Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville

Overview

In Three Chords and the Truth, Laurence Leamer explores the passionate life of country music. In its pages, you will witness the entire spectrum of today's country and the process of making stars. From the inner life and conflicts of Garth Brooks to Wynonna's struggle to create a career of her own, from Vince Gill's love of musicianship and moving songs to Shania Twain's rugged road to superstardom, Three Chords and the Truth illuminates the difficulties, the commitments, the joys, and the hardships that lie ...
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Overview

In Three Chords and the Truth, Laurence Leamer explores the passionate life of country music. In its pages, you will witness the entire spectrum of today's country and the process of making stars. From the inner life and conflicts of Garth Brooks to Wynonna's struggle to create a career of her own, from Vince Gill's love of musicianship and moving songs to Shania Twain's rugged road to superstardom, Three Chords and the Truth illuminates the difficulties, the commitments, the joys, and the hardships that lie beyond the spotlight and the studio. With unprecedented access to the stars, managers, songwriters, and executives, Leamer takes you straight to the inner sanctum of the business - and shows how and where the songs and success originate. Here is the story of great songwriters like Harlan Howard, who, when asked what a country song was, answered "three chords and the truth." Here, also, is the story of the key people who've turned country's regional appeal into an international phenomenon and the stars - from Patty Loveless to Alan Jackson, Reba McEntire to LeAnn Rimes, Brooks & Dunn to BR5-49, James Bonamy to Mindy McCready, Emmy Lou Harris to Mary Chapin Carpenter.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Leamer, known primarily for his celebrity biographies like King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, here turns to country music. Music itself, however, is not his focus, but rather the stars who happen to be country musicians. Nineteen of the book's 20 chapters focus on individuals or bands, and the last chapter is an epilogue that brings the reader up to date on the latest developments in the career of each artist. Leamer takes the reader backstage and into the lives of such country stars as Brooks and Dunn, Shania Twain, Vince Gill and Mary Chapin Carpenter, describing their childhoods, personalities and romances. To the point of overkill, he gives the reader the goods on Naomi and Wynonna Judd's infighting, Garth Brooks's devotion to his fans, Emmylou Harris's financial difficulties and so on. Leamer, unfortunately, is given to uninspired writing ("Emmylou knew only one way to perform, and that was to give everything and then some"), and also has a tendency to divide his subjects into Good (Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris) and Bad (Reba McIntyre, the Judds); since the music itself is only of secondary interest, Leamer's judgment appears to be based primarily on the performers' personalities.
Kirkus Reviews
An exhaustive journey into the heart and cash-glutted soul of today's country-music scene that overturns many long-held perceptions about the field—and its fans.

As a symbol of the current state of country music, Leamer (The Kennedy Women, 1994, etc.) could hardly do better than the annual Nashville Fan Fair. Originated as a vehicle for fans to chat with their favorite performers and get an autograph or even a picture, the Fan Fair had, by 1996, become yet another example of marketing excess. The curious thing about this turn of events is that country music, so often derided by city slickers as tacky, has, Leamer argues, been made more so by such "big-city" companies as Sony Music, BMG, and Frito-Lay, which have rushed in to exploit one of the most lucrative entertainment markets. Leamer interviews fans and musicians, and offers in-depth profiles of stars such as the diva Reba McEntire, whose growing distance from her fans symbolizes country-music aficionados' worst fears; Garth Brooks, a success- obsessed superstar anxious to press the flesh with the record buyers who have made him the biggest-selling male solo artist of all time; and Shania Twain, who emerged from crippling poverty in the woods of northern Ontario and who, despite overwhelming hype, clearly does have a distinctive talent. The old "covenant" between country performers and their fans, which Leamer describes as requiring one to be "as truthful to the past as to the present," is being swept aside and the identity of the music diluted by an industry on the prowl for young warblers who look good in jeans and a Stetson; questions about the music and its value place a distinct (and distant) second. As Joe Galante, head of a major label's Nashville office, laments, "We're strip mining this business," attempting to inflate fragile talents into superstars.

