- The Handbook of Texas Music. Second Edition
An impressive, giant book, this Handbook of Texas Music is similar to an A-Z dictionary with detailed entries from Darrel Lance Abbott and Buddy Ace to ZZ Top. Entries include artists and musicians, places (such as Antone's in Austin and the Cotton Club in Lubbock), radio stations (KRLD; KONO), institutions (like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra), events (the National Polka Festival in Ennis), and so many more, like the National Accordion Association in Dallas. Entries are usually less than one page in length, except for the ones on musical genres (such as blues, bluegrass, country, jazz, mariachi, Native American music, rock-and-roll, and zydeco) which cover many dimensions and artists in four or five pages each.
All the legendary artists born in Texas are obviously included and praised here: famous bluesmen like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charles Brown, Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King. One finds not only the "King of Ragtime" Scott Joplin, but also folk singer Lead Belly (or Leadbelly), religious songsters like Blind Willie Johnson, rock pioneer Buddy Holly, keyboardist Billy Preston (who played with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones), singer Janis Joplin, country music stars like Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings. Even Spanish-language singers from the Texas-Mexico border region like Lydia Mendoza are included. Yes indeed, these performers from so many different musical styles were all born in Texas, and they remain famous worldwide even decades after their death. However, this Handbook of Texas Music is not made to be just a collection of Texan celebrities, and therefore we find countless unknown artists that could someday be rediscovered.
For the casual reader, this sourcebook will probably make people realize the richness and influence of Texas's children and make some music lovers say, "Hey, I did not know this artist was from Texas." For example, the great R&B singer and pianist Amos Milburn (1927-80), often linked with the West Coast Blues of the 1950s, was born and raised in Houston. The same remark goes for the 1960s pop group Sir Douglas Quintet led by Doug Sahm: although their noble name might suggest British roots, all members were from San Antonio, but they probably thought "Sir" would be distinctive and strategic in an era when British groups were so popular. And indeed they got a few hits like "She's About a Mover" and "Mendocino" in the wake of the British Invasion of the 1960s. Another exotic pop group emerging from Texas was Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, which had a monster hit, "Wooly Bully," in 1965.
This hefty Handbook of Texas Music is a model of accuracy and precision. Entries [End Page 323] are always clear and instructive. I could not find any error or omission. Each entry features dates of birth and death, main songs, a discussion about the artist's style, inspirations, and influence, in a concise fashion. For instance, in order to characterize the Soul Stirrers' contribution to American music in just one sentence, the caption states that "The group pioneered the modern gospel sound with innovative arrangements and the use of two lead singers" (563). This accurate comment provides the reader with instructions for future listening in order to appreciate in each case what had made the musicians unique.
This Handbook of Texas Music includes more than 850 entries and that number is almost double that of the first edition (2003) of that comprehensive book, which is essential for Texan libraries.