John Spong's Profile Photo

John Spong is a Texas Monthly senior editor who writes primarily about popular culture, and he hosts the magazine’s popular music-history podcast One by Willie. He has been nominated for three National Magazine Awards, most recently in 2021 as coeditor and lead writer on two large Willie Nelson projects: “Willie: Now, More than Ever,” a special issue that was a finalist for best single-topic issue; and “All 146 Willie Nelson Albums, Ranked,” which was nominated for best digital storytelling. He has twice won the Texas Institute of Letters’ O. Henry Award for magazine journalism—for “Holding Garmsir” (January 2009), about a month he spent with a U.S. Marine platoon fighting in Afghanistan, and for “The Good Book and the Bad Book” (September 2006), about a censorship battle at an elite private school in Austin. He is the author of A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, and his stories have been collected in The Best American Food Writing and The Best American Sports Writing, among others. He lives in Austin with his wife, Julie Blakeslee, and their two boys, Willie Mo and Leon.

180 Articles

Music |
April 29, 2020

All 147 Willie Nelson Albums, Ranked

The recording career of country music’s greatest artist, surveyed, sized up, and sorted on the occasion of his 87th birthday.

Essay |
November 18, 2015

The Will of God

I always knew that the work my dad did as an Episcopal priest and grief counselor was important. But I didn’t understand how important until the birth of my son.

Film & TV |
May 14, 2015

Urban Cowboy Turns 35

It was part musical, part dance movie, and part love story, and in June 1980 it unleashed an unprecedented fervor for country music, Western wear, and, yes, mechanical bulls. More than three decades later, the film’s stars (including John Travolta, Debra Winger, Mickey Gilley, and Johnny Lee) and many Gilley’s regulars recall the movie that made America fall in love with Texas.

The Culture |
March 23, 2015

The Media Guide

To gain pop culture literacy, you could spend a long weekend taking in works produced for the big screen (Giant, Dazed and Confused) and the small box (Lonesome Dove, Friday Night Lights). But the quicker route would be an afternoon surfing YouTube. Search for the terms below, but don’t blame us if you end up falling down a

The Culture |
January 23, 2013

All Grown Up

Austin is booming with jobs, condos, festivals, traffic, hipsters, joggers, and high-concept dive bars (anyone for Lone Star and seared foie gras?). Does that mean it’s no longer Austin?

Feature |
January 21, 2013

Ted or Alive

In the late seventies, Ted Nugent (a.k.a. “the Nuge” or “Uncle Ted”) had the country’s biggest hard-rock touring act—a wild-ass blend of in-your-face energy, obscene language, and a well-placed loincloth. Now he’s the country’s biggest gun rights advocate—and all that’s changed is the loincloth.

Music |
January 21, 2013

That ’70s Show

Forty years ago, Willie, Waylon, Jerry Jeff, and a whole host of Texas misfits grew their hair long, snubbed Nashville, and brought the hippies and rednecks together. The birth of outlaw country changed country music forever.

Art |
January 21, 2013

Sketchy Characters

Before cameras were allowed in courtrooms, artist Gary Myrick and his assortment of colored pencils provided Texas television audiences with a vivid look at the state’s high-profile legal proceedings against figures like T. Cullen Davis, Henry Lee Lucas, and Charles Harrelson.

Film & TV |
January 21, 2013

The Spirit of ’76

How Matthew McConaughey got discovered, why Renée Zellweger’s part is so small, why some of the actresses can’t eat ketchup to this day, and everything else you didn’t know about the making of the classic high school flick Dazed and Confused.

Food & Drink |
January 21, 2013

How Not to Cook Like a Texan

I’m still shocked by the number of people who suggested I didn’t know what I was doing. The first such skeptic just happened to be the Texanist, my housemate that winter of 1995, who was then known to the greater world simply as Dave. When I informed him of my

Music |
January 20, 2013

Pitch Perfect

What’s the secret to writing a great country song? Which comes first, music or lyrics? Looking to answer these and other questions, we gathered a group of singer-songwriters—Guy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, Sonny Throckmorton, Patty Griffin, and Jack Ingram—set out a couple guitars, and let the tape roll.

News & Politics |
January 20, 2013

The Good Book and the Bad Book

When parents at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, in Austin—where the Capital City’s moneyed elite have educated their kids for more than fifty years—rebelled against the teaching of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ it was, you might say, a learning experience for everyone involved.

Books |
January 20, 2013

True West

Twenty-five years ago, Larry McMurtry published a novel called Lonesome Dove—and Texas hasn’t looked the same since. Listen in as more than thirty writers, critics, producers, and actors, from Peter Bogdonavich and Dave Hickey to Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, and Anjelica Huston, tell the stories behind the book (and

Politics & Policy |
January 20, 2013

You’re Rick Noriega. Do You Approve This Message?

Since the Republicans took over Texas, every plausible Democratic candidate for high statewide office has been the subject of an obligatory profile in Texas Monthly. Here’s yours—only it’s a bit different. It’s a memo containing loads of free advice—the kind you can afford—on how you can beat John Cornyn.

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