'Oxford American' Digs Deep Into The South

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Every year, the editors of Oxford American magazine search the South for music, compiling an annual music issue that spans a range of genres and decades. Editor Marc Smirnoff sat down for an interview with NPR, where he highlighted artists Linda Martell, Larry Donn, Wiley and The Checkmates, Feminine Complex, the Oliver Lake Organ Trio, and William Grant Still as being shining examples of the South's hidden treasures.

Songs From The Southern Music Issue

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Herbert Wiley of Wiley and The Checkmates. hide caption

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The song "Color Him Father" is from a 1970 recording by Martell, an African-American country singer with a "flawless" sound.

"It's a revelation. I'm astonished and disappointed that it's not better known in the country field," says Smirnoff.

Herbert Wiley, a soul singer in the 1960s, gave up music to become a shoe repairman in Oxford, Miss. Years later, Wiley formed a band called Wiley and The Checkmates, and recorded "Guess You Wouldn't Know Nothin' About That" in 2008.

Smirnoff knew Wiley before he was a member of The Checkmates. "I always remembered that he had a strong presence when I would go into the store, but I had no idea that he was as flamboyant, colorful and over the top as he is on stage"

The Feminine Complex was quite literally a "girl band," comprised of five female high-school graduates from Nashville. They only put out one record, and every band member with the exception of the lead singer was replaced by studio musicians when recording.

"It was one of those knee-jerk corporate reactions," explains Smirnoff. " 'These little fragile girls can't play in the studio, we have to use men,' but the girls could have done it themselves."

Larry Donn, described by Smirnoff as "the Buddy Holly of Arkansas," had more of a following in Europe than the U.S.

And perhaps the most obscure track on the compilation is from a group called the True Gospel Wymics, whom Smirnoff found while surfing through eBay.

"It reminded [you] that if you're a music fan in America, you should pinch yourself, because there are all of these great artists that are hidden in plain sight."



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