Hillbilly Hollywood: The Origins of Country & Western Style
Reviewed by Lee Nichols, Fri., Dec. 15, 2000
Hillbilly Hollywood: The Origins of Country & Western Styleby Debby Bull
Rizzoli, 128 pp., $39.95
Despite the title, this photo book is so much more than just a treatise on clothing: It's also a passionate history of a whole scene, recounting how the flashy suits worn by country musicians were spawned by a generation of transplanted, Depression-era Southerners trying to make their mark in show biz. The outfits originated in Western movies -- where image was everything, and wild outfits were the best way to dazzle the 10-year-old popcorn munchers -- and then quickly filtered into the music acts that often gained notice by appearing in such films. (Nashville wouldn't become the country music capital for another two or three decades.)
Naturally, much of the book centers on Nudie Cohen and his apprentice Manuel, two instantly recognizable names to people infected by an addiction to gaudiness, but also spotlights Nathan Turk, the unsung forerunner to those two who made the first outfits for Roy Rogers and the Maddox Brothers & Rose.
The photographs are just as stunning as the suits, a mixture of vintage pics (some snapped in the California dancehalls, others old publicity stills) of the likes of George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, and especially Rose Maddox, and bright, colorful modern shots by Kyle Ericksen of just the original outfits themselves (mostly taken from country musician Marty Stuart's extensive collection), with plenty of close-ups of that meticulous stitching.
Set alongside interviews with such music greats as Buck Owens, Maddox, Carrot Top Anderson, and Hank Thompson, Bull, a former writer and editor at Rolling Stone, brings the whole scene alive, making you feel like you are right there in the dancehall, recording studio, tour bus ... or tailor shop.
Given Austin's predilection toward such styles, this masterwork should be sold not only in bookstores but also in every vintage clothing store in town. And hey, who can resist a book with rhinestones on the cover?