Country music is uniquely American. It’s the music of the common man exploring love, loss, boozing, brawling, the open road and desperate dreams. To listen to country music is to hear the poetry of those struggling, of hope and despair and the strength of the human spirit. This list of 50 Great Books About Country Music includes lively, well-written histories of the genre. It also includes biographies of many of the top artists who embody the history of country music in their own dreams, struggles and successes.
#1-The Encyclopedia of Country Music
Michael McCall , John Rumble, Paul Kingsbury – Editors
Vince Gill – Forward
Immediately upon publication in 1998, The Encyclopedia of Country Music became a much-loved reference source, prized for its wealth of information. This revised edition includes more than 1,200 A-Z entries covering nine decades of history and artistry, from the Carter Family recordings of the 1920s to the reign of Taylor Swift. Compiled by a team of experts at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the encyclopedia is up-to-date with new entries on the artists who have influenced country music in recent years, such as the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban. The new edition of this country music book also explores the latest within the industry, such as the digital revolution, the shifting politics of country music, and the impact of American Idol (reflected in the stardom of Carrie Underwood). Other essays cover the literature of country music, the importance of Nashville as a music center, and the colorful outfits that have long been a staple of the genre.
#2-It’s a Long Story: My Life
Willie Nelson is the Gandolph of music. He sold vacuum cleaners and raised pigs while trying to break into the country music industry. When he finally did, as a songwriter, there was no stopping him. His song “Crazy,” recorded by Patsy Cline, is one of the most popular songs of all time. He’s been bankrupt, lost everything but his guitar in a house fire, and nearly died at least a couple times. He’s a great philanthropist, proponent of family farms, green energy, and, of course, marijuana. He was one of the main figures in the 70’s Outlaw Movement that changed country music forever. His music catalog includes country, blues, jazz and pop. He’s performed with dozens of artists of all genres and acted in more than 30 films. Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, and later received the Kennedy Center Honors and induction to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame. In 2015 he won the Gershwin Prize, the lifetime award of the Library of Congress. He was included by Rolling Stone on its 100 Greatest Singers and 100 Greatest Guitarists lists. And with his bus, he just keeps on rolling and performing.
#3-All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music
Hal Leonard Corp.
The All Music Guide to Country rounds up music from the Appalachian Mountains to the Grand Ole Opry, from gospel tents to honky-tonk bars, and from the open range to the open road, helping readers choose the most essential albums from more than 1,200 artists. Country legends like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams are covered in depth, along with such popular artists as the Dixie Chicks, Wynonna Judd, Garth Brooks and Faith Hill. There are also more than 10,000 reviews and ratings for a wide range of country-influenced performers, including Will Oldham, Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang and country rockers ranging from Gram Parsons to Uncle Tupelo. This is one of the most useful books for anyone interested in books about country music.
#4-Johnny Cash: The Life
Johnny Cash’s extraordinary career stretched from his days at Sun Records with Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to the remarkable creative last hurrah, at age 69, that resulted in the powerful “Hurt” video. Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn knew Cash throughout his life. He was the only music journalist at the legendary 1968 Folsom Prison concert and he interviewed both Cash and his wife June Carter just months before their deaths. Drawing upon a trove of never-before-seen material from the singer’s inner circle, Hilburn creates a compelling, deeply human portrait of a towering figure in country music, a seminal influence in rock, and an icon of American popular culture. We see the astonishing highs and deep lows that marked the journey of a man of great faith and humbling addiction who throughout his life strove to use his music to lift people’s spirits. Cash was the ultimate Bad Boy, devout Christian, proud American and penultimate artist.
#5-Johnny Cash: The Biography
To millions, he was the rebellious Man in Black, the unabashed patriot, the redeemed Christian-the king of country music. But Cash was also an uncertain country boy whose dreams were born in the Arkansas cotton fields and who struggled his entire life with a guilt-ridden childhood, addictions, and self-doubt. This biography explores many often overlooked aspects of Cash’s life and career, uncovering the origins of his songwriting and trademark boom-chicka-boom rhythm and delving into the details of his personal life, including his long time drug dependency. Scrupulously researched, this book explores the vulnerable man and the bad-ass artist, immortalized as the Man in Black.
#6-Lost Highway: Journeys and Arrivals of American Musicians
This masterful exploration of American roots music–country, rockabilly, and the blues–spotlights the artists who created a distinctly American sound, including Ernest Tubb, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, and Sleepy LaBeef. In incisive portraits based on searching interviews with these legendary performers, the author captures the passion that drove these men to music-making and that kept them determinedly, and sometimes almost desperately, on the road. Guralnick is one of the most respected music historians of the 20th and 21st centuries.
