Bring back some good or bad memories


September 22, 2018

18 Black and White Photographs Capture Country Music Scenes in the 1970s

Born in Massachusetts in 1947, Henry Horenstein was on a path to becoming a historian when he discovered photography. Captivated by the work of Robert Frank and Danny Lyon, Horenstein entered the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind.

After completing his MFA at RISD in 1973, Horenstein's first major project was a documentary survey of the people and character of country music. As a long-time fan, Horenstein recognized that the culture of country music was changing, losing the homey, down-to-earth character of “hillbilly” music, and adopting the slicker nature of contemporary country music. His goal was to preserve a vanishing culture by capturing it in photographs, and for nearly a decade, he traveled throughout the United States, documenting the artists and audiences at honky-tonk bars, outdoor festivals, and community dances.
“It’s a common misconception that country music is a Southern thing. Kind of. But it was more of a rural thing when I was growing up (a suburban thing now). Back then could hear it on the radio from Mexico to Canada. Even Boston and Chicago had 50,000 watt stations that featured a healthy diet of country music. And much of the country dialed in the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. From Nashville. WSM.

“I didn’t know all of this when I started photographing the obscure long-forgotten beer joints and music parks, and the never-remembered people who patronized them. I just thought I was fulfilling my final history assignment from my ex-teacher, the legendary E.P. Thompson. I didn’t want the music, and the people who made it, to disappear. And while that seems a tad pretentious, what can I say? I didn’t know there’s be a plethora of scholars, formal and informal, to do what I set out to do—much better and more thoroughly, it turns out. I just wanted to do my bit.

“I’m not humble bragging when I say others did it better. My approach, if you can call it that, was random. I shot what I could and when I could. For myself, mostly. And sometimes for low-paying magazines and clients. In a way, it mirrored the approach of many of the musicians. Few of them had investors and marketing teams to direct their careers. They just went out, sang their songs, and hoped it would keep them from mining, farming, or factory work. Sometimes the music was great; sometimes not so great. But it usually came from the heart.”
Forty years after Henry Horenstein began documenting the country music scene in and around Nashville, his deep love for the music and its people continues. Having spent a lifetime around performers and fans, he has been granted access to both the high-glamour backstage of the Grand Ole Opry in its heyday of the 1970s and the rough-and-tumble dive bars that carry on the tradition today.

Horenstein’s photographs capture the irrepressible spirit of an American institution as it has evolved over the years. Familiar stars including Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ralph Stanley, and Tammy Wynette are seen here alongside the familiar venues and enthusiastic fans that sustained them.

Dolly Parton, Symphony Hall, Boston, 1972

Leaving the Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, 1972

Jerry Lee Lewis, Ramada Inn, Boston, 1976

Waylon Jennings, Performance Center, Cambridge, Mass., 1976

Waiting backstage, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, 1972

Joni Twitty, Backstage, Annapolis, Md., 1975

Conway Twitty, Backstage, Annapolis, Md., 1975

Last Call, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1974

Lilly Brothers Reunion Show, Hillbilly Ranch, Boston, 1978

Loretta Lynn, Backstage, Annapolis, Md., 1975

Porter Wagoner, Symphony Hall, Boston, 1972

Playing for Tips, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1974

Connie Smith, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, 1972

Doc Watson, Performance Center, Cambridge, Mass., 1974

Patron, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1972

Lester Flatt, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, 1972

Lovers, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1975

Jukebox, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Nashville, 1972

(Photos © Henry Horenstein)



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10