Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, country music’s most legendary performers played backwoods stages in outdoor music parks, live and unfiltered.
It was a time when Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and George Jones mingled up close with fans like kin at a mountain family reunion. These dollar-a-carload picnic concerts might have been forgotten if it hadn’t been for Leon Kagarise. An audio engineer by trade, he began recording the live shows on reel-to-reel tape and shot hundreds of candid color slides of the stars and their fans.
Music journalist Eddie Dean spent many hours interviewing Kagarise before his death in early 2008. His introduction and accompanying text tells how an obsession created a view into a lost world that challenges easy assumptions about Country and reveals a secret history of Country music in the ‘60s, when the industry largely turned its back on its rural roots and produced a slick, studio-centric product known as the Nashville Sound.
Forced into commercial exile, traditional country performers scratched out a living in the outdoor-music park circuit, where Kagarise served as their unofficial court photographer. With a meticulous and loving eye, Kagarise captured dozens of classic country and bluegrass artists in their prime, including June Carter, Dolly Parton, Bill Monroe, Hank Snow, The Stanley Brothers, The Stonemans, and many others.
Over a decade, he amassed an archive of over 600 color slides and 4,000 hours of pristine-sounding live performance as well as radio and television recordings, some of the only known surviving documents of the era. Pure Country presents 140 of Kagarise’s stunning color images, most never seen in print, from an archive now considered by historians to be one of the richest discoveries in the history of American music.
The 9.5″ x 9.5″, 204 page book is out now, and it contains some amazing photos.