Cover image for American roots music
American roots music
Santelli, Robert.
Publication Information:
New York : H.N. Abrams, 2001.
Physical Description:
232 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 32 cm
General Note:
"A Rolling Stone Press book"--P. [2].

"A collaboration between the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and Experience Music Project and Ginger Group Productions"--P. [2].
Early country : treasure untold / by Charles Wolfe -- The birth of the blues / by David Evans -- The flowering of the folk revival / by Alan Jabbour -- Hallelujah : the sacred music of Black America / by Claudia Perry -- Cajun and zydeco : the musics of French southwest Louisiana / by Ann Allen Savoy -- Música tejana : the music of Mexican Texas / by Manuel Peña -- Native American music of the twentieth century / by William K. Powers -- Native tongue : contemporary native music / by J. Poet -- Keeping it country : tradition and change, 1940 to the present / by Bill C. Malone -- Mojo working : the blues explosion / by Robert Santelli -- Roots music begats rock & roll / by David McGee.
Added Uniform Title:
American roots music (Television program)

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize
Central Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize Non-Circ
Clarence Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Crane Branch Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
East Aurora Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Grand Island Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Anna M. Reinstein Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
City of Tonawanda Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Audubon Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Frank E. Merriweather Library ML3551 .A54 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



This volume explores the creative outpouring of the geniuses who wrote uniquely American genres of folk music that originated in small communities and spread across the nation. It spotlights the songwriters and singers, the entrepreneurs and promoters, the musicians who cross-pollinated traditional musics, and the contemporary artists who have attained international standing. Essays by experts in each field cover the major musical genres. Also included are first-person narratives of key artists, historical timelines, and many color and bandw photographs and art. Edited by Santelli (Experience Music Project), Holly George-Warren (editor of Rolling Stone Press), and Jim Brown (director of music documentaries). Oversize: 10.25x12.5". c. Book News Inc.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Two TV series beget companionable accompanying books. American Roots Music is a PBS tie-in that, given art-book publisher Abrams' chronic elegance, is a slab of bound paper that the swankiest coffee table would be proud to support. Each of its 10 chapters chronicles a particular variety of popular music, from its noncommercial, communal origins to commercial viability or, for post-World War II developments, from regional or ethnic popularity to national and international success. Early country, pre-World War II blues, black gospel, Cajun and zydeco, tejana, and Native American music receive the first kind of treatment; 1950s-60s politicized folk music, modern country, urban blues, and rock 'n' roll get the second. The chapters' expert authors don't probe their topics musically, and the text winds up having a this-happened-then-that-happened quality. Of course, the pictures are immaculately gorgeous, and one-page statements from such landmark figures as Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Koko Taylor, Clifton Chenier, and Flaco Jimenez are endearing. Ex-Rolling Stone Wyman's product is more focused--jus' da blooz, man--and altogether splashier, gaudier, and busier. Hailing from picture-book (as distinguished from art-book) producer DK, it goes with a Bravo cable-TV series, and it rocks. The basically chronological text happily lurches along, excitedly highlighting particular performers, venues (e.g., juke joints), songs, and subtopics like a hyped-up kid pointing out landmarks to visitors. The pictures are more family-album-like than gorgeous, and they are frequently laid out on top of panoramas that also serve as backdrops for the text. Rather than judiciously mentioning the most important performers, Wyman and Havers drop names like mad, which just boosts the book's user-friendliness. Put this book on the coffee table, and soon it'll be in the bathroom magazine rack, on the bedside stand, stashed in the backseat of the car, and left on tables and in carrels all over the library--but not for long. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

