America's Music BLUEGRASS
a history of bluegrass music in the words of its pioneers

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"A colossal contribution to bluegrass" - Peter Wernick

"This amazing book is destined to become the BIBLE of bluegrass music" 

"Greatest book ever written on America's music"  - Carlton Haney

"Must reading not only for bluegrass musicians and fans, but for all music historians"

"More than twelve years in the making, this huge book is truly a LABOR of LOVE"

"What a great gift for any music or bluegrass lover"

"This is a MUST HAVE of bluegrass publications"

Steve Ryan This amazing book is surely destined to become the "Bible" of bluegrass music.
Pete Wernick
Past President of IBMA
A colossal contribution to bluegrass. Truly a 12-year labor of love.
Carlton Haney This is the greatest book ever written on America’s music.
 Larry Klein
The Bluegrass Sound
 South Carolina
Educational Radio Network
I am really enjoying my copy so far. I love the emphasis on the early folks such as the Mainers, Snuffy Jenkins and Pappy Sherrill and the Hired Hands, etc. I like the fact that much of the account is first hand. This is an ambitious book and I think is a very worthy supplement to the writings on the subject in general. A lot of work went into this book which is not as academically distilled as Neil Rosenberg’s ‘bible’ but instead gives a more personal account as told by many first generations and pre-bluegrass country musicians so I think it is a great addition to my collection. And I love the pictures.
Berk Bryant
 the Bluegrass Gentleman Bluegrass Beat
It is a really good, well-done book. Lots of fascinating pictures and stories. I am going to read it all. I would strongly recommend it as one of those gifts to the bluegrasser on your stocking, er, uh, make that shopping list.
Ken Irwin
Rounder Records
I wanted to thank you for sending along the copy of your wonderful book. I keep it on the coffee table and just glance at it from time to time in an almost random fashion and am constantly finding interesting tidbits I didn’t know or some that I did which just bring back fond memories. Hope it does well for you and for bluegrass.
David Freeman
 County Sales Newsletter

 

Considering the popularity and spread of bluegrass today, it’s surprising that there are not more books available on bluegrass in general. A good, early book by Bob Artis is long out of print and, of course, we have Neil Rosenberg’s definitive work Bluegrass: A History, a must for any bluegrass fan.

Barry Willis’ new self-published book is huge and heavy and will provide fascinating reading for newcomers to the music as well as those who have followed it since ‘back when.’

Much of the work is based on interviews and commentary of hundreds of people in the music and is interesting reading, if not all 100% in fact. Willis covers the music from many angles with over 20 chapters devoted to such topics as The Roots of the Music, The Recording Industry & Technology, The Festivals, Women in Bluegrass, Pioneers, Instrument Companies, New Grass, Carlton Haney, Bill Monroe, The Future of Bluegrass, etc. Most of this is handled through quotes, comments & interviews with key people, and Willis has done his homework in tapping the right people & sources for this information. A solid & enjoyable work."

Don Clark
The Martha White Bus
Everyone I know who has read your book including me just loves it.
I think it’s the best bluegrass book on the market.
Mike Wright
Flatpicking Guitar Magazine

 

Barry Willis has subtitled his book, ‘A History of Bluegrass Music in the Words of Its Pioneers," and that pretty much sums it up. Willis has assembled magazine interviews, record album notes, book quotes and his own interviews into a huge volume (9" x 12", 638 pages). The aforementioned ‘pioneers’ seem to include most of the 879 people who are listed in Appendix B, ‘The People of Bluegrass: Personal Data," which includes nicknames, birthplaces, birth dates, and dates of death for those who are no longer with us.

In addition to a wealth of detailed data on individuals and bands, Willis covers the roots and origin of bluegrass, the recording industry, radio and television shows, and festivals. There are chapters devoted to women in bluegrass, studio musicians, instrument companies and makers, the future of bluegrass, bluegrass as an international music, bluegrass controversies, an even one about Carlton Haney, who is considered by many to be the father of the bluegrass festival.

