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Celebrating Southern Music

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Aired 12/7/10

Every year, the quarterly magazine the Oxford American produces a southern music issue. Each music issue focuses on a different state and this year the editors and writers will celebrate the music of Alabama.

Alabama's soul singer Mary Gresham, who lived in Muscle Shoals and is included in this year's Oxford American Music Issue.
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Above: Alabama's soul singer Mary Gresham, who lived in Muscle Shoals and is included in this year's Oxford American Music Issue.

Every year, the quarterly magazine the Oxford American produces a southern music issue. Each music issue focuses on a different state and this year the editors and writers will celebrate the music of Alabama. We'll talk with the editor and hear music of all genres from Alabama musicians.

Guest:

Marc Smirnoff is the editor of the Oxford American Magazine, which has just come out with their annual Southern Music Issue.

The Oxford American Southern Music Issue is currently available on newstands. You can also find them online here.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Once a year, the publication that dubs itself the southern magazine of good writing becomes all about the music. Oxford American magazine is out with its twelfth annual southern music issue. Occasionally the articles focus on well known artists, but the real object of the southern music issue is to rediscover little known and forgotten musicians. Finding the work of these obscure artists is a little like finding diamonds in the rough, and the man who uncovers many of those gems is with us this morning. I'd like to introduce my guest, Mark Smirnoff is the editor of the oxford American magazine. Good morning.

SMIRNOFF: Good morning to you Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I know that even though this is the twelfth annual southern music issue, it was just last year that you launched the southern state music series with each music issue devoted to a different southern state. This year the state is Alabama. Now, what is Alabama like? Is it a rich state for southern music?

SMIRNOFF: Well, the truth is, and this is why our job is to some extent easy pickins, every southern state is rich in all the musical genres. I mean, that could be what we do very well, or what we have done very well here, is produce great popular music.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you're basically -- you've got all of this music from, as I say, sometimes obscure artists that really have not gained any kind of national, sometimes not even any regional fame.

SMIRNOFF: Right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you find all this music?

SMIRNOFF: Any way that we can, and that includes talking to people who specialize in genres or states or snooping around record stores, secondhand stores, E-bay. Really reading music books and hearing names that we don't know. And you know, it's funny issue I've now become sensitive, like, when I'm looking at a collection of dusty 45 records, it's the names that I don't know that stick in my head versus the names I'm familiar with. 'Cause you never know. When you dent know somebody, you never know what you're gonna get. And that's what's exciting.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Exactly right. Now, can you define, is there a way to define an Alabama sound?

SMIRNOFF: No. And that's the great thing about it. Because here's my -- here's my proof. If you just look at some of the famous artists who came from Alabama, that would include Hank Williams, Sun Ra, Nat King Cole, Emmylou Harris, Hank Beller, W. C. Handy, those are the more well known names amongst many others like you could see the Commodores, the OJs, the Temptations, Wilson Picket. Even amongst -- even with those famous names, you know, if you put Hank Williams and Sun Ra in the same category, I mean, in the same sentence, they both define Alabama music but they also are -- sound totally unlike each other. So I mean, even the famous names you can't use them as a guide to what an Alabama sound would sound like.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, right. It just pops up in a lot of different varieties in this really rich soil of music of Alabama. It's just music and up here pops a little hill Billy, and up here pops some soul. And it's just all there.

SMIRNOFF: And avant-garde crazy jab.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

SMIRNOFF: You can't pin it down. And that in the end is the beauty of it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, the first music we're gonna talk about is named Baker Knight. [CHECK AUDIO].

SMIRNOFF: He was burn in best of your memory best of your memory Alabama and one would call him a singer song writer because he mainly got successful for writing for other people, like -- he wrote for Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams junior, frank Sinatra. Have we ever said [CHECK AUDIO] Elvis Presley. He's most well known for the song lonesome town that Ricky Nelson recorded. It was in the pulp fiction sound track. But he had a horrendous childhood, and he eventually left Alabama to go to Hollywood to become an actor. And if you -- if you've ever seen swamp country, the 1966 -- you wouldn't call it B movie. I guess it's a D movie.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, my.

