Nashville City Blues
My Journey as an American Songwriter
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
Talley’s story begins in the hardscrabble towns of eastern Oklahoma. As a young man, he witnessed poverty and despair and worked alongside ordinary Americans who struggled to make ends meet. He has never forgotten his Oklahoma roots. These experiences shaped Talley’s artistic vision and inspired him to write his own songs.
Eventually Talley landed in Nashville, where his first years included exciting brushes with fame but also bitter disappointments. As an early champion of social justice causes, his ideals did not fit neatly into Nashville’s star-making machine. By his own admission, Talley at times made poor business decisions and trusted the wrong people. His relationship with the country music industry was—and still is—fraught, but he makes no apology for staying true to his core principles. Nashville City Blues offers hard-won wisdom for any aspiring artist motivated to work hard and handle whatever setbacks might follow. Readers will also gain valuable understanding about the country music industry and the inescapable links between commerce and artistry.
“James Talley is an American artist. Putting on a Talley vinyl, I always feel as if I am getting a tour of John Steinbeck’s basement and Woody Guthrie’s garage and Dorothea Lange’s darkroom. There are nights when my wife and I go two-stepping around the dining room to a Talley tune. Now the world has this wonderful memoir, as honest and plainspoken and direct and American in its sentence rhythms as the beautiful songs themselves. I read it in a sitting and wanted even more.”—Paul Hendrickson, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and author of Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost
“An inspiring, yet harrowing memoir by an outstanding singer-songwriter who made a landmark album in 1975 in the populist, folk-country tradition of Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard, only to spend decades in the nightmarish record business in hopes of getting his music the wide audience that it deserved. Like his songs, Talley’s text has a warm and resilient spirit.”—Robert Hilburn, author of Johnny Cash: The Life and Paul Simon: The Life
“A well-penned journey through the Nashville music business, told by someone who was positioned to become a keen observer of the Music Row scene ‘back in the day.’”—Robert K. Oermann, coauthor of Songteller (with Dolly Parton) and
Little Miss Dynamite (with Brenda Lee)
“Talley’s book is unlike almost all others: it tells the hardest truths and captures the greatest achievements of someone who started with nothing, never flinches and is still doing his best to follow his dream.”—Americana Highways
"Nashville City Blues is as straightforward, understated and affecting as Mr. Talley’s true-life songs, which have been covered by performers from Johnny Cash to Moby. The book is also a field guide for any outsider without connections or prospects who wonders how to persevere despite long odds and plenty of bad luck and bad choices."—Wall Street Journal
“James Talley’s Nashville City Blues: My Journey as an American Songwriter is too evenhanded to be a cautionary tale about the dark corners of the big-city music business, but this is a songwriter’s memoir with a moral in tow. Talley delves into the machinations of a dirty business, but Nashville City Blues is a story about the idealism that comes only through work. As Talley writes, “Songwriters, regardless of how they are abused and underpaid, still rule the world artistically.”—Nashville Scene