Hank Williams: Lost Highway Playguide

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PLAYGUIDE © 2014 American Blues Theater

Playguide Created by Arianna Soloway, Outreach Manager

Table of Contents

Page 1……………………..Spotlight on Matthew Brumlow American Blues Theater’s Hank Page 3………………………An Interview with Damon Kiely and Matthew Brumlow Page 7………………………………………………..Hank Williams Page 9………………………………………………….Hank’s Music Page 11……………………………………..The Grand Ole Opry Page 13………………………...Country and Western Music

Spotlight on Matthew Brumlow American Blues Theater’s Hank Hank Williams is no stranger to Matthew Brumlow. American Blues’ Ensemble member has previously played the country singer in a premiere solo show called NOBODY LONESOME FOR ME at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. The show was written by Lanie Robertson and directed by Sandy Ernst. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel singled out the production in its Best of 2011 Theater Section as “one of the top solo shows of the year.” Critics in Milwaukee universally lauded his performance, and the show even took him to Kansas City’s American Heartland Theatre, where he continued to amaze audiences with his personal characterization of Hank, along with his well-tuned voice. New York director/actor Craig Fols directed the show. “Chicago Actor Matthew Brumlow’s glides from unmistakable southern drawl to signature yodel and strums along to the songs interspersed between onesided conversations. His expressiveness also conveys the pain caused not only by Hank’s spina bifida and substance abuse, but his disappointing and impoverished past.[…] Brumlow holds the audience with the rapt intensity of praises and curses, of laughter and tears. Killing time between a series of emotional phone calls, Brumlow’s soliloquies detail Williams’ failed marriage and impoverished backwoods upbringing, peppered with bittersweet moments of happiness. Brumlow’s Williams unravels just a bit more with each shot of Jack Daniel’s.” – Rosy Ricks, Third Coast Daily “Matthew Brumlow, performing this show for the second time this year, embodies the version of Williams envisioned by Robertson but brings much more to the table by virtue of his own abilities.[…]Brumlow captures all of that and more in a performance that is precise, nuanced, subtle—and at the same time bigger than life. Just as his songs would suggest, Hank felt more highs and lows than the average person and Brumlow deftly maneuvers the shifting emotional landscape between the two extremes.”

like Elvis fans—they are passionate about his music and they are legion. I never got tired of talking to audience members, particularly older audience members who would tell me so many wonderful stories of when they saw Hank live and even talked with him after a show. After hearing those stories, I now have an even deeper connection with the power of Hank’s music.” As an actor prepares for a role based on a real person, like Hank, many actors study the individual, their history, view video footage, or read biographies about their subject—it is a starting point for actors in biopic performances pieces. But Matt did not want to recreate Hank on stage, or do an impersonation; rather with NOBODY LONESOME FOR ME and now HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY, he strives to create a stronger, more complex character. “We have very few visual recordings of Hank,” remarked Brumlow, “but I have found that to be a blessing rather than a curse in my preparation. If I tried to do an impression of Hank, I would fall flat on my face—there was only one Hank.” When he visited Montgomery and the Hank Williams Museum, people told him the only way to know Hank was to “listen to his music because what was inside, comes out. So, I listened to Hank, a lot. And I always hear more and more with every listen. I hear the great American rural poet; I hear the rowdy hillbilly; I hear the boy who learned the blues from an old black street singer named Tee-Tot; I hear the voice of a lost soul searching for redemption; I hear the scorned lover and the cheater; I hear the voice of a child, an honest voice. Hank said to a friend one time ‘If you wanna make it, you can’t fake it…you gotta live it.’ Hank certainly experienced more highs and lows than the average human being…and for better or for worse, he lived it.”

