I first experienced many of these titles while doing research for my own, music-based novel, Twisted Roads. Along the way, I discovered the stories behind the country entertainers we love are just as compelling as their music. Each book on this list brings those fascinating tales alive in their own unique way. These 10 books are essential reading for any dedicated country music fan.
10. A Good-Natured Riot: The Birth of the Grand Ole Opry, Charles K. Wolfe
This book tells the story of the humble beginnings of country music’s most enduring and iconic venue – the Grand Ole Opry. Wolfe entertains while he educates, revealing to us an Opry that didn’t just happen by accident, but rather by intelligent planning and diligent work.
9. Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock, Bob Kealing
Bob Kealing’s Calling Me Home is a masterfully told account of Gram Parson’s life. Parson’s career was cut short by an untimely death, but the man left a legacy that’s visible in country and rock music today. Parsons had a huge impact on the genre and Kealing’s account of his life is a gripping read.
8. Music City, Leona Bryant
Sadly, not many fiction books are set inside the world of country music, but this novel is the rare exception. Detailing the troubled past of a mega country star, the author weaves in mystery and intrigue. This is quality fiction for the music lover’s soul.
7. Country Music: The Masters, Marty Stuart
We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but here you get both — photos taken by Stuart and his narration to back them up. It’s a pictorial history book of country music combined with Stuart’s stellar storytelling.
SEE ALSO: 10 Best Country Songs Featured in Movies
6. How Nashville Became Music City, U.S.A.: 50 Years of Music Row, Michael Kosser
This is the story behind how a medium-sized town with one studio turned into the music Mecca that is Nashville, Tenn. today. The book comes with a CD of demos from early country greats that put Music City on the map.
5. I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Steve Earle
Aside from being one hell of a musician and entertainer, Steve Earle is also an accomplished fiction writer. This novel takes an obscure bit of history surrounding Hank Williams‘ death and fleshes out a what-if story based upon the angry ghost of Hank and a young Mexican girl who has the power to heal.
4. A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt, Robert Earl Hardy
There has been a resurgence of interest on Townes and his music in recent years. Every songwriter and fan of quality songwriting needs to know Van Zandt’s music and his impact on country music. A Deeper Blue is the best book out there about his life. Read it and then watch the documentary, Heartworn Highway.
3. Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville, Michael Streissguth
This book examines the pioneers of outlaw country, who were bold enough to do it their way in the corporate-driven world of Nashville. The book focuses on Willie and Waylon but also covers the entire outlaw movement, with sections on Billy Joe Shaver, Kinky Friedman and many others.
2. Cash: The Autobiography, Johnny Cash
Joaquin Phoenix did an admirable job playing Cash in the movie, but if you want the unabashed truth about the Man in Black, you have to read the history as he himself wrote it. This is one of the most entertaining autobiographies you will ever read.
1. Country Music, U.S.A.: Third Revised Edition Paperback, Bill C Malone and Jocelyn R Neal
Plain and simple, this is bible of country music facts and history. The large volume has been the definitive source of country music knowledge for nearly 50 years and the new additions only serve to improve upon this encyclopedia of knowledge.