Synopses & Reviews
On a Saturday night in 1948, Hank Williams stepped onto the stage of the Louisiana Hayride and sang "Lovesick Blues." Up to that point, Williams's yodeling style had been pigeon-holed as hillbilly music, cutting him off from the mainstream of popular music. Taking a chance on this untried artist, the Hayride--a radio "barn dance" or country music variety show like the Grand Ole Opry--not only launched Williams's career, but went on to launch the careers of well-known performers such as Jim Reeves, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Johnny Cash, and Slim Whitman.
Broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana, the local station KWKH's 50,000-watt signal reached listeners in over 28 states and lured them to packed performances of the Hayride's road show. By tracing the dynamic history of the Hayride and its sponsoring station, ethnomusicologist Tracey Laird reveals the critical role that this part of northwestern Louisiana played in the development of both country music and rock and roll. Delving into the past of this Red River city, she probes the vibrant historical, cultural, and social backdrop for its dynamic musical scene. Sitting between the Old South and the West, this one-time frontier town provided an ideal setting for the cross-fertilization of musical styles. The scene was shaped by the region's easy mobility, the presence of a legal "red-light" district from 1903-17, and musical interchanges between blacks and whites, who lived in close proximity and in nearly equal numbers. The region nurtured such varied talents as Huddie Ledbetter, the "king of the twelve-string guitar," and Jimmie Davis, the two term "singing governor" of Louisiana who penned "You Are My Sunshine."
Against the backdrop of the colorful history of Shreveport, the unique contribution of this radio barn dance is revealed. Radio shaped musical tastes, and the Hayride's frontier-spirit producers took risks with artists whose reputations may have been shaky or whose styles did not neatly fit musical categories (both Hank Williams and Elvis Presley were rejected by the Opry before they came to Shreveport). The Hayride also served as a training ground for a generation of studio sidemen and producers who steered popular music for decades after the Hayride's final broadcast. While only a few years separated the Hayride appearances of Hank Williams and Elvis Presley--who made his national radio debut on the show in 1954--those years encompassed seismic shifts in the tastes, perceptions, and self-consciousness of American youth. Though the Hayride is often overshadowed by the Grand Ole Opry in country music scholarship, Laird balances the record and reveals how this remarkable show both documented and contributed to a powerful transformation in American popular music.
"Laird's ambitious agenda is to weave a coherent narrative linking the founding of Shreveport as a city to the show's musical styles and their impact on popular music. It left me wishing for similar treatments of other cultural institutions in country music's colorful history."--Jocelyn R. Neal, The Journal of Southern History
"Laird's interdisciplinary approach, combining analysis of musical sound, social history, interviews with Hayride alumni, and a wide selection of public and private sources should be praised for its valuable contribution to both the local history of northwest Louisiana and the roots of musical change in post-war America."--Notes
"Focusing on Shreveport's Louisiana Hayride, Laird (Agnes Scott College) deftly explores the historical connections between black and white music along the Red River. Including numerous illustrations, detailed notes, a discography, and an extensive bibliography, this book will be especially useful to those interested in southern musical history and popular culture."--Choice
"Laird's book is important in that it compiles stories, interviews and other writings from myriad sources into a single handy volume which should prove valuable to any researcher on KWKH or Hayride history...Prof. Laird gets high marks for interviewing so many Hayride alumni and for pulling together a number of significant sources into one book."--The Forum
"Louisiana Hayride presents a rich trove of new information about a much neglected chapter of American music. Shreveport was an important crucible for an amazing range of music, from gospel, to blues, to country, to rock and roll. Well written, skillfully researched, full of fresh insights, this book will become essential reading for anyone interested in the development of American vernacular music. For too many years, historians have seen Shreveport as a minor league venue for American music; this book makes clear that the locale was a Big Dog in the roiling brew of southern grassroots culture, and it restores Shreveport to its rightful place in the pantheon of popular music."-- Charles Wolfe, author of A Good Natures Riot, and Classic Country
"Deploying music and radio history and cultural geography, Dr. Laird constructs a detailed and revealing account of the Louisiana Hayride from the honkytonk of Webb Pierce to the rock 'n' roll of Elvis Presley. In doing so she gives us something equally valuable: a study of Shreveport as a microcosm of change, not only in music but in the shifting landscape of race."--Tony Russell, author of Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942
About the Author
Tracey E. W. Laird
earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and currently serves as Assistant Professor of Music at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She is a native of the Hayride's hometown of Shreveport, LA.