Arts Literature

Book Feature: Step It Up and Go

The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk

David Menconi, Author

After the first decade of his 25 years as a music critic and journalist with the Raleigh News & Observer, David Menconi knew that North Carolina’s music deserved a book. “I started to feel like it might be possible to write about NC music as different strands of a single unified story that transcended different genres—a story that could be a framework for everything from pre-bluegrass old-time to punk rock,” he says. “Figuring that out was the hard part of the process.”

Step it Up & Go

North Carolina ranks high among states that have influenced American music. “Some of the past century’s greatest musical icons have NC roots, including Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Doc Watson and Nina Simone,” Menconi says. “The state has also played a key role in how different styles developed—bluegrass, hip-hop, jazz, blues, folk and soul.” He cites Earl Scruggs’ banjo style and Lowman Pauling’s guitar playing, for example, as crucial influences on bluegrass and soul, respectively, the musicians providing, in each case, the “key missing ingredient” for their genres.

An accompanying Spotify playlist for the book includes 54 songs from such NC legends as Etta Baker, Loudon Wainwright III, Elizabeth Cotten and Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, October, 2020, music, hardcover, $30, by David Menconi, and published by The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. Find the book locally at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café.

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