A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from October 09, 2012
“Three chords and the truth” ("Country music is three chords and the truth")

"Country music is three chords and the truth” (or “Country music ain’t nothing but three chords and the truth") has been credited to country music songwriter Harlan Howard (1927-2002). It is not clear when he first said it. “Country music is three chords and the truth” was cited in print in 1995; Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville (1997) is a book from Laurence Leamer.

The rock group U2 performed a 1987 tour that would result in the 1988 album and rockumentary Rattle and Hum. U2 lead singer Bono told crowds in October 1987 that his music was simple—“just three chords and the truth.” U2 performed a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (1967), adding the lyrics ‘’All I’ve got is a red guitar/ three chords and the truth.’’


TV Tropes
Three Chords and the Truth
(...)
While the phrase “three chords and the truth” was first coined by Nashville songwriter Harlan Howard (to describe country music), the real Trope Namer is a verse added by U2 to their cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” absent in both the original and the famous Jimi Hendrix version.

Google Books
20 September 1986, Billboard magazine, “Nashville Scene” by Gerry Wood, pg. 28, col. 1:
You won’t catch Harlan writing jazz. Three chords will do him just fine, thank you.
(Harlan Howard—ed.)

29 October 1987, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Robust and lean U2 makes dinosaur bands look extinct” by Chris Heim, Chicagoland, pg. 19:
He discovered instead that all you need is “just three chords and the truth.”

29 October 1987, Chicago (IL) Sun-Times, “U2 tells its audience: You, too, are important” by Don McLeese, pg. 69:
During the band’s attempt at Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” Bono told the crowd that there are no tricks to this rock ‘n’ roll stuff, that it is within anyone’s grasp, that all it requires is “three chords and the truth.”

19 November 1987, The Orange Country Register (Santa Ana, CA), “U2 reaches out, touches Coliseum” by Jim Washburn, pg. K3, col. 3:
Explaining his minimal guitar technique, Bono told the crowd, “That’s all you need, three chords and the truth,” and then shouted, “Wanna play my guitar?”

New York (NY) Times
RECORDINGS; When Self-Importance Interferes With the Music
By JON PARELES
Published: October 16, 1988
While U2 was touring stadiums last year, band members told interviewers they had become fascinated with American music, especially the black Southern music at the roots of rock-and-roll - blues, gospel and soul. At the same time, the Irish band’s 1987 album, ‘’The Joshua Tree,’’ had brought the band world-beating popularity, rocketing U2 from having a sizable cult following to nearly universal applause.

A band that had set out to write idealistic anthems for a generation was reaching a good part of that generation; at the same time, they were becoming bigtime rock stars, susceptible to pressure and an overweening sense of significance. ‘’Rattle and Hum’’ (Island 7 91003; LP, cassette and CD), the companion album to a movie of the tour that will be released in a few weeks, tries to put together down-home Americana and stadium-size statements.
(...)
Each attempt is embarrassing in a different way. Bono Vox, U2’s singer and lyricist, starts the album with his foot in his mouth as he introduces ‘’Helter Skelter,’’ saying, ‘’This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.’’ He’d forgotten that U2 is not the Beatles - and he goes on to scramble the lyrics. Mr. Vox felt compelled to add a messianic verse to the enigmatic ‘’All Along the Watchtower’’: ‘’All I’ve got is a red guitar/ three chords and the truth.’’

OCLC WorldCat record
U2 : three chords and the truth
Author: Niall Stokes; Liam Mackey; Liam Fay; et al
Publisher: New York : Harmony Books, ©1989.
Edition/Format: Book : Biography : English : 1st American ed.

15 October 1995, Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette, Menards advertising supplement (unpaginated):
Country music is three chords and the truth.

19 July 1996, Washington (DC) Times, “Country tunesmith comes out singing”:
“As Harlan Howard put it, ‘A country song is three chords and the truth.’”

OCLC WorldCat record
Three chords and the truth : hope, heartbreak, and changing fortunes in Nashville
Author: Laurence Leamer
Publisher: New York, NY : HarperCollins, ©1997.
Edition/Format: Book : English : 1st ed
Summary:
Through interviews with stars, managers, songwriters, and executives at the 1996 annual week-long Fan Fair country music event at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, Leamer explores how country music stars became successful and why country music has become so popular throughout the U.S. Includes interviews with Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Mindy McCready, Shania Twain, Wynonna Judd, Leann Rimes, Emmylou Harris, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, and many more.