#7-Hank Williams: The Biography
Colin Escott, George Merritt, William MacEwen
Hank Williams pioneered and encapsulated country music. His songs are some of the most enduring in the genre and have been recorded by hundreds of country, blues, pop and classical artists. His chaotic life full of pain, alcohol, and women became the outline of the tortured artist. His death at age 29 was a blueprint followed by many other country and rock musicians. He’s also been an inspiration to three generations of country and rock artists.
This book has long been considered the last word on Hank Williams. This new edition has been completely updated and includes many previously unpublished photographs, as well as a complete catalog detailing all the songs Hank ever wrote.
#8-The Grand Tour: The Life and Music of George Jones
This work by one of the genre’s most respected journalists explores the wild life and extraordinary musical career of one of country’s greatest artists. Jones influenced, among others, Bob Dylan, Buck Owens, Emmylou Harris, John Fogerty, George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Garth Brooks. Jones was, like many other artists, gifted and tormented. His tumultuous life led many to call him “the Keith Richards of country.” Kienzle chronicles Jones’s impoverished East Texas childhood as the youngest son of a deeply religious mother and alcoholic, often-abusive father. He examines his three troubled marriages including his union with superstar Tammy Wynette. Alcohol and later cocaine nearly killed him until fourth wife Nancy helped him learn to love himself. Kienzle also details Jones’s remarkable musical journey from singing in violent Texas honky tonks to Grand Ole Opry star, hitmaker and master vocalist whose raw, emotionally powerful delivery remains the Gold Standard for country singers. Jones lived hard and died at age 81. His story is one filled with whiskey, women and drugs and the music that he shared with the world.
#9-Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter
Loretta Lynn, George Vecsey
Born in 1935 into abject poverty, married at age 13, and a grandmother by age 29, Loretta Lynn went on to become one of the most prolific and influential singers in modern country music. She became the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year, and the first woman to receive a gold record in country music. Lynn boasts sixteen #1 singles, fifteen #1 albums, and 60 other hits including “Honky Tonk Girl,” “Before I’m Over You,” “The Pill,” and “After the Fire Is Gone. “ Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter, a bestseller and the basis of the Oscar-winning film, is the intimate, revealing story of her journey from eastern Kentucky to Nashville to stardom to legend—told in her own voice, which rings as clear and true as her best songs.
#10-Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America’s Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century
In the nearly eight decades since his death from tuberculosis at age 35, singer-songwriter Jimmie Rodgers has been an inspiration for numerous performers, from Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Beck. The Mississippi-born vaudevillian, a former railroad worker who performed briefly, produced music and themes that have made him the icon in various musical genres. Mazor traces Rodgers’ career from working-class obscurity to the pinnacle of renown. In addition to Rodgers’ ability to interpret many types of songs, the author suggests that it was the artist’s ability to assume many public personas: working stiff, decked-out cowboy, suave ladies’ man-that connected him to such a broad public and set the stage for the stars who followed him. Rodgers changed not just country music but also rock and roll, blues, jazz, bluegrass, Western, and commercial folk.
#11-Smart Blonde: The Life of Dolly Parton
In this definitive biography, Miller goes behind Parton’s larger-than-life image to explore the remarkable woman from a poor East Tennessee background who made it in the male-dominated world of Sixties Nashville and went on to build a respectable movie career. Talking to Dolly’s family members, musicians and producers, the author explores Dolly’s private life, including her closely-guarded relationships with her husband of nearly 50 years, Carl Dean, and her lifelong friend Judy Ogle. What emerges is a unique portrait of a strong woman who took control of her life, her music and a successful business career. Dolly has always made jokes at her own expense. Perhaps the best joke has been how one of America’s great singer-songwriters became a legend by being serious about her music while making light of her image.
#12-Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline
Ellis Nassour, Dottie West (Foreword)
She was earthy, sexy, vivacious, and a pioneer. Patsy Cline soared from obscurity to international fame to a tragic death in just 30 years. She remains among the most soulful singers of country and pop. An innovator and hell-raiser, Cline broke all the boys’ club barriers of Nashville’s music business in the 1950s and gave birth to new Nashville sound with her pop hits and torch ballads like “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces“ and Willie Nelson’s “Crazy.” Her albums are still selling more than 50 years after her death. Nassour was the first to write about Cline and did so with the cooperation of the stars who knew and loved her—including Jimmy Dean, Jan Howard, Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Dottie West, and Faron Young. He was the only writer of books about country music to interview Cline’s mother and husbands.
