The War Years, Honky Tonks, and Hank Williams


  1. Texas economics in the Depression
    1. Because of the oil boom, large numbers of rural Texans had disposable income during the depression.
      1. Although nominally illegal during the Prohibition, taverns and dance halls served the poulation. They were typically on the edge of town or (later) near the lines between "wet" and "dry" counties.
      2. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the taverns were able to operate openly, and they became important social institutions for the rural classes.
    2. Music was an integral part of the honky tonk experience.
      1. Live music was a feature of some dance halls; in others, the jukebox provided the entertainment.
      2. Both on record and in live performance, the music was forced to adapt to the new environment.
        1. Lyrics - song topics reflected the concerns and social status of blue-collar worker. Religious and moral references survived mainly as a contrast to the honky tonk lifestyle.
        2. Instrumentation - the noise level in the dance halls created a need for music that was louder and whose pulse was more easily discernable. The string bass, piano, and occasionally drums were being added, and by the end of the 1930s electric guitars could be found.
        3. Performance style - guitarists used more percussive chording techniques.
  2. Ernest Tubb - described by writer Chet Flippo as "honky-tonk music personified."
    1. early years
      1. Born in Crisp, Texas February 9, 1914
      2. Jimmie Rodgers was his boyhood hero; he bought a guitar at the age of 19 and tried to copy Rodger's style. After having his tonsils removed in 1939, he was no longer able to yodel; this forced him to develop his own style
      3. After modest success at KONO in San Antonio, he contacted Rodger's widow. She helped arrange for his first RCA recording session and even loaned him one of Jimmie's guitars for the session.
    2. "Walking the Floor Over You" [# 23 from the Smithsonian Collection Vol. 1] was released in the fall of 1941. It became a million-seller.
      1. Within the next two years Tubb appeared in two Hollywood films, signed with J.L. Frank as manager and agent, and made his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry. He became a member in 1943.
      2. In 1947, he opened the first of his now famous Ernest Tubb Record Shops and began broadcasting Midnight Jamboree after the Opry on WSM, advertising the shop and showcasing the talents of up and coming country artists.
  3. The War Years
    1. The industrialization that accompanied the US entrance into WWII created greater prosperity for workers, encouraged migration to industrial centers, and "accentuated social tensions" (Malone, p. 177).
    2. Country music was expanding from a regional to a national market. Conflicts within the music industry helped country music's growth.
      1. ASCAP vs. BMI - After negotiations broke down between the American Society of Composers And Performers and the National Association of Broadcasters (a contact expired on December 31, 1940), broadcasters refused to program any music licensed by ASCAP. They had established Broadcast Music, Inc. in anticipation of the conflict, but BMI's catalogue was small. After Edward B. Marks, a major publishing company, signed with BMI in July 1940, others such as Peer's Southern Music and M. M. Cole in Chicago followed. Since few country artists were represented by ASCAP, this provided new opportunities for airplay. By the time the dispute was resolved, BMI had gained a firm foothold.
      2. The AFM strike and the recording ban - arguing that the new jukeboxs were putting live musicians out of work, James C. Petrillo of the American Federation of Musicians declared a ban on recording. The AFM went on strike on August 1, 1942 in an attempt to get record companies to establish a fund for unemployed musicians. Most of the smaller and independent companies signed new contracts almost immediately; Decca signed a contract in September 1943, and the other major labels followed suit in November 1944. Most of the country artists, however, had been recording for the smaller labels, and their records gained popularity during the ban.
    3. The "Camel Caravan" - sponsored by the R. J. Reynolds Co., the Grand Ole Opry organized a traveling unit of 20 performers in 1941. Personnel included Minnie Pearl, Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys, and Eddy Arnold. The Camel Caravan visited many of the stateside military bases, entertaining the troops with free music and packs of Camel cigarettes. It was through The Caravan that many northerners and midwesterners got their first taste of country and the music's popular appeal rose accordingly.
  4. Expansion of the Grand Ole Opry
    1. The Country Music Hall of Fame website - 1925-1943 and the Ryman Years.
    2. Roy Acuff - "Great Speckled Bird" [# 14 from the Smithsonian Collection Vol. 1]
  5. Hank Williams
    1. Country Music Hall of Fame
    2. Hank Williams' legacy - Peterson argues that the fan response following William's demise provided a clear answer to the question asked by the music industry, "What do the people want?"
      1. Like many other artists, Williams' success came from his particular integration of existing elements and in the intensity of feeling he gave to the music.
      2. Williams' association with Fred Rose helped demonstrate the value of long-term, mutually beneficial business relationships.
      3. Williams was "uniquely able to convincingly evoke in a single performance the dialectic in the epic struggle between good and evil" (Peterson p. 177). Like the heroes of Shakespearean tragedies, Williams' protagonists are ruined by their own faults or desires.
      4. After Williams' death, many in the industry were uncomfortable with his image; by the end of 1953, however, Hank Williams had become for fans the personification of country music authenticity.
    3. Musical examples
      1. "Lovesick Blues" [# 17 from the Smithsonian Collection Vol. 2]
      2. "Your Cheatin' Heart" [# 18 from the Smithsonian Collection Vol. 2]


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