The best books on country music stars and their colorful and tragic lives

Why am I passionate about this?

As a lifelong country music fan and musician, I absolutely love to read about the lives of country music stars. I began reading about the history of country music when I was twelve years old out of my interest in such performers as Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, and especially Jimmie Rodgers. There are quite a few really good books, so it was difficult to narrow down to five. But I think these can set anyone well along the road to learning about this uniquely American music and the colorful lives of its performers.


I wrote...

Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend

By Taylor Hagood,

Book cover of Stringbean: The Life and Murder of a Country Legend

What is my book about?

A beloved member of the country music community, David “Stringbean” Akeman found nationwide fame as a cast member of Hee Haw. The 1973 murder of Stringbean and his wife forever changed Nashville’s sense of itself. Millions of others mourned not only the slain couple but the passing of the way of life that country music had long represented.

Taylor Hagood merges the story of Stringbean’s life with an account of murder and courtroom drama. Mentored by Uncle Dave Macon and Bill Monroe, Stringbean was a bridge to country’s early days. His instrumental savvy and old-time singing style drew upon a deep love for traditional country music that, along with his humor and humanity, won him the reverence of younger artists and made his violent death all the more shocking.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers

Taylor Hagood Why did I love this book?

This memoir by Charlie Louvin of performing with his brother, Ira, distills country music’s unique midcentury flavor.

Growing up singing Sacred Harp harmonies, the Louvin brothers eventually made it onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. But being on top of the world could not keep Ira’s demons from dragging him down amid alcoholism and violence that lead to his wife shooting him and a tragic demise.

By Charlie Louvin, Benjamin Whitmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Satan Is Real as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The beautiful and tragic saga of the Louvin Brothers - one of the most legendary country duos of all time - is one of America's great untold stories. Charlie Louvin was a good, god-fearing, churchgoing singer, but his brother Ira had the devil in him and was known for smashing his mandolin to splinters onstage, cussing out Elvis Presley, and trying to strangle his third wife with a telephone cord. "Satan is Real" is the incredible tale of Charlie Louvin's sixty-five-year career, the timeless murder ballads of the Louvin Brothers, and the epic tale of two brothers bound together by…


Book cover of Live Fast, Love Hard: The Faron Young Story

Taylor Hagood Why did I love this book?

Diane Diekman is an outstanding writer, her biography of Marty Robbins winning the 2013 Best Book on Country Music Award.

Great as that book is, her biography of Faron Young best captures the distinct colorful feel of midcentury country music. Its subject was a rounder from Louisiana, a contemporary of Hank Williams who really did live out a fast life.

By Diane Diekman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Live Fast, Love Hard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As one of the best-known honky tonkers to appear in the wake of Hank Williams's death, Faron Young was a popular presence on Nashville's music scene for more than four decades. The Singing Sheriff produced a string of Top Ten hits, placed over eighty songs on the country music charts, and founded the long-running country music periodical Music City News in 1963. Flamboyant, impulsive, and generous, he helped and encouraged a new generation of talented songwriter-performers that included Willie Nelson and Bill Anderson. In 2000, four years after his untimely death, Faron was inducted into the Country Music Hall of…


Book cover of The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music

Taylor Hagood Why did I love this book?

Hemphill’s book captures country music in the 1960s.

His portraits of country stars and the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium present vivid images. They are so artful that you feel you have yourself experienced the moment from the inside. This is really an excellent book in any category—a tour de force of nonfiction.

By Paul Hemphill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Nashville Sound as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, journalist and novelist Paul Hemphill wrote of that pivotal moment in the late sixties when traditional defenders of the hillbilly roots of country music were confronted by the new influences and business realities of pop music.

The demimonde of the traditional Nashville venues (Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Robert's Western World, and the Ryman Auditorium) and first-wave artists (Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell) are shown coming into first contact, if not conflict, with a new wave of pop-influenced and business savvy country performers (Jeannie C. "Harper Valley PTA" Riley, Johnny Ryles, and Glen…


Book cover of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline

Taylor Hagood Why did I love this book?

Patsy Cline’s story is one for the ages, and Ellis Nassour brings it to life in this book.

This one has all the tragic elements of country music—Patsy Cline endured heartbreak, abuse, car wrecks, and so many more challenges. And she channeled all of it into some of the greatest music ever.

By Ellis Nassour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Honky Tonk Angel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Earthy, sexy, and vivacious, the life of beloved country singer, Patsy Cline, who soared from obscurity to international fame to tragic death in just thirty short years, is explored in colorful and poignant detail. An innovator—and even a hell-raiser—Cline broke all the boys’ club barriers of Nashville’s music business in the 1950s and brought a new Nashville sound to the nation with her pop hits and torch ballads like “Walking After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces“ and "Crazy.” She is the subject of a major Hollywood movie and countless articles, and her albums are still selling 45 years after her…


Book cover of Meeting Jimmie Rodgers: How America's Original Roots Music Hero Changed the Pop Sounds of a Century

Taylor Hagood Why did I love this book?

This book is particularly special to me. I have always been a huge Jimmie Rodgers fan and have loved Nolan Porterfield’s biography of him.

As important as Porterfield’s biography is, Barry Mazor’s Meeting Jimmie Rodgers shows the full impact of Rodgers's music while also updating his life story with newly-discovered information. This book, maybe more than any other, inspired me to write my book.

By Barry Mazor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Meeting Jimmie Rodgers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the nearly eight decades since his death from tuberculosis at age thirty-five, singer-songwriter Jimmie Rodgers has been an inspiration for numerous top performers-from Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams to Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, and Beck. How did this Mississippi-born vaudevillian, a former railroad worker who performed so briefly so long ago, produce tones, tunes, and themes that have had such broad influence
and made him the model for the way American roots music stars could become popular heroes?
In Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, the first book to explore the deep legacy of…


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Book cover of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

Victoria Golden Author Of A Last Survivor of the Orphan Trains: A Memoir

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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