#13-The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music
Paul Hemphill, Donald F. Cusic (Contributor)
Paul Hemphill studies the pivotal moment in the late ‘60s when traditional defenders of the hillbilly roots of country music were confronted by the new influences and business realities of pop music. He shows the traditional Nashville artists such as Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell coming into first contact and sometimes conflict — with a new wave of pop-influenced and business savvy country performers, including Jeannie C. Riley, Johnny Ryles, and Glen Campbell and rock performers including Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons, the Byrds, and the Grateful Dead. This is an excellent study of how these new artists took country above and beyond Music City. The Nashville Sound shows the resulting identity crisis as a fascinating, even poignant, moment in country music and entertainment history.
#14-REBA: MY STORY
Reba McEntire, Tom Carter
Her millions of fans know her as “Reba.” The country music superstar describes her Oklahoma childhood as a member of a cattle ranching family, her early days as a performer and her award-winning musical achievements. She also talks about the tragic loss of her eight band members in a plane crash in March, 1991, her acting career and her marriages.
Since her first solo album in 1977, Reba has produced 26 studio albums, acquired 40 number one singles, 14 number one albums. Twenty-eight albums have been certified gold, platinum or multi-platinum. She’s often been called “The Queen of Country”‘ and is one of the best-selling artists of all time with sales of more than 85 million records worldwide.
#15-Composed: A Memoir
For 30 years as a musician, Rosanne Cash has enjoyed both critical and commercial success, releasing a series of albums that are as notable for their lyrical intelligence as for their musical excellence. Cash writes about her upbringing in Southern California as the child of country legend Johnny Cash, and of her relationships with her mother and her famous stepmother, June Carter Cash. In her account of her development as an artist she shares memories of a hilarious stint as a 20-year-old working for Columbia Records in London, recording her own first album on a German label, working her way to success, her marriage to Rodney Crowell, a union that made them Nashville’s premier couple, her relationship with the country music establishment, taking a new direction in her music and leaving Nashville to move to New York. As well as motherhood, dealing with the deaths of her parents, in part through music, the process of songwriting, and the fulfillment she has found with her current husband and musical collaborator, John Leventhal.
#16-Always Been There: Rosanne Cash, the List, and the Spirit of Southern Music
In 1973, Rosanne Cash’s father, Johnny Cash, gave her a list of 100 songs that he felt a young musician had to know. This book tells the inside story of the album that, more than 35 years later, resulted from “the list.”
The book documents a pivotal episode in Rosanne Cash’s long and fascinating career. As she, along with producer and husband John Leventhal, painstakingly reconstructs what songs made “the list” and why, we gain a new understanding of a longer musican continuium that includes the Carter Family and other fabled names of the Southern pantheon and their influence on her music and writing. We also see how Leventhal’s talents as an arranger and musician pair with Rosanne’s searching vocal performances to make these old songs new again.
Always Been There tracks Rosanne Cash’s career from her early commercial hits with albums like King’s Record Shop through her split with Nashville tradition on albums like Interiors and the sublime Black Cadillac. It paints an unforgettable portrait of Rosanne confronting music-making in the aftermath of serious brain surgery, her lifelong search for her legacy, and her unique creative partnerships.
#17-Buck ‘Em!: The Autobiography of Buck Owens
Randy Poe, Buck Owens
Born in Texas and raised in Arizona, Owens made his way to Bakersfield, California. Unlike the majority of country singers, songwriters, and musicians who made their fortunes working and living in Nashville, the rebellious, independent Owens chose to create his own brand of country music on the west coast. He had a remarkable 21 number one hits and helped give birth to a new country sound while helping to establish Bakersfield as a country music center.
In the latter half of the 1990s, Buck began working on his autobiography. Over the next few years, he talked into the microphone of a cassette tape machine for nearly one hundred hours, recording the story of his life. His memoirs run from the early days wearing hand-me-down clothes in Texas to his glory years as the biggest country star of the 1960s; from his legendary Carnegie Hall concert to his multiple failed marriages; from his hilarious exploits on the road to the tragic loss of his musical partner and best friend, Don Rich.
