“HILLBILLY MUSIC.” THAT WAS MY mother’s judgment of one of the genres featured in this issue. I must have been an impressionable seven or eight, and she had caught me lingering on a country and western station on the radio in my room. She would have been no less distressed if I had gotten my hands on pornography. As a resident of Galveston, she regarded it as her purpose on earth to protect her children from the barbarian rituals of Houston, the capital of all things philistine, such as mowing the lawn in your undershirt, eating dinner at the kitchen table, and listening to country music.
Twenty years or so would pass before I could listen to “hillbilly music” without feeling as if I had taken up residence on a cultural skid row. My liberation came in the right place at the right time: Austin in the seventies. I was working in the Legislature and was one of a group of staffers who frequented a beer joint called the Split Rail, on the south side of the Colorado River. An old-timer named Kenneth Threadgill sang there—alas, it was well past the years when Janis Joplin, then a UT student from Port Arthur, sang with him—and I had never heard a voice like his: as smooth as if the sound had been whittled and sanded before it emerged into the room.
And yet, unschooled as I was in the music of my home state, I failed to appreciate what was going on all around me. Music was transforming Austin, and Austin’s music was transforming Texas. Before the seventies, Texas was just a cliche to the rest