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Mel Street: A Country Legend

By Dennis Schuler Sr. and Larry J. Delp

Mountain State Press, 267 pages, $16.95 softcover

Reviewed by Jon Johnson, January 2003

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In spite of scoring 20 top 40 country hits between 1972 and 1980, Mel Street (1935-1978) is largely forgotten today by mainstream country audiences. All the more's the pity since Street was one of the great hard country vocalists of his generation; a handsome and phenomenally talented vocalist and songwriter of the George Jones school who sadly took his own life in 1978 on his 43rd birthday.

Ironically, his suicide - Street suffered from depression and was prone to periods of heavy drinking - came at a time when his career never looked better, having recently signed with Polydor Records and scoring a top 10 hit earlier in the year with "If I Had a Cheating Heart."

Surprisingly, little has been written about Street's career since his death, the most comprehensive piece until now being a 1986 article in the Journal of Country Music written by Edward Morris. The good news for Street's fans is that "Mel Street" is a book that many of them have been waiting for for years, providing an in-depth examination of the man's career that he's long deserved.

Schuler and Delp, for their part, appear to have exhausted Street's personal directory in their quest to interview everyone associated with his career - family members, band members, management, DJs who supported his career, and so on, and dozens of rare photographs are also included. Perhaps most interesting, though, is a series of 1976 interviews that Ralph Emery conducted with Street; a rare example of Street looking back on his career only a couple of years before his death. If a single criticism can be made, it's that Schuler and Delp would have benefited from the services of a good editor. If one is used to the work of, say, Colin Escott or Charles Wolfe, well, Schuler and Delp don't write like that. The writing is really more reminiscent of self-published fan books rather than that seen in more mainstream publications. In addition, the inclusion of a discography would have been useful, particularly since so little of Street's music has been reissued on CD. Still, two things you can certainly say for Schuler and Delp is that they're nothing if not passionate about their subject. And they have the market to themselves - just try finding another book on Mel Street.