Box Full of Letters from Issue #52
You’ve got mail!
I read No Depression #51 while on a five-day trip to NYC. Another brilliant issue of the best music magazine in the world. In New York I was privileged to see and hear Delbert McClinton tear up the B.B. King Bar & Grill, Jim Hall, the elegant jazz guitarist, perform at the Village Vanguard, and up-and-coming singer-songwriter Josh Ritter wow the trendoids at the Bowery Ballroom.
I mention all of this because as a northern Canadian I wouldn’t say any of those musics are indigenous to my region (though Joni Mitchell comes from close by). A letter in issue #51 by Jeff Kerr of Kentucky suggests that he and his brethren should have ownership of the music we ND readers love. We do have hillbillies in Canada. Ours come from the east coast and their ancestors were the same as those who settled Kentucky. The music evolved a little differently and has been less commercially successful in the U.S. but still has a following.
The idea of a particular region owning a genre of music is abhorrent and ridiculous. Thank God two young men of musical genius living in Liverpool 50 years ago thought it was acceptable to experiment with black, American R&B. Or that a middle-class Jewish boy on the Canadian border in Minnesota fantasized about being Woody Guthrie, who it turns out was a middle class Oklahoma boy. Music belongs to no one person, class or culture.
— Mitch Parsons
I feel compelled to respond to Jeff Kerr’s letter in No Depression #51 concerning Grey DeLisle. I have never heard Ms. Delisle sing but I don’t buy the argument that if you’re not from the hills you can’t sing mountain music. Gillian Welch grew up in L.A. but she sure sounds like she lived in a holler. Certainly no one complained when the Beatles covered Carl Perkins or the Stones covered Willie Dixon. People record this music because it speaks to them; no one is going to make a million bucks singing Louvin Brothers songs, but they may turn a few people on to some great music along the way. If Mr. Kerr has any musical ability I encourage him to get started on that Norteno CD. I for one can’t wait to hear it.
— Steve Bernhard
Jeff Kerr is right about one thing, there do seem to be an awful lot of pouting poet girls on the pages of No Depression. But to suggest that they should not be allowed to adapt their songs to a certain sound/region/country because they don’t not come from that sound/region/country is ludicrous.
This argument, by extension, would suggest that Tiger Woods shouldn’t play golf and Dave Eggers shouldn’t be allowed to set a novel in Senegal!
Well done, No Depression, for featuring acts beyond America, Canada and Mexico, particularly Martin Stephenson and Two Time Polka (Big up Cork!). I for one think it’s wonderful that so-called Scots/Irish music found its way to the Appalachian Mountains and has come back full-circle to my hometown with the likes of Two Time Polka and the Lee Valley String Band.
I went to see Gillian Welch (caliphoney, ha! very good) last year when she played here in Ireland. Do you think for one minute I cared where she was from? I based my opinions on the music, not geography.
Come on Jeff, celebrate the world, and don’t try to own it. Even hillbillies came from somewhere else, once.
— Sean Hogan
100% authentic internationalist
In regard to the letter by Jeff Kerr in the May-June 2004 issue: You should be grateful that magazines like No Depression exist to provide you with artists’ background information. Otherwise you would have to judge them by their music.
— David Rawlings
geographical location withheld
I am also a sixth-generation “hillbilly” from Dickenson/Buchanan County, Virginia, and I thought I would write to let you know that not all of us are as closed minded as Jeff Kerr. Most of us, but not all of us.
— Darian O’Quinn
Buchanan County, Virginia
Thank you for publishing the comments of Jeff Kerr and Chad Laytham. My sentiments exactly!
Ms. DeLisle is no doubt talented, and respectful of the dead and living legends of Appalachian roots music; but the excremental Brooks & Dunn represent everything, well…shitty, about mainstream music today.
— Dan Pope
Piney Flats, Tennessee
“The real Queen Of Country”
Wow! What a great cover story you devoted to Loretta Lynn’s new CD Van Lear Rose [ND #51] Loretta’s new CD is kick ass! Jack White was nothing short of brilliant with the way he produced this new Loretta Lynn classic. His love and respect for Loretta and traditional country music shined through each and every cut on this CD. Your interview with Lynn was well-written, very informative, and the collection of photos used was awesome. Look out Shania, Reba and Faith, the real Queen Of Country is back to regain her long-held country music crown. Like the other cover story you did on Loretta, this one will be put in my scrapbook as well.
— Rick Cornett
Thoroughly enjoyed Barry Mazor’s piece on Loretta Lynn in the May-June issue [ND #51]. By allowing Ms. Lynn to speak in her own words, he gives the reader the opportunity to better understand the source of her songwriting inspiration.
Mr. Mazor is inspired, too, when he creates an instant collector’s item by twice mentioning an album on Zero Records (see pages 96 and 102). Although Lynn had three 45 releases on Zero Records, to my knowledge, there was never an LP issued. In 1968 Decca/MCA did pull together nine of the Zero masters (“I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” was omitted) on Here’s Loretta Lynn (Vocalion VL 73853). Could this be the album Mazor is referring to? And in one other Zero Records related matter, the correct title of Story Of My Life (page 102) is My Life Story.
