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Johnny Cash and American Culture
For much of his career, Johnny Cash opened his shows with the tagline, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” This introduction seemed unnecessary, since everyone in the audience knew who he was—the famous musical artist whose career spanned almost five decades, whose troubled life on and off the stage received wide publicity, and whose cragged face seemed to express a depth and intensity not found in any other artist, living or dead. For Cash, as for many celebrities, renown was the product of both hard work and luck. Often a visionary and always a tireless performer, he was subject to a whirlwind of social, economic, and cultural countercurrents. Nine Choices explores the tension between Cash’s desire for mainstream success, his personal struggles with alcohol and drugs, and an ever-changing cultural landscape that often circumscribed his options. Drawing on interviews, archival research, and textual analysis, Jonathan Silverman focuses on Cash’s personal and artistic choices as a way of understanding his life, his impact on American culture, and the ways in which that culture in turn shaped him. Cash made decisions about where he would live, what he would play, who would produce his albums, whether he would support the Vietnam War, and even if he would flip his famous “bird”—the iconic image of Cash giving the finger which is now plastered on posters and T-shirts everywhere—in the context of cultural forces both visible and opaque. He made other decisions in consultation with a variety of people, many of whom were chiefly concerned with the reaction of his audiences. Less a conventional biography than a study of the making of an identity, Nine Choices explores how Johnny Cash sought to define who he was, how he was perceived, and what he signified through a series of self-conscious actions. The result, Silverman shows, was a life that was often tumultuous but never uninteresting.
The Life and Music of Lenny Breau
“Mr. Guitar” Chet Atkins called Lenny Breau (1941-1984) “the greatest guitarist who ever walked the face of the earth.” Breau began playing the instrument at age seven, and went on to master many styles, especially jazz. Between 1968 and 1983 he made a series of recordings that are among the most influential guitar albums of the century. Breau’s astonishing virtuosity influenced countless performers, but unfortunately it came at the expense of his personal relationships. Despite Breau’s fascinating life story and his musical importance, no full-length biography has been published until now. Forbes-Roberts has interviewed more than 175 people and closely analyzed Breau’s recordings to reveal an enormously gifted man and the inner workings of his music. “Lenny Breau was, and will always be, a great treasure. We need him today more than ever.” —Mundell Lowe
The Life and Times of Texas Songwriter Vince Bell
Texas singer/songwriter Vince Bell’s story begins in the 1970s. Following the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, Bell and his contemporaries Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, and Lucinda Williams were on the rise. In December of 1982, Bell was on his way home from the studio (where he and hired guns Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson had just recorded three of Bell’s songs) when a drunk driver broadsided him at 65 mph. Thrown over 60 feet from his car, Bell suffered multiple lacerations to his liver, embedded glass, broken ribs, a mangled right forearm, and a severe traumatic brain injury. Not only was his debut album waylaid for a dozen years, life as he’d known it would never be the same. In detailing his recovery from the accident and his roundabout climb back onstage, Bell shines a light in those dark corners of the music business that, for the lone musician whose success is measured not by the Top 40 but by nightly victories, usually fall outside of the spotlight. Bell’s prose is not unlike his lyrics: spare, beautiful, evocative, and often sneak-up-on-you funny. His chronicle of his own life and near death on the road reveals what it means to live for one’s art.
Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra
Gifted harpist Edna Phillips (1907-2003) joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930, becoming not only that ensemble's first female member but also the first woman to hold a principal position in a major American orchestra. Plucked from the Curtis Institute of Music in the midst of her studies, Phillips was only twenty-three years old when Leopold Stokowski, one of the twentieth century's most innovative and controversial conductors, named her principal harpist. This candid, colorful account traces Phillips's journey through the competitive realm of Philadelphia's virtuoso players, where she survived--and thrived--thanks to her undeniable talent, determination, and lively humor._x000B__x000B_Drawing on extensive interviews with Phillips, her family, and colleagues as well as archival sources, One Woman in a Hundred chronicles the training, aspirations, setbacks, and successes of this pioneering woman musician. Mary Sue Welsh recounts numerous insider stories of rehearsal and performance with Stokowski and other renowned conductors of the period such as Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner, Otto Klemperer, Sir Thomas Beecham, and Eugene Ormandy. She also depicts Phillips's interactions with fellow performers, the orchestra management, and her teacher, the wily and brilliant Carlos Salzedo. Blessed with a nimble wit, Phillips navigated a plethora of challenges, ranging from false conductors' cues to the advances of the debonair Stokowski and others. She remained with the orchestra through some of its most exciting years from 1930 to 1946 and was instrumental in fostering harp performance, commissioning many significant contributions to the literature. _x000B_
The Roni Stoneman Story
This book recounts the fascinating life of Roni Stoneman, the youngest_x000B_daughter of the pioneering country music family, and a girl who, in spite_x000B_of poverty and abusive husbands, eventually became The First Lady of_x000B_Banjo,? a fixture on the Nashville scene, and, as Hee Haws Ironing Board_x000B_Lady, a comedienne beloved by millions of Americans nationwide._x000B_Drawn from over seventy-five hours of recorded interviews, Pressing On reveals that Roni is also a master storyteller. In her own words and with characteristic spunk and candor, she describes her pooristic? (way beyond ˜poverty-stricken?) Appalachian childhood, and how she learned from her brother Scott to play the challenging and innovative three-finger banjo picking style developed by Earl Scruggs. She also warmly recounts Hee Haw-era adventures with Minnie Pearl, Roy Clark, and Buck Owens; her encounters as a musician with country greats including Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, June Carter, and Patsy Cline; as well as her personal struggles with shiftless and violent husbands, her relationships with her children, and her musical life after Hee Haw.