Brumlow gave one final quote on Hank Williams from country artist George Jones “There was something about Hank that was just real—that’s why he was so big—his songs were about these people and not just one of ‘em but, hell, all of ‘em.” It is these reasons that Brumlow thinks —Robert Trussell, KC Star Hank’s story is perfect for American Blues Theater. “If you When Brumlow spoke about creating the character of Hank go back to our founding in 1985 and our original mission for American Blues Theater’s production of HANK statements, we are about delivering great and powerful WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY, and finding him within his stories with which, particularly, a ‘blue collar’ audience can music, Brumlow also noted that he enjoyed speaking with connect. Plain speech, raw and real. We will all try to ‘live it’ NOBODY LONESOME FOR ME’s audience members after every night as we tell his story. And have a lot of fun along each performance. “I soon found that Hank fans are much the way as well.” by Kelli Marino



An Interview with Damon Kiely and Matthew Brumlow by Kelli Marino

KM: Please tell me a brief history of your work with American Blues. DK: I was the Artistic Director of ATC from 2002-2007. In my five years we doubled the audience and rewrote the mission statement to ask, “What does it mean to be an American?”. We had many successful productions during that period including OKLAHOMA!, THE DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS, AMERICAN DEAD, and THE HAIRY APE.

were important, we weren’t after soaring Broadway voices. Also the instrumentation was stripped down to banjo, guitar, bass, and fiddle.

KM: What drew you to work on HANK?

DK: We listen to each other and try to find the best way without ego.

MB: I am a Georgia boy so I grew up listening to Hank. Like Hank, I had strong women in my life: my mom was and is a powerful presence in my life, and my grandmother, who I affectionately refer to as “Nanny,” equally raised me. If you walked into Nanny’s small house, you were going to hear Elvis, Johnny Cash or Hank on her record player…and always a Hank hymn on Sundays. As I got older, I can’t say I listened to Hank as much, but it was always residing in the fabric of my subconscious. When I first had the opportunity to work on Hank’s songs, they came back so quickly and triggered deep waves of emotion. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Sandy Ernst, the former casting director for Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, who gave me the opportunity to play Hank in the world premiere of a great solo show called NOBODY LONESOME FOR ME.

DK: I was asked to read HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY by Wendy MB: I think Damon lets actors do their Whiteside and I thought it was pretty work. He doesn’t micromanage and he good, and an interesting read. Once I fosters a very open collaborative spirit. heard Matt sing the songs at the He is one of my absolute favorite reading, I was more than sold. Quite directors, and I think he is immensely frankly he’s so good at capturing the talented, articulate, and intelligent. He heart and soul of Hank Williams that he asks the right questions. I am ecstatic could just sing a concert and it would to work with him again! be worth the price of admission.

KM: Do you think that there are things from OKLAHOMA! that you will be able to draw from in HANK?

MB: As soon as Wendy acquired the MB: I joined the American Blues rights, I immediately hoped Damon ensemble in 2001 during Brian would direct HANK WILLIAMS: LOST Russell’s tenure immediately after HIGHWAY due to that OKLAHOMA! appearing in the critically-acclaimed experience. Damon and I are both productions of CATCH 22 and interested in doing some of the same WORKING. I now have 15 production things with LOST HIGHWAY that we did credits with American Blues as an actor with OKLAHOMA!—really grounding it including THE HAIR APE, OKLAHOMA! A and exposing the dirt under the nails. VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, KID SIMPLE, DK: The music and instrumentation for TRUE WEST, and TOPDOG/UNDERDOG. HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY is KM: I know that you both worked on similar to that of OKLAHOMA!. Hank OKLAHOMA! together. Tell me about sang with a very simple direct style. He that experience. wanted his story to reach his audience. DK: The collaboration between Matt, music director Malcolm Ruhl, and myself for OKLAHOMA!, was central to the show’s success. MB: OKLAHOMA! remains one of my all-time favorite shows with Damon. DK: The singing was simple, the lyrics 3

MB: The music will pop and the production values will be slick, but not at the expense of the story and the characters, particularly Hank himself, who was definitely all rough edges.

KM: Did you have previous knowledge of Hank Williams, his story, his life, and his songs?

