I tremble to say so in Texas, but I don't care much for country music. Of course I like Willie and the Dixie Chicks, and I like a couple of the really big hits like "Stand by Your Man" and "Crazy" and... um... that might be it. I'm a Yankee.
So imagine my surprise in 2000 when, after seeing the Coen brothers' old-timey country-music fest O Brother, Where Art Thou?, I found myself driving straight to Waterloo Records to buy the soundtrack.
The album's popularity also surprised Dr. Ralph Stanley, the 70-year-old musician featured on O Brother. He and his brother Carter had had some success after World War II as the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys--they'd had some flush times and made records for a national audience--but they'd never hit it really big like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Even I had heard of Flatt and Scruggs, but until O Brother, I had never heard of Ralph and Carter Stanley.
Dr. Stanley has written a wonderful book (with Eddie Dean) about being a kid in Appalachia and learning music handed down through generations; about writing songs in the car speeding down a dark road to a play date, arguing with promoters, dealing with troublesome band members, finding musicians whose talents blend into the sound he wants, and what happened to his career when Elvis sang "Blue Moon of Kentucky". He talks about losing loved ones and staying true to the old-time music and winning a Grammy at age 70 for his rendition of "O Death" in O Brother.
Man of Constant Sorrow: The Life and Times of a Music Legend recounts 82 years of writing and playing mountain music, but you don't have to be a fan of the music to admire the book. Dr. Stanley would understand, I think. After all, he doesn't care much for rock and roll.