OCLC WorldCat record
Three chords and the truth
Author: Sara Evans
Publisher: New York : RCA : BMG Distribution, 1997.
Edition/Format: Music CD : CD audio : Country music : English

New York (NY) Times
Bruce Springsteen and the K Street Band?
By KAREN DeMASTERS
Published: December 16, 2001
(...)
Mr. D’Urso and the band started out working as 3 Chords and the Truth, a phrase taken from the U2 documentary ‘’Rattle and Hum’’ in which Bono, the lead singer, says, ‘’All I have is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.’’

Rolling Stone magazine
Country Scribe Harlan Howard Dies
Songwriter penned hits for Ray Charles, Patsy Cline

By ANDREW DANSBY
March 5, 2002 12:00 AM ET
“Country music is three chords and the truth,” Harlan Howard once said with the gravitas of a tenured professor, which in effect he was. The Dean of Nashville songwriters penned more than 4,000 songs in his five-plus decade career, writing some of the genre’s most enduring tunes for its most regal of stars: “I Fall to Pieces,” “Busted,” “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” and “Heartaches by the Number” for voices including those of Patsy Cline, Ray Charles, Buck Owens, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Charlie Pride, k.d. lang and scores more. Howard died on March 3rd after several years of ill health; he was seventy-four.

New York (NY) Times
Harlan Howard, 74, the Writer of ‘Busted’ and Other Country Hits
Published: March 6, 2002
Harlan Howard, the composer of numerous country music hits, including ‘’Busted’’ and ‘’I Fall to Pieces,’’ died on Sunday at his home here. He was 74.
(...)
Despite all his success in the world of Nashville, Mr. Howard kept his definition of country music succinct. It was, he said, ‘’three chords and the truth.’’

OCLC WorldCat record
3 chords & the truth : the Anika Moa story
Author: Anika Moa; Justin Pemberton; Erina Tamepo; Paul Casserly; TV Set.
Publisher: Auckland [N.Z.] : The TV Set, ©2003.
Edition/Format: VHS video : PAL color broadcast system : VHS tape Visual material : EnglishView all editions and formats
Summary:
Follows the journey of singer Anika Moa through New Zealand, London and across America as she grapples with the demands and constraints that might impinge her creatively if she takes up the international offers.

OCLC WorldCat record
Seven chords and the truth
Author: Natalie Zoe
Publisher: [Austin, Tex.] : Natalie Zoe, ©2004.
Edition/Format: Music CD : CD audio : Blues : Multiple forms : Popular music : English

Lyrical Wisdom
All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth
Posted on September 16, 2006
This is one of the most meaningful lyrics to anyone that appreciates the power of music. Originally written by Bob Dylan, it was made famous by Jimi Hendrix and later covered by everyone from U2 to Elton John and the Grateful Dead.

“All I’ve got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth”

Song: All Along the Watchtower
Artist: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, U2
Album: John Wesley Harding (Dylan), Electric Lady land (Hendrix)
Year:1967, 1968

OCLC WorldCat record
Street chords and the truth : a street level view of country music
Author: Thomas Bevins; Ben Levin
Publisher: [Denton, Tex.] : University of North Texas, 2008.
Dissertation: Thesis (M.S.)--University of North Texas, May, 2008.
Edition/Format: Thesis/dissertation : Document : Thesis/dissertation : eBook Computer File : English

OCLC WorldCat record
4 chords & the truth
Author: Delta Kings (Musical group)
Publisher: Champaign, Ill. : Delta King Records, ©2010.
Edition/Format: Music CD : CD audio : Blues : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Three chords and the truth : what country music means to me
Author: James C Gedda; Ball State University. Dept. of English.
Publisher: [Muncie, Ind. : s.n., 2011]
Series: Rai Peterson book arts collection.
Edition/Format: Book : CD audio : Music Sound Recording : English

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film • (0) Comments • Tuesday, October 09, 2012 • Permalink


Nice article, I haven’t thought of that before. This site is really amazing for a bunch of reasons.

Posted by mouse trap  on  10/10  at  10:02 AM

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