DK: I sort of knew Hank Williams, but not that much. I’d heard his music but not studied it.

including Jimmie Rodgers (the original yodeling cowboy) and even obscure stuff like Alfred Karnes and Ernest Stoneman. Hank Williams was certainly MB: When I first started working on influenced by people like the Original Hank, I took a trip to the Hank Williams Carter Family and their followers, like Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. I Ernest Tubb and Roy Acuff, but then he had great conversations with folks brought the influence of the African about Hank, his life, and his music; I American blues into it. In many ways was surprised to hear so many funny he was a white blues singer. I’d say all stories. It is easy for people to think of country music owes a debt to Hank about sadness with Hank knowing his Williams, from Willie Nelson to my struggles with the bottle, and the sad new personal favorite Kacey songs he wrote and sang with such Musgraves. conviction. His life wasn’t just sadness though. Various band members talked KM: What have you found most of his sense of humor, his cockiness, interesting in discovering this man/ the way he could work a crowd, how character, and the world in which he his legs would get goin’ during a bluesy lived? honky-tonk number, the comics he MB: It seems Hank always felt a bit like would read, and the jokes he would a backslider, which is why he wrote so tell. Those facts are an important part many hymns and had such a desperate of the story to me…to expose that need to sing those songs in addition to Hank to people. his broken-heart or honky-tonk songs. KM: Can you tell me about his musical The last thing you would expect to influences and the legacy he left hear in a back room honky-tonk behind? Do you personally listen to somewhere is a group of rowdy people music like his, or the kind that singing a hymn; Hank somehow influenced him? managed to make that happen. I find that part of his character fascinating-it DK: I think it all started for me with a is that contradiction I am most group called Tangleweed. Billy Oh is interested in exploring. Rick Braff said their fiddler and a friend of mine, and I of Hank’s lyrics and singing “He sang a was knocked out by their energetic, lot about funerals, and sadness, and fun, funky bluegrass music. That led grief, and pain…but instead of making me to listen to a ton of bluegrass and you think about all those things and to start tracing the history backwards, making you sad it was the opposite. It back to Earl Scruggs, back to Ralph was as though he pounded out all that Stanley, to Bill Monroe and back to old agony and grief and sadness thin -time country music, or pre-bluegrass enough to where you could stand it.” stuff—like the Original Carter Family. Now I’m a huge fan of all that stuff DK: I think he had a wild spirit on the

inside, and he needed a way to get it out. Luckily he did and recorded it. MB: Anther thing that I love about HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY are the central roles Tee-Tot, Mama, and Audrey. Hank didn’t have a daddy growing up, and in many ways I think Tee-Tot was a father to Hank with those blues lessons; he was pivotal to Hank finding his unique voice. I know Rufus Payne stayed with Hank during his career because you can heart it when Hank sings the blues. And if it weren’t for Mama and Audrey, we wouldn’t have Hank. KM: Tell me about the affect Audrey had on Hank in life and in this play. MB: Both his mom and Audrey pushed him…put him in front of the right people at the right time. They kicked his ass when he needed it kicked. Audrey was a true love affair and true muse for Hank. They fought like cats and dogs. It was a messy relationship, but Hank loved her beyond measure. Audrey is a great source of comfort and conflict for Hank in the play, which seems true to their life experience. DK: Audrey is central in so many ways. Without her there’s no career. She pushed him to get to the Hayride, and then pushed him again to get to the Opry. Also, I’d say a lot of heartbreak songs came straight out of fights he had with her. I think he loved her deeply, but couldn’t figure out a way to make her happy. MB: We wouldn’t have those heart songs that Hank wrote without Audrey. Continued on page 5



