Book review – I Hear A Voice Calling: A Bluegrass Memoir

Gene Lowinger - I Hear A Voice Calling: A Bluegrass MemoirI Hear A Voice Calling: A Bluegrass Memoir, by Gene Lowinger

Gene Lowinger, a New Jersey boy by birth, was the first northerner to play the fiddle for Bill Monroe. He first played with Monroe in 1964, filling in on shows in the northeast. In June 1965 he was hired as a regular Blue Grass Boy and stayed for about eight months.

Lowinger oscillated between playing bluegrass fiddle and classical violin, mastering both in a highly-driven pursuit  for perfection. As well as being a talented fiddler/violinist, Lowinger is an excellent photographer. I Hear A Voice Calling is Lowinger’s photographic tribute to the Father of Bluegrass music. However, it is not designed for the coffee table. The black and white photographs are placed in two sections with Lowinger’s own story framing them.

Lowinger’s narrative takes the reader through his life, in which he always had a penchant for music, beginning in 1942 in the Greenwich Village (New York) bluegrass scene and his friendship with David Grisman, the visits, while a college student, to the early bluegrass festivals, through to the passing of Bill Monroe and beyond. As well as relating his own story of his trials and tribulations, he shares a personal account of his experiences with Bill Monroe on and off the road. In the process we learn a lot about both  individuals and the relationship between the two; one the mentor, the other a willing student, both friends.

After a ten year hiatus working on Wall Street Lowinger overcame a serious neck injury, recreational drugs and alcohol to return to music. He doesn’t discuss his dependencies, but his return to playing bluegrass fiddle just prior to Monroe’s passing is most welcome.

I Hear A Voice Calling
is a vivid, sometimes emotional, record of a very significant era in bluegrass music.

Highly recommended.

Note: Gene Lowinger is a freelance photojournalist based in New York and New Jersey. Lowinger is also the author of Bluegrass Fiddle (Oak Publications), one of the first books to accurately capture the bluegrass fiddle style in standard musical notation.

University of Illinois Press
ISBN 978-0-252-07663-3 Paperback
6 x 9 inches
144 pages, over 75 photographs

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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.