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Author Erin Duvall Dishes on New Book, ‘Country Music Hair’

Erin Duvall's book, Country Music Hair, follows the evolution of hairstyles in the country music format from the 60s until current times.

Written by Kelly Brickey
Author Erin Duvall Dishes on New Book, ‘Country Music Hair’
Erin Duvall, Photo by Sarah Lee

Let’s face it: the hair makes the star. Times come and go, and albums get released, but people will always hold tight to their favorite hairstyle on celebrities and never let go of its relevance to their career.

In country music, hair can sometimes make or break the star and seems to curve a career in the right direction if people find themselves loving the style or cut. Throughout the evolution of the country music sound, we’ve seen a gradual distinction between the decades that deserve their own recognition as chapters that define the beloved music genre.

Enter Country Music Hair by Erin Duvall, a book that highlights the iconic styles and looks of hair throughout the past few decades in the format. With appearances like Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Billy Ray Cyrus and Kelsea Ballerini, Duvall defines all things hair and how it shaped country music for what it was then to what it is now.

Sounds Like Nashville got the scoop on how Duvall approached the fun yet developing topic in her book, which is currently available for purchase. See what she had to say about the evolution of country music hair and where it’s headed next!

Country Music Hair

Country Music Hair

The ‘mane’ theme of the book: “I think what the book is really about is the interaction between fans and artists, to put it extremely simply. There were two major things that I really explore in the book and the first is an artist’s relationship with their fans and why—that sounds like that might be a weird thing and have it be called Country Music Hair—but one thing that I’ve noticed time and time again is that fans have very strong opinions about their favorite artist’s hair. For instance, let’s say Carrie Underwood decided today she was going to put out a rap record…fans would have a lot to say about that. However, I think that they’re just as vocal if she were to shave her head. That’s a little extreme, but if Carrie were to come out tomorrow with a pixie cut, people would be just as vocal about that as if she was putting out a rap record. That’s kind of the major theme. The other part of it is really how the hairstyles of the day correspond with the music people were making at that time. For instance, in the 1960s, I’ve got a photo of Willie Nelson with extremely clean-cut short hair. It’s a very surprising photo to a lot of people. And at that time, he was a songwriter. He was writing songs like ‘Crazy.’ So it was very much kind of a look of the day, whereas by the 70s, you’ve got people—men in particular—growing out their hair, singing about going out on the range. Just kind of that freedom, that outlaw sensibility, and as they start to sing about these kinds of things, their looks change.”

The hair-raising facts that surprised her: “The first thing that really shocked me was I interviewed Tammy Wynette’s hair stylist. Tammy is somebody who is known for, you know she was a stylist and she actually kept her beautician’s license current until she passed away. Well, one, I was surprised she had a stylist on the road with her, especially someone who’s that proud in being a beautician. But what her beautician told me was that she always wore wigs. And that shocked me. Tammy Wynette is not someone you think…when you think wigs, you think Dolly Parton. I went back in and I started looking at all these photos and I was just like, ‘That’s a wig? Really…that’s a wig?’ The woman’s name is Nanette England and she was Tammy’s stylist and she told me about one time when the bus caught on fire. She flipped out and she was like, ‘Save the wigs,’ and dove under the bus. Wigs were an important part of the look. Talking to people, that was really kind of the trend at the time. It gave you diversity of looks really quickly and it also kept you if you didn’t have a lot of time. Because on the flipside of that, Patsy Cline didn’t wear wigs. Early in Barbara Mandrell’s career she was playing steel guitar for Patsy Cline. And Patsy would have Mandrell do her hair every night and she said she hated it ‘cause it took hours. So that’s the flipside of it. You either had to take all day with your hair or it’s a wig.”

How hair in country music has evolved: “A couple different ways ‘cause it got really tall and now it’s coming back down again. Let’s talk about fake hair. It’s always been prevalent, but it’s changing. Now today, wigs are still used for certain things. But now, hair pieces are the norm. I did a great interview with Kelsea Ballerini for the book and she was talking about how her hair is stick-straight and never holds curl, especially when she’s performing and getting a little moist and all that. So she loves to have extensions and the kind that she has are kind of like the clip-in, not necessarily the braid-into-your-head kind. They keep the curl, so that even she can get up on stage and be all over the place and her hair is still gonna look good. But on the other side of that, apparently HD cameras are so good at what they do, if certain people, even people who have a full head of hair—you know, it’s not like they’re trying to hide a bald spot or anything—but with certain people, if they look at them the right way, you can see holes in their hair because the camera can see through. So they’ll use hair pieces or extensions to make sure the camera can’t see through the hair.”

The most iconic hair on a country artist: “Well, I think the most iconic is actually a man and that’s Willie Nelson. You might not just think of him for his hair, but when you think of him, you also definitely think about his hair. So that’s why I say Willie. But I also think I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Reba McEntire! Reba…I feel like her hair has its own personality. It’s much more traditional and I don’t think it’s indicative of one time period or the next. Carrie Underwood has a beautiful, beautiful head of hair. There’s something about it, even when she makes a change to it—for instance, she’s got short hair—the way she styles it is a very classic look. The only thing that I think might go out of style is if you were to look back on those American Idol photos when she first won. That’s a little out of style. But I think she is someone who doesn’t go with trends. I think she goes with the classic look overall.”

Hair affects a music career…big time: “I remember the music video that was the first music video where Blake had short hair. Same with Jake Owen. Interestingly in the case of men, I am gonna say this, even I do love a man with long hair, but in those cases, I feel like both of their star power kind of went up and women kind of went, ‘Oh, hubba hubba! How you doin’? What was hiding under there?!’ I think women were definitely attracted to both of those men before they cut their hair, but I do believe their attraction went up when the hair got cut. I think that when anyone cuts their hair—I don’t know about you, but there have been days where I’ve woken up and I’ve had my hair long the majority of my life—but there is a day when you wake up and you go, ‘I need to change. I’m cutting my hair.’ And I think, man or woman, that is a signal to the world you’re doing something differently. If you’re able to make that commitment with your hair, it’s probably coinciding  when you’re an artist with a change in the movement of your career and therefore, changing your music.”

Country Music Hair can be purchased HERE.