Continued from page 4

KM: Tell me briefly about the Opry’s and WSM’ radio’s importance in Hank’s career. MB: No doubt, it was a big deal when Hank finally got to play The Grand Ole Opry. That was the pinnacle! When he and The Drifting Cowboys got their first shot and played “Lovesick Blues,” it was a career-making moment. It instantly introduced Hank to a much larger audience and helped make him a superstar—a label he struggled with at times. But while Hank could step up to the mic and work a crowd at The Grand Ole Opry, he could also do the same in a church or a seedy honky-tonk. He wasn’t just singing for the suits, he was singing for the poor and working class folks, even after the Opry made him a star. KM: What is your favorite Hank Williams’ song, or the one with which you most identify? DK: I’m always knocked out by his two biggest hits: “I Saw the Light” and Lovesick Blues.” “I Saw the Light” actually influenced me to start writing an adaptation of The Bacchae (I’m still working on it). When I listen to “I Saw the Light” I truly do feel full of the spirit. I feel closer to God; it makes me want to dance in a church. “Lovesick Blues” is just an incredible song and I can understand why he was asked to give six encores at the Opry. The song is so heartfelt that he cuts straight to your soul. MB: When I was able to sing, “I Saw the Light” to my Nanny moments before she peacefully passed away two years ago, it was one of my best memories. For this reason working on “Hank” has become an even greater privilege. Every night I get to sing that encore with our fine cast and audience, I will be thinking of loved ones, family, my Nanny…and I know Hank would love that. KM: What is the story you want to tell through creating HANK? DK: Hank was always struggling to get into the light, but I think he also knew that it was in the shadows where he found his best material. He wanted to be a great singer and to do that he needed to live through pain, which tore him apart in the end. MB: I am really excited to introduce people to Hank who might not be as familiar with his music as well as celebrate with those who already know and love his work. Hank was one of the first mega stars of country music and he forever changed the way people thought of the country music label. It would be reason enough to tell his story due to the huge catalog of great songs and number one hits he left in such a short career. But it really was how he did it. Hank was one of the first to inject the blues into country…but it wasn’t simply the music—it was really the “blues.” He felt every syllable he sang. Colin Escott (who is my favorite biographer of Hank) said “His songs transformed and transcended the country label by looking deep inside and Hank was unafraid to confront what he found there. He taught people that it was alright to bear your soul and bear it in everyday plain speech.”


Hank Born: Hank Hiram Williams in Mount Olive, Alabama on September 17, 1923. Hank helped support his family as a youth, selling peanuts and shining shoes. It was during this time he took guitar lessons from Rufus Payne, a black street musician, who helped Hank develop his blues rhythms and phrasing. At 13, he made his radio debut in Montgomery with WSFA radio station, and by the age of 14, Hank would drop out of school and perform regularly. At the Empire Theater, in an amateur contest, Hank won $15 singing “WPA Blues.” He never learned to read music, and for the rest of his career, he based his compositions in storytelling. In 1939, he formed his first band, The Drifting Cowboys. He was born with spina bifida, a spinal ailment that would result in a drug addiction for the rest of his life. Because of his spinal disability, during WWII, Hank was unable to serve based on his 4-F status. During this time Hank began drinking heavily—this would continue throughout the rest of his life and affect his music career. When Hank met his idol Roy Acuff backstage at a performance later in life, Acuff warned him of the dangers of alcohol: “You’ve got a milliondollar talent, son, but a ten-cent break.” He met his first wife Audrey in 1943 and married her in 1944. They would embark on a musical journey together to Nashville where Hank was signed by music publisher Fred Rose, and first released “Calling You” / “Never Again” with Sterling Records, but then procured a contract with MGM to release “Move it On Over” / “Last Night I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep.” Shreveport, Louisiana’s 50,000-watt radio show the Louisiana Hayride first exposed Hank to a wider American audience 1948. His rendition of the 1922 hit “Lovesick Blues” rocketed him to radio stardom—it sold one million records. 7

