Houston Scores Big-Time In Latest Edition Of Encyclopedia Of Country Music: Part 5

While Houston played a huge part in the early history of country music, by the end of the 1950s a new breed of artist was coming on the scene. Western Swing, for all purposes, was a relic, and although honky-tonk was still a force in the charts and on radio, its share of the pie was waning.

The arrival and public acceptance of Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets and other early rock and rollers blindsided country music's powers that be and forced Nashville to rethink both its audience and its cultural position if it wanted to continue to prosper.

Ten years later, the arrival of the Beatles and the beginnings of the anti-Vietnam, anti-establishment, drug-favoring counterculture uprising presented country music with even more difficult economic and cultural hurdles. As usual, maverick Houstonians who refused to conform to the tepid, poppy "Nashville Sound" and had zero interest in any music described as "countrypolitan" figured heavily in the ensuing changes.

Through sheer will and wildness of spirit, they forced Nashville to grudgingly accept a new style of realistic songwriting that had many of its beginnings in the blues and folk clubs of Houston. We'll get to the rest of this amazing crop of songwriters next week, but Mickey Newbury is so important, he deserves a blog all his own.

In fact, he deserves a much more comprehensive entry than the brief four paragraphs allotted to him in the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Country Music itself.

A product of Jefferson Davis high school, Newbury was a lifelong words and music enthusiast. By the time he entered high school, he was holing up in his room writing his first songs while performing with a successful local doo-wop group, the Embers.

The underage Newbury frequented the blues clubs of the Third Ward some nights and was christened "Little White Wolf" by no less a legend than Gatemouth Brown. Following an overseas stint in the military, Newbury traveled around the Gulf Coast and South working odd jobs like shrimping while he wrote and tried to sell songs, performing where and when he could. Nashville veteran Don Gant convinced Nashville's premier publishing company Acuff-Rose to add Newbury to their roster in 1964, and he relocated to Nashville in 1965.

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William Michael Smith