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Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers Of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz

By Rich Kienzle

Routledge Publishing, 288 pages, $24.95 softcover

Reviewed by Jon Johnson, September 2003

Find it on Amazon
As hard as it might be to believe today, there was actually a time in the 20th century - specifically up until about 1950 or thereabouts - when the claim to being the country music capitol of the universe was still up for grabs.

Geography, demographics, and an unusually high concentration of publishing companies eventually tipped the scales in Nashville's favor, but for a while there country music could have made its permanent home in any one of a three or four cities between Nashville and Los Angeles.

The newest book by longtime Country Music Magazine contributing editor Rich Kienzle traces the careers of a number of artists whose careers flourished outside of Nashville: Spade Cooley, Hank Thompson, Tennessee Ernie Ford and the fabled instrumental tag team of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, to name a few.

Many (though by no means all) of these country artists who weren't based out of the Nashville area made their home with Capitol Records, an upstart label founded in Los Angeles by songwriter Johnny Mercer in 1942.

Capitol's country recordings had a spark unlike anything else, thanks to a crack studio band featuring West, Bryant, bassist Cliffie Stone and guitarist Billy Strange, as well as Capitol staff producer Ken Nelson.

As usual, Kienzle has done his homework here, relying largely on first-hand interviews he has conducted over the past three decades.

Although some of his subjects had passed away by the time he began writing about country music in the early '70s, Kienzle manages to bring them to life through imaginative writing and interviews with those who worked with them. In all cases, the book is exceptionally well annotated.

Guitarists in particular will find much to cheer here. Kienzle has long had a reputation for writing intelligently about the instrument, and chapter four - titled "Flaming Guitars" - focuses on guitarists Jimmy Wyble, Roy Lanham, Jimmy Bryant and steel guitarist Speedy West.

For a book which concerns itself largely with western swing, surprisingly little is written about Bob Wills, other than the book's closing section, which traces the story behind the battle between Wills and the Grand Ol' Opry over Wills' use of drums on the Opry in 1944.

As Kienzle points out, however, much has been written elsewhere about Wills already, and it can be assumed that anyone who picks up a book about the likes of Hank Penny and Ray Price will likely already have a passing familiarity with Bob Wills.

Another winner from Kienzle, whose work is consistently dependable as Charles Wolfe and Bill Malone.