Williams On June 11, 1949, at the age of 25, Hank joined the Grand Ole Opry and sang “Lovesick Blues” where he gave six encores. From 1949 to 1952, Hank scored over 25 top ten singles. His albums released under Luke the Drifter, and the religious duets recorded with Audrey did not do as well as Hank’s solo career. Hank would soon become well known for his own songs and lyrics too. In 1951, Hank earned around $175,000 per year making personal appearances. When travel and performances began to wear on him, Hank hired ex-con and mail order doctor Tony Marshal for $300 per week to prescribe him drugs (American Decades). In 1952, after a battle of heavy drinking and missed performances, the Grand Ole Opry fired Hank. He would return to the Louisiana Hayride and perform in small bars. At the end of 1952, “he and the Drifting Cowboys had been booked to play a show in Canton, Ohio, and Williams hired a driver to chauffeur him through a snowstorm to the gig. He fell asleep along the way—but when the driver tried to rouse him at Oak Hill, West Virginia, Williams was dead” (Roughstock). His song “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” had been released just before his death. Over 20,000 people attended his Montgomery funeral. MGM released several recordings after his death that went to the top ten. In subsequent years, his songs were covered by other artists, both in and out of country music. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, his plaque reads: “The simple, beautiful melodies and straightforward plaintive stories in his lyrics of life as he knew it will never die.” “In April 2010, the Pulitzer Prize Board awarded Williams with a posthumous Special Citation lifetime achievement award to honor his contributions to music” (Encyclopedia of Alabama). September 21 is Alabama’s “Hank Williams Day”. 8

Hank’s Music “A song ain’t nothin’ in the world but a story just wrote with music to it.” – Hank Williams (San Francisco Chronicler) Top Ten Hits 1946 Calling You / Never Again (Will I Knock on Your Door) 1947

“Hank William’s songs most often featured themes of heartbreak, heartache, and the dissolution of relationships. Some of these songs, including ‘The Blues Come Around,’ ‘You’re Gonna Change, or I’m Gonna Leave,’ and ‘Why Don’t You Love Me,” were set to up-tempo rhythms that belied the despair and anger behind the lyrics. Mid and slow-tempo numbers such as ‘I Don’t Care If Tomorrow Never Comes,’ ‘Long Gone Lonesome Blues,’ and ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ offer unparalleled images of loneliness and longing, with heartfelt singing that adds considerable weight to powerful lyrics.” (Encyclopedia of Alabama) His music has been covered by artists such as Tony Bennett, Jerry Lee Louis, Joni James, Linda Ranstadt, and Charley Pride. His influence can be seen in the honky-tonk genre by Clink Black, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Randy Travis. 9

Move It On Over (Last Night) I Heard You Crying in Your Sleep 1948 Pan American Long Gone Daddy Lovesick Blues 1949 Wedding Bells My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It

1950 Long Gone Lonesome Blues Why Don’t You Love Me Moanin’ the Blues 1951 Cold, Cold Heart—sold one-million copies Hey, Good Lookin’ 1952 Jambalaya (On the Bayou)—sold one-million copies, crossed over to the pop charts

Honky Tonk Blues Half as Much Settin’ the Woods on Fire 1953 I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive Kaw-Linga Your Cheatin’ Heart Take These Chains from My Heart


The Grand Ole Opry The Symbolic Center of Country Music 1925: George D. Hay, a former WLS Chicago announcer of the music program The National Barn Dance, takes a job in Nashville at the newly founded thousand-watt WSM radio station. This show, named The WSM Barn Dance, featured down to earth performers of the banjo, fiddle and guitar. His first guest, fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson, played for two hours. Hay decided to keep the show’s theme focused on oldtime music known as “hillbilly.” 1926: The [Opry’s] first solo singing star is Uncle Dave Macan, a vaudeville performer, banjo player, and gospel singer. 1927: Renamed The Grand Ole Opry, Hay sought performers who could project primitive rural images and material with nostalgic themes, and now included an African-American musician into the lineup: blues harmonica player Deford Bailey. 1930s: The Grand Ole Opry reaches thirty states and part of Canada. The music trends toward modern country music, and less toward the rural twang that had previously been heard. 1938: Musician Roy Acuff leads The Opry with his band the Tennessee Crackerjackers. Bluegrass sounds begin to influence the Opry. His “repertoire of hymns, love songs, and old ballads sung with emotion and sincerity” made him a favorite. 11

