The Gordon Sharpe Americana Book Award 2023

Courtesy of Hannah Sharpe

In May 2022 we lost one of our own. Gordon Sharpe’s pieces for AUK were always a pleasure to read. Having met at our get together in Clitheroe in 2020, we exchanged messages about the music, artists, and books we were enjoying. He was particularly fond of the Paperback Riders strand, and the chance to introduce people to books he felt passionate about, and he is missed by all of us here.

We wanted to put in place a lasting tribute to Gordon and could think of nothing better than an award which recognised the cream of the books we’ve reviewed over the previous year. So here is the inaugural Gordon Sharpe award for books related to Americana, whether that is the music, or the culture, or often as you will see below both. I can’t improve on our editor Mark Whitfield’s words about Gordon, which you can find here, so I’ll move on to the main event. The books.

This was hard. We looked at some great books in 2023. Having read again the reviews, and in many cases the books as well, there were three that stood out for me. So, in reverse order…

“Leon Russell: The Master of Space and Time’s Journey Through Rock & Roll History”

Reviewed by Martin Johnson February 2023

There are still gaps to be filled in recording the lives and work of many of the artists who have contributed to the music we cover at AUK. Leon Russell was one of the most obvious. His influence as a player, and as a producer I knew a little about, I was nota ware of his work behind the scenes with drum machine innovator Roger Linn, in popularising synthesisers, and in video production. I bought the book on the strength of Martin’s review and can only echo his conclusion. “A significant gap in the overall history of American music has been finally filled by Bill Janovitz’s book, and while it is a very readable book in its literary style, he has applied a rigor to his sources that should ensure this becomes a standard reference work.”

Aaron Smith & The Coal Biters
“The Legend of Sam Davis and Other Stories of Newton County Arkansas”

Reviewed by Tim Martin June 2023

This was a book and music project but with the emphasis firmly on the words. The music is very much the support act to the book. And that is a coffee-table compendium of songs, stories, artwork, maps, and family photos telling stories and legends of Newton County Arkansas. With his interest in maps, I think Gordon would have loved this as much as I do. Artist Dreama Phoenix’s maps, and drawings are wonderful. In recording the forced removals of the Cherokee people under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and the impact of migration in and around Newton County this is a story of a small piece of America that reflects the experience of peoples around the world.

However, the winner of the first Gordon Sharpe award is…

“Western Edge: The Roots and Reverberations of Los Angeles Country-Rock”

Reviewed by Rick Bayles January 2023

Another book I bought on the strength of an AUK review. As our then Books Editor Rick Bayles told me “It’s a book that was put out in support of an exhibition of the same name at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Being a big country rock fan it was a book that really spoke to me.” And indeed, to me.

The keynote essay ‘Are You Ready For The Country?’, from Randy Lewis is as good a potted history as you could hope for of the early days of Country Rock, including a long overdue recognition of the critical role of Chris Hillman, which as Rick points out is something that we’ve been saying, for some time, here at AUK. The photos are gorgeous throughout the book, and you can spend hours studying them. A reviewer quoted on Amazon said, “Part coffee table book, part liner notes for the records playing in your head, and part scrapbook of a time that was as cool to look at as to listen to.”

Rick reminds us that “The coming together of country and rock music, on the west coast of America in the late 60s and early 70s has to be seen as the seminal moment in the development of roots-based music into a new genre of its own. This book lays that early development out in no uncertain terms, identifying all the key players along the way, not just the people but the places and artefacts that contributed to so much great music. Probably the book of the year” No, definitely the book of the year.

The best awards ceremonies always finish with a song so who are we to change that…

About Tim Martin 239 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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Martin Johnson

A fitting tribute, Tim, to some great books, and to Gordon himself who I think would have been very proud to be associated with the award.

Barry Cooke

Lovely idea, fair play to all involved

Rick Bayles

Excellent choices. Gordon would certainly have approved.