HOT DISH: Who Named Country Music?

Ernest Tubb and Red Foley Fought Against Calling It Hillbilly

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

Have you ever wondered where and when they started calling it country music? Was it in the mill towns of Leaksville, Draper and Spray (now Eden) in the Piedmont area of North Carolina when Charlie Poole was “it” in the 1920s? There’s an educated 2005 claim that Poole is to country what Robert Johnson is to blues, but it wasn’t called country music when Poole played it.

When Poole wasn’t into the whiskey or working in the textile mills, he’d play the banjo and made it an instrument of distinction. Poole and his band, the North Carolina Ramblers, and string bands like Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers and Ernest “Pop” Stoneman’s Dixie Mountaineers were titans of what today is considered old-time music. Poole’s music, called hillbilly, was passed on to the next decade by Snuffy Jenkins and Wade Mainer, who paved the way for a couple of Carolina boys we know well — Don Reno and Earl Scruggs.

Talent scout Ralph Peer’s 1923 recording session with Fiddlin’ John Carson was among the first to be called hillbilly. After his discovery of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family led to their first recording sessions in 1927, Peer realized there was money to be made. He began to record only songs he could publish and placed them in his company, Southern Music. In the South, Peer found a few hundred songs that made a few million dollars for Southern Music, but he never called it country music.

So who gave country music its name?

The late, much loved mega-star and song stylist Ernest Tubb did not like for the word “hillbilly” to define his music. He began a series of meetings in 1946 with Decca executive Dave Kapp to lobby for the deletion of “hillbilly” in describing the label’s music catalog. Red Foley (Tubb’s close friend and Pat Boone’s father-in-law) detested the hillbilly designation, too. Tubb, no doubt, told Kapp, that the word made them look ignorant. Keep in mind that Tubb wore sharp Western-cut suits, and Foley was a classy dresser, too, unlike the barefoot, overall-wearing rubes of the day.

“What would you use to describe the music?” asked Kapp. According to Ronnie Pugh’s book, Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour, Tubb suggested “country” because most singers were country people.

“But,” argued Kapp, “what about the Sons of the Pioneers and other Western acts?” They were big moneymakers in those days.

Tubb settled on “country & western” although he never really liked the western tag. Beginning in 1948, the Decca catalog had a complete listing of country & western records. Other labels and music trade publications followed the trend. When country songs were first charted in 1944 in Billboard, they appeared on the Juke Box Folk Records chart. From 1949 until 1958, the Billboard chart was called Country & Western Records. Then from 1958 to 1962, it was called Hot C&W Singles. From 1962 to 1990, it was called Hot Country Singles and, from 1990 until the present name, Hot Country Singles & Tracks.

A note of thanks to Jay Orr at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for helping me verify these facts and to my friends Martha Hume and Phil Sweetland.

Shania Says
Talking to Larry King, Shania Twain, who turns 40 in August, says she will no longer dress in the fashion she’s popularized. Does this perhaps mean no more blouses cut almost to the navel, no push-up bras, no flowing see-through gowns, no skirts slit up to her hips and no accessorizing with black top hat, boots and a matching skirt so short one doesn’t dare bend over? Is Shania reverting back to how she was raised, back to being an axe-carrying Canadian forest girl, wearing jeans and flannel shirt, using a crosscut saw and eating a sack lunch? She’s been spending time on her New Zealand spread but says it has no indoor plumbing. It’s hard for me to imagine Shania squatting where there are lizards and aborigines and fjords and snakes and koalas.

Peterson, Thomas Celebrate Army’s Birthday
Michael Peterson and former serviceman Keni Thomas were in the nation’s capital to perform at the Army’s 230th birthday celebration. A week earlier, Thomas had to cut short his CMA Music Festival activities to travel to Arlington, Va., for the funeral services of a friend and fellow soldier who lost his life in Iraq. The attendees gave Thomas a standing ovation following the completion of his set which included his debut single, “Not Me,” and his current release, “Anthemic Hero,” that includes the line, “Mom, you lost your little boy, but the country gained a hero.” Decorated generals, men of the cloth, Vice President Dick Cheney and the entire audience gave Thomas a standing ovation. Actress Susan Lucci hosted the event.

And the Stork Has Flown
Martina and John McBride, along with daughters Delaney and Emma, proudly announce the healthy arrival of Ava Rose Kathleen McBride. Born at 2:25 p.m. on June 20, she weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces. Mother and daughter are doing fine. What will John do with a house full of girls? Probably ask his friend, Tim McGraw.

Grascals fiddler Jimmy Mattingly got a wonderful Father’s Day present from his lovely wife, Ginger. Born June 19, Emmy Christine joins 9-year-old Ethan and 5-year-old Ansley.

Fastest Sellout in Raleigh
Alltel Pavilion at Walnut Creek outside Raleigh, N.C., reports it had the fastest sellout ever when tickets for Kenny Chesney’s Aug. 12 concert sold out in 13 minutes. The venue added a second show for Aug. 13. In 2004, it took 27 minutes for Kenny to sell out the place.

By the way, following his show in L.A.’s Staples Center, the entertainment trade publication, Variety, accused Kenny of being more pop than not and accused opening act Gretchen Wilson of straddling country and rock. I was depending on these acts to stay stone country. Hey, maybe Variety doesn’t know the difference.

Bologna ala Toby
Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill opens Wednesday (June 29) at Harrah’s Las Vegas Casino & Hotel. According to a press release, the food and beverage team scoured Oklahoma eateries for the menu and came up with a thick cut fried bologna sandwich seared with onions and American cheese, served on garlic grilled Texas toast. Scantily dressed waitresses and live music couldn’t make that sound appetizing to me. Surely they jest.

Did You Hear?
“Inside Your Heaven,” the single by American Idol winner Carrie Underwood debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Also, the record is the best selling single in the U.S., debuting at No. 1 on the Pop 100 chart, single sales chart and country singles sales chart. First week sales of 170,000 copies make the single the top selling song so far of 2005.

During his recent fan club breakfast, Trace Adkins gave away a Waffle House jukebox as a special promotion he has running with the restaurant chain. The lucky fan who turned in the most Waffle House receipts was the winner. Can you believe someone from Tampa, Fla., had 92 Waffle House receipts?!

The Two Hats and a Redhead tour wrapped up with Terri Clark surprising Reba McEntire with a framed Hatch Show Print poster advertising a 1982 concert in Pennsylvania starring Leroy Van Dyke and Tommy Overstreet — with Reba as the opening act and tickets priced at $2. Terri also had her very own 20-year-old Reba McEntire fan club card framed. Where was their tourmate, Brad Paisley, during the girlie surprise?

Battling cancer never stopped the great Gene Watson from performing. Lord, I love to hear him sing.

When I heard that two of Tracy Lawrence’s crew members escaped serious injury recently when a semi loaded with logs rear-ended the pickup truck they were riding in, it gave me chills. There have been so many injuries on the road. Luckily, Seth Buttram and Chris Hughes were treated and released at the local hospital in Hardeeville, S.C.

According to Rascal Flatts, to get from Oshkosh, Wis., to Dallas you have to go through Miami. Just kidding, but that’s what the hot trio did between tour dates to appear on Live With Regis & Kelly aboard the Pride of America cruise ship docked in Miami, naturally.

See the new Hot Dish recipe of the week: Congealed Cherry Salad.