Owens was among the first country artists to create his own music publishing company. He acquired numerous radio stations and co-hosted the popular TV show Hee Haw. He also built the Crystal Palace, one of the most venerated musical venues in the country.
#18-Merle Haggard: The Running Kind
Merle Haggard, one of the originators of the Bakersville Sound, charted more than 100 country hits, including 38 number ones. Before his death in 2016, he released dozens of studio and live albums, performed upwards of 10,000 concerts, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His songs have been performed by artists as diverse as Lynryd Skynyrd, Elvis Costello, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. In 2011 he was feted as a Kennedy Center Honoree.
Cantwell covers the entire breadth of The Hag’s career focusing primarily on the 1960s and 1970s when the artist created some of his best-known and most influential music. Among the masterpieces are “Okie from Muskogee,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Mama Tried,” “Working Man Blues,” “Kern River,” “White Line Fever,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” and “If We Make It through December,” songs that earned Haggard the title, “The Poet of the Working Man.”
#19-Kristofferson: The Wild American
Kris Kristofferson is one of country music’s most illustrious singer-songwriters. Seemingly destined for a distinguished military career, ex-Golden Gloves boxer and Rhodes scholar Kristofferson gave it all up to sweep floors in Nashville, began to pitch his songs to his musical heroes, and, with the help of Johnny Cash, became a star himself. He took country music into the adult realm with such poetic musings as “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “For the Good Times,” and other songs that expanded the breadth and depth of country music. Brash, brilliant and controversial, Kristofferson made an indelible mark in both music and film. The Wild American is the story of Kristofferson’s triumphant pursuit of a career that took an even more unlikely turn when he broke into movies and became famous again after his country music years.
#20-Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South
Charles L. Hughes
In the sounth of the 1960s and 1970s, nothing symbolized the rift between black and white America better than the seemingly divided genres of country and soul. Yet the music emerged from the same songwriters, musicians, and producers in the recording studios of Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The author calls this the “country-soul triangle.”
In legendary studios like Stax and FAME, integrated groups of musicians like Booker T. and the MGs and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section produced music that both challenged and reconfirmed racial divisions in the U.S. Working with artists from Aretha Franklin to Willie Nelson, these musicians became crucial contributors to the era’s popular music and symbols of American racial politics in the turbulent years of civil rights protests, Black Power, and white backlash.
Hughes explores this key moment in American popular music and challenges the conventional wisdom about the racial politics of southern studios and the music that emerged from them. He brings to life the daily world of session musicians, producers, and songwriters at the heart of the country and soul scenes. In doing so, he shows how the country-soul triangle gave birth to new ways of thinking about music, race, labor, and the South in this pivotal period.
#21-Merle Haggard’s My House of Memories: For the Record
Merle Haggard, Tom Carter
In this riveting autobiography, Haggard offers a fascinating look inside his turbulent and successful life. He shares previously untold stories about his birth and troubled upbringing in a converted railroad boxcar. He recalls the loss of his father when he was nine, and how his disobedience grew into full-blown delinquency that landed him in San Quentin. Having lived a Iife shaped by violence, gambling, and drugs, he shares the lessons he learned and how he continues to pay for decades of reckless living. He pays tribute to his mother, and relives the painful memory of her death. He also talks about the music he loves, and how it has ultimately defined him.
#22-Eddy Arnold: Pioneer of the Nashville Sound
This is a detailed record of the private life and public career of one of country and pop’s biggest stars. It’s also a portrait of country music’s early decades before the onslaught of rock ‘n roll. Illustrated with photographs and featuring a comprehensive discography and sessionography, this book about country music traces Eddy Arnold’s origins from a cotton farm in western Tennessee to his legendary status in the world of country music. Streissguth covers Arnold’s success as a top-selling artist in the 1940s and 1950s and his temporary wane as listeners gravitated toward the rock & roll sound, embodied by newcomer Elvis Presley. Arnold kept recording, however, and working on his craft. By the mid-60s, he reemerged as a suave pop crooner with his hit song “Make the World Go Away.” His blend of country sentiments and pop stylings created the template for Nashville’s modern country music sound. Throughout his career he was a major concert attraction and television star.
#23-Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music
In Kentucky Traveler, Ricky Skaggs, the music legend who revived modern bluegrass music, gives a warm, honest, one-of-a-kind memoir of 40 years in music and a bevy of personal snapshots of his musical heroes. This is an inside, heartfelt look at the country, bluegrass and gospel traditions through the eyes of someone who has lived them.
