A Missouri S&T historian garnered recognition for his latest book from the International Country Music Conference this May. Dr. Patrick Huber, associate professor of history and political science at Missouri S&T, received the Belmont Book Award for Best Book on Country Music. The award was presented at the group’s 2009 conference, held in Nashville in May.
Huber’s book, Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South, was published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2008.
In his book, Huber, a fan of country music since childhood, asserts that the origins of the genre in the South lie not in rural communities as previously believed, but in cities and towns.
“The music is much more modern that commonly believed,” Huber says. “It comes from urban and industrial areas, and in the Piedmont region of the South, particularly cities with textile mills.”
The book also documents the role of textile mill workers in early country music. Huber contends these workers, and the industry they represented, were vital to the development of the genre. “These workers were paid low wages and worked 55- to 60-hour weeks, but they had access to a full range of musical experiences,” he says. “As a result of company-sponsored programs, mill workers often had a high rate of musical literacy they couldn’t have afforded otherwise.”
Mills offered these music programs to promote company loyalty, Huber says, hiring full-time music directors to teach lessons to mill workers and their children. Some mills even hired music teachers and sponsored bands.”
Huber’s book focuses on five main country music pioneers: Fiddlin’ John Carson, Charlie Poole, Dave McCarn and the Dixon Brothers.
Carson was an Atlanta weaver promoted by his record label as a “hill country” musician, Huber says. He was a campaign fiddler for political candidates. “His 1923 recording awakened phonograph industry to country music, although it wasn’t called ‘country’ music until 1949.”
Poole, a North Carolina banjo player and the most famous of the musicians Huber examined, pioneered the three-finger picking method still used by bluegrass banjo players today.
McCarn, a guitarist and harmonica player from Gastonia, N.C., wrote a series of complaint songs about mill work; the most famous is “Cotton Mill Colic.” Dorsey Dixon of the Dixon Brothers, another North Carolina musical act, wrote topical songs that played up local or national events. He wrote “The Wreck on the Highway,” which was a hit by Roy Acuff years later.
Huber holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In 2000 he began teaching in the history and political science department at Missouri S&T, where he specializes in Missouri history, the American South and 20th century U.S. history.