Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling


 Music Review   



A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music
Edited by Kristine M. McCusker and Dine Pecknold
University Press of Mississippi, 2004
Trade paper, $20.00 (232 pages)
ISBN: 1-57806-678-6
Goin' Back to Sweet Memphis:
Conversations with the Blues
Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Fred J. Hay
Illustrated by George D. Davidson
University of Georgia Press, 2005
Trade paper, $19.95 (271 pages)
ISBN: 0-8203-2732-8 

Anyone with an interest in music and/or pop culture will find topics worthy of discussion in A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music. 

The nine essays (which read as if they were written and given as "papers") included "examine how gender conventions, both masculine and feminine, have structured the creation and marketing of country music." Beginning with the National Barn Dance (ca. 1932) and concluding with "alternate country," the authors have written about artists as diverse as Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, Emmylou Harris, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and the Dixie Chicks. 

The authors have also written about the dance crazes accompanying various styles of country music. Jocelyn R. Neal cleverly embeds the image of dancing as a metaphor for the emotional needs of men and women in the chapter entitled "Dancing Together: The Rhythms of Gender in the Country Music Hall." 

Fans of CMT and the various magazines devoted to country music will recognize the names of many of the authors whose work has been included -- particularly Emily Neely, Beverly Keel, and Charles Wolfe. 

Part of the American Made Music Series at the University of Mississippi, A BOY NAMED SUE, was edited by Kristine M. McCusker and Diane Pecknold. The editors have wisely included an excellent bibliography and further reading list in addition to the topical essays. 

Going Back to Sweet Memphis is a loosely structured and very appealing collection of interviews with blues musicians in and around Memphis. Long known as a crossroads for musicians, Memphis is credited as being the place "where the blues first came to town." 

The nine musicians interviewed --Bukka White, Lillie Mae Glover, Tommy Gary, Furry Lewis, Ernest Taylor, Laura Dukes, Amos Patton, and Joe Willie Wilkins -- represent a cross section of the genre. Whether playing the classic blues, the country blues, the jug band blues or the postwar electric blues, each musician "testifies" as to what constitutes their variation on the genre. 

Each interview is illustrated by George D. Davidson and introduced with a brief artist biography by Fred J. Hay, whose notes add depth to the articles. He's also added an invaluable section on "recommended listening." 

Hay, whose books include Documenting Cultural Diversity in the Resurgent American South, is a professor of Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University. George D. Davidson, who lives in Athens, Georgia, is a musician and self-taught artist.


Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews


2005, Southern Scribe Reviews, All Rights Reserved