Yankee Twang

Yankee Twang: Country and Western Music in New England

CLIFFORD R. MURPHY
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt6wr6df
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  • Book Info
    Yankee Twang
    Book Description:

    Merging scholarly insight with a professional guitarist's sense of the musical life, Yankee Twang delves into the rich tradition of country & western music that is played and loved in the mill towns and cities of the American northeast. Clifford R. Murphy draws on a wealth of ethnographic material, interviews, and encounters with recorded and live music to reveal the central role of country and western in the social lives and musical activity of working-class New Englanders. As Murphy shows, an extraordinary multiculturalism sets New England country and western music apart from other regional and national forms. Once segregated at work and worship, members of different ethnic groups used the country and western popularized on the radio and by barnstorming artists to come together at social events, united by a love of the music. Musicians, meanwhile, drew from the wide variety of ethnic musical traditions to create the New England style. But the music also gave--and gives--voice to working-class feeling. Murphy explores how the Yankee love of country and western emphasizes the western , reflecting the longing of many blue collar workers for the mythical cowboy's life of rugged but fulfilling individualism. Indeed, many New Englanders use country and western to comment on economic disenfranchisement and express their resentment of a mass media, government, and Nashville music establishment that they believe neither reflects their experiences nor considers them equal participants in American life.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09661-7
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE. FIELDNOTES ON THE DICK PHILBROOK AND THE FRYE MOUNTAIN BAND SHOW
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    Place: Thompson Community Center, Union, Maine

    DATE: AUGUST 4, 2007The drive from Waldoboro to Union, Maine, was as beautiful as I remembered it from two years before when I attended the Dick Curless Memorial Scholarship Fund concert. Old coastal Colonial houses and clam huts gave way to rolling fields of blueberries and small dairy farms. I arrived in town around 5:30, which was the time I had arranged to meet Yodeling Wade Dow for an interview and to make a recording of his virtuosic cowboy yodeling. I went inside the Thompson Community Center—a wonderfully dusty old basketball court...

  5. INTRODUCTION. REINTRODUCING NEW ENGLAND TO THE COUNTRY MUSIC WORLD
    (pp. 1-10)

    New England country and western music has been buried under a mountain of corporate propaganda that wants you to believe that country music is an exclusively southern cultural export. This process began in the late 1950s, when corporate music industrialists in Nashville orchestrated a union between record companies, song publishers, and radio DJs that effectively swept the nation’s copious and colorful regional subsets of country and western music off the airwaves and truncated the music’s commercial moniker to “country music” (without the “western”). In this new Nashville-based and corporate-controlled order, country music became virtually anything sung with a southern accent....

  6. 1 NEW ENGLAND COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC AND THE MYTH OF SOUTHERN AUTHENTICITY
    (pp. 11-36)

    Some readers may find the subject of this book somewhat perplexing. To many, country music and its various offshoots are inherently southern in style and cultural origin. If you have a pulse, there is a good chance you’ve learned exactly this in a book, at a concert, in a film, on TV, or in a derisive joke about rednecks. Few cultural sounds are so thoroughly tied to a specific geographic location in the imaginations of North Americans as country music. Indeed, modern country music musicians go to Nashville in order to claim they come from it.

    New England country and...

  7. 2 A HISTORY OF NEW ENGLAND COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC, 1925–1975
    (pp. 37-89)

    Between the time just prior to the American Civil War and 1925, the development of the textile industry and a shift in industrial agricultural production from the Northeast to the Midwest conspired to transform New England from a mostly rural, agricultural region to a mostly urban region. Outmigration from New England to the West and upper Midwest and the departure of young women from the countryside to work in urban textile mills depleted rural New England of many of its inhabitants. New England farmsteads were in such a state of abandonment by 1897 that New Hampshire instituted an annual Old...

  8. Photos
    (pp. 90-104)
  9. 3 FINDING COMMUNITY IN THE NEW ENGLAND COUNTRY AND WESTERN EVENT
    (pp. 105-123)

    That night, the couples twirled past the folding tables along the edge of the brightly buffed dance floor; smiling and pressed against one another, they each looked over at my wife and me as we sat and watched.

    “It’s so nice to see young people here.”

    We nodded and smiled and turned our attention back to the band. But the white-haired couples continued to twirl by us in their matching western outfits like we were in some kind of choreographed receiving line.

    “Why don’t you young people get up and dance?”

    My wife, Monica, and I laughed and protested. I...

  10. 4 HOME ON THE GRANGE: The Frontier between “American” and “Immigrant” Worldviews in New England Country and Western
    (pp. 124-144)

    Imagine for a moment entering into the following setting: A roughhewn cattle ranch gate stands over the archway of the entrance to the community hall. You may have just walked in past a real live horse, resplendent in decadent tack, hitched up outside. Though it is Waterville, Maine, in 1942, the hall is filled with men and women in frontier dress—men in cowboy clothes and hats, boys in overalls and kerchiefs, girls and women in homemade calico dresses—and the floor is strewn with hay bales and wagon wheels. Across the room is a stage, decked in the same...

  11. 5 “IT BEATS DIGGING CLAMS”: The Working Life of Country and Western Musicians in the Barnstorming Era
    (pp. 145-166)

    Gift exchange and the spirit of community are important elements of the country and western event. And yet, for the New England country and western musician, it (the event, the music) is also about the money. Country and western music has provided a way of making a living—or part of a living—for several thousand people in New England over the course of the music’s history in the region and as such should be examined here as work.

    Most contemporary country musicians entering into the professional marketplace today approach country music work in much the same way an aspiring...

  12. 6 THE NEW ENGLAND COWBOY: Regional Resistance to National Culture
    (pp. 167-182)

    Dying of stomach cancer, his prodigious talent mishandled by an industry that twice danced with him, Dick Curless ambled into a Brookfield, Massachusetts, recording studio in 1994 with an eclectic crew of musicians behind him. There was Duke Levine, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, and former lead guitarist for 1990s pop-country sensation Mary Chapin Carpenter, on electric guitar. Tim Bowles and Michael “Mudcat” Ward, stalwarts of New England country-rock bands of the 1980s, were on pedal steel and bass. On the drums was Billy Conway of the rock band Morphine and Boston’s protocowpunk band Treat Her Right. Rounding out the...

  13. EPILOGUE. “Oh, You’re Canadian”: My Night as a Canadian American in Watertown, Massachusetts
    (pp. 183-186)

    I had wanted to see the Country Masters perform for a while. Their tenure as the house band at the French-American Victory Club in Waltham, Massachusetts, was legendary in the local community. The group had recently moved from the Waltham Club to the Canadian-American Club in neighboring Watertown, Massachusetts, and they had just released their first CD after nearly forty years of performing. I saw on the club’s website that they would be playing, but I couldn’t find anyone to go see the show with me. So I went alone.

    The Canadian-American Club sits on Arlington Street in Watertown with...

  14. REFERENCES
    (pp. 187-198)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 199-202)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-214)