In this engrossing account, Richard Peterson traces the institutionalization of country music from the early days with Fiddlin' John Carson in Atlanta - which he shows could have become the center of country music production - using experiences from the lives and work of many of the genre's most influential performers, including the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Gene Autry, Bill Monroe, the Delmore Brothers, Roy Acuff, Patsy Montana, the Girls of the Golden West, Ernest Tubb, and of course Hank Williams. The story, set in the era of the Roaring 1920s, the Great Depression, World War II, and postwar prosperity, takes us from Atlanta and Bristol, Tennessee, through Charlotte, Chicago, Tulsa, and on to Hollywood, New York, and Nashville. Peterson captures the free-wheeling entrepreneurial spirit of the era, detailing the activities of the key promoters who sculpted the emerging country music - Polk Brockman, Ralph Peer, George Hay, J. L. Frank and Fred Rose. Along the way the influence of car-maker Henry Ford and politician Joseph R. McCarthy are also noted. Vintage photographs of this cast of characters complement the lively narrative. More than just a history of the genre, Creating Country Music is the first exploration of authenticity in popular culture. After discussing the meaning of the term, Peterson uses the ironic phrase "fabricating authenticity" to highlight the fact that, for fans, authenticity does not refer to some clear standard from the past, but is a reconstruction of selected elements from the past crafted to meet the needs of the present. With this conception in mind, Peterson concludes by showing the conditions necessary for the continuation of country music in the twenty-first century.
Peterson (sociology, Vanderbilt U.) traces the creation of the billion-dollar industry from its humble roots. He shows how the hillbilly music spurned by recording companies was appropriated by Henry Ford for ideological purposes in the 1920s; its rise to respectability in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Tulsa, and eventually even Nashville; the first generations of stars such as the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, and Gene Autry; and the origin of the dominant image of the he-man in the person of Hank Williams. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
In Creating Country Music, the sociologist Richard A. Peterson recounts the formative stages of commercial country music -- from Fiddlin' John Carson's pioneering recordings in Atlanta in 1923 to the posthumous mythologizing of Hank Williams after his death in 1953 -- as a series of transactions, marketing decisions, calculated changes of costume and instrumentation and repertoire in response to outside pressures. The book makes an indispensable adjunct to the Smith anthology (Anthology of American Folk Music), clarifying as it does how the records came to be made in the first place. -- Geoffrey O'Brien, The New York Review of Books
Though it tends to be a bit too pedantic and stilted, this ambitious study offers interesting insights into America's most popular musical form. Peterson (Sociology/Vanderbilt Univ.) coopts postmodernist vocabulary in his study of contemporary country music's "authenticity"—such authenticity is, he claims, a cultural and commercial fabrication based on the observation of previous generations of musicians and what individual performers perceive as longterm trends rather than fads. Most interesting is Peterson's separation of country music into "hard core" and "soft shell" subcategories. Hard-core performers play in a consistent style, write confessional lyrics, and generally live a life that parallels their music. On the other hand, soft-shell musicians, typified by the Grand Ole Opry's style, tended toward musicianship that transcended country, often performing ballads that had been made popular by songwriters and musicians in other formats. For Peterson, the hard-core strain—typified best by the legendary Hank Williams, whose death in 1953 marks the end of the 30-year period that Peterson examines—is perhaps the most "authentic," though his definitions are purposefully slippery, and he certainly means no disrespect to the soft-shell performers (such as Kenny Rogers and Tammy Wynette) to whom he gives attention in his study. Among the most interesting bits of trivia that Peterson offers is that the term "country" displaced the more popular term "folk" largely due to the efforts of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose interrogation of early 1950s folkie Pete Seeger slapped folk music with a "red" label that country musicians sought to avoid. With his interesting and perhapscontroversial theories, as well as his exhaustive scholarship, Peterson is able to overcome his overly scholarly style and produce an informative study.
Acknowledgments: A Note on Method
1. Introduction: Finding Country Authenticity
PART 1- MAKING THE MUSIC COMMERCIAL
2. Atlanta: Birthplace of Commercial Country Music
3. Renewable Tradition: The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers
Gallery 1 The Folk vs. Pop Look
PART 2- FABRICATING THE IMAGE OF AUTHENTICITY
4. Old-Timer Image of Authenticity
5. Hillbilly Image of Authenticity
6. Cowboy Image of Authenticity
Gallery 2 Geezers, Hillbillies, and Cowboys
PART 3- RADIO-MADE COUNTRY MUSIC IN THE 1930s
7. The Barn Dance in the Air
8. Radio Station Barnstorming
9. Soft Shell vs. Hard Core: The Vagabonds vs. Roy Acuff
Gallery 3 The Evolving Hard-Core and Soft Shell Looks
PART 4- MAKING COUNTRY REPRODUCIBLE
10. Honky-Tonk Firmament: Lives, Music, Lyrics
11. Hank Williams as the Personification of Country Music
Gallery 4 Iconic Country
12. Creating a Field Called "Country"
PART 5- AUTHENTICITY AND THE FUTURE OF COUNTRY MUSIC
13. Authenticity: A Renewable Resource
14. Can the Circle Be Unbroken?