There are also chapters on each of the standard bluegrass instruments: banjo, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, bass and the resonator guitar (including the Dobroä ). He provides an analysis of the role of each of these instruments in the world of bluegrass, and lots of information about some of the most outstanding performers on each.

The chapter on the guitar is where most flatpickers will turn first. It’s only seventeen pages long, but those are big pages. Among the guitarists that are covered in some detail are Riley Puckett, Bill Napier, George Shuffler, Dock and Merle Watson, Clarence White, Norman Blake, Dan Crary (who wrote the Foreword to the book), Larry Sparks and David Grier. If your favorite guitar hero is not in this list, it may be because there wasn’t room, or it may be that Willis had trouble arranging interviews with all the other great players out there. The most noticeable omission is Tony Rice, but he does get mentioned quite a few times throughout the book (in at least 15 places, according to the Index). This is true of lots of other instrumentalists who don’t get their own individual sections.

There is a discussion of the role of the Stanley Brothers’ band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, in making lead guitar an integral part of the bluegrass band. Those who have read the interview with George Shuffler in the previous issue of this magazine will no doubt be interested in the articles on him and Bill Napier, who preceded Shuffler as guitarist with the Stanleys, and who used a mandolin-style of crosspicking (down-up-up) in contrast to Shuffler’s down-down-up style.

This book contains a truly amazing amount of detail on every aspect of bluegrass from its beginnings up to about 1996. The style is casual and anecdotal, but there are lots of footnotes, and virtually every individual or band that is mentioned rates at least one photograph. Willis doesn’t try to make everything sweet and avoid controversy either—he lets the quotes fall where they may. This adds to the fun of the book. Some of those bluegrass musicians can be mighty witty and charming.

America’s Music: Bluegrass is self-published, and is obviously a labor of love. Captain Willis in an airline pilot, not a professional journalist. This does show a bit in the organization of the text, in spite of Dick Weissman’s editing. In addition to a fair number of typos, occasionally someone or some band will be mentioned in passing before they are mentioned in detail, which can be puzzling if you don’t already know who they are. This bothered me a bit at first, but soon I became so caught up in the wonderful details that I didn’t notice it after a short time. The overall organization of the book, however, is excellent. There’s a good Index, and each chapter has its own individual detailed table of contents. The size of the book alone make its completion an amazing feat. In addition to just being a darned good read, it will also serve as a great resource for checking the details of about every aspect of bluegrass. I heartily recommend it.

George Shuffler The best book on bluegrass I have ever read.
Lance LeRoy
The Lancer Agency
 Nashville
America’s Music: Bluegrass is by far the most comprehensive and certainly the most authentic that I’m aware of because the 606 pages of solid text (628 total pages—no ads) are filled almost entirely with direct quotes from and unprecedented number of bluegrass artists and industry people. Its greatest value lies in the fact that no restraints appear to have been placed on the interviewees telling the unvarnished truth. Certainly this was the case with my interviews. Other publications in the past have played word games with me because the editor happened to disagree with what I was saying or was afraid someone’s ‘feelings would be hurt’ (another cop-out). Don’t undertake to read just a few lines in this book because it can’t be done: It’s hard to put down.
Martha and Eddie Adcock
Antioch TN
Eddie and I think you have put together a fine book. We are proud to be included in such an informative and interesting effort. We feel sure interest in it will be great.
Pappy Sherrill I had a surprise when I opened it up and to see pictures of the old timers in it. I can see why it took a long time to get all the information you put together in the book. You did a great job.
Gerry Katz
President
Boston Bluegrass Union
I want to pass along my personal thanks for your efforts to produce this fine book. It serves as an informative read and gives many insights into the bluegrass personalities. I can only imagine the hard work and years of effort that were necessary before publication. I, for one, am grateful for your hard work.
Mike Dow
Colorado Bluegrass Music Society
When Bluegrass 101 is taught in the next century at a university, this book should be on the required reading list.
Gordon Brown
 President/Founder
New England Country Music Historical Society, Inc
Thanks ever so much for your wonderful book. It is a great addition to our library collection. The sections by and about our northeast people is fantastic… I can appreciate the time and effort that went into the book.
Chris Lunn
Victory Music Review

