Today we add another great guest blogger to the list of venerable scribes who have written for us. First Anthony DeCurtis wrote about the legendary Rolling Stones, recently Alan Light gave us his take on Josh Groban, and now James Sullivan is talking COUNTRY BUILT. James is the author of four books, including biographies of James Brown and George Carlin, and a frequent contributor to the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, Rolling Stone and more. He’s at www.jamessullivanauthor.com and on Twitter @sullivanjames.
Country music is often called a storytelling music. As the great songwriter Harlan Howard once said, it’s “three chords and the truth.” On Pandora’s new specialty station, Country Built, we’re recalling some of the best stories about American music.
Your host, Otis Gibbs – himself a mighty fine songwriter in the traditional American mode – is your tour guide through more than half a century of landmark recordings by timeless artists. Each episode of Country Built will also feature a special appearance from a “future” representative of the style.
On the first episode of Country Built, the Roots of Country, we’ll go back to the beginning, when the fiddles of Irish immigrants met the African banjo. From the Bristol Sessions, the 1927 recordings that brought the world the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the “Father of Country Music,” to the Louisiana Hayride, Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and Hollywood’s “singing cowboys,” we’ll explore the breeding grounds that produced stars such as Ernest Tubb, Gene Autry and Hank Williams, the “Hillbilly Shakespeare.” Otis’s guests include Peter Cooper of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Jay McDowell of the Musicians Hall of Fame, and music historian Barry Mazor.
For the “future” segment of the Roots of Country, we’ve got a fantastic studio session by fast-rising Nashville star Cale Tyson, who just recorded his upcoming debut album at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals.
The next episode of Country Built will focus on Rockabilly, when country music merged with rhythm and blues to form a brand new style of music. That episode features an appliance salesman named Johnny Cash, a truck driver named Elvis Presley, a farm boy named Carl Perkins and so many of their peers, who twisted their country roots into the new music called rock ‘n’ roll.
The fightin’ side of American roots music dominates our third episode, on Outlaw Country. We’ll hear about Willie, Waylon and Kristofferson, of course, but also fellow travelers including Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver.
Like the outlaws, host Otis Gibbs isn’t afraid to confront “The Darker Side of Me.” A longtime resident of Nashville, he has a popular podcast on which he shares his enthusiasm for the history of country music. He calls his show Thanks for Giving a Damn, and damned if Otis isn’t the perfect man for the job of narrating the stories we’re telling on the Country Built station.
“My job is to make people feel something,” Otis says about his music, and he accomplishes just that with the tales he tells on this new venture for Pandora. Around the start of the recording process, a wounded European starling fell out of a tree in Otis’s yard in East Nashville. The singer rescued the bird and has been nursing it back to health. He named it Carl Peckins.
Naturally, Carl became something of a mascot for the project. Like all the great musicians, the little speckled bird has a great sense of timing.”