SMIRNOFF: Then you well remember upon his one role. But if you haven't seen it, you've never seen Baker Knight on screen. So he was a failure as a actor. But he quickly -- he became best friends with'd E Cochran, of all people. They just sort of bounced into each other. And one -- at one point, Cochran mentioned him to Ricky Nelson, and Ricky Nelson came over to baker knight's apartment and baky knight played two songs on his guitar. And Ricky Nelson bought them. And --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, aside from being a song writer for a lot of bigger artists, he actually did record a lot of music himself. We have one of the ones that's on your CD. Of it's Baker Knight performing a song he wrote called my memories of you.

(Audio Recording Played)

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Baker Knight performing his song, my memories of you, one of the tracks on the oxford American twelfth annual southern music edition CD, featuring the music of Alabama. It sounds like baker knight's story is kind of like -- it sounds like a movie almost, Mark Smirnoff.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He helped other musicians make it big with his material, and yet his personal life, he never really made it, he spiralled in and out of alcohol abuse.

SMIRNOFF: That's right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What happened to him?

SMIRNOFF: Well, he was a tortured man. And you even hear it in that song which, you know, it isn't his most adventurous tune musically, but the lyrics are really piercing, which is why we put that song on the album.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure. Yeah.

SMIRNOFF: But no, he was troubled. And it started off with his childhood in which he was just kind of slapped around by a really mean step father and didn't feel loved as a kid. Then he got into booze hard. And then he was later diagnosed with agora phobia, the fear of crowds.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

SMIRNOFF: And he was also diagnosed with chronic fatigue at the later part of his career. So with all of that, you know, the bad memories, the agoraphobia, the because, you know, he led a pretty dark life at times. I think including chasing around, if not stalking, one of the Judd women.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Naomi Judd?

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, Naomi Judd, I believe.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Oh, my goodness.

SMIRNOFF: And his daughter, Tuesday Knight.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tuesday Knight.

SMIRNOFF: She ended up with a movie career. She's in a lot of these horror movies.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tuesday Knight, great name. And you know, with such a life, he was just able to write such sweet songs.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me move on, mark, to Sister Gertrude Morgan. Now, where do we begin with Sister Gertrude?

SMIRNOFF: Ooh, you know. She was born in 1900. In Lafayette Alabama, and from that starting point, she is all over the map. I think she was, like, 38 years old when she got a revelation. God told her to go to New Orleans and preach the gospel. And so she left her family and husband and went to New Orleans. That's what she did. Of and from then on, she would get various revelations that would lead her later to a painting career, to starting an orphanage to a musical career, to leaving the orphanage and preaching on the streets in the French Quarter, actually. And she got a revelation to be -- that told her she was the bride of Christ, and hence her white outfit that she would wear from then on out.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Sister Gertrude Morgan, the cut that we're going to hear is called precious lord, lean on me. But the version that we're gonna hear has been remixed. How did that happen?

SMIRNOFF: Well, yes, [CHECK AUDIO] let's make a record. And that features her vocals and her tambourine only, but I guess in 2005, King Brit of Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: He's a DJ.

SMIRNOFF: He's a DJ and a music and a remixer, and he just fell in love with this album. And I think he worked 12 months on remixing it and adding music. And you know, I could see some people wouldn't like that, because, you know, he's touching up this, you know, a cappella artifact. But for those of us who just sort of give into it, it's pretty incredible.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is the amazing Sister Gertrude Morgan with precious lord, lean on me.

(Audio Recording Played.)

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Sister Gertrude Morgan with precious lord, lead me on. And that's just an amazing, amazing cut, Mark Smirnoff. Do we know what happened to Sister Gertrude.

SMIRNOFF: Well, she -- I mean, she led a rich life. She had all these commandments directly from God, she says, and you know, therefore just did all these good works, preached on the streets, made music. You know, she's really well known in some circles for her folk painting. And you could -- you look at it, and see there's themes from the bible or her own visions her paintings are. And you can kind of see the similarity between her and, say, Howard finster. But real powerful -- you know, just listening to that, I'm reminded of this quote that Tom waits said, he said that the true test of any song is how it sounds through the tinny speakers of your car stereo.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.

