In my humble opinion, the 1960’s was the most pivotal decade in the post WWII era. Yes, that was fifty plus years ago, but, those times had a profound affect on the United States, on me and the way I’ve lived my life since. The ‘60’s still bring back memories that can bring me to tears…..
Stop and think what emotions run through your mind when you hear certain catch words. Words like: Viet Nam, Cuban missile crisis, civil rights, Martin Luther King, JFK, Dallas, Oswald, Jack Ruby, Bobby Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Neil Armstrong, “One giant leap for mankind.” So much change….. historically, politically and socially.
And then there are other ‘60’s catch words that bring a smile to my face. Haight-Ashbury, LSD, the Dead, the Beatles, Hee-Haw, Bob Dylan and all the music of the time.
I still remember seeing Johnny Rivers, the Everly Brothers, Rick Nelson, the Stones, Ike and Tina Turner, the Julliard String Quartet, Buffalo Springfield, Buck AND Merle! It was musical heaven! The first time I heard Jerry Jeff Walker play “Mr. Bojangles” I was hooked into playing myself, and the acoustic music I was hearing made the doors swing open for my own musical adventures.
I bought a banjo in the late ‘60’s after hearing “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and “Salty Dog Blues.” After two years of trying, I had learned two important lessons about myself. I was never going to have the dexterity to be a brain surgeon, and therefore, I was NEVER going to play banjo like Earl Scruggs! But, I was also introduced to Josh Graves and his dobro. I can’t play dobro either, but, my best buddy in the world, Bleu Mortensen can, and so that dobro sound that I loved then is very much a part of my own music today. And that is a direct result of my ‘60’s upbringing and love for the country and bluegrass music of the era.
When I received my copy of “Bluegrass Bluesman, Josh Graves, A Memoir,” edited by Fred Bartenstein and Foreword by Neil Rosenberg, I was reading it within minutes. It didn’t take long to read, there are only about eighty eight pages of Josh’s words, some of them redundant and contradictory, but, I came away definitely impressed with just who Josh Graves was and why he is held in such high esteem by the finest of today’s dobro players. There is also Chapter 9, which is entitled: “Testimony from Josh Grave’s Contemporaries and Those He Influenced.” All the musicians who valued his friendship and musical prowess quoted here laud his name and reputation. His place in music history will always be secure.
Josh’s words filled in lots of historical first person accounts of just what it was like working for Flatt and Scruggs, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Mac Wiseman and his very first jobs pickin’ with the Pierce Brothers and Esco Hankins. The music scene in and around Nashville and the Opry is the backdrop for this book and plenty of the “dirt” manages to make its way into the text. Petty jealousies between Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs fill the pages. Oh to have been a fly on the wall for some of those dust ups! But, the one tie that seemed to bind all of those egos together was Josh Graves. He could get along with all of them, but I came away feeling his respect and love for Earl and Louise Scruggs was one of his best kept friendships. Josh made the point several times that learning those right hand three finger rolls directly from Earl is what made his own sound so unique. He seemed to cherish the time he spent with Scruggs.
Josh also shares a lot of his family history. He talks about growing up in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, his father and mother and all the relatives, good and bad, that he remembered. He lived a hard scrabble youth and only made it through three days of the ninth grade. His independent ways started young. He married Evelyn Hurst when she was only fifteen and he was seventeen. It must have been the right thing to do, as they raised four kids and were together over fifty years. Josh died on September 30th, 2006, and the tapes this book is based on were recorded over eight days in November of 1994 at the Graves’ home in Nashville.
I could go on and on about why this book was a joy for ME to read, but, if you’re a fan of all that music and those personalities in early country and bluegrass music, just do yourself a favor and get this book.
Yep…… this book has to be in your household.
Review by: W.J. Hallock