Real Country

Music and Language in Working-Class Culture

Real Country

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 40 b&w photos, 1 figure Published: October 2004

Author: Aaron A. Fox

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Ethnomusicology

In Lockhart, Texas, a rural working-class town just south of Austin, country music is a way of life. Conversation slips easily into song, and the songs are full of conversation. Anthropologist and musician Aaron A. Fox spent years in Lockhart making research notes, music, and friends. In Real Country, he provides an intimate, in-depth ethnography of the community and its music. Showing that country music is deeply embedded in the textures of working-class life, Fox argues that it is the cultural and intellectual property of working-class people and not only of the Nashville-based music industry or the stars whose lives figure so prominently in popular and scholarly writing about the genre.

Fox spent hundreds of hours observing, recording, and participating in talk and music-making in homes, beer joints, and garage jam sessions. He renders the everyday life of Lockhart’s working-class community in detail, right down to the ice cold beer, the battered guitars, and the technical skills of such local musical legends as Randy Meyer and Larry “Hoppy” Hopkins. Throughout, Fox focuses on the human voice. His analyses of conversations, interviews, songs, and vocal techniques show how feeling and experience are expressed, and how local understandings of place, memory, musical aesthetics, working-class social history, race, and gender are shared. In Real Country, working-class Texans re-imagine their past and give voice to the struggles and satisfactions of their lives in the present through music.


Real Country is a remarkable work that continues to bear fruit over the course of multiple readings and is worth the effort it demands.” — Clifford R. Murphy , Ethnomusicology

Real Country is a theoretically sophisticated ethnography of working-class culture and the musical form that most powerfully conveys its ethos. Fox … has produced for us a sensitive and beautifully written ethnography that will be a model of such work for years to come.” — Barry Shank , American Studies

“[A] book that should be required reading for students and scholars at multiple levels concerned with poetics, performance, the politics of speech and song, the ethnography of popular culture, and social class in twentieth-century America. With Real Country, Fox has turned the volume up not just on Lockhart, Texas, but also on the efficacy of linguistic approaches in a wide array of popular cultural practices.” — Alexander Dent , Anthropological Linguistics

“Fox’s text … provides a blueprint for inquiry and insight.” — Jennifer C. Lena , American Journal of Sociology

“Situated within the boozy, luminous haze of a South Texas honky-tonk, Aaron Fox’s Real Country is a vigorous, sophisticated, and sometimes sonorous ethnographic meditation on the embodied connections between the discourse and performance of country music and the poetics and practices of every day ‘working-class’ life. . . . I enthusiastically recommend [the book] to scholars and students whose interests meander across the thin borders separating cultural anthropology, ethnomusicology, linguistics and sociology.” — Jerry Lord , Anthropology and Humanism

“When we get a sense of Fox sitting down with the locals, first to record their conversations and their interviews and then to play music with them, we know that he’s transversed a gap that many of us do not and sometimes cannot cross. But as scholars and citizens, we would do as well as Fox to make such an effort; we might find ourselves the possessors of greater knowledge of the America in American studies---or at least the words of a few more country songs.” — Jonathan Silverman, American Quarterly

"Real Country is a revealing portrait of the specific culture developed by country music fans in small-town Texas during the 1990s. The author has crafted a rich, complex study that combines cultural theory, linguistic anthropology, and ethnomusicology with an intimate knowledge that could only come from sitting, drinking, and singing into the wee hours." — Karl Hagstrom Miller , Texas Observer

"Real Country is Aaron Fox's imaginative and compelling attempt to give his readers access to the music, language, and meanings of the Texas beer-joint culture he spent twelve years studying. . . . Fox has written an extraordinary, evocative, and respectful study that offers scholars in anthropology, linguistics, musicology, and sociology access to a culture that is all too often dismissed, sentimentalized, or ignored." — Joli Jensen , Journal of Anthropological Research

"Real Country is one of the most rewarding and insightful books yet written about country music." — Jon Weisberger , Country Standard Time

"[A] wonderful book. . . . [A] creative, sophisticated, and beautifully written contribution to contemporary scholarship. . . . I enthusiastically suggest reading it and talking about it, if not singing about it." — Geoff Mann, Labour/Le Travail

"Fox's monograph will interest highly advanced undergraduates as well as graduate students and scholars of ethnography, ethnomusicology, linguistic anthropology, cultural studies, American studies, popular music, and other related topics. His book especially pays off for its attention to the beauty of everyday, 'ordinary' conversations. . . . Anytime a scholarly book calls forth a sense of shared humanity across racial, gender, class, and musical boundaries, the work deserves approbation." — Tracey E. W. Laird , Notes

"Rarely has a student of country music imbedded himself as deeply and profitably in the subject as this author does. . . . Real Country succeeds on two levels: as a demonstration to scholars of how art and life intertwine within and among the members of a small homogenous community, and as a prose documentary about proud people who have little but their music and each other’s company to look forward to." — Edward Morris , Foreword Reviews

"Recommended." — R. D. Cohen, Choice

Real Country is by far the best book on Texas country music and working-class culture since Manuel Peña’s The Texas-Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working-Class Music was published in 1985. As opened to us by Aaron A. Fox, the working-class world of Lockhart, Texas, is complex and richly textured, and country music is its most characteristic and expressive voice. Grounded both in the most sophisticated recent scholarship and in Fox’s longtime involvement as performer and observer, Real Country extends to the music the full measure of respect it deserves. In so doing, it carries country music scholarship to a new level that will challenge and guide all subsequent commentators.” — David E. Whisnant, author of Rascally Signs in Sacred Places and All That Is Native and Fine

“Aaron A. Fox’s Real Country gets to the heart and drama that fuels the cigarette smoke, music, talk, and beer of a honky tonk Saturday night.” — Peter Wolf, musician

“Aaron A. Fox’s Real Country is a powerful and moving study of Texas working class culture (including an articulate defense of the now heavily criticized notion of ‘culture’ itself). Combining the tools of linguistic anthropology, ethnomusicology, and sensitive ethnography, Fox performs a series of brilliant interpretations of ‘vocal practices’—country music and all kinds of talk, mostly in bars—as these actively shape personal subjectivities and interpersonal relationships. The chapter on ‘The Fool in the Mirror’ alone is worth the price of the book.” — Sherry B. Ortner, author of New Jersey Dreaming: Capital, Culture, and the Class of ‘58


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Aaron A. Fox is Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University. He is a guitarist and singer who has played with many bands in Texas. He has hosted country music radio programs on several stations in New York City and continues to guest-host shows on a regular basis.
To visit Aaron A. Fox's website and blog, please click here.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

A Note on Transcription Conventions xiii

Prelude: “Turns” 1

1. Voicing Working-Class Culture 20

2. Knowing Lockhart: Two Perspectives 46

3. “Out on the Country”: Space, Time, and Stereotype 74

4. “The Fool in the Mirror”: Self, Person, and Subjectivity 107

5. “Feeling” and “Relating”: Speech, Song, Story, and Emotion 152

Interlude: Photo Essay 193

6. “Bring Me Up in a Beer Joint”: The Poetics of Speech and Song 214

7. “The Women Take Care of That”: Engendering Working-Class Culture 249

8. The Art of Singing: Speech and Song in Performance 272

9. “I Hang My Head and Cry”: The Character of the Voice 300

Coda: Indigenous to Modernity 317

Notes 323

Appendix 357

Index 359
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3348-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3336-4
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