To unite the "uniquely American genres of folk music such as blues, gospel, country, Western swing, Cajun, zydeco, Tejano and Native American" under the designation of roots music and to attempt to explore such a diverse category sufficiently is to invite charges of folly or hubris or both. But this large volume, the companion text to a four-part PBS series of the same name, boldly does so and largely succeeds. While the 11 essays cover material that has been studied in-depth elsewhere, together they make a convincing case that the tradition of "pre-rock" folk music is worthy of respect and reinvestigation. Singer Raitt's claim that "without roots music there would be no... modern popular culture today" might be overstated, but there's no doubt that the form has been profoundly influential (as well as increasingly popular). Profiles of artists like Hank Williams, B.B. King and Emmylou Harris and careful considerations of the role roots music played in American culture are interspersed with interview excerpts, time lines and song lyrics. Manuel Pe¤a's "Musica Tejana: The Music of Mexican Texas" is especially good. Aside from the excellent essays, the book stands out for its selection of rare and fascinating photographs. A rich and thoughtful investigation of "vernacular" music, this is essential reading for neophytes and connoisseurs alike. (Nov.) Forecast: With the PBS series this fall bound to attract a large audience, this should be a big seller. It should also have a long shelf life as a reference work and a gift book. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

If the Billboard 200 chart is any indication, more and more Americans are abandoning the fruitless quest for aesthetic fulfillment in megacorporate McMusics. For instance, the soundtrack to the Cohen brothers' Dustbowl odyssey, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which showcases American roots classics, has sold a staggering two million copies. Edited by Santelli (deputy director of public programs, Experience Music Project), Holly George-Warren (editor, Rolling Stone Press), and producer/director Jim Brown, this magnificent new book encyclopedically explains and explores such strains as early blues, gospel, musica tejana, and Cajun/zydeco using vivid historical summaries, first-person interviews, and hundreds of rare archival photographs. Indeed, the astonishing illustrations W.C. Handy as a young cornet player circa 1909, a young Johnny Cash and an even younger Elvis Presley in the Sun recording studios, the cover of a Gene Autry "Oklahoma Yodeling Cowboy" songbook are alone well worth the price. While each individual American roots idiom has been covered by numerous worthy works, this coffee-table collaboration among the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Experience Music Project, Ginger Group Productions, Abrams, and Rolling Stone Press is the only publication to date that so remarkably treats the entire spectrum. The only downside is the lack of an index. Although it was developed as a companion to the PBS documentary of the same name (to premiere October 29), American Roots Music easily stands alone and is very highly recommended for all public and academic libraries. Bill Piekarski, Lackawanna, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Santelli (deputy director of public programs for Experience Music Project), George-Warren (editor of Rolling Stone Press), and Brown (creator of the PBS series American Roots Music) have produced a lush, heavily illustrated introduction to traditional music designed to accompany the four-hour televised series. In 11 short chapters, a variety of scholars explore various musical styles, beginning with Charles Wolfe's overview of early country music and Bill Malone's treatment of more recent country forms and styles. David Evans and Santelli explore the blues; Alan Jabbour covers the modern folk-music revival; Claudie Perry treats black sacred music; Ann Allen Savoy looks at cajun and zydeco; Manuel Pena discusses the music of Mexican Texas; William Powers and J. Poet provide fascinating discussions of Native American musical performance; and David McGee concludes with "Roots Music Begats Rock & Roll." Although they provide no bibliography or discography, the editors include helpful time lines for each section. Though well informed, the essays on country, blues, and folk music are surveys and add little to the current scholarship; the essays on Native American and Tex-Mex styles are fresh and rewarding. Recommended for all music collections, from general and lower-division undergraduate to faculty and professional. R. D. Cohen Indiana University Northwest



