by Randy Fox
In Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris and the Renegades of Nashville, the captivating and revelatory history that goes on sale tomorrow, author Michael Streissguth spins a tale that goes far beyond those three icons of rowdy country and facial hair. By using the ornery trio as tent poles, Streissguth is able to explore the much bigger story of Nashville’s transformation in the late 1960s and early ’70s into a songwriters’ mecca that incorporated both hillbilly intellectuals and hippie-fied rednecks.
One of the most fascinating stories chronicled in the book is staid, conservative Vanderbilt University’s embrace of the counterculture in the late '60s and the zeitgeist that blossomed between Music Row malcontents and the musically inclined members of the Vanderbilt student body. It’s an intriguing look back at a forgotten era when Nashville was the “hip music city” for the first time — at least to a generation of young musicians whose genetic code could integrate Bobby Dylan with Bobby Bare.
In addition to discussions of the local scene and forgotten acts like Just Friends, The Babushka Brothers and Dick Bay and the Bay Area Bombers, the book features a reproduction of an ad for the opening of Exit/In that appeared in a 1971 issue of the Vanderbilt Hustler. The wordy ad promises “ ... good music (really good music) we don’t put any limits or names on it — such as country, or rock, or folk, or jazz, or blues, or peace-acid-love-do-it-in-the-road-electric-psychedelic-progressive-protest rock. (Although you probably won’t find the latter at the Exit/In. Except maybe on a crazy Sunday.)”
Although the book doesn’t come forth with the details of those “crazy Sundays,” there is plenty more good stuff detailing the development and inner workings of the so-called “Outlaw Movement” of the polyester decade — and how, in its way, it was just as much a product of the Nashville music biz as the old order that it railed against. For any Nashville music scenesters, long departed from the Greyhound or fresh off the Megabus, Outlaw is essential, recommended reading.
Streissguth will be at Parnassus Books on Thursday, June 20, to sign copies of Outlaw.