Friday, February 2, 2024

Sing Me Back Home: Southern Roots and Country Music by Bill C. Malone

 Bill C. Malone, a name unknown to many people who are performers or fans of country music is the man who virtually invented a body of research and experience which has helped to define and broaden various kinds of music referred to as Country. Without his thoughtful scholarship informed by his rural roots in East Texas, country music would be less widely distributed and understood. His book, Sing Me Back Home: Southern Roots and Country Music, published in 2017, contains sixteen meticulously annotated essays exploring the roots, spread, influences, and importance of Country Music, not only in music, but in the wider American musical culture.  

Born in East Texas near Tyler (where we lived for three years while I taught at what was then Texas Eastern University and is now The University of Texas at Tyler) Malone grew up on a hard-scrabble cotton farm, where his first interest in music was sparked by his father’s bring a battery operated radio into the home in the mid-1930’s. Soon, his inexpensive first guitar was given to him as a gift. Malone, showed an interest in the music he heard, and later, as a student at the University of Texas at Austin, widened his interest into his studies and his research. Encouraged by his faculty advisor, he wrote his doctoral dissertation at UT on country music. It was published as the still-in-print book Country Music U.S.A.

Sing Me Back Home: Southern Roots and Country Music, published in 2017, is a collection of serious, well documented essays previously published in scholarly journals or delivered as speeches to university audiences. Despite his academic excellence, Malone’s country roots and essential decency shine through on every page. Examined in its overall focus, lies Malone’s highly knowledgeable awareness of the deep variety and wide-reaching roots of what has become known as country music. He looks carefully at the roots from which much of the music sprang, discovering more complexity and nuance than most fans attribute to their own version of the sources and nature of their preferred version of country. 

In his chapter on Bill Monroe, for instance, he looks at the lonely boy who picked up a mandolin, as well as the young man who followed his brother to the industrial Midwest. He was influenced by all the musical strands he encountered as well as bringing his own personality and strength towards developing the basis of what others came to call bluegrass music. He finds the same diversity in early country music, discusses the influences of going to war, the wide dispersal growing from radio and, later television, on the development of country music. He examines how jazz, pop, the movement of rural people to the cities, and other factors make country music and bluegrass variants on the same tree trunk. He particularly examines how various ethnic and cultural communities in America have contributed to the music. Purity is not what you find, but, perhaps, a greater understanding of much of what makes America great emerges.

If you’re interested in a book that helps you solidify your personal conception of what country music really is, this book may not be your best choice. If, on the other hand, you think you can benefit from getting a more eclectic understanding of how common people from America’s rural roots became one of the most powerful and influential musical formats in contemporary life around the world, this book will thrill you. 

I bought Sing Me Back Home: Southern Roots and Country Music as a used book from in a hardback edition. The book is published by the University of Oklahoma Press and is widely available

No comments:

Post a Comment