October 1939: The Opry goes national on NBC’s Saturday night line up. “Due to the visual component of the show, Hay costumes his performers to look more interesting, with many musicians dressing in pseudo-rustic wear, and rustic comedians providing visual humor for the watching crowds.” (WSM Launches…) November 21, 1939: Ryman Manager Lula Naff goes to court for the right to present the provocative play, Tobacco Road. When the Nashville Board of Censors tried to stop the performance by threatening to arrest star John Barton, manager Lula Naff filed a suit and won the right to show the work. June 5, 1943: After four previous venues, The Grand Ole Opry moves into the Ryman Auditorium. 1943: Texan Ernest Tubb introduced the Opry to honky-tonk, or hard country music. He sang of failed love and marriages, divorce and hard times, which soon became staples of country music. Tubb’s music featured an electric lead guitar—later a steel guitar with prominent string bass and drums” (WSM Launches…) 1949: Hank Williams brings honky-tonk music to the Opry. 1950s: The Opry begins looking at younger, fresher talent to expand the audience. They host Jonny Cash, Webb Pierce, Stonewall Jackson and others. “For its rural listeners, spread out across the vast stretches of open space, the Opry became part of the common bond that united rural folk across the country, not only providing musical entertainment, but also creating a cultural home for its many thousands of rural listeners.” – Encyclopedia of Popular Culture 312

Country and Western Music Excerpts from Encyclopedia of American Social History, 1993 In the early 1920s recording company entrepreneurs began packaging mountain string music into rustic formats with market appeal. A style that would later come to be known as “hillbilly” music began in June 1922 when Alexander Campbell “Eck” Robertson and Henry Gilliland, oldtime fiddlers from Texas and Oklahoma, were recorded at Victor studios in New York City. Radio broadcasting quickly embraced rusticity. On 24 January 1923 station WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas, aired the first radio program of hillbilly string music to an extremely receptive audience that responded with telephone calls and telegrams of praise. Successful radio barn-dance programs were soon begun in Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, and other cities. The Carter Family

rhythm on treble strings. A.P. Carter’s song arrangements reduced complicated traditional melodies and accompaniments to standard vocal lines sung in a repetitive fashion against a regular rhythm of basic chords.

lullaby to an infant. It included a novelty item—a variation on the Swiss yodel that had been a stage feature of vaudeville.

In a contribution analogous to the Carter Family’s innovations in rhythm and instrumentation, Rodgers The Carters’ promoters recognized the combined the yodel with the blues to audience appeal of rustic music and create his signature “blue yodel.” used it heavily; consequently, the Rodgers had learned blues from black Carter Family received nationwide workers during his fourteen years on exposure virtually every evening at a the railroad beginning as a teenage time when radio listening was water boy. America’s novel form of popular When he brought together the yodel entertainment. and blues traditions, Rodgers was able Jimmie Rodgers to express personal emotion, particularly the pain of vagabond living or turbulent love relationships, in a novel way. In 1928 “Blue Yodel” (“T for Texas”) became the first hit record of modern country music. Major Trends and Stars Since the 1950s country and western music has become a sophisticated commercial enterprise. Yet it has continued to emphasize themes of personal hardship and emotional trauma consistent with its social origins. As a musical tradition it, like the blues, has evolved distinct conventions.

To become a star, a performer must This trio had a pervasive influence on devise a novel way to address subsequent performing styles. Rodgers was an enduring role model traditional themes and musical styling Probably most important for the for stardom and a symbol of individual through voice innovations, creative formation of country music instrumental motifs or special wealth and popular acclaim, and his instrumental styling was Maybelle dexterity, elaborations on stage performance innovations helped to Addington Carter, a creative guitarist manners and performing style, or define a “western” musical genre. and alto singer. A.P. (Alvin Pleasant) modification of existing genres to Two of Rodgers’ songs [were] Carter, Maybelle’s brother-in-law, create a new one. Country and performed each in a slow tempo and western musicians are highly sang bass and managed the act. sang from a woman’s point of view. conscious of one another, and the Signature innovations of the Carter “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” was a work of a successful performer Family in the late 1920s were crucial popular World War I song, a lament influences that of aspiring ones. to their commercial success and about a lover lost in battle. “Sleep, influence. Maybelle Carter perfected a Baby, Sleep” was a mother’s soothing distinct guitar style while chording Continued on page 15_ 13