SMIRNOFF: You know, he's talking about back in the days when you only had AM and f.m. radio. And you know, I'm listening to this music through the tinny speaker of my telephone, and that song that Gertrude Morgan song, still gave me the shivers a little bit despite the antitechnology of the way I'm listening to it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the true test. We have to take a short break, and when we return, a lot more music. The music of Alabama as featured in this edition, the twelfth annual southern music issue of the oxford American magazine. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is Mark Smirnoff, he's the editor of the oxford American magazine. And we are talking about that magazine's twelfth annual southern music issue, and playing songs from the companion CD, which features the music of the state of Alabama. Mark, how long do you work on this issue? Are you working on the thirteenth annual issue as we speak? Or are you giving yourself some time off.

SMIRNOFF: We are giving ourselves a little time off.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

SMIRNOFF: It was a tough deadline. But we spend a good year on each CD just digging and sharing songs, and debating options and driving ourselves crazy. It's really tough because there's so many options. And you know, it's just -- it's just tough to narrow down a state's music to 25 tracks. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It certainly is. What surprised you most in your research for this issue?

SMIRNOFF: Really, the depth of great music in all the genres. You know, you start off knowing some names. And then inevitably, once you start digging in and looking and asking people, you discover more and or names. And what's amazing is how many of these people actually sound good, and how many of the songs would have sounded perfectly comfortable on the radio. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On the radio, right.

SMIRNOFF: And you understand that the only thing that keeps these songs from being well known is people just don't know them. Of I mean, it's like -- what I mean is it's like, there's no flaw with this stuff.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Exactly.

SMIRNOFF: It's just as good as what we hear.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's not bad music, it's good music, it's just unknown. Now, you're talking about names. Let me throw one at you. Hard Rock Gunther and the Pebbles. Now, Hard Rock Gunther started playing in jamboree shows in Alabama with Hank Williams. Tell us about those early beginnings for Hard Rock.

SMIRNOFF: Well, Hard Rock is one of these career journeyman musicians. Again, he never struck it big. But he played music pretty much all his life and was in these -- you you know, had various bands. Probably more than we'll ever know. And he would just travel around playing honky-tonk and country fairs and whatever he could. He's still alive. He's 85 years old. I saw a YouTube interview with him. And it was fascinating. Hank Williams had actually asked him, Hard Rock, to be his manager and Hard Rock thought about it but turned it down. And you can see. In all his pictures, he's this almost bald headed guy with this huge smile on his face. He used to be -- he was like a TV host for a kid's program, a radio host. Just like you, Maureen. He's a big smiler.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: [CHECK AUDIO] Hard Rock Gunther and the pebbles with dance all the night.

(Audio Recording Played)

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH:

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was Hard Rock Gunther and the pebbles with gonna dance all night from the compan -- accompanying CD to the oxford American twelfth annual southern music issue, and right there, when he says rock and roll, we're gonna dance all night, Hard Rock Gunther claims he's the first to use the phrase rock and roll to mean music. Do you buy that, mark.

SMIRNOFF: Well, I think he claims that it was -- I think he softened up a little bit on that position. He claims that it was one of the first uses of the term rock and roll in a song title. And you know, that probably is not accurate. It probably was one of the earliest usages. But I think you can even find that term used -- I don't know if it's in song titles, but you can find it used back in old blues music. But yeah, I think he was saying that also he was using it to mean a sort of music or a style versus, you know, in the old days, rock and roll was actually a term for -- how do I say it on the radio?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Romance.

SMIRNOFF: Romance. Wow! How sweet, romance. No, that's right. But you know, what's interesting is this song that we heard came out before rocket 88 which is considered -- used to be considered, like, the first rock and roll song. But Hard Rock had two songs that are just as rock and roll as rocket 88. So I think we music nerds just like debating that point. It'll never be solved. But that's the joy of it, I guess.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the other treasures on the CD is Mary Gresham, and mark, she got her start in Mussel Shoals Alabama. Let me try and say that again. Why is Mussel Shoals important to Alabama music.

SMIRNOFF: Oh, it's a crazy area. Of Mussel Shoals includes Florence Alabama. Of I mean, they're connected. Florence Alabama is where W. C. Handy was born. And he is credited with discovering and making -- using another song title, he used the word blues in a song title before anybody else. And that is sort of verifiable. But he was a composer and a big band man, but he heard the blues in Mississippi on a train station. And it haunted him. And he became the first person to popularize the blues. And also oddly enough, Florence Alabama, which, again, next door to Mussel Shoals, was the birthplace of Sam Phillips of sun records. So you have the blues and rock and roll coming -- you know, the grand papas coming from the same town. But muscle -- in later years, muscle shells became renowned just for being a hotbed of great soul music. You have Fame studios there, and you have the Mussel Shoals studio, and people like Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, Cher, they all came down to this tiny area in Alabama to record their music. Some of them used the talent that was there, are and some of them, like the stones, just used the vibes. But there's so much great soul that came from this area. It is on par with Memphis and the sax scene in Chicago.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This Mary Gresham song that we're gonna hear, we're gonna play get back on the right track. What can you tell us about that song.

