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Guitar Towns

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A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock 'n Roll.

          Randy McNutt's new book, Guitar Towns: A Journey to the Crossroads of Rock 'n' Roll, tells of the rise and fall of America's regional music centers. In cities and country towns, independent producers recorded on small budgets and big dreams. Who can forget "Cry Like a Baby" and "The Letter" by The Box Tops, "New Orleans" by Gary U.S. Bonds, "Tell It Like It Is" by Aaron Neville, and other memorable hits that shot out of regional music towns from the 1940s through the 1970s.

          McNutt started writing the book in 1995, when he toured the South with his wife, Cheryl. "For a few years I had been traveling around extensively, doing interviews with many music people," he said. "I kept thinking that somebody should celebrate the old regional centers--places where you could find songs and cut hit records without ever stopping in New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles. I framed the book in the travel narrative form because it allowed me more freedom to define the regions--culturally, politically, meteorologically, historically. Even personally."

          He defines regional music centers in two ways--recording and performing. In the little town of McGonigle, Ohio, formerly a local music center, he discovered two old nightclubs. The first, which had long AMC Eagle click to enlargebeen closed, once featured a number of later-day Nashville songwriters and performers. Across the street, he stopped in the other club to hear roots-music guitarist Lonnie Mack and stories about Mack's glory days of the early 1960s. Primarily McNutt confined his book to the South and neighboring areas, except for Bakersfield, California, which fit thematically. "I had to stop somewhere," he said. "I didn't want a 400-page book or to go broke traveling. The South had the feel I was looking for." Most often he traveled in a retrofitted American Motors Eagle SX-4, which provided the comfort of a car and the traction of a Jeep.

          Along the way, McNutt visited the legendary recording engineer Cosimo Matassa Louisiana click to enlarge in New Orleans; world-famous studio musicians David Hood and Jimmy Johnson in Sheffield, Alabama; Ace Records chief Johnny Vincent in Jackson, Mississippi; music entrepreneur Frank Guida in Norfolk; Marcus Van Story and other rockabilly musicians in Memphis; soul songwriter Dan Penn , independent producer Allen Reynolds, and other Memphis music expatriates; label owner Stan "The Record Man" Lewis in Shreveport, and many other characters of America's old music industry. In Houston, McNutt met white soul singer Roy Head for a wild lunch at a pancake restaurant, and in Thibodaux, Louisiana, accompanied a local politician in a visit to the grave of blues singer Eddie "Guitar Slim" Jones. McNutt finished his travels in Cincinnati, where he recalled the heyday of Sydney Nathan's King Records and Harry Carlson's Fraternity label.

ISBN: 0253340586
Publisher: Indiana University Press.
Publication Date: June 2002.
Format: Hardbound. $28.95

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