#24-I Love You a Thousand Ways: The Lefty Frizzell Story
David Frizzell, Merle Haggard (Foreword)
Lefty Frizzell was one of the most loved, respected, and imitated singer/songwriters in the history of country music. His relaxed singing style was a huge influence on a wide variety of country and pop music stars such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, George Jones, John Fogerty, George Strait, and Tim McGraw. He had four songs in the country Top 10 at the same time in 1951—a feat that would be repeated only one more time on any chart, when The Beatles had five songs on the pop chart in 1964.
As a part of the Traveling Wilburys, Orbison chose the name “Lefty Wilbury” in honor of his musical hero. Lefty was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Frizzell is one of the most country’s most underrated artists, but his music continues to influence new generations of musicians and music fans.
#25-Watermelon Wine: The Spirit of Country Music
Four decades after it was published, this country music book was often prophetic and is still relevant. Gaillard looked at the commercialization of the Grand Ole Opry; the tradition-minded rebels such as Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, and Tompall Glaser; and the growing divide between country and folk music. He shows how Johnny Cash inspired new songwriters and new ideas, how the changing relationships between men and women affected the music as well ,as the increasing influence of gospel and Southern rock. A new introduction by Nashville music journalist Peter Cooper and a new afterword by the author update the book’s themes and show what has happened to its personalities. Gaillard and Cooper have also collaborated to include a Listener’s Guide to the best CDs by the artists featured in the book.
#26-Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty Robbins
Marty Robbins was a legendary country artist with 16 number hits and two Grammy Awards. He was also a NASCAR driver. Diekman explains how Robbins saw himself as a drifter, a man always searching for self-fulfillment and inner peace. Born Martin David Robinson to a hardworking mother and an abusive alcoholic father, he never fully escaped the insecurities burned into him by a poverty-stricken nomadic childhood in the Arizona desert. In 1947 he got his first gig as a singer and guitar player. He changed his name to Marty Robbins, cultivated his magnetic stage presence, and established himself as an entertainer, songwriter, and successful NASCAR driver. This is an in-depth portrait of beloved, restless entertainer, and a private man who everyone at a distance.
#27-Jim Reeves: His Untold Story
Velvet-voiced Jim Reeves was one of the world’s most popular recording stars. “Gentleman Jim” blended country and pop and sang with a velvety intimacy that still holds up today. More than 11 years in the writing, this bio is based on hundreds of interviews with the people who knew Reeves best, as well as his personal diaries and private correspondence. Jordan’s brisk, though richly detailed narrative style tells an engrossing story, taking the reader virtually day-by-day through Reeve’s life. There are many intriguing – even explosive – revelations here, in a portrait that is honest, though sometimes painful; poignant, yet full of good humor. More than 150 rare photos depict the private as well as public side of the 60’s country icon who died when the plane he was flying crashed. Reeves, along with Patsy Cline and Eddie Arnold, brought a new sophistication to country music in the early 1960s.
#28-Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville
Outlaw follows the stories of three legends as they redefined country music: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. Streissguth delves into the country music scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when these rebels found themselves in Music City writing songs and vying for record deals. Channeling the unrest of the times, all three Country Music Hall of Famers resisted the music industry’s unwritten rules and emerged as leaders of the outlaw movement that ultimately changed the recording industry. The book offers a portrait of the outlaw movement in Nashville that includes other important artists including Johnny Cash, Rodney Crowell, Kinky Friedman, and Billy Joe Shaver, among others.
#29-Behind the Grand Ole Opry Curtain: Tales of Romance and Tragedy
Grand Ole Opry, Robert K. Oermann
The Grand Ole Opry has been home to the greatest legends of country music for over 80 years, and has seen some of country music’s most dramatic stories unfold. There are great love stories ranging from Johnny Cash and June Carter in the 1960s to Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, who married in 2005. There are stories of the tragedies that led to the loss of three stars all in the same month, starting the rumor of the “Opry Curse.” We learn how after being stabbed, shot, and maimed, Trace Adkins calls his early honky-tonk years “combat country,” and we find inspiration from DeFord Bailey, an African American harmonica player in 1927 crippled by childhood polio who rose to fame as one of the first Opry stars. There’s the story of how who lost his only son on Christmas Day, and how Amy Grant and Vince Gill found true love. Based on over 150 interviews with The Grand Ole Opry stars, these are human stories get to the heart of country artists and their music.