SMIRNOFF: Well, I can tell you that Mary doesn't like it. She doesn't think it's one of her best songs which to me just shows that you can't always trust the artist. They're vessels, and we are the drinkers. But I think it's an amazingly emotional, up tempo, groovy song. And she only released a few 45s in her career. And then 2004, this brit named Gary Cape came down to Alabama and Mississippi and found all of her lost recordings and put them all on one CD. And she kicks -- she kicks it up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right. All right. Let's hear it. Let's hear Mary Gresham kick it up on get back on the right track.

Audio Recording Played.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's from the oxford American music CD, and that's Mary Gresham, get back on the right track. You know, mark, just to prove to people that there is no such thing as an Alabama sound or even a Mussel Shoals sound, let's take about the K-Pers, because this band always recorded at Mussel Shoals am tell us about that. [CHECK AUDIO].

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, it's crazy. Will well, I found this track on a series of CDs called psychedelic states from gear fab records, and the owner, Roger mag lio, focuses on states' garage rock scene, and just plucks out all these tunes. And this is the one and only -- well, they released a 45. I haven't yet heard the flip side. Their 45 is super rare. I mean, I think only a few copies exist. But this one song of theirs is just a jumble of surprises. I mean, I don't know of many -- you know, most garage rock songs seem to be about boy loves girl. And this one seems to be about either UFOs or the communist threat.

[AUDIENCE LAUGHING]

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, it's called the red invasion. But it seems more like it's about aliens, right?

SMIRNOFF: Is there a difference?

[AUDIENCE LAUGHING]

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's hear it. This is the K-Pers with the red invasion. Audio Recording Played)).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the K-Pers with the red invasion, and my guest is Mark Smirnoff from the oxford American magazine. [CHECK AUDIO] I'm wondering, mark, what is the criteria for picking out these songs? Because we can hear they're very, very different from each other. Is it good music by somebody you don't know? Or unusual music by somebody you do know? What -- where do you -- how do you pick these songs out?

SMIRNOFF: Well, if it's a famous artist that we want to represent on the track, the rule is that, you know, it would be nonsensical to put a song on there that everybody knows. We've done that once or twice, and it can be kind of fun, but mainly, like, with -- you know, we have Dinah Washington and we found a weird Hank Williams cover. So that's the route. When it's somebody well known, we feel we have to twist it up. But beyond that, we're just looking for music that's -- sticks to our ribs. You know, I have to listen to this stuff over and over again. And in order not to drive myself crazy, the music has to be -- has to survive that kind of scrutiny. And it's just -- we're looking for fun, memorable music that we would play at a party in order to get people's feelings stirred up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. And how -- about how many music tracks do you go through?

SMIRNOFF: Well, I mean, you know, I've never counted. But one thing we try to do is not make fools of ourselves and leave somebody off the table who we absolutely would have wanted in on the CD. So we really do try to listen to as much as possible. And you know, that includes some really obscure, funky stuff.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.

SMIRNOFF: And you know, and truly, to properly represent a southern state's diversity, we would need to do a box state.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

SMIRNOFF: So I mean, we use this one CD as sort of -- it's supposed to be kind of symbolic as to -- you know, like, fer every white, male, hillbilly artist who's unknown that we have on the CD, there's, you know, a hundred others who would be worth listening to and so on.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, we're gonna take an early break here so we can be very heavily in the music in our last segment, mark, and when we come back, we're gonna hear the work of a famous sibling, Eddie Cole and we'll continue. You are listening to These Days on KPBS.

That's Dinah Washington. I have mark Smirnoff, the editor of the Oxford American Magazine as my guest. You're listening to These Days on KPBS, and I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. We're talking about the CD that accompanies the twelfth annual southern music issue of Oxford American magazine. And the focus is on musicians from the state of Alabama. And mark, you be, wee said that there is no one way to describe Alabama music. But you get an artist like Dinah Washington, and you get artists like Mary Gresham, and some of the other people that we've heard, culturally, could you talk about some of the influences of music in Alabama.

