If you took a tour bus and filled it with all the musicians who helped make the history of Arizona country music remarkable, you’d see several familiar faces: Rex Allen. Marty Robbins. Tanya Tucker. Waylon Jennings. But you’d also discover a few forgotten folks, like Billie Maxwell, a cowgirl who cut the first commercial record by an Arizonan in 1929. And if you drove to just a few of the places around the state wrapped in Western lore and connected to country music, you’d be making a long C-shaped drive spanning almost 268 miles, from the Petrified National Forest to near the Mexico border.
Phoenix is far from Nashville – 1,636 miles, to be exact – but like that legendary music capital, the city had its own sound, a slew of venues and a crop of country artists capable of making hit records. With a few historic exceptions, most – like Buck Owens and Wayne Newton – hit the road before hitting the big-time, but it wasn’t just top-selling Arizona artists who changed the sonic landscape in America. Phoenix is filled with veteran full-time musicians whose names you probably don’t know, but who’ve worked with everybody from Glen Campbell to Willie Nelson. The “second-string superstars,” if you will (see sidebar on page 118).
Modern commercial country music has no small amount of the Grand Canyon State in its DNA, but the long, strange, spectacular journey of Arizona country music actually began more than 85 years ago, in the northeastern high-range boonies, far away from any flashing stage lights.
The unincorporated town of Nutrioso probably hasn’t changed much since Spanish colonists first made note of camping on the site in 1776. A teardrop-shaped wedge of land near Springerville in the White Mountains of northeastern Arizona, Nutrioso squats on less than one-third of a square mile of dense pine and fir forest and had a population of 26 at the 2010 census. It’s the kind of place where nothing much really happens, and “going to town” is stil