Despite its renown as the beating heart of the country music business, many in Nashville were initially skeptical of the idea of opening their city to freewheeling entertainment types. City boosters had dreamed of turning the town into a center of learning, art, or culture, and the culture they had envisioned was not that of country music. At least one car dealer was warned not to sell to country musicians for fear that they would invariably trash out and wreck the cars and then fail to make payments.10
The 1927 Bristol recording sessions—once described as "the Big Bang of country music"—during which Ralph Peer famously first captured the sounds of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers have long been shrouded in more than a few persistent myths. One story has the Carter Family showing up barefoot and covered in mud, climbing in from the fire escape to avoid being seen. Another claims that before Peer discovered him, Rodgers had been running around wild in the mountains and was utterly new to the industry. Both stories are false and, interestingly, seem to have originated with Peer himself.11
Among the grim ironies in the history of popular music: In 1952, Hank Williams recorded a minor song called "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive." On January 1, 1953, he died at age 29.
There's never been a shortage of stories detailing Jerry Lee Lewis's outlandish behavior. One of the best dates from November 1976. After flipping his $46,000 Rolls Royce, Lewis was arrested for reckless driving, but much to the surprise of the police force of Colliersville, Tennessee, he passed a breathalyzer test. Less than 24 hours later, Lewis was arrested a second time in the neighboring town of Memphis, waving a loaded pistol in the middle of the night outside the home of another performer, Elvis Presley.12
Willie Nelson, now in his late 70s, is the closest thing country music has to a living folk hero. He's played with everybody and seems to be universally well-liked. Nelson is also a legend among marijuana enthusiasts, and according to Playboy and US magazines, he smoked TV wildman Johnny Knoxville (of MTV's Jackass) under the table. Pretty rock and roll for a country elder.13