On the weekend I took in two great gigs: 50 Million Beers in Balmain and Mark Lucas and the Bad Hats at my local, the Gladstone in Dulwich Hill. Pictures will hopefully follow soon. The Beers unplugged and put on their usual highly entertaining brand of country and inner western, including my favourite No Cash or Drugs, classic covers and new stuff. Now, where is that new album we've been hearing about for years? I'm told the excellent and highly underrated Mark Lucas is taking over Hunter and Suzy's regular Friday night gig at the Orange Grove for this week only with a special guest on fiddle. That will be a must-see.
The musings this week about George Jones took me back to a paperback biography of the Possum (extra hillbilly cred, it was probably once owned by a gen-u-ine GI soldier boy: I bought it for 4000 Won at a secondhand bookshop near the Itaewon American Army Base in Seoul.) Apart from detailing Jones' rollercoaster journey from East Texas poverty to South Nashville decadence ("... Babylonian, even by Nashville's often questionable architectural standards. It came complete with tweleve bathrooms, fifteen baths, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a playground the size of a public schoolyard, nine and a half acres of terraced lawns and a decorative wrought-iron frontispiece that displayed the music notation from "Stand by Your Man."), it contains some nice insights into the uneasy relationship the city has had with its most famous industry. The tourism spin is an absolute gem.
The Nashville to which George came, around the same time that the Russkies were hanging Sputnik in the nightime skies, was a small, nondescript Middle Tennessee city on the muddy banks of the Cumerland Rover. It was a city dominated by the old wealth of the hillbilly blue bloods, some of whom had even taken to referring to their hometown as "the Athens of the South" (perhaps, some outsiders guessed, on account of the incongruous-looking full-scale plaster-and-wood replica of the Greek Parthenon that had been erected in one of their city parks).
Nashville remained vaguely uncomfortable with the thriving country music industry that had sprung up in its midst by the early 1950s. The town's most highbrow civic leaders perceived that the "new money" generated by this hillbilly music industry was less clean than their "old money" (much of which had been made by peddling expensive Bibles and excessively overpriced industrial life insurance policies door to door, throughout the rural South, to illiterate sharecroppers and impoverished widows.) This image problem inspired some long-forgotten shill to write in a 1952 Tennessee Deptartment of Tourism publication:
Though the average singer of hillbilly music is in the high-income brackets, he lives a modest personal life without ostentation or notoriety. Since [his stage] show never changes, he has no need for a press agent. Since he is never involved in divorce suits, wild parties, scandals, nightclub episodes or mystery deaths, there are no hillbilly gossip columns. Most of these singers live in happy homes in modest, comfortable two-garage houses. Some of them are investing in real estate, since many of them came from farms and know what an acre of land is really worth.
Bob Allen, George Jones: The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Legend St Martin's Press 1994 pp 120-1.