This year we’ve compiled our “greatest hits,” including selections of the most beloved music writing from our archive—guest edited by Brittany Howard, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and frontwoman of the Alabama Shakes. This jam-packed issue also includes new essays on iconic Southern artists who have changed the trajectory of American music.
Rather than including a CD this year, we’ve asked guest contributors to curate a selection of playlists that limn the bounty of Southern music across genres. These are available to stream on Spotify.
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A poem from the Greatest Hits Music Issue
Driving by kudzu, under oblong leaves / of live oaks as their roots knuckle up, / past the trawlers, who dredge pretty pink shrimp / from the belly of the coral-lipped sea, / war’s on, whether we say yes to it or no.
Country music in the 1970s of my adolescence was music for the hopelessly uncool. It was Saturday afternoon television with Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, outlandish in their rhinestones, extolling the virtues of their sponsor, Breeze detergent. It was “Okie from Muskogee,” Merle Haggard’s 1969 hit denouncing drugs, war protesters, and long hair. Country was Hee Haw, and what the football coach who taught Driver’s Ed—he of the short haircut, white polyester shirts, and fierce Texas twang—made us listen to when we drove with him, because it soothed his nerves.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, on the other hand, was a country-rock group from Southern California, “a bunch of long-haired West Coast boys,” as country patriarch Roy Acuff called them. But in August 1971 they made their way to Nashville, a little tentatively, to record the album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a collaboration with an unlikely gathering of old-time country stars that instantly achieved classic status and has never gone out of print.
A Points South essay from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues.
The spirit of Southern outsider music has taken partial possession of many artists through the years—Charlie Feathers comes to mind, as do Link Wray, Hasil Adkins, and the train-obsessed 1920s banjo player Willard Hodgins. But as a fully realized manifestation—eccentricity expressed as bizarre and beautiful words and sounds—that spirit was at least thrice incarnate in the twentieth century: in the persons of Tennessee ballad singer Hamper McBee, Georgia banjo player Abner Jay, and Guitar Shorty of Elm City, North Carolina.
Jazz owes its origins to the bump and grind of turn-of-the-century brothels and the colored waif orphanages of the South’s great cities, but where is the wellspring of swing? Swing, children, begins with Fletcher Henderson, one of the great big band leaders for the ages.
An essay from the Greatest Hits Music Issue
There was a moment in 1958 when the future of jazz took an extraordinary turn that would be imperceptible to the world for another quarter century. That’s when Ellis Marsalis Jr., freshly discharged from the U.S. Marines in Southern California, drew his mustering-out pay, loaded up his car, and decided which way to go.
In spite of his genius and success, Ed Townsend hit a roadblock in the late sixties, when his studio in Englewood, New Jersey, went up in flames. He had just offered it as a refuge for the Isley Brothers to record “It’s Your Thing” in violation of their contract with Motown. Nearly forty years old, he was watching his life’s work burn when a man named Earl Lucas appeared.
A feature from our 18th Southern Music Issue: Visions of the Blues.
The place I was raised in and where occurred the events that most shaped and damaged me as a human being was called Silver Hills. It’s a “knob,” as they deem the low hills in that part of the country. This one had used to be Cane or Caney Knob, so named because when the whites arrived it was covered in tall river cane. The cane is gone but the knob remains, and the people rechristened it Silver Hills, claiming as always that this had been the Indian name.
An essay from the Place Issue
As a music writer and amateur New Orleans obsessive, I’ve known of Buddy Bolden for years—known what there is to know, that is, about a musician who left no recordings. The shotgun on First Street was deemed a New Orleans Historic Landmark in 1978, but the last ten years for this house, his longest and final residence, have been a saga of demolition by neglect, the City Council’s term when levying fines.