Books

'Producing Country' Is Great Oral History

This is an exceptional read on how records get made. We learn how producers coaxed great performances, made power deals, and generally had a good time.


Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings

Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Length: 320 pages
Author: Michael Jarrett
Price: $27.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-07
Amazon

Michael Jarrett's Producing Country: The Inside Story of the Great Recordings offers readers an oral history of recorded country music in four parts. Jarrett takes us from the days of the acetate to the present where ProTools and other digital recording and editing programs reign. The cast assembled includes Chet Atkins, Tompall Glasser, Jim Ed Norman, Gurf Morlix, and others who speak about songs written and/or recorded by Loretta Lynn, Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, The Bottle Rockets, Lucinda Williams, the Dixie Chicks, and Willie Nelson.

What's best about Jarrett's book is that although he speaks with experts the reader need not be an expert on either music production or country music to understand the evolution of the recording process or the evolution of record producers. The stories behind the recordings tell that story with subtlety and humor.

For those who don't know or aren't even sure what a record producer is, Jarrett spends some time gathering definitions from members of his all-star cast in this volume's earliest pages. Producers in the music industry are not the money men that producers in the film industry are (at least not typically), but are instead like film directors. They may be well versed in the language of music itself or not; they may or may not be songwriters; they may or may not have backgrounds as recording engineers; they may or may not get a percentage of the publishing rights and may or may not have scruples.

What the best ones have is the ability to create an environment in which musicians can thrive and achieve the best performances possible. That's really what these stories are about: How some of our favorite country songs came to life, how others saved careers, and how others stood to alienate audiences but instead won them over.

As types go, producers can be a superstitious lot, believing in the magic of rooms or the power in some kind of "magic moment". They might rival baseball players in some of their beliefs, though no one in these pages mentions failing to change their socks for six weeks or burning candles or placing chicken feathers inside their shoes.

Others will tell you that there isn't magic in rooms, but that instead the magic comes from the people involved. Others might even go so far as to say that there isn't magic at all -- just the fruits of hard labor. Overproduction can sully a strong song and the right touches can elevate a mediocre one to the level of a fast hit. (More than one tune here is referred to as "not the best country song ever recorded".)

Many of the musicians you'd expect to be meticulous in their methods are: Working with Ray Charles required a kind of agonizing patience as he was deliberate with every note; Merle Travis created aural tricks with his guitar licks and Dusty Springfield may have missed her calling as micromanager when she opted to dedicate her life to singing. Tom T. Hall approached songwriting with the kind of care a carpenter takes in his craft, finishing each song that he started, while others were far more open to sonic experimentation than you might expect.

There are tragedies: Charlie Rich's commercial breakthrough may have cost him to sacrifice the artistic heart he'd been born with and tended to for years before "Behind Closed Doors" sent him to Vegas and we all know what became of Elvis. Otis Redding never really got to see his hard work fully pay off, and Patsy Cline and Buddy Holly died too young. Roy Orbison, a man who, by all accounts, was large of heart, had terrible luck despite being gifted with one of the greatest voices in recording history. And Keith Whitley could not stay sober.

There are no judgments made about the music as it evolves from true roots music to something that's more akin to Def Leppard than Dale Evans. By the time we get to contemporary recordings, we can see why some have come to believe that country music has died off while others find great hope and comfort in the insurgent movement that began when Bloodshot Records first slid from the womb. But even if you don't like much that has come out of Nashville since the early '90s, you have to appreciate the thought and care behind that music and the stories told within these pages.

Jarrett has made choices as to which artists are included and which are not ,and there are a handful that belong more to the worlds of rock or soul than country and some surprising omissions (John Hiatt, who cut his teeth at Tree Publishing in Nashville; Randy Travis gets a brief mention here but his early, best recordings are untouched), but that's to be expected. Another writer can take up those names and those stories in another volume. In the meantime, Producing Country is a fine and fitting work that's hard to put down, and even harder to forget.

* * *

Above Photo: Tompall Glaser in the studio control room at Hillbilly Central, 1978. © Leonard Kamsler

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.