Chapter One EARLY COUNTRY: TREASURES UNTOLD by CHARLES WOLFEOne warm afternoon in June 1919, a mule-drawn wagon made its way up the dusty main street toward the town square of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In the driver's seat was a stocky forty-nine-year-old man with a black vest and a white goatee; on the side of the wagon was the legend MACON MIDWAY MULE AND TRANSPORTATION COMPANY . In the wagon bed were barrels of flour, sacks of meal, and crates of canned peaches and beans. On that particular afternoon, Murfreesboro was as quiet and sleepy as any one of a hundred other midsized southern towns. A couple of miles to the northwest was the site of the Battle of Stones River, one of the ugliest of the Civil War -- an indecisive blood bath that had killed more than 24,000 men. On the Murfreesboro square was a monument to the Confederate dead, and there were still enough surviving veterans in the county that every year they donned their old gray uniforms and gathered for a reunion around the monument to listen to fiddle music, speeches, and ceremonial cannon firing. Now, as the wagon pulled onto the square, the driver reached under the seat and pulled out an old, open-backed Slingerland banjo. As he pulled up to one of the square's four grocery stores, he began to sing at the top of his voice and to wham the banjo. "I've brought you corn, corn, corn!" he crowed. "And I've got beans, beans, beans!" The booming voice carried across the square, and the courthouse whittlers and sleepy gaffers looked up and smiled. Uncle Dave Macon was in town, and he was making his rounds. The stock boys soon unloaded the wagon, and the driver turned around and began heading back down Main Street, to his base some eight miles out in the countryside. As he passed under the lush maple trees and the old pre-Civil War houses that lined the street, he began singing a real song. The upstanding townsfolk smiled and shook their heads, amused at the old man whom they regarded as a likeable but eccentric character. They had no idea where Macon had learned such an odd song -- he in fact had learned it from a black gristmill worker some ten years before. Nor did they have any idea that Macon would, in five short years, become one of the first southern singers to put his music on phonograph records, or that he would, in 1925, become one of the first stars of a new medium called radio. No one could have guessed that he would help define a new style of art that would be called country music, that he would travel to Hollywood to put his antics on film, or that he would someday have a huge music festival named in his honor that would attract forty thousand fans to Murfreesboro. People who were young kids when they watched Uncle Dave sing as he delivered grocery supplies would still remember the scene when they were doddering senior citizens in their eighties. It was an example of grassroots music at its most basic -- a part of the fabric of everyday life, a little touch of art to brighten for a moment the hard lives of working-class Americans. And it came from the last decade before mass media would inexorably change the face of American music and the way people fit it into their lives. In the 1920s American roots music would collide head-on with the twin forces of radio and phonograph records, and all three would be forever changed. For much of the Nineteenth Century, most Americans were not aware of anything called "folk music." To be sure, the music was there, scattered in great plentitude in every corner of the land, but most people took it for granted, like wildflowers in the spring or maples turning colors in the fall. But with the dawn of the Twentieth Century, with the closing of the frontier and the raft of new inventions by people like Thomas Edison, Americans were becoming more conscious of their past and of their "heritage." By the second decade of the new century, there were a number of things going on that were calling attention to the musical traditions. Down in Georgia, fiddlers from all over the state would every fall pack up a plug of old homespun tobacco, gather up their favorite blue tick hound, and head for Atlanta, where they would gather in the Municipal Auditorium and compete for three days in a huge contest to see who could play the best "Mississippi Sawyer" or "Cackling Hen." Over in the Appalachians, a dapper British folksong scholar named Cecil Sharp was traveling around by foot to hamlets like Rocky Fork and Big Laurel and documenting songs like "Barbara Allen" and "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies," old ballads that the first Scotch-Irish settlers in the mountains had brought with them from across the sea. Out in Texas, people were reading a new book by a young Harvard man named John Lomax called Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1910); it was the first real book-length collection of American folksongs and preserved classics like "Home on the Range" and "The Old Chisholm Trail." Down in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, about one hundred miles from where Uncle Dave Macon drove his wagon, a gospel-music publisher named James D. Vaughan was issuing a little paperbacked shape-note songbook called Praise Evangel (1919), the most recent in a yearly series of such books that had already sold almost two million copies. To sell his books, Vaughan had hit upon the idea of hiring well-trained quartets to travel around the country giving free concerts at local churches, and by now people were liking the idea of gospel-quartet singing almost as much as the lively new gospel songs in the books. In the Blue Ridge Mountains around places like Galax, Virginia, young mountain musicians were learning how to play an instrument that many had never seen before, the guitar, and figuring out how to meld it into the classic string band that up until now had often consisted of just the banjo and fiddle. To be sure, many families still got their music when they assembled in the parlor around the old upright piano and sang the newest sheet music hits from New York, or when they went to the local vaudeville theater to see the old song-and-dance men do songs like "I'm Looking for the Bully of the Town." But they were also starting to notice what would later be called grassroots music. The first shot in the media revolution occurred on November 2, 1920, when the first commercially licensed radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, made its debut broadcast by announcing the results of the Harding-Cox presidential election. Within months, new commercial stations were popping up around the country like dandelions after a spring rain. Some were a little bizarre -- an early Washington, D.C., station was licensed to a priest and boasted the call letters WJSV: "Will Jesus Save Virginia." Others went to big commercial enterprises, like Chicago's WLS, owned by Sears and standing for "World's Largest Store." Still others were licensed to insurance companies, like Nashville's WSM -- standing for "We Shield Millions," the slogan of the owners, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. By 1922 and 1923, most major cities could boast of a radio station, and in the uncluttered airwaves of the time, people routinely picked up signals from hundreds of miles away. One effect the popularity of the new radios had was to knock the bottom out of phonograph-record sales. The flat 78 rpm records had been around since the turn of the century, but record companies saw them as playthings for well-to-do families of the time; they featured a lot of light opera, pieces by Sousa's Band, vocal solos by Caruso, and barbershop harmonies by the Peerless Quartet. Now, suddenly, people found they could hear music free on the radio; why buy records for seventy-five cents apiece? Desperate to maintain sales, the record companies began casting about for new markets. They stumbled onto one in 1920, when the Okeh label released a song called "Crazy Blues" by a vaudeville singer named Mamie Smith. It was the first blues record by an African-American artist, and it became a bestseller by appealing to a hitherto untapped record market: black Americans. In June 1923, the same man who had recorded Mamie Smith -- Ralph Peer, a thirty-one-year-old, moon-faced A&R (artists & repertoire) chief who had been born in Kansas City, Missouri, but now worked out of New York -- found himself in Atlanta looking for talent. A local dealer promised to buy five hundred copies if Peer would record the town character, Fiddlin' John Carson -- a fifty-five-year-old former millworker who had won fame at the Municipal Auditorium's annual fiddling contest. Peer agreed and in a temporary studio recorded Carson playing the fiddle unaccompanied and singing "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane." "I thought his singing was pluperfect awful," Peer admitted years later. But he released the record -- and was surprised to see it become a modest hit. Within months, the race was on as the major record companies scrambled to tap into this new market of working-class southerners. At first they didn't even know what to call the music: Some ads mentioned "oldtime southern tunes," others "hill country music," others "oldtime music." Victor called its series "Native American Melodies." In 1924, a Texan singer working in New York, Vernon Dalhart, actually had a nationwide hit with a train-wreck ballad called "The Wreck of the Old '97." He followed this up in 1925 with a topical "broadside" ballad called "The Death of Floyd Collins," about the miner who attracted widespread attention when he was trapped in a Kentucky sand cave; this record sold more than three hundred thousand copies, and if any of the record companies had lingering doubts about the marketability of southern music, these reservations were put to rest. Following Ralph Peer's lead, the companies began sending talent scouts into the South to hunt up and record on-location fiddlers, singers, banjo players, and gospel quartets. In the summer of 1927, Peer hit pay dirt once again. In an old hat factory doubling as a temporary studio, in