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A Shot in the Dark: Making Records in Nashville, 1945-1955.

A Shot in the Dark: Making Records in Nashville, 1945-1955

Martin Hawkins

Vanderbilt University Press and the Country Music Foundation Press

Box 1813 Station B, Nashville, Tennessee 37235-1813

0826515320 $65.00 (615) 322-3585

The latter part of 2006 has seen the release of several great books focusing on the History of Country Music and all things related. The Country Music Hall of Fame has had its hand in two of the recent releases, Will the Circle Be Unbroken and the latest A Shot In The Dark: Making Records in Nashville, 1945-1955.

Written by author/researcher Martin Hawkins, A Shot In The Dark takes a detailed look at the rise of the recording industry in Nashville before it became known as the Music City. The history of the industry includes plenty of Country music, but as Hawkins details, it also includes generous doses of R & B, Blues, Jazz, Gospel, and Pop which helped build the foundation for all that came after.

Hawkins dates the first Nashville recording to December 1945 when Bullet Records produced its first session with Sheb Wooley. "It was just a market test. Nothing happened, it was just a beginning," Bullet founder Jim Bulleit is noted as saying, and it certainly was "a beginning," not only for his small company, but for a whole industry.

Bullet Records continued to record Country, Jazz, Pop, and Gospel, first using the engineers and equipment of WSM and then eventually in their own makeshift studio. Bullet also owned the first set of equipment in Nashville to press their own discs (78s), thus becoming a self-sufficient unit.

Hawkins skillfully takes us from the beginnings of Nashville itself to this historic recording session interviewing many of the major players firsthand. He also drew information from archived interviews and newspapers. Using this information he takes us through each of the Nashville labels of the time.

Beginning with Bullet, we then move on to Tennessee Jamboree, Republic, Dot Records, Nashboro, Excello, and Hickory Records. Each of these labels were small labels, some just a step above vanity labels, but each made a unique contribution to the growth of not only the Nashville recording industry, but in many ways, the entire industry as a whole.

Like a good DVD, this book is also packed with a few fantastic extras. First off is the fantastic bibliography in which Hawkins notes his sources and gives a brief recommended listening list. Next up is a superbly researched and documented discography of every recording made on the labels mentioned in the book between the years 1945 and 1955. The books is beautifully illustrated with great pictures of downtown Nashville in the 20's, 30's and 40's as well as rare or little seen pictures of those artists who helped build the industry with little remembrance of their contributions now.

Finally, packed in a small sleeve attached to the inside cover of back of the book is an incredible 20 track CD providing examples of the music produced during those years. List at the end of the book are artist information and brief notes by Hawkins on the tracks. Included are such rare gems as Cecil Gant, Minnie Pearl and Pee Wee King and the Golden West Cowboys (in a rare singing appearance by Pearl), Francis Craig and His Orchetras' pop standard "Near You," and a recording of Leon Payne singing his composition "Lost Highway" often mistakenly attributed to Hank Williams (although Hank sang it, he didn't write it). The rest of the CD is just as good covering all forms of music that were recorded at the time.

I have to say that, for all of my enthusiasm and respect for this painstakingly researched volume, it is probably not for the casual fan. Hawkins goes to great lengths to detail all aspects of the things he is writing about, even down to street addresses. But it is in these details that Hawkins digs up the real story of how the love of music, not business, started what now seems to be the opposite.
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Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Banister, Eric
Publication:Reviewer's Bookwatch
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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