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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Nashville Underdogs

  Dr. David Pruett, a professor in the music department at U. Mass Boston, recently wrote a book entitled MuzikMafia: From the Local Nashville Scene to the National Mainstream, which describes the collection of country artists that got together in 2001. The group was spearheaded by then superstar country duo Big and Rich, and featured many artists over the years. The collection of artists still exists and can be found at muzikmafia.com.

Dr.  Pruett answered some questions about the book for the Mass Media

MM: Why did you decide the MuzikMafia deserved a book? Why did you write it? Do you have any connection to Big and Rich, or another artist involved?

DP: I attended my first MuzikMafia show on June 15, 2004 in downtown Nashville. I was teaching at nearby Middle Tennessee State University at the time, and a student of mine had suggested that I check out this “new thing” in Nashville. I stopped by that Tuesday evening with a colleague and was amazed at what I saw: a collective of local artists of extraordinary talent and diverse musical styles, all performing together on the same stage. It was a musical circus and quite the spectacle. Nashville is known for its country music, but what I experienced that evening was a mix of country, blues, rock, heavy metal, rap, jazz, bluegrass, and soul. It was amazing, and I knew that night that I wanted to research the artists and their role in Nashville’s unique music scene.  I had the opportunity to speak with John Rich of Big & Rich that night and pitched to him my rather spontaneous idea of researching the MuzikMafia. He liked the idea and invited me on board. He introduced me to several other members, including the MuzikMafia’s other founding “godfathers,” and the rest is history.

Nashville’s diverse music scene—historically and geographically—was underrepresented in the literature, and here was a collective of artists that represented Nashville’s diversity in a nutshell. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine my own love for country music and culture with my graduate training as a serious ethnomusicologist.

I spent five years researching the book and got to know each MuzikMafia artist. The MuzikMafia granted me unrestricted access that included video privileges, backstage VIP passes to concerts, down time on the artists’ tour buses, and invitations to private parties, and facilitated my entry into the upper echelons of Nashville’s corporate music culture. My personal archive includes over 200 hours of video footage from MuzikMafia shows, approximately fifty-five formal videotaped interviews with the artists themselves, over 29,000 digital photographs, about 2,000 articles from newspapers or magazines, and notes from 112 MuzikMafia events. During the course of a five-year study that began in June 2004, I engaged each artist repeatedly, conducted multiple interviews, observed shows, attended private MuzikMafia events, cross-checked facts, and explored the MuzikMafia’s role within Nashville’s ever-changing music scene. This book tells their story.

I was able to observe MuzikMafia artists in their numerous public and private milieus, which contributed to my deeper understanding of the collective, the respective musical identities of its members, and its gradual changes over time. I gathered some extraordinary experiences hanging out with artists like Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy, Brooks and Dunn, Montgomery Gentry, Hank Williams Jr., and Kid Rock, and observing their roller-coaster lives from their point of view.

MM: How long did it take you to gather information and write the book? Was it difficult?

DP: I worked closely with and researched the MuzikMafia for over five years. Access to the artists was easy because of how I got to know them—at local clubs in Nashville where they performed weekly, free Tuesday night shows. However, once they started selling multi-platinum albums, things got crazy. I was no longer the only researcher backstage but had to share “space” with camera crews from CMT, GAC, and the television show 60 Minutes, among others. However, the MuzikMafia still managed to keep me on board and in-the-know amidst an onslaught of managers, producers, road crews, publicists, label representatives, assistants, and the national media. I greatly value the friendships that I garnered with the MuzikMafia’s members, especially Big & Rich, James Otto, Chance, Shannon Lawson, Shanna Crooks, Damien Horne, Rachel Kice, and Two-Foot Fred, with most of whom I still maintain regular contact.    

MM: Where is the book available for purchase?

DP: The book is available at the standard walk-in bookstores such as Borders, Books, and Music and Barnes & Noble, as well their online websites. However, Amazon.com has been selling the book for the best price at approximately 40% off the retail cost.

MM: Have you shared this book with your students and others at UMB? What has the reaction been?

DP: I have provided several comp copies to friends and colleagues, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I have also presented my research at national meetings for the Society for Ethnomusicology, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and the International Country Music Conference, also with significant success. The book has received outstanding reviews by Dream Row Magazine and Horizon VU Music. I am looking forward to the opportunity of sharing my experiences with the book and country music, in general, with our UMass students in spring 2011 in a course that I designed entitled, History of Country Music (MUSIC 117) that meets Tuesdays/Thursdays 4-5:15 p.m.

MM: If you had to describe what MuzikMafia is about, what would you say?

DP: The book is the product of five years of my behind-the-scenes work with some of country music’s biggest stars, including Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson. Here, I tell the story of how a collective of underdogs became the top dogs in the music business. The MuzikMafia’s story is a fascinating snapshot of Nashville and the broader commercial music industry. I provide the reader with a step-by-step account of the MuzikMafia’s ascent to the national mainstream from their point-of-view, revealing significant details about their many successes as well as their substantial failures along the way.