SMIRNOFF: Well, you know, my understanding is that -- geez, that's a tough one, Maureen. I don't want to fake you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

SMIRNOFF: You know, I was just thinking, like Mary Gresham is a big country music fan. She's an African American lady who did the soul song that we listened to. And you have both Dinah Washington and Nat King Cole, who are both black as well, covered Hank Williams songs. You know, I'm guessing that as was the case a long time ago, people just listened to anything that came across the air waves.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It wasn't segmented like we tend to do that today.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, I mean, it's pretty amazing. And I think it kind of says something good about us as a country that even during those really hard times, racially speaking, the spirit of music still got beyond the color line and moved these great artists.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Let's talk about Eddie Cole. Last year, you introduced us to Aretha Franklin's sister. This year, it's Eddie Cole, who is Nat King Cole's older brother.

SMIRNOFF: Older brother. Yeah, he was born -- I'm sorry.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: No, go ahead. Tell us.

SMIRNOFF: Well, he was born seven years before Nathaniel in Montgomery Alabama in 1910 and was a musician. He was a singer and keyboard player. He later became a base player. And I really wish we could find out about, you know, how they interacted as kids. In the early days, Nat joined Eddie's bands. Both of them had tons of bands before everything was said and done. I think Eddie was in anywhere from 15 to 20 different bands. But what's remarkable about Eddie Cole, and I'm not trying to say that he is better than Nat King Cole, and we're really not trying to say that any of these people are better than anybody else.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sure.

SMIRNOFF: The point that we're trying to make is that names we don't know sound so good. And Eddie Coal sounds like his brother.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, he does.

SMIRNOFF: He does sound like his brother. His music, I think he recorded like 20 or 30 tracks from the early days and they sound like Nat King Coal's smaller combos. And then that begs the question, you know, like, whose voice came first? Big brother Eddie's or Nat's? And in the end we decided we couldn't answer that. We could only enjoy Eddie, and you know, he's got his own style in a way, and he sound it is good.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. The song that we're gonna hear is called -- and it's the one which you've included on the CD, I hope I say it correctly, Aba-la-bip?

SMIRNOFF: I hope you said it correctly too, Maureen, because I don't know. Sounds good to me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let's listen to how Eddie Cole says it, this is Eddie Cole and his gang with Aba-la-bip.

Audio Recording Played).

Aba-la-bip. I still can't say it.

[AUDIENCE LAUGHING]

SMIRNOFF: That's just a swingin' song.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's fabulous. That's Eddie Cole and his gang. Now, did Eddie cole and Nat remain close even though Nat became a national super star.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, I do think they remained close. But their careers definitely took different routes. Eddie eventually ended up as -- he had a part time role on a TV series. I think it was a 1960s, what was it called? Baron street -- oh, no. Bourbon Street Beat. It was this horrible crime show that supposedly took place in New Orleans. And Eddie Cole's name was the baron. Not the king, the baron.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's interesting.

SMIRNOFF: But I love Nat King Cole, so it was very easy for me to warm up to Eddie cole too. And the bottom line is, I don't know if we should give Eddie Coal an Aplus or a B minus for hid working but he just sounds good.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: [CHECK AUDIO] the voice of the civil rights movement, Odetta. She was born in Alabama. Why was it important to include her in this collection?

SMIRNOFF: Well, in one sense, it was an obvious choice. And obvious choices give me the shakes. By obvious, I mean that you know, she's so great, like Hank Williams would have been an obvious choice. And she is -- Odetta is -- I mean, this is it a woman who really didn't need musical accompaniment because her voice is so powerful, it'll reach you wherever you are. And so we wanted to -- the same thing with Dinah we wanted to do with Odetta, we can't put her on the CD in an obvious manner of we have to find a song that surprises people a little bit.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. And this one does. The single song on your CD is her version of the Bob Dylan song, the names they are ark changing. And I don't think you've actually heard it like this before. So let's listen to Odetta.

(Audio Recording Played).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Odetta's version of the bob dill an song, the timeless they are a'changing. And it's on the companion CD [CHECK AUDIO] clipso thing happening there, mark.