The Story of the Singing Hilltoppers
In 1953, the same year that Elvis Presley cut his first demo, Cash Box magazine named the Hilltoppers the top vocal group of the year. Hits such as “Trying” and “P.S. I Love You” raced up the charts and kept the group in Billboard’s Top 40. The four fresh-faced singers appeared on The Toast of the Town with Ed Sullivan, who introduced them to the nation. On weekends the Hilltoppers performed in cities across the country, but on Monday mornings they were better known as Western Kentucky State College students Jimmy Sacca, Seymour Spiegelman, Don McGuire, and Billy Vaughn. The Korean War, military drafts, and changing public tastes in music, however, cut short singing careers that should have lasted much longer. Sacca was drafted in 1953, mere months before the end of the war. Vaughn left the group shortly after that for a career at Dot Records and found fame elsewhere with his orchestra. McGuire and Spiegelman were drafted as well, and despite a set of temporary replacement members, the group eventually called it quits. Fifty years later, historian Carlton Jackson revisits the Kentucky college kids who made it big between classes. He follows the group from their first hit, recorded in Western’s Van Meter Auditorium, to their brief 1970s reunion. Their story recalls the nature of celebrity and youth in the early days of rock ’n’ roll.
How to Disappear Completely
How the British rock band Radiohead subverts the idea of the concept album in order to articulate themes of alienation and anti-capitalism is the focus of Marianne Tatom Letts's analysis of Kid A and Amnesiac. These experimental albums marked a departure from the band's standard guitar-driven base layered with complex production effects. Considering the albums in the context of the band's earlier releases, Letts explores the motivations behind this change. She places the two albums within the concept-album/progressive-rock tradition and shows how both resist that tradition. Unlike most critics of Radiohead, who focus on the band's lyrics, videos, sociological importance, or audience reception, Letts focuses on the music itself. She investigates Radiohead's ambivalence toward its own success, as manifested in the vanishing subject of Kid A on these two albums.
Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers
This volume is an engaging and exceptional history of the independent rock 'n' roll record industry from its raw regional beginnings in the 1940s through its peak in the 1950s and decline in the 1960s. John Broven combines narrative history with extensive oral history material from numerous recording pioneers including Joe Bihari of Modern Records; Marshall Chess of Chess Records; Jerry Wexler, Ahmet Ertegun, and Miriam Bienstock, of Atlantic Records; Sam Phillips of Sun Records; Art Rupe of Specialty Records; and many more._x000B_
An Atchafalaya Story
Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River Basin, the heart and soul of Acadiana, or Cajun country, is the focus of this compelling narrative by Ann McCutchan. A masterful weaving of cultural and environmental history, River Music also tells the life story of Louisiana musician, naturalist, and sound documentarian Earl Robicheaux. With Robicheaux as her guide, McCutchan embarks on a musical, visual, literary, and historical tour of the Atchafalaya, where bayous, swamps, marshes, and river delta country have long sustained nature and culture, even as industry has changed both the landscape and the people. Along the way, she and Robicheaux pay homage to distinctive voices of the region’s singular soundscape, including Acadian and Native American elders, birds, frogs, alligators, wind, water, and weather, which Robicheaux chronicles in archival recordings and musical compositions for museum exhibits, radio programs, and repositories such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A CD of Robicheaux's soundscapes is included with the book. In counterpoint, McCutchan recounts Robicheaux’s remarkable struggles as a jazz and classical artist, Katrina victim, cancer survivor, and steadfast son of the Basin devoted to remembering, preserving, and sounding out the ecological and cultural riches of his home. An original blend of nature writing, music history, biography, journalism, and memoir, River Music: An Atchafalaya Story eloquently celebrates the one-and-half-million watery acres that have shaped the lives of the people there—and been transformed by them in return. An epilogue written in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the disastrous oil spill that followed provides a fitting and poignant coda to this memorable book.
This book explores the life and works of the pioneering opera composer Robert Ashley, one of the leading American composers of the post-Cage generation. Ashley's innovations began in the 1960s when he, along with Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, and David Behrman, formed the Sonic Arts Union, a group that turned conceptualism toward electronics. He was also instrumental in the influential ONCE Group, a theatrical ensemble that toured extensively in the 1960s. During his tenure as its director, the ONCE Festival in Ann Arbor presented most of the decade's pioneers of the performing arts. Particularly known for his development of television operas beginning with Perfect Lives, Ashley spun a long series of similar text/music works, sometimes termed "performance novels." These massive pieces have been compared with Wagner's Ring Cycle for the vastness of their vision, though the materials are completely different, often incorporating noise backgrounds, vernacular music, and highly structured, even serialized, musical structures. _x000B__x000B_Drawing on extensive research into Ashley's early years in Ann Arbor and interviews with Ashley and his collaborators, Kyle Gann chronicles the life and work of this musical innovator and provides an overview of the avant-garde milieu of the 1960s and 1970s to which he was so central. Gann examines all nine of Ashley's major operas to date in detail, along with many minor works, revealing the fanatical structures that underlie Ashley's music as well as private references hidden in his opera librettos._x000B_