For many years, a member of my church who knows my weird tastes in music (if most people have never heard about it, I might have; if mass media doesn’t write about, I will) gives me the annual Oxford American Southern Music Issue. Given my roots and rootlessness around and on the edges of this bizarre and wonderful region (politics=absolutely bizarre; unelected people generally fascinating and gracious; land, music and layer of cultue—wonderful), he knows it lines up with my interests.
The OA is a journal with as colorful and eccentric history to match the region it writes about, but plenty has been written about it elsewhere. Just a few lines to mention the music issue, which isn’t cheap ($12.95) but well worth it. Every year, a particular state’s rich heritage of famous and not-so-well-known songwriters and performers are showcased.
Last year the music issue featured the state of Tennessee which, it goes without saying, is a treasure trove of great music. This year’s music issue features the music of Texas. First, Southerners debate whether Texas is really Southern. They certainly have the backward politics to matriculate in the club. But Texas has always trumpeted both its “Westernness” and its independence (as in “nation.”)
When I did Ph.D. work at Baylor, it was my second pass through Texas. I lived in Irving as a boy, riding
my bike along a road next to farmland that would become the DFW International Airport and Windshear Museum. People always said when I lived there that East Texas was southern and the West actually begins somewhere between Dallas and Ft. Worth.
Talking about Texas music is as difficult, I would think, as talking about anything else in Texas if you aren’t FROM Texas. is complex, interesting, and full of fascinating people of all stripes. At the same time, you encounter what some call pride and others provincialism. Now, to me, “Provincial” is a word for people who prefer where they live to everywhere else. I was never sure when I lived there that some of my friends KNEW there was “everywhere else.” It is a fascinating place for sure.
But one thing Texas is is a musical wonderland. Austin is long-famous for its musicians and music scene. But the rest of the state has a rich heritage of incredibly diverse music that reflects Texas’ own complex history.
The music heritage of Texas equals its long fabled history. Janis Joplin, Ornette Coleman, Barbara Lynn, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Buddy Holly, Selena Gomez, Guy Clark—the list is imposing. What I look forward to is hearing about people I haven’t heard about.
The issue is out now, and you might want to take a look at it. It comes with a sampler CD, this one featuring many of the greats and uniquely Texan names like Big Brother & the Holding Company, the legendary Bob Wills, Johnny Winter and Kinky Friedman.
The main problem with this list is where to stop. When Jim Reeves, Kris Kristofferson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Roy Orbison, Don Henley, Mac Davis…well, you get my drift.
The state by state idea is probably repeatable for decades to come. I am looking forward to listening!