The Louisiana Hayride: 1948-1960 Broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana’s Municipal Auditorium, The Louisiana Hayride launched the careers of Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. Each Saturday night, KWKH broadcast a musical variety show to cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. CBS picked up the show in 1953 and broadcast to over 200 stations. In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, Tracey E.W. Laird notes “The relatively late arrival of television to the Shreveport market helped maintain a live audience that averaged around 3,300 people.” With the music industry growing in Nashville, both with record labels and The Grand Ole Opry, the Louisiana Hayride took pride in its Western and Southern location, as well as fostering new artists who were looking to grow their careers, including a previously Opry-rejected, young Elvis Presley. The Hayride gradually diminished into 1960. 15

Western Swing: Bob Wills

Bluegrass: Bill Monroe Bill Monroe created a modern style of string-band playing and vocal harmonizing that has attracted numerous followers to an elaborate country and western subgenre known as bluegrass music.

In 1938, in Atlanta, Monroe formed the Blue Grass Boys; this band gave its name to a new type of string-band music and trained many of the musicians who spread it. Monroe’s bluegrass used five instruments: Early southwestern swing music modified by popular dance hall bands mandolin (played with great dexterity by Monroe), fiddle (played in a jazzy and broadcast nationally by radio and soulful manner), banjo (played in networks in the late 1930s and early a charismatic picking mode introduced 1940s came to be known as western swing. Bob Wills was among its most to this audience by Earl Scruggs), guitar, and bass. By 1939 Monroe was significant innovators. on the Grand Ole Opry, where his first As a child in migrant labor camps, performance was an adaptation of Wills, the son of a country fiddler from Jimmie Roger’s blue yodel “Mule Texas, listened to blues musicians and Skinner Blues.” other ethnic performers. As an adult he admired Bessie Smith as well as the Bluegrass is a distinct style within country and western music. Its dance orchestras of Tommy Dorsey, rhythms stress offbeats, tempos are Count Basie, Bob Crosby, and Glenn usually quite fast, vocal harmonizing is Miller. Famous for a signature blues fiddling with a string band that yielded intricate and high-pitched, and a jazzy swing, Wills added woodwinds, instrumental virtuosity is prominent. Lyrics are conventional, focusing on horns, and drums so that his Texas home, family, love, hard times, work, Playboys could perform numbers ranging from Jimmie Rodger’s blues to and religion. Bluegrass invokes a potent tone of nostalgia for the rural popular dance-band and jazz past. renditions to Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.” Country & Western Music & Social History Country and western music emerged in the late 1920s partly as a reaction to modernization—it provided musical images of rural rusticity on radio programs and promoted recording stars who expressed emotions typical of the personal hardships and romantic traumas evident during social change. The themes of country songs, however, remained close to the impulses that initiated them; in its first six decades of growth to a multimillion dollar enterprise, country and western music has offered traditional agrarian values to an audience for

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whom rural life probably functions more as nostalgia than as lived experience. Perhaps partly because of this, the country and western subculture is usually associated with the white majority in America, and most of its major stars have been white males. Yet many of its important instrumental and vocal innovations were inspired by the art of minority musicians. By adopting blues and jazz motifs such as persistent rhythms, improvisational instrumental features, and emotionally expressive vocal renditions, country and western musicians played a role in bringing musical motifs associated with nonwhite Americans to the general popular culture, and influence the early era of rock and roll. Rustic imagery, adaptations of jazz and blues motifs, conventional gender roles, and themes of broken hearts are central features of country and western music. They resonate with a tacit assumption: the proper way to confront hardships in a difficult world is to live in a monogamous marriage with traditional family life and conventional religion. Even though country and western stars are often unable to meet this standard themselves, they persistently elaborate upon an art that celebrates it. Fans know this. Perhaps they admire in their stars this elusive striving for a stability not characteristic of their historical experience. Regarded this way, despite its modernity, country and western music in American life amounts to a conservative critique of modern society and a very human resistance to social change.


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