#30-Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music
Mark Zwonitzer, Charles Hirshberg
This is the first major biography of the Carter Family, the musical pioneers who almost single-handedly created the sounds and traditions that grew into modern folk, country, and bluegrass music. The authors look at a world and a culture that continues to exist in the songs that have shaped and influenced generations of artists who have followed them. It’s also an in-depth study of A.P., Sara, and Maybelle Carter, and their bittersweet story of love and fulfillment, sadness and loss. More than just a biography of a family; the book is a journey into another time and place the Carter Family created a body of music and a sound that are timeless.
#31-Finding Her Voice: The Illustrated History of Women in Country Music
Mary A. Bufwack, Robert K. Oermann
This work documents the lives of the hundreds of women who have nurtured the rise of country music. It’s a major work in the fields of both country music and women’s history. It’s also a social, political and economic history. Illustrated with more than 200 rare photos, Finding Her Voice captures the determined women who continue to create country’s enduring, vibrant musical tradition.
#32-In the Country of Country: A Journey to the Roots of American Music
In a series of portraits of country music stars, Dawidoff reveals, among others, Jimmie Rodgers, the “father of Country”; Johnny Cash, the “Man in Black”; and Patsy Cline, a lonely figure striding out bravely in a man’s world. In the Country of Country is both an intimate and expansive account of this uniquely American art form and the performers that made country music what it is today.
#33-Country Music, U.S.A.
Bill C. Malone
Since its first publication in 1968, Bill C. Malone’s Country Music, U.S.A. has won universal acclaim as the definitive history of American country music. Starting with the music’s folk roots in the rural South, it traces country music from the early days of radio to the beginning of the 21st century. The Nashville Tennessean calls it the “most accurate, complete and serious study of country music ever published.” The Stereo Review says, “It will stand as a basic source of reference [on] country music for many years to come– probably forever.” This is the Bible of country music history.
#34-On the Road with The Oak Ridge Boys: Forty Years of Untold Stories and Adventures
Joseph S. Bonsall
For more than 4 decades, the Oak Ridge Boys (40 million records sold) have been on the road entertaining sold-out audiences with their classic hit songs like “Elvira,” “Bobbie Sue,” “Thank God for Kids,” “American Made” and many others. These “on the road” stories, written by tenor Joseph S. Bonsall spans the 40 years since the currrent group formed. Bonsall share the Oaks’ backstage activities, how their surprise megahit, “Elvira” came about, as well as stories from the road and favorite concerts.
#35-For the Music: The Vince Gill Story
His pure tenor voice, amazing guitar playing, and superb songwriting skills have earned Vince Gill 11 Grammies and 17 Country Music Association Awards, making him the biggest CMA winner of all time. But it’s the man behind the music who inspires so much love and devotion from his fans and his peers. Humble, wholesome, funny, and kind, Vince Gill is a superstar with heart–and his numerous volunteer activities raise millions of dollars for charity every year. The book covers his his childhood as the son of a banjo-playing judge in Oklahoma and his roots in Kentucky bluegrass music. He did a stint as the lead singer in the acclaimed country rock group Pure Prairie League before he headed to Nashville. Gill has recorded more than 20 studio albums, charted over 40 singles on the U.S. Billboard charts and has sold more than 26 million albums. He’s won 18 CMA Awards, including two Entertainer of the Year awards and five Male Vocalist Awards. Gill has also earned 20 Grammy Awards, more than any other male country music artist. In 2007 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2016 hel was inducted into the Guitar Center Rock Walk by Joe Walsh of the Eagles.
#36-Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir
Ronstadt, whose 45-year career has encompassed a wide array of musical styles, weaves together a captivating story of her origins in Tucson, Arizona, and her rise to stardom in the Southern California music scene of the 1960s and ‘70s. Ronstadt was born into a musical family, and her childhood was filled with everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to Mexican folk music to jazz and opera. She and her siblings began performing their own music for anyone who would listen. Ronstadt arrived in Los Angeles just as the folk rock movement was beginning to bloom, setting the stage for the development of country-rock. As part of the coterie of like-minded artists who played at the famed Troubadour club in West Hollywood, she helped define the musical style that dominated American music in the 1970s. One of her early backup bands became the Eagles, and Ronstadt went on to become the most successful female artist of the decade.