 

This is a meticulous, scholarly and yet very engaging look at bluegrass with all its bumps and bruises. It traces the music from the late Georgia Old-Time Fiddle Contests, the beginning of the Grand Ole Opry, the invasion of Bill Monroe, how the music became more mobile as we all did after World War II, the cause of the split between country and bluegrass music, the influence of Flatt and Scruggs, Elvis, Bill Keith, how the festivals saved the music, women’s role in bluegrass, and what is happening today and in the future. The book is very well written, takes controversial stands and has hundreds of quotes like the extensive section on ‘How Do You Make Bluegrass Music?

Over 1200 bands and musicians are referred to with names, birthplaces, birth and death dates in an appendix. The author explores the instruments with well thought out sections on fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass. He also looks at the pioneers and the influence of the Dobro-resonator guitar. The reader gets a feel for the business of bluegrass in the old days as well as the current hoopla at the IBMA. Each section has a page-by-page table of contents, and the entire book is put together for easy reading, reference and abstracting of information. This book will leave you discussing bluegrass for years and belongs in every personal and public library.  America’s Music: Bluegrass is a monumental task and my hat is off for the work of Barry and all who helped.

Loek Lamers
Radio Hoorn Radio Show, Holland
For me, a European, I’m glad this is the first complete sourcebook for bluegrass music. Finally!
Harley and Shera Bray Just a note to…say you have written a great book here. Anyone with the slightest interest in bluegrass music should read this. It is packed full of info and hard to put down.
Ron Smolka
"Mountain Echoes"
Television Show
Wyandotte, Michigan
Your book is the greatest! I thought Rosenberg’s book was the definitive word, and perhaps to some degree it is, but I like the way your is laid out, and I believe you have more info.  I do a TV show out of Wyandotte, Michigan—"Mountain Echoes" and I’m going to give you and your book a nice plug. We have so many followers of old-time, mountain and bluegrass music up this way, so I’m sure it will help your sales… JWhat a great job you have done.
Bob Cherry, Cybergrass

 

Almost a full inch thick and over 500 pages including hundreds of photos, here is a book about the music we all love as told by the people who lived and created it.  America’s Music: Bluegrass is a wonderful collection of the music’s history and beginnings.

This volume describes, in colorful descriptions by scores of people who actually experienced it, the birth and growth of this wonderful musical style. Their lives and life on the road as well as the culture and the evolution of bluegrass is all here. Willis’ book is more than just a history—it’s a detailed account of what really happened to whom and when. Controversies, events, and other musical history detail the ‘why’ it all went the way it did an ‘why’ it is the way it is today.

Captured within the pages are the stories of real people as told by those who were there when it all happened. From the musicians and the road people through the record business and the instrument companies and on to the stage and even some personal life stores. This volume doesn’t miss a beat in the breadth and scope of the subject.

Willis spent years interviewing, researching, collecting and compiling all the details and anecdotes, photos and rare ‘experiences’ which he shares with the reader. This book will become a necessity for those who love bluegrass music.  America’s Music: Bluegrass truly is the history of bluegrass music expressed in the words of its pioneers and even today’s top bluegrass artists.

When I first saw this project, it was three large, white notebooks containing over 1000 pages! I spent over 2 months going through the information and content and became overwhelmed by the level of detail here. Finally, it went to the presses and it’s now available. A wonderful effort by Willis and a treasure for bluegrass fans and artists alike. This is a MUST HAVE of bluegrass publications.

Mike Hall, President
Santa Cruz Bluegrass Society

 

Barry Willis has written the passionate fan’s ultimate guide to bluegrass music. The huge America’s Music: Bluegrass is for folks who thirst for hard-to-find details about bluegrass history and performers. The book is also the first in the field to give equal treatment to West Coast performers.
When then-San Jose (CA) resident Willis began work on this book twelve years ago, he was just such a passionate fan. He sought to understand why bluegrass music—and bluegrass people—were special. His search led him to festivals and concerts coast to coast, to interviews with the stars, and to long hours of library research. Ultimately, it led him to an extensive knowledge of bluegrass history.

