HIGHLIGHT


IF TROUBLE DON’T KILL ME: A FAMILY’S STORY OF BROTHERHOOD, WAR, AND BLUEGRASS
BY RALPH BERRIER, JR.
Random House 9780307463067. Softcover, 284 pages, b&w photos, $25.
(Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, www.randomhouse.com.)

Twin brothers Clayton and Saford Hall from Ararat, Va., played with Roy Hall (no relation) and His Blue Ridge Entertainers from 1939 until 1941 when World War II “ended all the band’s dreams.” Clayton played guitar and banjo and Saford played fiddle, but it was their singing and their “twinness” that landed them the job.

Brought up poorer than church mice, the brothers lapped up music “like it was plates of hog jowls and pintos.” According to one family anecdote, the boys walked barefoot to a fiddlers’ convention (partly in the rain which caused the blue dye in their new clothes to run down their arms and legs) and won first place after singing “T For Texas.”

Author and fiddler Ralph Berrier, Jr., grandson of Clayton, fills the book with tales such as this, sharing the lives of his family in a downhome easytoread style. He doesn’t shy away from the grittier details either, such as Saford’s propensity for picking fights (which Clayton helped finish) or the fact that their mother was not married to their father—whoever he was. Both brothers saw combat in World War II and the stories of their service are some of the most riveting parts of the book. Back home, they got a second chance at a music career when they joined Tommy Magness and the Orange Blossom Boys, but the golden opportunity imploded when the whole band quit, fed up with Tommy’s drinking.

Like many musicians, Clayton and Saford went on to hold day jobs, play music on the side, and live to ripe old ages. If this sounds mundane, the story of their relationship makes it anything but. If Trouble Don’t Kill Me was obviously a labor of love for Berrier and, as he says, “a tribute to two great, flawed men.” It also provides an upcloseandpersonal look at the early days of the music that became bluegrass. A welcome and entertaining read. MHH