Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers Of Honky-tonk, Western Swing, And Country Jazz
Country music, like any good indigenous music, takes from everywhere. Say a popular bandleader hears something in jazz music he likes, perhaps a guitar tone or soloing technique. The bandleader adds that element to his own music, as it feels comfortable to him — it’s the perfect thing to describe what he’s feeling, and maybe he had never heard it voiced before. Later on, when people hear his music, they take elements from him, and the whole thing keeps moving forward organically, growing onward and outward to infinity.
Or does it? As one segment of a music moves “forward,” is there another part of the music that is forever doomed (blessed?) to remain pure, as an alternative to its various subspecies? As long as both styles of music continue to move people and thus extend their popular lives, the answer is yes.
Trying to label it is tricky, however, and that’s what Rich Kienzle attempts to do in this book.
Why not add in some other adopted southwestern styles that have had an influence, like Tex-Mex or polka? Why stop here? The answer is simple: More than half of the book’s dozen chapters originally appeared as liner notes penned by Kienzle for albums released by Bear Family, a European label known for its (some seminal, some rather silly) classic country reissues.
As liner notes go, it’s a great read — all the useful scholarly and biographical information you could ever hope for. It can also get rather boring, and fast. Perusing a CD case while sipping wine and reclining is one thing; reading such text in book form is yet another. (To boot, the type size varies throughout the book — a minor matter, but it amplifies the cut-and-paste feel of the narrative.)
That said, there is solid research here, and some of the chapters (such as the one on the Jekyll & Hyde-like Spade Cooley) make for great reading, especially if your previous knowledge of the artist in question is minimal. Kienzle does touch the high marks (Hank Thompson, Ray Price, Bob Wills), but he spends more time on folks such as Hank Penny, Wade Ray and Speedy West. The information on some of the forgotten jewels of country’s formative years is interesting, but it might lead the casual reader to assume Thompson and Wills weren’t any more important than, say, Cooley and company.