The author’s overwhelming collection of facts, dates and information was edited by Dick Weissman, co-author of The Folk Music Sourcebook. Readers who liked the Sourcebook will also like AMB. Both are long on the background material that is often left out of other books. Both serve to provide the personal and historical detail that document theories advanced by other authors.

America’s Music: Bluegrass delivers 614 large-size pages of historical information, performer interviews and photographs, essays and commentary on the past, present and future of the music, and an exploration of the roots and branches of bluegrass. In addition to a comprehensive Index, the book contains a bluegrass bibliography and a unique "personal data" chart for the people of bluegrass history.

This project (surprising, like most other books) originated in Northern California but was brought to fruition elsewhere. Unlike its predecessors, this book gives serious treatment to West Coast musicians. AMB also breaks new ground in recognizing the important contributions of female and non-American performers.

The impact of America’s Music: Bluegrass may reach beyond its pages to future bluegrass books. Dan Crary correctly notes in the first Foreword that the book tries to tell ‘the whole story, warts and all…with a fanatical sense of detail and an attempt at an evenhandedness with the darker, more controversial, material.’

This book raises more questions than it answers. Future bluegrass authors will seek out this book as much for its provocative ideas as its encyclopedic content. For most ordinary bluegrass folks, the book’s real utility will like in the Table of Contents and the Index. Few readers will read AMB cover to cover, but when they want to read up on a performer or point of history, this exhaustive book will certainly cover the topic. Just the kind of information a fanatical bluegrass fan needs to know. Just the kind of book a fanatical bluegrass fan takes a dozen years to research and write."

BGRASS-L forum
 by Bill Keys

 

America’s Music: Bluegrass (AMB) by Barry R. Willis was released in the later part of 1997. This a fairly ambitious project which seeks to give ‘A History of Bluegrass Music in the Words of Its Pioneers.’ It is a very large book with 25 chapters and over 600 pages…

I’ll start by saying that the AMB is very enjoyable to have if for no other reason than the pure volume of information that is given. It is organized and indexed so you can look up what your favorite musician might have said about a certain subject…

In general, the author steers clear of making value judgments while at the same time engaging the various controversies that exist around the subject of bluegrass. The aim is clearly to let the musicians, promoters, etc., tell the story from their own perspective…

There is much in the book which would promote enthusiastic discussion among our List members. I wish everyone could have it and I certainly think that all hardcore bluegrass fans and even artists ought to consider getting it.

I subscribe to various bluegrass and folk-related trade magazines. I have purchased and read just about every book that becomes available on the subject of bluegrass. AMB comes up there with Rosenberg’s Bluegrass: A History and Robert Cantwell’s Bluegrass Breakdown for the amount of material covered and interest level for people who are really ‘in’ to this music in a big time way.  

Jamie Peterson
Banjovia Newsletter

 

This is one publication which will become must reading not only for all bluegrass musicians and fans, but for all historians of America’s music in general. Barry’s all-encompassing work spans the full spectrum of bluegrass history—from the genre’s earliest pioneers to its present-day stylists and innovators. "One of the prevailing themes that winds throughout the book is the enormous and wide-spread influence of Bill Monroe—the ‘Father of Bluegrass’—upon the music and lives of nearly every prominent bluegrass musician. Another fascinating thread is the ongoing controversial question of just ‘what is bluegrass,’ and the who’s, what’s, and when’s involved in bluegrass’ actual origins.

Brimming with details concerning bluegrass musicians, band, instruments, songs, instrument builders, humorists, folklore, controversies, branches and influences—all interwoven with the personal reminiscences and opinions of the multitude of individuals whom Barry personally interviewed in the course of his research. America’s Music: Bluegrass is not only can’t-put-it-down reading, but a rich reference source as well.
This is one book which no bluegrass fan should miss."  


Thank you for your interest.
Jan and Barry Willis

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Last modified: 08/08/09