SMIRNOFF: Yeah, which isn't so -- isn't so bizarre because Odetta does -- has done calypso. She also -- I think this particular song really spoke to her, and I think she's on the record as saying that it did, and that it was a song that she wishes she could have written. And you can hear it. You can hear the sensitivity and the connection with her in this. You know, when you got a voice that powerful, sometimes you can sound a little disconnected from the material. But here she is at one. And the combination of Dylan and Odetta is pretty remarkable.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, again, now for something completely different once again, and another artist you feature this year is called Sammy Salvo. And let's hear his music first, and then we can talk a little bit about him. The Sammy Salvo song you include is called a mushroom cloud. And here it is.

(Audio Recording Played).

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's Sammy Salvo, with a mushroom cloud. And mark, is he singing about nuclear war?

SMIRNOFF: Yeah. That's no laughing matter. No, I mean, it's pretty -- when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. It's the 1950s, and people are just learning about nuclear war.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

SMIRNOFF: And it's starting to creep into the consciousness of even teenagers. And that's what you have here, somebody being overt about these fears. The other thing that's sort of remarkable it me about it, I mean, Sammy Salvo was -- he was a great crooner, but I don't think he recorded more than -- his career didn't last for six years, and he recorded maybe 30 songs. With a big label, but they just never hit. But you hear that song, and it's like -- it's so haunting, you can hear it in creepy -- you expect it hear it in the background of a David lynch movie.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, yes, oh, yeah, it would fit in quite well. Do we know what happened to Sammy Salvo.

SMIRNOFF: Well, I think he went back -- I believe he was in the insurance biz. And I think that's how he ended his career. He was elected into the Alabama rock and roll hall of fame.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right, all right.

SMIRNOFF: So there are a number of Sammy Salvo songs, even though there's only 40. But you hear them, and they stick to you. The guy was putting his all into it. . And that comes across -- that's sort of what I like about a lot of these songs, whether it's the K pers or Sammy Salvo, you hear that personality. You know, it may not be as great as our greatest musical heroes. But there's really personality getting through on this music. And that is this itself refreshing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, mark, it's almost incredible, but we're out of time. And we had so much more music we wanted to talk about. But where can people go to get a copy of the Oxford American southern music issue?

SMIRNOFF: Well, we're in good independent and chain book stores throughout the conserve, including lovely, sunny San Diego. Even you guys so warmly welcome us there. People can also go to our website. And we've got some -- actually we've got some really cool clips, like Odetta singing with Johnny cash, and a whole bunch more Alabama stuff. And that's Oxford American.org.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So mark, I want to thank you for telling us about this, for leading United States through this music again this year. And you know what state is next year?

SMIRNOFF: No, do you?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: All right all right. We'll have to wait and see. Mark Smirnoff, thank you so much.

SMIRNOFF: Well, you guys are really great. Thank you so much. Bye.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark is editor of the Oxford American magazine. If you would like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. And we'll leave you with some more of the music on the Oxford American southern music edition CD.

Comments

Avatar for user 'boygirlparty'

boygirlparty | December 7, 2010 at 12:18 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

I love the Oxford American! how exciting to have this feature on KPBS. thank you!

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone, KPBS Staff | December 7, 2010 at 1:31 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

@boygirlparty - thanks for listening. As producer, I try not to pick favorite segments, but this one ranks up there for me. We do it every year, as soon as I get my music issue in the mail! Was there an artist that really stood out to you?

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Gulliver | January 3, 2011 at 9:54 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

As a Southern transplant I'm interested in music and culture of the deep south. My girlfriend bought a copy of this for me and I intend to make it an annual purchace. The free music cd had outstanding rockabilly oddities and R&B tracks unknown to me. Who would've guessed Sun Ra was from Alabama. I thought Sex Clark Five were British. Great interview.

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Angela Carone, KPBS Staff | January 3, 2011 at 11:39 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, Gulliver. I have a subscription to the magazine and it's worth every penny - the music issue alone is worth it. the last few years have been excellent, especially the 10 year anniversary issue featuring two discs. You can order the back issues from Oxford American's website. Glad you liked the segment. We'll do it every year in December as long as I'm around!

Thanks for listening.

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Angela Carone, KPBS Staff | January 3, 2011 at 1:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

NPR's All Things Considered did a story on this issue just last week: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/31/132525909/oxford-american-digs-into-alabama

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