It’s not always easy to recognize a phenomenon or happening or scene when you’re standing smack in the middle of it. It’s much harder to capture a zeitgeist in its purest natal moment. But that’s exactly what authors Jan Reid and Don Roth were able to do with the burgeoning progressive country scene that would go on to influence American music more broadly, as well as provide the Texas capital with its most widely identifiable personality traits—live music and a laid-back vibe.
“The Coming of Redneck Hip” has proved to be one of Texas Monthly’s foundational pieces not just because it appeared in the magazine’s foundational first twelve months, but because it was so timely in its publication and so on-the-button in its reporting. Right place: Austin. Right time: early seventies. Right writers: Jan Reid and Don Roth.
Reid, who died in 2020 at the age of 75, was a founding contributor to Texas Monthly and over his long career authored dozens of stories on all manner of topics—sports, politics, and his own recovery from a gunshot wound suffered in Mexico City in 1998, to name just a few. He would go on to write more than a dozen books, both fiction and nonfiction, including The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock, which was based on this story, and to chisel his own epitaph as one of Texas’s most talented writers.
Roth had written a few early pieces for Rolling Stone but was pursuing a doctorate in American history at the University of Texas at Austin at the time. He and Reid met in an English class there. Serendipitously, the two bumped into each other one night at a Michael Martin Murphy show at the legendary Armadillo World Headquarters, the epicenter of the movement in which they found themselves.
“Willie Nelson had just announced that he was moving back to Austin from Nashville and we started talking about it over a beer and thought, ‘You know, there’s something interesting going on here.’ And so we said, ‘Let’s explore this a bit,’ and we pitched it,” Roth said. “And they said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’”
“At the end of the process, Jan looked at me and, in his Wichita Falls drawl, said if he never heard another pedal steel guitar again in his life, he’d be okay. We got immersed. It was fun,” Roth says. “Once the article was done, he turned it into a book and I decided that I would put my energy toward getting my doctorate.”
Roth, who counts this story as his only TM byline, went on to an impressive career in performing arts leadership and has, since 2006, been the executive director of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Davis. “Out here in my work,” he says, “I’ve presented Willie Nelson twice and that’s a nice follow-through to the work that Jan and I did. Also, Jan once told me that he had run into an acquaintance who told him that the article had inspired the Austin City Limits television show. If that’s true, well, that’s a pretty good outcome too.”