor their old favorites. Now Ralph combines his unique perspective with an encyclopedic wealth of country lore as he examines the changing face of the music he loves. From Hank Williams, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash to Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks, he chronicles the lives and careers of the stars, many of them his close friends. He shows how country music has changed over the years, but also reveals how its eternal themes and timeless melodies have kept this quintessentially American genre alive and well for fans of all ages.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Making it clear early on that this is not a definitive history of country music, Emery, Nashville's premiere disc jockey and television personality, contemplates country music's lasting appeal and speculates on how events outside of his city affected the industry. Beginning with the late 1940s, when the teenage Emery was a fan of boogie woogie, not the Opry, he covers each decade up to the present. Old-timers like Lazy Jim Day and disc jockey Gene Nobles--known for pouring beer into his microphone--make appearances. Because he knows so many stars, there is little overlap with his previous work, The View from Nashville (LJ 10/1/98), also co-written with Cox. As can be expected, his take on country music is entertaining, laid-back, and, at times, affectionately amusing. Emery's autobiography, Memories (1991), was a New York Times best seller, so interest in this conversational trip down memory lane may be high.--Kathleen Sparkman, Baylor Univ., Waco, TX Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Ray Waddell
Emery has an acute awareness of the business machinations that not only helped "hillbilly music" gain credibility and more widespread popularity but also led to Nashville becoming Music City.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.97(d)

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Setting the Stage

I've always wondered if maybe I passed Hank Williams on the street without knowing it. I worked down at Loews Theatre at the intersection of Church Street and Capitol Boulevard when Hank was at the Opry and when Hank and Audrey had a clothing store downtown. During the three years I worked there, I met hundreds of people, thousands of people. I rode the bus back then since I didn't have a car. If you came downtown, you'd probably cross that intersection of Church and Capitol Boulevard, and there in the heart of the city, not far from the Ryman Auditorium, you might pass anyone. Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley—and, just maybe, Hank Williams. I did recognize Bashful Brother Oswald downtown one day down around Fifth and Church.

I might not have known who Hank was because I wasn't a big Opry follower in the late 1940s. I wasn't really a fan of anything except boogie-woogie. My grandparents loved the Opry, so I was grounded in it, but I thought there was a sameness to it. You tuned in and heard the same people singing the same songs. It took me a while to really start to love it. But I did.

I started listening to country music and the Grand Ole Opry because of my friend Jim Ralston, who was a big fan of Lazy Jim Day song went: "Drinkin' beer in a cabaret." The song publishers took Hit Parade to court, and they finally resolved the issue by changing the line to "Singing songs in a cabaret." Of course, millions of copies of the original were already circulating, but at least the song could claim its rightful place as Hit Parade's top tune. And when anyone questioned country music's ability to sell in large numbers, Uncle Artneed only utter three words: "Pistol Packin' Mama.'"

When I went into radio work here in Nashville, we didn't play country music. We played gospel and pop. Many people in Nashville hated country music. Nashville liked to be thought of as the Athens of the South, not the home of what most still called hillbilly music. Back in 1962, when I was announcing at the Grand Ole Opry, my wife at the time, Skeeter Davis, and I built a house in Brentwood; I got to know the contractor well. I didn't think he was a country music fan so I was surprised to see him at the Opry one Saturday night.

"John! What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Oh, we've got out-of-town guests who insisted on coming," he answered.

That's how it was. Many Nashvillians would never have come at all except to accommodate out-of-town visitors.

I remember Minnie Pearl talking about how Nashville's "bluebloods" viewed country music. And of course she was around them a lot, since her husband, Henry Cannon, was a member of the city's elite. "They make fun of people who paint their names on the sides of their cars," she said slyly. Of course, she was talking about the days when entertainers had touring cars instead of buses and put their show names on the sides to advertise the fact that they were in town for a show. Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe—all the entertainers painted their names on the cars.

The King of Country Music was a title bestowed on Roy Acuff by the great Dizzy Dean. Acuff liked that title, even though he liked to tell people that there really wasn't any royalty in country music, just in beehives. Of course I never heard of any king bees in a beehive, and the King of Country Music wasn't even the original term Dizzy coined. It started when Roy played a show with Gene Autry and Dizzy Dean in Dallas. The audience rushed the doors trying to get in, and Roy tried unsuccessfully to calm the excited crowd. "You know how Texans are," Roy later joked. "They'll stampede just like a herd of cattle!" Finally Dizzy Dean came out and refer-red to Roy as the King of the Hillbillies.

There's a fascinating story about Acuff and Tennessee governor Prentice Cooper that is a perfect example of how some felt about country music in the mid-1940s. It was in October 1943, and Roy Acuff had just gone on the air with a coast-to-coast hookup of 129 stations. To celebrate the momentous event, Acuff planned a party to be held at the Ryman Auditorium, where around 3,500 people paid 75 cents every Saturday night to attend the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff thought it would be a fine idea to invite Governor Cooper to be a part of it all. The governor declined and behind Acuff's back criticized the event mightily. "I'll be part of no such circus," he reportedly said. "Acuff is a disgrace to the great state of Tennessee for trying to make Nashville the hillbilly capital of the United States."

The incident might have gone unnoticed, but it happened on a slow news day and a Tennessee reporter named Beazley Thompson decided to stir things up. He told Acuff what Cooper had said and suggested that Acuff run for governor. Acuff supposedly only nodded absently in response, but that was all it took for Beazley to jump in with both feet. He got up a petition and Acuff found himself as a candidate in the 1944 gubernatorial race. Acuff was a Republican, which made the chances of his being elected slim in the first place. Tennessee was a Democratic stronghold. The Tennessean was the pro-Democrat paper and the Banner supported Republicans. In fact they used to say that a possum could run against a Democrat in Tennessee and the Banner would support the possum.

Acuff eventually dropped out of the '44 race and ran again in 1948, but it was the 1944 run that caused the initial political furor. At issue was the fact that a "hillbilly" might govern Tennessee, and people still remembered how W. Lee O'Daniel campaigned for governor of Texas playing country music...

Meet the Author

Ralph Emery began interviewing country music stars at Nashville's powerhouse radio station WSM, winning Country Disc Jockey of the Year six times. He was the host and producer of The Ralph Emery Show and hosted Nashville Now for ten years. He is the author of the number one New York Times bestseller Memories, as well as More Memories and The View from Nashville. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

A former magazine editor, Patsi Bale Cox collaborated on Nickel Dreams, the autobiography of Tanya Tucker, and The View from Nashvilled with Ralph Emery, among other publications. She serves on the Grammy nominating committee in the liner note category. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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