Bluegrass Generation: A Memoir by Neil Rosenberg

The prospect of another book written by eminent bluegrass music historian Neil V. Rosenberg always thrills. Having to wait until June this year doesn’t so much. 

Rosenberg’s forthcoming Bluegrass Generation: A Memoir relates his experiences during the period from 1961 to 1963 when he began working for the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe, at his country music park, the Brown County Jamboree, in Bean Blossom, Indiana.

A banjo player himself, the topic of instruments is a recurrent theme in the book; no surprise given the intense interest bluegrass musicians have in the tools of their trade! Rosenberg isn’t an exception it appears.

We spoke to Rosenberg recently and he shared this anecdote; while not an extract from his book, still an early taster of what readers may come to expect from it  ……

“In the early sixties I became involved in buying, repairing, and selling instruments. In the book I tell about an early 1900s Gibson F mandolin with a broken neck that John Duffey repaired for me. While I was without that instrument I purchased a used 1933 Gibson Century of Progress A-style mandolin. It was the first of several mandolins that I took to Bean Blossom and showed to Bill. He always tried them out and gave me his opinion. He praised that Century. I liked it too but I couldn’t afford to keep it — traded it for a stereo.

A few days ago while sorting my instrument catalog files I discovered a document I’d forgotten about that pertains to the Century mandolin. It’s flyer [a PDF] that I acquired in August 1961. 

While visiting family in Norwich, Vermont, I discovered a music shop just south of town in the village of Wilder. It was in a small free-standing building, as I recall. The owner of the business, Mr. Goodrich, was in his seventies. He told me he’d been a Gibson dealer since before the First World War — 1912 is the date that comes to mind. He showed me the F4 mandolin the company had given him when he started. Well cared for, it showed signs of wear from regular use. 

As I relate in the book, he had two instruments for sale. When I bought one of them (the Century A-style) I picked up a few of his flyers as I left the store. I was into collecting documents, and even in 1961, these looked like antiques. The flyer was printed on very thin newsprint stock — a single 7 ¼ by 11-inch sheet, printed on both sides and folded to make four pages. 

Page one, which has the owner’s name and address, states that he has ‘Twenty-five Years Experience’ so if he did indeed start in 1912, this document was probably printed in the mid-1930s. It’s filled with illustrations of pre-war Gibson instruments and ads that will be familiar to anyone who has looked at early Gibson catalogs. I suppose Gibson printed these flyers for him, as a part of his dealership arrangement.”

This document, along with other instrument documents, is now part of Rosenberg’s collection in the Memorial University Libraries’ Neil V Rosenberg Collection

The official book promotional publicity relates ….. 

“Rosenberg met the legendary Bill Monroe at the Brown County Jamboree. Rosenberg’s subsequent experiences in Bean Blossom put his feet on the intertwined musical and scholarly paths that made him a pre-eminent scholar of bluegrass music. 

Rosenberg’s memoir shines a light on the changing bluegrass scene of the early 1960s. Already a fan and aspiring musician, his appetite for banjo music quickly put him on the Jamboree stage. Rosenberg eventually played with Monroe and spent four months managing the Jamboree. Those heights gave him an eyewitness view of nothing less than bluegrass’s emergence from the shadow of country music into its own distinct art form. As the likes of Bill Keith and Del McCoury played, Rosenberg watched Monroe begin to share a personal link to the music that tied audiences to its history and his life, and helped turn him into bluegrass’s foundational figure. 

An intimate look at a transformative time, Bluegrass Generation tells the inside story of how an American musical tradition came to be.”

And Del McCoury is quoted as saying ….. 

“Reading Bluegrass Generation was an enjoyable reminder of my time at Bean Blossom as a Blue Grass Boy. It brought back a lot of memories and reminded me of a few things I’d forgotten, too—and I even learned some things I never knew!”

To be published by the University of Illinois, Press Bluegrass Generation – release date May 15, 2018 (according to Amazon.com) – the launch is scheduled to be in June at the International Country Music Conference (ICMC).  

Bluegrass Generation: A Memoir 

University of Illinois Press 
From the series Music in American Life
256 pages
33 black and white photographs
6 x 9 inches 
ISBN-10: 0252083393
ISBN-13: 978-0252083396 

The 35th Annual International Country Music Conference takes place from Thursday, May 31 through to Saturday, June 2, 2018, at Belmont University in Nashville.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.