(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
I realize that not everyone will get all worked up about this, but here at the CMT shop, everyone is pretty much pleased that we have received the long-awaited second edition of the Encyclopedia of Country Music.
It’s a unique work, put together by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Oxford University Press, and is not the sort of thing that every music genre can boast. It feels like it weighs about 20 pounds and includes 626 pages and over 1,200 entries and numerous photos. There are also a dozen very entertaining essays on subjects ranging from the politics of country music to a history of country songwriting to a look at how country music artists and musicians have looked and dressed over the years.
(Full disclosure: I am one of the many writers who have contributed to both editions of this work.)
The first edition was published in 1998. And it soon became very evident that — like all print encyclopedias — it can start to appear dated very quickly. The most glaring omission from that first work? Which a number of people commented on? That there was no entry for Kenny Chesney. I cannot to this day imagine how that could have happened. His career was well underway by the time this work was finished, although it was not yet evident that he would become the superstar that he now is. Still, entities such as the Gibson-Miller Band and several others got their own encyclopedia entries. Where are they now? (One hint: They are not in the new edition.)
Reference works in print are their own breed. If you leave someone or something out of a book, it remains omitted for the life of that work. Hard choices have to be made by the encyclopedia staff. I haven’t thoroughly checked to see who or what is out of this edition, but I noticed straightaway that several up-and-coming young hitmakers are not here. I’m referring specifically to the Pistol Annies, the rising bluegrass duo Dailey & Vincent, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, David Nail, Justin Moore and Jake Owen. I think all of them had been trying to make it in Nashville for years. Some of them had been around for years, struggling to make it. However, I think all of them were just starting to break when this edition was being completed. Wait for the third edition. There are good reasons for inclusion in this encyclopedia, and just being a struggling singer-songwriter is not one of them. Additionally, a print encyclopedia is not a website, where entries can be added, expanded and dropped daily.
I am not advocating an online country music encyclopedia, along the lines of Wikipedia. Such a venture would obviously become very quickly taken over by country music fan clubs, ambitious artists and just plain wing-nuts. And nothing in it could ever be fully trusted.
Country music is a serious and enduring American art form and social force that deserves to have its own serious scholarship.
To that end, I was glad to hear that the most complete and thorough “global jukebox” ever assembled will be made available online very soon.
The enormous collection of music research that was gathered and collected over many years will be accessible for the first time. The eminent folklorist and researcher Alan Lomax, of the distinguished Lomax music family, spent decades traveling the United States and indeed the entire world, gathering up all the folk and true people’s music that he could. He made thousands of field recordings of people who otherwise would have never been heard outside of their own immediate circle. He collected everything he could find in the way of available recordings, sheet music, photographs, filmed concerts, home movies, written manuscripts, videotapes — anything that related to folk music around the world.
Folk music in that sense referred to anything that was not respected or acknowledged by the music industry itself. That included white and black country singers, blues singers, singing groups, dancers — anything related to the music that people themselves make, as opposed to the music that is made in the few music centers of the time, and handed down from on high. I find it interesting that Lomax came under investigation by the FBI, which clearly did not understand what he was doing — especially in his travels abroad and particularly his visits to Eastern bloc countries to collect music.
Amazingly, Lomax — who died in 2002 — saw this “global jukebox” when he began collecting music and stories decades ago as a forerunner to what would not be available for many years. Namely, the Internet.
Lomax envisioned this vast, interlocking network of music and related information as a valuable tool for people everywhere. He saw it as being especially valuable as a teaching tool.
The collection is even now still being digitized. It will soon be available at the Global Jukebox section of the Association for Cultural Equity website. A sampler is now available there.