I’ll admit I have a soft spot for biographies about the first half of the 20th century, especially those that remind us of how much easier our lives are in the present day. The recent Ralph Stanley autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times, was a gem in this genre, mixing a first-hand history of a pair of bluegrass legends with an intensely personal account of growing up in rural, mountain poverty in the 1930s.
Another book that promises a look at these sames times and places is If Trouble Don’t Kill Me, due August 10 from Crown, a Random House imprint.It was written by Ralph Berrier, Jr., a features writer for my hometown paper, The Roanoke Times. Ralph is also an old time musician, and very knowledgeable about the music and history of the Appalachian region where he, and his family have lived for generations.
Berrier took a sabbatical from the paper to pull the book together, which tells the story of a pair of pickers that came before him.
“The book is a memoir about my grandfather, Clayton Hall, and his twin brother, Saford. Briefly put, the brothers grew up in the hardscrabble foothills of Patrick County, where they learned to play music and sing from their mother. They almost made it big with Roy Hall and His Blue Ridge Entertainers — until a little thing called World War II broke up the band. Saford fought from Africa to Europe, Clayton fought in the Pacific until the bitter end.
They never got their career back on track after the war, and the story reveals how they dealt with the curveballs fate threw at them. Love, war, country music — what’s not to like?”
Ralph has a number of photos and some audio clips from the Hall twins on his web site, including this classic bit.
The Hall Twins: [http://ralphberrier.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/20-sweetheart0.mp3]
This is one I’ll be looking forward to reading in the fall.