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A Shot in the Dark
Making Records in Nashville, 1945-1955

Author(s): Martin Hawkins

With a "Soundtrack" CD!

Before Elvis hit town, back before country music was synonymous with Nashville, a small group of intrepid entrepreneurs--local businessmen looking to make a buck and have some fun--were recording and selling all the local music they could find. From dance bands to gospel, from rhythm & blues to, yes, country music, these men inadvertently documented a wealth of local music as they struggled to run successful recording studios.

Hawkins goes beyond the music to tell the stories of the behind-the-scenes folks responsible for turning Nashville into Music City U.S.A. From Jim Bulleit, who was there at the very beginnings of the music industry, to Bill Beasley, who took on the emerging Music Row 'establishment' and lost, Hawkins guides us through the careers of the folks who defined Nashville's music scene for an exciting, unpredictable decade and traces the rise and fall of local music labels like Bullet, World, Tennessee, Republic and Speed.

Though the focus of the book is on the recording companies, studios, DJs and other music promoters, it also underlines the importance of some of the giants of Nashville music--like Francis Craig, who recorded an international hit by accident, Owen Bradley, who had a hand in many early labels, Del Wood, the surprise star of honky tonk piano, the fabulous blues singer Christine Kittrell, the underrated R&B bandleader Louis Brooks, the ubiquitous gospel promoter, Wally Fowler, the long-established Fairfield Four, and the king of the rude country song, Randy Hughes.

This book builds off of and develops more fully the research Hawkins did for the critically acclaimed Bear Family Records box collections of Nashville recordings during this same time. Full of lush photographs, many being published here for the first time, and accompanied by a twenty-song CD highlighting the wide range of music being made in Nashville at the time, the book immerses readers in the sights, sounds, and stories of this vibrant and influential decade in Nashville music making.

Co-published with the Country Music Foundation Press

Biography of Author(s)

Martin Hawkins, co-author of Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock & Roll, is a historian by nature, a career manager in the British health service, and a nocturnal writer of books, articles, and CD booklets. He writes about the people who recorded and promoted regional and ìrootsî music in the days before rock & roll. He is married with two grown-up children, lives in Southern England, and probably plays too much golf and watches too much football.


  • What you're doing is really important. The gap between success and failure is so small at times, and there are so many artists who deserve to be remembered.
    --Sam Phillips
  • A Shot in the Dark astonishes, exhausts, and is beautiful to behold.
    --The Tennessean
  • (four stars) . . . meticulous, absorbing chronicle . . .
  • The story behind the independent labels based in Nashville is told in wonderful new book . . . loaded with great early photos . . .
    --Steve Ramm, In the Groove
  • . . . fast paced and well researched . . .
    --Dirty Linen
  • ". . . the book is so handsome and so full of entrancing period photos that casual readers will find lots of good browsing in it."
  • "Martin Hawkins is surely one of the finest researchers in the whole realm of vernacular music."
    No Depression
  • "I was there at the inception of this book in the early 1970s and through the long gaps necessitated by work, kids, and much else. Now it's done, and it's more important than it seemed back then. Many of the major and minor players are gone, and Martin is the only person to whom they told their tales. We all know how big and corporate the Nashville music business has become, but this is the true and complete story of its roguish beginning."
    --Colin Escott, co-author Good Rockin' Tonight