Introduction from Louisiana Hayride: Radio and Roots Music Along the Red River
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7 Introduction from Louisiana Hayride Radio and Roots Music Along the Red River —Tracey E. W. Laird Most discussions of the Louisiana Hayride focus on Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and its list of other nationally recognized acts. In her book Louisiana Hayride, however, Tracey Laird argues that the show’s significance extends beyond the run of famous personnel taking its stage between 1948 and 1960. Its significance reaches back into the history of Shreveport, long before the Hayride began, and it extends long after, as local musicians like Merle Kilgore, Jerry Kennedy, Joe Osborn, and Nat Stuckey made their way into studios as producers, songwriters, and artists well into the 1980s. We reprint here an excerpt from the book’s introduction that places the Hayride within its unique local context. This piece outlines how the Hayride story became a critical lens for examining key themes in U.S. southern history during the latter twentieth century: the relationships between black and white culture, the impact of modern media, and the cultural fusion that revolutionized popular music in the post–World War II era. In so doing, it makes clear that, even in the present volume, categories for music (in this case, country) never seem to stay neat and tidy. By Horace’s watch, it’s time. The white of Saturday night stars illumines the bas-relief eagle watching over the building’s dedication to “those who served in the world war.” The lamp moons of Leadbelly’s Fannin Street wax across the hood of a ’53 Louisiana Ford as it slips into the last parking space between two Texas Chevys. The Municipal Auditorium lights up tonight—as it does nearly every Saturday—a monolith, warm and alive beside Shreveport’s cold grey Confederate sepulchers and tombs of gentry long TRACEY E. W. LAIRD 8 ago buried in Oakland Cemetery. From open second-floor windows, the building breathes out the hum of amplifier tubes, the whine of microphone feedback. Behind the drawn velveteen curtain inside, a snare drum snaps its sound test beats through the electric gab of a crowd just now easing into their wooden slat seats. In the wings, Horace Logan adjusts his gun holster and fingers the slipknot of his planter’s tie. He jabs his arm out straight, clearing the sleeve from his wristwatch face. Sure enough, it’s 7:59—show time. The Hayride producer, program director, and emcee sidles onto the stage, up to the mike—a crowd conductor ready to kick off the weekly broadcast of the radio barn dance. He coughs into his fist to clear his throat. Mister Logan, as Elvis politely addresses him, winces into the spotlight and beams at the audience. “How many folks are here tonight from our fine neighbor to the north, Arkansas?” His question draws a slim salvo of hand claps and hollers. Horace pauses, runs a forefinger casually across the felt brim of his cowboy hat. “How many of you all out there are from right here in Louisiana?” Louder applause and a few swill-bellied whoops rise from the settling throng. Horace inconspicuously pulls back the sleeve from his wrist and calmly glances down to see the second hand tick to 50. He looks up and out, grins wide, and, in a stentorian voice that intuitively cues an audience to cheer, bellows: “And how many people are here from the great state of Texas?” The tiers and coliseum floor explode in revelry. Riding the raucous pitch, fiddles saw and steel guitars slide into the top-of-the-show theme. So it begins, just as it does every Saturday night for thousands of listeners from Amarillo to Yazoo: three hours of live music blow through the wireless like a rush of new wind through an open window.1 This and many scenes like it played out across the nation during the golden era of the radio barn dance. KWKH’s Louisiana Hayride staked its territory in the ethereal radio universe, one among many shows funneling live dobros and fiddles into parlors from the Gulf to the Great Lakes. The history of this radio genre reached back into the earliest days of mass broadcasting. WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas, created the prototype on 4 January 1923, when it broadcast a variety program led by fiddler and Confederate veteran Captain M. J. Bonner.2 The next year, Chicago’s WLS christened its National Barn Dance and Nashville’s WSM soon followed with the debut of the Grand Ole Opry...


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