Dr. Charles K. Wolfe, whose “Vintage Country” column is a regular country.com feature, has a new book out this month. Called Classic Country: Legends of Country Music, the book is a collection of Wolfe’s new and previously published profiles of 50 figures who have helped shape modern country music.
“In an age when country music seems to be shooting off in a dozen different directions,” Wolfe says in his introduction, “it is important to remind ourselves that there was once, and still is, a broad mainstream that genuinely defined the genre. It was not called ‘power country’ or ‘alt.country’ or ‘retro country’ or ‘country rock’ or ‘cowboy country,’ but just ‘country.’”
The performers Wolfe writes about range from such Country Music Hall of Fame members as Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, the Carter Family and Lefty Frizzell to the relatively obscure Tommy Magness, Arthur Q. Smith, Emmett Miller and “Seven Foot Dilly.” (Wolfe gives an intriguing account of the years he spent searching for details about Dilly, the sparsely documented Georgia singer and guitarist whose real name was John Dilleshaw.) Most of Wolfe’s profiles are built around his own interviews with the artists or people who knew them.
A secondary feature of Wolfe’s collection is the light it shines on the institutions that originally nourished country music, notably live radio shows, field recordings and mail order records and musical instruments. In the concluding section, which he labels “New Fogies,” Wolfe spotlights contemporary artists who continue to perform traditional country music, among them Doc Watson and the Freight Hoppers.
Classic Country: Legends of Country Music is indexed and has 16 pages of photos. A native of Springfield, Mo., Wolfe is a professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. His most recent book was A Good Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry in 1999.