the Virginia-Tennessee border town of Bristol, he discovered the two acts that were to dominate country music's first decade: a singing trio called the Carter Family and a former railroad brakeman named Jimmie Rodgers. The Carters were actually locals; they lived in a lush mountain valley up in southwest Virginia, about thirty miles from Bristol, where they had all grown up and learned the old ballads and gospel songs of their ancestors. They consisted of A.P. Carter; his wife, Sara; and Sara's teenage cousin Maybelle. Sara did most of the lead singing, played a little multistringed mountain instrument called the Autoharp, and played guitar; Maybelle played lead guitar and sang. A.P. "bassed in" on occasion but mainly served as the manager and song-finder. When Ralph Peer first met them, he was not impressed by their plain country dress and manner. But when he heard them sing, his doubts vanished. "As soon as I heard Sara's voice," he recalled years later, "I knew it was going to be wonderful." It was. During that first session, the Carters cut classics like "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow," "The Storms Are on the Ocean," and "Single Girl." In the months to follow, the group recorded dozens of other songs that would become country and bluegrass standards: "Wildwood Flower," "Wabash Cannonball," "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Little Darling, Pal of Mine," "Worried Man Blues," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- a total of almost three hundred sides for every major record company from 1927 to 1941. "They didn't have gold records in those days," said pioneer Nashville music publisher Wesley Rose, "but if they had, the Carters would have had a wall full." It was these records that really created the model for country harmony, and it was Maybelle's guitar runs that defined country guitar playing for generations. (Known as the Carter lick, it involved picking the melody on the lower strings while strumming the chords on the higher ones.) Even after Sara and A.P. split up in the mid-Thirties, the family still performed and recorded together, winning additional fame by playing over-the-border radio "superstations" in the late Thirties. In later years, the Carter dynasty grew to include second, third, and even fourth generations of singers and songwriters, including Maybelle's daughter June, who would marry Johnny Cash. Jimmie Rodgers, for his part, was anything but a mountain boy. He was born in 1897, hundreds of miles away from the Smoky Mountains, in the steamy flatland of Meridian, Mississippi, in the southeastern corner of the state. It was blues country, not ballad country, and Rodgers was soon trying to adopt African-American Delta blues styles to his own pliant voice. He spent his early days working on the railroad, traveling widely and absorbing all kinds of music of the time: jazz, vaudeville hokum, pop sentimental songs, and "yodel songs." By 1924, he had contracted tuberculosis and was forced to quit railroading; out of desperation, he decided to try to make it in music. Three years later he was singing with a string band in Asheville, North Carolina, when he heard of Peer's auditions. The band journeyed to Bristol but got into an argument the night before the audition, and its members tried out without Rodgers. With nothing to lose, Rodgers went on and attempted a record by himself -- an old story song called "The Soldier's Sweetheart." Peer was not nearly as impressed as he had been with the Carters. It wasn't until Rodgers appeared again at the Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, several months later that he recorded what would be his career song: a powerful white blues called "Blue Yodel" but known to most fans as "T for Texas, T for Tennessee." This one did take off -- it became one of the very few actual million-selling records from these early days. And during the years from 1928 through 1930, when the Depression stopped most people from buying records, Rodgers became the single biggest-selling artist in country music. His hits included wistful laments like "Treasures Untold" and "My Old Pal" and rough and rowdy send-ups like "In the Jailhouse Now," which had earlier been recorded by blues singer Blind Blake. There was a whole string of "blue yodels," white blues stanzas that, as opposed to Swiss- or cowboy-style yodels, featured a high, falsetto keening that Rodgers could break into with nonchalant ease. Destined to become country standards were "Waiting for a Train," "When the Cactus Is in Bloom," "Peach Picking Time Down in Georgia," and a half dozen others. Rodgers had no regular backup band, but on his records he experimented with all kinds of settings: Hawaiian guitar players, jug bands, black blues guitarists, jazzmen (including Louis Armstrong), small string orchestras, and, on one forgettable occasion, a musical saw