The Austin music scene in the 1970s : songs and songwriters
In the early 1970s a collection of singer-songwriters, musicians, and music business operatives captured the imagination of a national audience and launched Austin's reputation as a powerful and prolific international music scene. At the beginning of this seminal decade, the songs, the sounds, and the identities that took shape in Austin's music venues, studios, and back rooms gained traction in the national marketplace by cultivating a cross-cultural, cross-generational musical hybrid that came to be known as "progressive country." This dissertation tells the story of this music scene and explains why it's a story worth recounting in the course of American popular culture. The story begins by focusing on the meaning and utility of a music scene. To this end, I review a series of scholarly scene studies in an attempt to identify common currents of "sceneness" that I contrast with my findings as a participant observer in the Austin musical scene from 1967 to the present. The study then surveys the extant sources on Austin's music history, a commonly accepted history that I'm calling the "creation myth." This "myth" is expanded by introducing new voices, new interpretations, and new developments that have been under emphasized or overlooked in previous accounts. This analysis establishes the foundation for the unifying theme of this study, a theme based on the seminal significance, power, and durability of the song in the Austin music scene. The song was the driving force behind Austin's remarkable climate of musical creativity. The study then focuses on the local scene of the late 1960s as a precursor to the decade of the singer-songwriters. This was a highly productive era in Austin's creative history and although overshadowed by the popular splash of the 1970s, this period provided the underpinnings for music making in Austin for years to come. In the next section, the song is revisited by examining its history and its role in Western culture. Stated simply, songs are important—songs matter. They may mean different things to different people and play different roles in different societies, but they are an essential component of civilization. The discussion then expands from the efficacy of the popular song to the essence of their creators by examining the early professional careers of three prominent Austin-based songwriters—Steven Fromholz, Michael Martin Murphey and Jerry Jeff Walker. Weighing the differences in their respective styles and considering their commonalities help illuminate the process by which the song permeated the creative fabric of the period. The dissertation then explores the creative output of the Austin music scene by focusing on what I'm calling "cultural products." Certainly the songs of the era are prime examples of cultural products and are addressed throughout the dissertation. In this final segment however, I single out four examples of cultural products that are rooted in the 1970s that have either played a notable role in the historical current of Austin music or that continue to contribute to American popular culture in the 21st century.