#37-Can’t You Hear Me Calling: The Life Of Bill Monroe, Father Of Bluegrass
Richard D. Smith
Considering the range of stars that have claimed Bill Monroe as an influence—Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Garcia are just a few—Monroe has had as broad an impact on American popular music. For 60 years, Monroe was a star at the Grand Ole Opry, and was universally hailed as “the Father of Bluegrass.” But the personal life of this taciturn figure remained largely unknown. Delving into everything from Monroe’s professional successes to his bitter rivalries, from his isolated childhood to his reckless womanizing, veteran bluegrass journalist Richard D. Smith has created a three-dimensional portrait of this brilliant, complex, and contradictory man. This well-researched work features over 120 interviews and stands as the authoritative biography of a true giant of American music.
#38-Paul Yandell, Second to the Best: A Sideman’s Chronicle
Norm Van Maastricht
Unassuming late guitarist Paul Yandell described his career not as one of celebrity but as sideman, the musician that audiences hear while they’re focused on the star. From his humble beginnings as a poor Kentucky farm boy learning to play to taking the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, he ultimately gained the trust and confidence of two of America’s finest musicians, Jerry Reed and “Mr. Guitar,” Chet Atkins. Compiled from personal correspondence and interviews, Paul’s online posts, and family members, a lifetime in the music business is recounted, from breaking in with the Louvin Brothers in the 1950s to his 25-year association with Atkins, to his last recording in 2006. Along the way, Yandell provides a wealth of information and history about guitar modification, gear and gadgets, and the people and personalities of country music’s golden era in the second half of the 20th century.
#39-Will the Circle be Unbroken: Country Music in America
Paul Kingsbury Alanna Nash, Editors
This is an illustrated, literary work on the history and development of Country Music, produced in association with the Country Music Hall of Fame. It includes essays by Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter and a foreword by Willie Nelson. Artifacts and memorabilia from the Country Music Hall of Fame archives give an authentic picture of the country music scene. Clear and entertaining text delves deep into the history of country music from its folk beginnings to the multi-million-dollar industry of today.
#40-Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen
Tammy Wynette is one of country’s music’s great vocalists. Like most great artists, she lived the pain she interpreted in her songs.” Stand by Your Man,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “Take Me to Your World” are a few highlights of Wynette’s huge musical legacy, all sung with a voice that became the touchstone for women’s vulnerability, disillusionment, strength, and endurance. McDonough tells the story of the small-town girl whose meteoric rise led to a long career full of tragedy and triumph. Through a high-profile marriage and divorce, her battle with addiction and illness, and the struggle to compete in a rapidly evolving Nashville, Wynette churned out masterful hit songs though her life resembled the most heartbreaking among them.
During the early 1970s she and Loretta Lynn ruled the country charts. Her duets with George Jones (to whom she was married from 1969-1975) were also top 10 hits. Plagued by illness and addiction, she died at age 55
In 2002, she was ranked No. 2 on CMT’s 40 Greatest Women of Country Music, just below her idol Patsy cline. In 2003, a survey of country music writers, producers and stars listed “Stand by Your Man” as the top country song of all time.
This is an intimate portrait of the Queen of Heartbreak, whose powerful voice simultaneously evoked universal pain and longing borne from experience.
#41-Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost
This volume offers vivid portraits of the men and women who created country music, the artists whose lives and songs formed the rich tradition from which so many others have drawn inspiration. Included here are not only such major figures as Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Charlie Poole, and Gene Autry, but many fascinating lesser-known figures as well, many of whose stories are told here for the first time. Russell draws upon new research and such source material as contemporary newspaper reports and magazine articles, internet genealogy sites, and his own interviews with the musicians or their families. The result is a lively mix of colorful tales and anecdotes, contemporary accounts of performances, illuminating social and historical context, The illustrations include artist photographs, record labels, song sheets, newspaper clippings, cartoons, and magazine covers, recreating the look and feel of the entire culture of country music.
#42-The Rough Guide to Country Music
A must-have for country music lovers, this guide covers every phase of country music from western swing and bluegrass to the alternative country sound of the 1990s.
#43-The Storyteller’s Nashville: An Inside Look at Country Music’s Gritty Past
Tom T. Hall, Peter Cooper (Preface)
Tom T. Hall, who earned the nickname “The Storyteller” with his dozens of hits over three decades, explores the early Nashville full of broke musicians and pill-popping pickers. Hall, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011, was among young artists who took country music from simple tales to poetry. These colleagues included Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller, Mickey Newbury and John Hartford. George Jones called Hall “By far the all-time greatest songwriter/storyteller that country music has ever had.”
