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Barroom brawls, broken hearts, rags-to-riches stories, lots of whiskey and even shootouts: The stereotypical country music song explores so many themes, each of them as dramatic as the last. Maybe this is because most of your favorite country music stars haven't exactly walked the straight line to fame, as Johnny Cash might have said. In fact, many of their lyrics are inspired by childhood hardships, marriages have gone awry, substance abuse struggles and even doing hard time in prison.
Luckily, everyone from old legends like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson to newer country acts such as Chely Wright aren’t shy about divulging their biggest secrets and life struggles with their fans, writing tell-all memoirs that will make even the roughest, toughest cowboys and cowgirls grasp their hats in shock.
Here are some great country memoirs worth checking out, all available for purchase on Amazon.
This relatively new release chronicling Dolly’s unbelievable life — starting from her humble southern beginnings and following her into superstardom — is a must-read for every country fan. It also features never-before-seen photos, lyrics to 175-plus songs and the shocking stories behind her famous hits. Buy Dolly Parton: Songteller now on Amazon.
In his candid tell-all, Willie Nelson takes us on the wild ride that is his life. And if you know anything about the legendary crooner, you know it involves four marriages, barroom shenanigans, gunfights (they don’t call him “Shotgun Willie” for nothing!) and lots of guitar strumming. Buy Willie Nelson, It's a Long Story on Amazon.
Loretta Lynn has one of the most interesting stories in country music history. Her memoir tells the story of a girl born into poverty in a small coal-mining town who became a bride at 15 and a mother of four at 19—and then, against all odds, went on to become one of the most celebrated country stars of all time. Coal Miner’s Daughter is so riveting that it inspired an Academy Award-winning movie starring Sissy Spacek as Lynn. Buy Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter on Amazon.
Merle Haggard’s life was as tumultuous as it gets. After losing his father at age nine, he was thrust into juvenile delinquency and was doing time in San Quentin by the age of 20. It was there where he saw Johnny Cash perform for the first time and was inspired to follow in his musical footsteps. This book doesn’t shy away from any of it — violence, gambling, drugs and all the other themes his award-winning tunes cover. Buy Merle Haggard, My House of Memories on Amazon.
If you loved the film Walk the Line, then Johnny Cash’s riveting memoir should be next on your reading list. In this unfiltered first-person walk through his life, he sets the record straight, addressing the most shocking rumors about him and exploring the throes of his addictions — pain killers, amphetamines, alcohol and downers — included. Buy Johnny Cash, Cash: The Autobiography on Amazon.
Randy Travis’s rags-to-riches story might be the least interesting part of his life. In this book, the country music legend chronicles his downward spiral starting in 2009, including the dissolution of his marriage, financial ruin, anger issues and alcoholism, all of which led to his infamous 2012 arrest. Buy Randy Travis, Forever and Ever, Amen on Amazon.
Country music darling Shania Twain’s life has been far from easy. After growing up in a poverty-stricken and abusive home and losing both her parents at age 22, she forged an enviable career in the music industry. But it wasn’t easy sailing from there. She dives deep into it all — including her painful and very public divorce spawned by her husband betraying her with her best friend. Buy Shania Twain, From This Moment On on Amazon.
Tim McGraw’s memoir is a little different than the rest, as he opts to focus on his physical health journey. After hitting his rock bottom — which included weight gain and excessive drinking — he committed to a whole life transformation. His memoir not only tells his riveting story but will inspire you to make life changes as well. Buy Tim McGraw, Grit & Grace on Amazon.
From a cattle ranch in Oklahoma to sold-out appearances at Carnegie Hall, Reba McEntire’s life may seem like a fairytale. However, her memoir tells another story that includes a failed first marriage and a plane crash that stole the lives of eight of her bandmates. Buy Reba McEntire, Reba: My Story on Amazon.
Chely Wright was a high school homecoming queen who went on to dominate the country charts. However, she didn’t exactly fit the mold of the genre when it came to her sexuality. Her memoir explores her struggle to keep herself closeted in fear of losing everything — until it took a toll and she became the first openly gay country star. Buy Chely Wright, Like Me on Amazon.