player. He toured big-time vaudeville, made a Hollywood short, and did a benefit tour with legendary humorist Will Rogers. With his versatility and charisma, Jimmie Rodgers seemed poised to survive even the Depression and emerge as a major singer on the national scene. But he couldn't survive the TB; on May 26, 1933, two days after his last recording session, he collapsed on the street in New York City and died a few hours later. In his wake came dozens of clones, some of whom emerged as major singers of the 1930s and 1940s: Gene Autry, who used his Rodgers imitations as a springboard to cowboy music and Hollywood; Cliff Carlisle, the Kentucky singer who specialized in double-entendre songs and whose blues sounded so authentic that some of his records were released in the "race" series (aimed at an African-American audience); and Bill Cox, whose topical songs like "NRA Blues" sold thousands of records. In later years, Rodgers's admirers included a young Ernest Tubb (who made his first records using Rodgers's guitar), Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, and Randy Travis. It was little wonder that Rodgers was the first member elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame (in 1961). Rodgers and the Carters were by no means the only major recording stars in the 1920s and early 1930s. Galax, Virginia, carpenter Ernest Stoneman, whose 1924 recording of "The Titanic" was an early bestseller, recorded prolifically for virtually every major label and started a family dynasty that still survives in the country scene today. A colorful "supergroup" of instrumentalists called the Skillet Lickers took southern string-band music in new and complex directions, and their vocalist, a blind guitarist named Riley Puckett, was for a time the only serious rival to Rodgers. In North Carolina, banjoist and singer Charlie Poole made dozens of influential records like "Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister" and "White House Blues." A group of north Georgia gospel singers called Smith's Sacred Singers had huge sellers with recordings like "Where We'll Never Grow Old." Hundreds of other performers from every corner of the South made only a handful of records and disappeared into the mists of history, leaving behind a rich and complex legacy celebrated in modern collections like Harry Smith's 1952 set, Anthology of American Folk Music . But with typically very low royalty rates, not many first-generation performers were able to make much of a living from their records. To do that, they needed the second new form of mass media: radio. As early as 1922, stations in Fort Worth and Atlanta were broadcasting some country music, and in 1924. WLS Chicago began a regular Saturday night music show that soon became the National Barn Dance. It was a springboard for singers like "the Kentucky Mountain Boy," Bradley Kincaid, who reportedly sang his signature song, the ballad "Barbara Allen," every single Saturday night for more than a year. Also popular on WLS were the Coon Creek Girls, an all-girl string band built around the awesome talents of Lily May Ledford, who played banjo and fiddle. But the radio show that would play the pivotal role in country music's development was founded on Nashville's WSM radio one cold November evening in 1925. On that night a seventy-eight-year-old white-bearded fiddler named Uncle Jimmy Thompson, who bragged that he could "fiddle the bugs off a tater vine," gave an impromptu and unscheduled performance that got station phones ringing off the hook. By coincidence, WSM had just hired as its station manager George D. Hay, nicknamed "the Solemn Ole Judge," who had won fame as the announcer for WLS's Barn Dance show. One of Hay's biggest problems in downtown Chicago had been finding a supply of fiddlers and country singers, and he had already thought about how easy it would be to find such musicians in the hills and farmlands surrounding Nashville. The success of Thompson and his Civil War--era fiddle tunes convinced him that such a show would work, and in the following days, the mail arriving from all over the South convinced him -- and his bosses at National Life -- that there was a huge rural audience out there hungry for old-time music. In December 1925, he announced that WSM would start a regular "barn dance feature" every Saturday night. Within a few weeks, the plush WSM studios were awash with local musicians on Saturday evenings, all conviced that they were good enough to be on the show. "It was a good-natured riot," quipped Hay, but gradually the best ones were singled out and became regulars on the show -- which in 1927 was renamed the Grand Ole Opry. (Continues...) Excerpted from AMERICAN ROOTS MUSIC by . Copyright (c) 2001 by Ginger Group Production Inc. and Rolling Stone Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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