Mandolin Man – The Bluegrass Life of Roland White

Roland White’s illustrious bluegrass music career spans 65 years, and during that time he has been associated with progressive styles as well as the traditional forms. 

He has played with The Country Boys (later the internationally acclaimed Kentucky Colonels), Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass, Country Gazette, the Dreadful Snakes, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band before forming his own band about 20 years ago. 

White’s journey from playing bowling alleys in California to the Ryman Auditorium, is detailed in a forthcoming book, Mandolin Man, by fellow Blue Grass Boy, banjoist Bob Black, who had this to say about what led him to write about the bluegrass life of Roland White ….. 

“I was inspired to write it after Roland called me up one evening in 2015 and told me he was enjoying reading my first book, Come Hither to Go Yonder: Playing Bluegrass with Bill Monroe. I told him, ‘Someone needs to write a book about you.’ Later in the conversation, I told him maybe I would write the book. I was very inspired by Roland’s phone call. I’ve loved Roland ever since I first met him in 1974. I’ve played with him many times over the years. I always thought that Roland had never received the amount of public acclaim he should have. After all, his career spanned the entire spectrum of bluegrass—from traditional to progressive. I also felt a kinship with him since we both had played with Bill Monroe as Blue Grass Boys.

I went to Nashville with my wife, Kristie, later that same year to do some interviews with Roland, and also to talk to some other individuals who helped play a large part in Roland’s career, including Vic Jordan and Alan O’Bryant. As time progressed, I ended up doing numerous phone interviews with additional musical figures such as Marty Stuart, LeRoy McNees, Byron Berline, Alan Munde, Roger Bush, and many others. I got some great perspectives from these people.

One of the many enlightening aspects of the project for me was the realization that Country Gazette, who Roland played with for many years, was actually a reincarnation of the Kentucky Colonels, Roland’s first band with his brothers Clarence and Eric. The Gazette even included two of the original Kentucky Colonels: Roger Bush and Roland. Byron Berline even agreed strongly with me that the Gazette was a natural spin-off of the Kentucky Colonels. The Colonels came along at an earlier time, when west coast bluegrass was still in its early stages, and it dissolved because of lack of musical opportunities. You can’t make a living playing in bowling alleys (which they tried to do). The Gazette enjoyed the advantage of a much more popular bluegrass scene.

Another thing I learned from doing the book was something Marty Stuart told me: the Kentucky Colonels were like the bluegrass version of the Bakersfield Sound, a style of country music which developed around Bakersfield, California in the ’50s and still exists today as an alternative to the more predictable, commercial Nashville sound. The Kentucky Colonels personified west coast bluegrass, which has always been characterized by openness to change and a greater willingness to embrace the best aspects of alternative musical genres than the more tradition-bound eastern and southern bluegrass.   

The book has been a very rewarding experience for me. Doing the research was a bit painstaking and time-consuming, but I was able to get in some creative perspective too. My point of view (from the standpoint of being a bluegrass musician) is a strong feature of the work—perhaps more than in other books of this type. Roland is a unique and creative individual. Cold, academic descriptions of names, places, and dates are just not sufficient to do justice to the man and his story.

It is my hope that Mandolin Man will open the minds of many people who are interested in the historical as well as personal aspects of the bluegrass world, as well as offering a revealing glimpse of a man who has contributed immeasurably to the development of bluegrass into what it is today.”

Publisher, the University of Illinois Press, summarizes ….

[A] master of the mandolin and acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, White has mentored a host of bluegrass musicians and inspired countless others.

Bob Black draws on extensive interviews with White and his peers and friends to provide the first in-depth biography of the pioneering bluegrass figure. Born into a musical family, White found early success with the Kentucky Colonels during the 1960s folk revival. The many stops and collaborations that marked White’s subsequent musical journey trace the history of modern bluegrass. But Black also delves into the seldom-told tale of White’s life as a working musician, one who endured professional and music industry ups-and-downs to become a legendary artist and beloved teacher.

An entertaining merger of memories and music history, Mandolin Man tells the overdue story of a bluegrass icon and his times.


Mandolin Man – The Bluegrass Life of Roland White
Publication Date: May 17, 2022
Pages: 280 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in
Illustrations: 27 black & white photographs
Cloth – $110.00 ISBN 978-0-252-04433-5
Paper – $19.95 978-0-252-08640-3
eBook – $14.95 978-0-252-05332-0

Publication of this book was supported in part by a grant from the Judith McCulloh Endowment for American Music.

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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.