A disturbing, solid outing whose lessons will interest fans of all styles of pop music.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060175054
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/29/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 450
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.53 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Three Chords and the Truth

"Don't Get Above Your Raisin'"
10:55 a.m.

As fans poured into the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, a man in a pickup truck parked his vehicle and sauntered slowly onto the grounds, talking to a relative who had accompanied him. He wore a cowboy hat and jeans. Fan Fair was full of people so devoted to their star that they tried to copy his or her dress. Scores of youths and men dressed in starched jeans, striped cowboy shirts, and boots, an outfit popularized by Garth Brooks. Teenagers wore teased hair and hip-hugging jeans with their navels proudly on view, all in honor of their idol, Shania Twain. Middle-aged men shambled along in dyed hair and black shirts, in deference to the original Man in Black, Johnny Cash.
The weeklong Nashville event was a pilgrimage of devotion. The twenty-four thousand fans did not push ahead elbowing their way a few feet forward. They stood and talked and laughed, holding on to their ninety-dollar tickets before they entered the gates. They exchanged reminiscences of previous years. They passed out tips to those attending their first Fan Fair. They prepared themselves for an event that for many of them had all the physical rigors and spiritual highs of a great adventure.
Fan Fair began twenty-five years ago to thank the loyal country music audience and to help keep fans away from the annual Country Music DJ convention. With its haphazard array of shedlike buildings and cinder racetrack, Fan Fair had a humble, homespun aura almost gone from American public life. The four exhibit halls at the sold-out event could get so crowded that the air-conditioning seemed to be pumping steam into the building,and the press of bodies pushed a person along, regardless of intentions. The fans might have to wait two, three, five, even ten hours for an autograph and a moment with their favorite star. If they were hungry, they would probably be standing in line for an hour or so to get the free luncheon barbecues served by the Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang.
The fans knew that they would be sitting out in the grandstands or on the field at the Nashville Speedway attending the shows that each record label put on. The shows went on day and night, no matter the weather. It was already as hot as the Sahara. Over at the Curb Show thirteen-year-old LeAnn Rimes was making her Fan Fair debut before thousands of enthusiastic listeners enthralled by her throbbing, powerful voice. This heat was bad enough, but it almost always rained too, thunderous storms visited upon the fairgrounds, great sheaths of rain and wind that could not drive the fans away.
The man in the cowboy hat and gray T-shirt ambled along as hundreds of fans hurried past along the pathway, entering the main buildings laid out like a gigantic trade fair. All the stars had elaborate booths that sold T-shirts and other merchandise. The booths were as much shrines as stores. Brooks and Dunn's had a southwestern desert motif, including an immense fake longhorn skull. Alan Jackson's booth looked like a house, with a roof, his framed pictures on the wall, and a little gazebo. Vince Gill's booth had his name as the only decoration. Reba McEntire decorated her booth with a life-size photo of herself, looming down on the fans, reminding them of her eminence. In Shania Twain's booth, the diminutive Canadian singer who had brought a sultry sexuality to country music was already signing autographs. The line was hundreds long, running outside into the torpid heat.
Fan Fair was a feast of celebrity unlike anything else in American life. Movie stars sell access to the highest bidders, telling their tales in exchange for magazine cover stories and television coverage. Baseball players charge for their autographs. But country music is a moral universe of a far different standard. Almost all the stars of country music would be here this week signing autographs for hours and singing on that great stage for no reward except the love of their fans.
Fan Fair '96 would not just be the artists and others in 174 exhibit booths, and the 116 acts performing on the great stage. It would be fan club parties that most of the stars gave all over town, awards shows, other musical performances outside the fairgrounds and special events such as Wynonna's auction of her personal belongings for charity. There would be hundreds of journalists from all over the world interviewing the artists. Struggling artists would try to catch a flash of attention while songwriters and managers and hangers-on stood around backstage gossiping about Music City.

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