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  • The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk by Donna Marie Miller
  • Craig Hillis
The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk. By Donna Marie Miller. ( College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2017. Pp. 256. Illustrations, notes bibliography, index.)

Donna Marie Miller has written a very good and essential book. It is a story of a native Austin family, the bar and restaurant business that patriarch James White opened in 1964, and the countless characters both on and off the stage who have populated this legendary honky-tonk for more than half a century.

It is a good book because it is well researched, well organized, and well written. Over a twenty-seven month period, Miller collected more than one hundred oral histories from the White family and from employees, patrons, and musicians and their representatives, thereby creating a valuable trove of primary source data. She carefully explored the main currents of Texas cultural history and Austin music history. Additionally, she sought out films, videos, and audio recordings that were relevant to her story.

Miller organized the book in seven sections, delineated by decades, and [End Page 238] within each section she wove together three dominant themes she calls "braids." The first covers local, state, and national events as they affected the evolution of the Broken Spoke and the growth of the Austin music scene. The "center thread" (11) depicts the life and times of the White family, and the third braid presents the cast of characters—employees, patrons, dancers, musicians—and their role in the story. This "braided narrative structure" (11) enables the reader to experience the interplay of the three story lines in a common historical setting.

Miller writes in an accessible and direct journalistic style. Her comprehensive research is evident through her command of the material and her free-flowing narrative. She sprinkles enough spice and lighthearted anecdotes through the story to hold the reader's interest and keep the pages turning.

The Broken Spoke is an essential book because it analyzes a live music venue, and in Texas, especially in Austin, the live music venue is the essential cog in the wheel of our vibrant music scene. Whether a small folk club, a rock 'n' roll joint, a multi-thousand seat concert hall, or a venerable honky-tonk, these locations provide the economic bedrock upon which all other aspects of the music scene unfold: the paychecks to musicians that in turn underwrite managers, agents, music publishers, producers, studio engineers, and related audio and video projects. Live music revenues translate into musical instrument sales, advertising produced by copywriters, graphic artists, and printing companies, and countless other commercial enterprises that account for Austin's multi-million dollar annual entertainment and tourism industry. Miller successfully portrays how the activities of the White family, the personnel and patrons at the club, and an endless stream of musicians come together to facilitate the role that the "Spoke" plays in the local and national music community.

Miller's book calls the Broken Spoke "Austin's Legendary HonkyTonk," a bar, a restaurant, a "real country joint" (4), and "the last of the true Texas dance halls" (6). It is also a home away from home for some of country music's biggest stars, a showcase for up and coming acts, a blue-collar country club, an after-hours conference room for Texas legislators, a country dance studio, a community center, and a country music museum.

Most importantly, The Broken Spoke is a quintessential American story. It is an authentic Norman Rockwell-like portrait of a strong, dedicated family whose work ethic, commitment to each other, and shared vision are now fueling a third generation. Having survived and thrived in an extremely tough business, the Whites have nurtured a Texas tradition. The Broken Spoke: Austin's Legendary Honky-Tonk is an essential companion to any student or enthusiast of Texas music and cultural history. [End Page 239]

Craig Hillis
Austin, Texas


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