#44-The Country Music Reader
Travis D. Stimeling
This is an anthology of primary source readings from newspapers, magazines, and fan ephemera encompassing the history of country music from around 1900 to the present. It brings the voices of country artists and songwriters, music industry insiders, critics, and fans together in a vibrant conversation about the genre. Stimeling traces the history of country music from the fiddle contests and ballad collections of the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the most recent developments in contemporary country. The book offers firsthand insight into the changing role of country music within both the industry and American musical culture.
#45-Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music‘s Greatest Hits
Just about everybody has one or more favorite country songs. We know the tunes and words by heart. Songs about love, loss, drinking, traveling down that lonesome highway and inspirational songs. Award-winning music biographer Jake Brown puts the song writers in the spotlight with the stories of how these songs were inspired. Just a few include Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind,” Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.” There are also stories from such classic singer-songwriters as Bill Anderson, Tom T. Hall and Dean Dillon, among others. Whether you remember The Crickets’ hit or the Hank Williams Jr. cover, you’ll love the story of the birth of “I Fought the Law (And the Law Won).”
#46-The Birth of the Bakersfield Sound
The Birth of the Bakersfield Sound travels through a time when people came together to play and enjoy music, and ended up with a new sound. In a region best known for its agriculture, oil, and railroads, successful musicians such as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Ferlin Husky, Jean Shepard, Red Simpson, Bonnie Owens, and Dallas Frazier became the subject of countless books and stories. This book highlights the importance of the sidemen, the disc jockeys, the radio and television stations, the clubs, and club owners, and most importantly, the loyalty of the fans and supporters who made the birth of the Bakersfield Sound possible.
#47-The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built
Don Pierce, Nathan D. Gibson
Starday was one of the most influential music labels of the 20th century. It created the largest bluegrass catalog throughout the 1950s and ’60s, as well as a legendary rockabilly catalog, an extensive Texas honky-tonk outpouring, classic gospel and sacred recordings. Written with label president and co-founder Don Pierce, the book traces the label’s origins in 1953 through the 1968 Starday-King merger. Interviews with artists and their families, employees, and Pierce contribute to the stories behind famous hit songs, including “Y’all Come,” “A Satisfied Mind,” “Why Baby Why,” “Giddy-up Go,” “Alabam,” and many others. The book also sheds new light on the musical careers of George Jones, Arlie Duff, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, the Stanley Brothers, Cowboy Copas, Red Sovine, and other Starday artists. This is a unique insider look at the early days of Starday and the country music industry during its golden era.
#48-Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley
This critically hailed biography tracks the first 24 years of Elvis’ life, covering his childhood, the first recordings at Sun Records (“That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train”), and the early RCA hits (“Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel”). These were the years of his improbable self-invention and unprecedented triumphs, when it seemed that everything that Elvis tried succeeded wildly. It all seemed to crash in 1958 when he was drafted into the army and his mother died shortly thereafter. The book closes on that somber and poignant note. Guralnick is one of the most respected writers in the music business. Last Train to Memphis has been hailed as the definitive biography of Elvis Presley.
#49-Bobby Braddock: A Life on Nashville’s Music Row
Co-published with the Country Music Foundation Press
If you know country music, you know Bobby Braddock. He wrote some of the genre’s most iconic songs, including “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “Golden Ring,” “Time Marches On,” “I Wanna Talk About Me” and “People Are Crazy” among others. A working songwriter and musician, Braddock has been on the streets of Nashville’s legendary Music Row since the mid-1960s, plying his trade and selling his songs. These decades of writing songs for legendary singers like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, and Toby Keith are recounted in this book, giving the reader an inside look at the living history of Nashville through the life of one of its greatest song writers.
#50-Ray Stevens’ Nashville
Comedian/singer/songwriter Ray Stevens had mega hits like “The Streak” and “Gitarzan” and the Grammy winning classics “Misty” and “Everything Is Beautiful” along with his top selling “Comedy Video Classics.”
Stevens describes is the story of how the sleepy southern city of Nashville grew and blossomed into the international music mecca that it is today. Stevens was there as it all came together, whether playing on recording sessions with Elvis and singing backup for Waylon Jennings or as a part-time substitute background singer with the famous Jordonaires among many others. All of this in addition to winning the “Comedian of the Year” Award, for his unique comedy music 9 years in a row. “Ray Stevens’ Nashville” is an insider’s behind the scenes look at Nashville with one of the architects and laborers who built it and helped construct the famous “Nashville Sound”. It’s a book full of laughter and learning.