— Joe Specht
Little Miss Cornshucks:
“A terrible singer”
I read Barry Mazor’s piece a few months ago about Little Miss Cornshucks [ND #45], though I’m only now getting around to writing, after actually having listened to her music. Based on his enthusiasm in that article, I purchased a CD of her work during what was presumably Miss Cornshucks’ peak period (1947-1951). After listening to it I can only say that there may, indeed, be a good reason that Miss Cornshucks is so obscure today — she’s a terrible singer, with a thin voice and unreliable intonation. She’s not especially good at ballads or blues; and her rhythm is unmemorable. I’m afraid Mazor’s piece is just another misguided liberal attempt to redress historical grievances that, in this particular case, have no basis in fact.
Miss Cornshucks cannot compare to a number of her contemporaries who had similar approaches, from Lil Green to Peggy Lee. She is a far lesser singer than Ruth Brown, who does speak about her in the article with admiration. Clearly this is just something of nostalgic delusion; listen to the recordings. Her story is tragic and sad, but that does not mean she is worthy of much musical attention.
— Allen Lowe
“His proletarian boot”
In his review of Ed Cray’s Ramblin’ Man: The Life And Times Of Woody Guthrie [ND #51], Grant Alden characterizes communism as a “utopian philosophy,” even the consideration of which, he says, is just the revisiting of “an old and useless battle.” Whoa, Hoss! If Woody were still kicking today, Grant, I suspect he’d be doing just that — with you bent over in front of him to better receive his proletarian boot. You say members of the American left like Woody embraced communism during the Depression with “half opened eyes.” Come again? You could perhaps fault Woody for many things, but a lack of his ability to look at the evils of capitalism squarely, with wide-open eyes — and unblinkingly — isn’t one of them.
And Grant, what’s with your characterization of today’s Middle East as “pre-literate”? Can it be that jingoism is spilling over from our current administration to infect even our alt.country arbiters of taste? Hey, last time I checked there were a lot of exceptionally literate people among those we’re now abusing and tugging around on leashes. And to see how they measure up to us literacy-wise, compare the probing analysis of Aljazeera news service, say, to the pabulum of the Fox Network.
Keep this up, Grant, and there’s going to be a long line forming behind Woody to take their turn with you.
— Nick Crews
(Editor’s Note: 2000 UNICEF statistics report a 39% literacy rate for Iraq.)
“True American original”
“I don’t care what anybody says. The Grateful Dead are punk as fuck.”
— Ryan Adams at the 2002 Austin City Limits Music Festival after he covered “Wharf Rat” (lyrics by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia)
While enjoying my most recent issue of No Depression (#51), I was jarred and rather disappointed by the noticeable contempt — or perhaps casual dismissal — for Robert Hunter’s songwriting legacy in David Cantwell’s review of Jim Lauderdale’s new album Headed For The Hills. For his latest effort, Lauderdale collaborated with Hunter, who is best-known for penning the words for most of the Grateful Dead’s greatest songs. In his review, Cantwell writes: “Providing the words for the world’s most famous jam band must be something like writing captions for a famous photographer; the gig’s not unimportant, by any means, but it ain’t exactly the point of the thing, either.”
Talk about missing the point. It’s clear Cantwell is extremely knowledgeable about Lauderdale’s fantastic gifts as well as the careers of such lesser talents as Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Gary Allan, Vince Gill and the like. But he obviously doesn’t know much at all about Robert Hunter, who deserves better treatment in a publication read by so many astute music fans.
Hunter helped create some of the greatest country-rock/alt-country/Americana/ whatever songs ever written with gems like “He’s Gone”, “Jack Straw”, “Loser”, “Bertha” and “Brown-Eyed Women” just to name a few. Far too often the pop-culture phenomenon that grew up around the Grateful Dead and their concert tours completely overshadows the poetry and the artistry that came from that true American original. Shed no tears for the millionaire Hunter and his Dead mates, but it’s a damn shame that so many people — smart music folks like the writers and readers of this great magazine — won’t give those wonderful songs a chance because they are so blinded by all the hippie dippy-ness. Granted, it can be blinding.
I would imagine there are more than a few readers of No Depression who can trace their twangy roots back to the Grateful Dead. For me, songs like “Dire Wolf”, “Uncle John’s Band”, “Ripple” and “Friend Of The Devil” — all written by Robert Hunter — were the first country songs I ever liked. Who knows? If it wasn’t for the Dead, I may never have given the Meat Puppets a chance. Which perhaps may have made me ignore the Jayhawks. And therefore I may have never been led to Wilco and Son Volt thus never discovering Uncle Tupelo. That would mean I might never have gotten properly obsessed with Neil Young and Gram Parsons, the Burrito Brothers. No Hank! No Johnny!! No Merle!!! No bluegrass!!!!
When it comes to the twangier leanings in my musical palate, it all started with Robert Hunter and the Grateful Dead. Like Ryan Adams imparted from the stage in Austin a couple of years ago, the Dead certainly are punk as fuck. They’re also country as fuck. Put those two elements together and you usually find something many of us like very much. It’s always exciting when Jim Lauderdale offers us a new album. But when he collaborates with a lyricist with a background like Robert Hunter, it’s even more exciting and special.
Thanks again for the great magazine.
— Kevin Hyde