Lester Flatt, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn., 1972. "Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs were the successful Flatt and Scruggs. Flatt's contributions included strong baritone vocals and a signature guitar run, widely imitated even today."
Ralph Stanley at Home, Coeburn, Va., 1974. "As bluegrass heroes go, Ralph Stanley is right up there with Bill Monroe. He began performing with brother Carter as the Stanley Brothers in 1946, and their old-time mountain sound has been hugely influential."
DeFord Bailey, Grand Ole Opry House, Opryland, Nashville, Tenn., 1974. "A member of the original Grand Ole Opry cast, DeFord Bailey was discovered in 1926 playing harmonica while operating an elevator. He was fired from the show in 1941 due to changing musical tastes or racism, depending on who's telling the story, and ran a shoeshine business in Nashville until just before his death."
Curly Ray Cline at Home, Rock House, Ky., 1974. "Curly Ray Cline ... fiddled for Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys from 1966 to 1993. His fiddling style was simple and precise, a perfect match for the Stanley old-time sound."
Charlie Monroe,Take It Easy Ranch, Callaway, Md., 1973. "Charlie Monroe worked with younger brother Bill as the Monroe Brothers before splitting up in 1938. Bill went on to stardom at the Grand Ole Opry, while Charlie worked smaller venues."
Minnie Pearl and Pee Wee King, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tenn., 1973. "Minnie Pearl was the pre-eminent country comedian of her day. With a price tag hanging from her hat, she regaled her fans with tales from Grinder's Switch, a fictional town that influenced Garrison Keillor and his Lake Wobegon."
It may come as a surprise that the photographer who shot these country stars — and their fans — is from Massachusetts. But, Henry Horenstein explains, country music "was a rural music, not necessarily a Southern music."
As a young photographer, Horenstein spent a good part of the 1970s and early '80s at bluegrass festivals, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, New England honky-tonks and elsewhere, documenting what he believed was an "era that was going to go away."
In some sense, it did go away, as all eras do — or, rather, it evolved. Today's mainstream country scene of catchy, highly produced hits by polished performers is a far cry from the scene of 40 years ago, when rock 'n' roll was reshaping the sound that had been passed down four decades prior still, before widespread music recordings.
"Country music is a lot of different things," Horenstein says. "It's not one thing."
The point is: He has extensive documentation of a particular time in country music history. He bore witness to the rising star of Dolly Parton, the heyday of Del McCoury and the twilight of standbys like Lester Flatt. Above all, though, he says, he was "more interested in the last call and the lovers and the pictures like that."
That is, the bread and butter of country music: the people. The fans that made country music possible; the folks who lived lives that the lyrics describe.
Horenstein's photos can be found in his new book, Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, and will be on display in Boston, New York City and Austin, Texas, this fall.