ALWAYS BEEN A RAMBLER
ALWAYS BEEN A RAMBLER: G.B. GRAYSON AND HENRY WHITTER, COUNTRY MUSIC PIONEERS OF SOUTHERN APPALACHIA—BY JOSH BECKWORTH—McFarland Publishing 9781476667294. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies (Series), 234 pp, $25. (McFarland Publishing, P.O. Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640, www.mcfarlandpub.com.)
It’s rare for a labor of love, which this book clearly is, to also be a well-written, balanced, and rigorous work of scholarship. This book is all of those things. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies is a series devoted to the history and culture of the region. Always Been A Rambleris both an in-depth study of the early country music musicians G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter—as a duo and individually—and a story of a unique time and place in the American experience.
Josh Beckworth is an English teacher (which explains the crisp prose) and a recipient of the W. Amos Abrams prize from the North Carolina Folklore Society. In a brief preface, Beckworth describes his own journey that brought him to the duo: “Not only were they influential, we were also from the same place. I suddenly felt connected with traditional music in a way I never had before.” That investment with his subject is infectious. Beckworth brings the reader into a story of families and fame as interesting as any HBO mini-series (and I would love to see that).
The book is divided into two sections. The first deals with Grayson and Whitter and the people and culture surrounding them. The second deals with the music—the wide-ranging songs the two men performed and recorded—everything from murder ballads to Tin Pan Alley. Old-time music has never been a pure art form untouched by the world. This book clearly shows how the wider world and a very distinct region cross-pollinated to create the beginnings of country, bluegrass, old-time, and popular music. A fascinating, well-written book that ought to have a wide readership.CVS