James C. Claypool - Images Of America: Kentucky's Bluegrass Music

James C. Claypool - Images Of America: Kentucky's Bluegrass Music

James C. Claypool
Images of America: Kentucky’s Bluegrass
Arcadia Publishing 9780738585611. Two hundred photos, $21.99. (Arcadia Publishing, 420 Wando Park Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464, www.arcadiapublishing.com.)

Bill Monroe called his band the Blue Grass Boys in honor of his home state of Kentucky, a decision that eventually helped name the distinctive style of music he created. Outstanding talents from other states in its formative years were, notably, Lester Flatt (Tennessee), Earl Scruggs (North Carolina), and the Stanley Brothers (Virginia). But as this new picture history by James C. Claypool reminds us, the Blue Grass State has always had a special relation to the music.

In addition to the Father of Bluegrass (Monroe), its Kentuckyborn pioneers and highly influential figures include the Osborne Brothers, Kenny Baker, Art Stamper, Red Allen, the Goins Brothers, Hylo Brown, J.D. Crowe, Ricky Skaggs, and Sam Bush. (By referencing Bush, Claypool rightly notes that Kentucky helped give birth to both bluegrass and newgrass music). Top-level talent continues to be nurtured in the music’s cradle, as witnessed with such current stars as Dale Ann Bradley, Charlie Sizemore, Jason Carter, and Josh Williams.

A real plus is the inclusion of Kentucky natives past and present who found fame in old-time or country music but whose bluegrass ties are very real. So, here, you’ll find welcomed pages with Charlie Monroe, Molly O’Day, the Coon Creek Girls, Jimmie Skinner, Karl & Harty, Dave “Stringbean” Akeman, Keith Whitley, Pam Gadd, and Patty Loveless. And by wisely including some photos and information about prominent nonKentuckians, Claypool has produced a book that can serve as a concise 127page introduction to bluegrass music’s overall history.

Arcadia Publishing’s Images Of America series typically features historic towns instead of art forms. But the Arcadia format of archival photos with informationrich captions suits Kentucky’s Bluegrass Music well. A number of its images have never been published. Some are gems, such as a snapshot by Jim Peva showing future mandolin star Chris Thile as a youngster enraptured with the playing of an elderly Bill Monroe. And just as Arcadia’s town histories celebrate beloved local landmarks, this book does justice to popular local bands who have done their state proud.

Professor James Claypool has taught and written about Kentucky history, culture, and roots music for some four decades. This enjoyable book benefits from his academic attention to details and his appreciation and enthusiasm as a fan. Among its few shortcomings are some band personnel identification errors, perhaps caused when pictures were accidently reversed during production. The caption of a great shot with Pee Wee King surprisingly fails to note he’s sharing the stage with famed singing cowboy Gene Autry and early movie music star Eddie Cantor. And although Bill Monroe’s fiddling uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, imparted musical timing and a large repertoire to his young nephew, I’ve never before seen the claim made here that Uncle Pen also taught Bill the mandolin.

These are relatively minor matters. Kentucky’s Bluegrass Music is both a loving tribute and a useful reference, a welcome addition to the growing shelf of books about this Americanborn and internationally loved sound. RDS