Bluegrass Ambassadors – The McLain Family Band in Appalachia and the World, by Paul O. Jenkins, is now available from West Virginia University Press.
The book purports to be the first book-length history of the McLains’ long and profound legacy in the bluegrass world. Starting out in 1968 with Raymond McLain and his three children, the band played festivals and shows throughout the US in the 1970s and ’80s, eventually adding two younger siblings. Their style was perfectly suited to the clean-cut, all-American image popular at the time, and the McLain were swiftly embraced by television where they made many appearances.
That same image led to them representing the US State Department on a series of overseas tour, traveling to sixty two different countries during that period, and spreading their love of bluegrass music, and their quirky stage humor, everywhere they went.
What most folks remember of The McLain Family Band from back then was father Raymond K. McLain on guitar, with eldest sibling Raymond W. on banjo, and sisters Alice on mandolin, and Ruth on bass. Once Nancy and Michael joined the tour, the band would swap out instruments throughout the show, incorporating Raymond’s fiddle into most of their music.
For ten years, starting in 1978, the McLains hosted a popular bluegrass festival in Bighill, KY. All the top artists of the day would make a stop there, and many television shows were recorded of live performances from The McLain Family Band Festival.
Raymond K. passed away in 2003, but the band has kept going and remains active today. Along the way, spouses of the sisters have joined the group and become regular members. These days the group includes Raymond W. leading the band and playing multiple instruments, with Ruth on bass, Alice (now Smith) on mandolin, with her husband Al on guitar. Daxson Lewis is on banjo.
Lewis tells us that all of the members are excited to see this book released.
“We are honored to be selected by Paul Jenkins as the subject of his latest book, Bluegrass Ambassadors – The McLain Family Band in Appalachia and the World. It is well named as we have great respect for our Appalachian home and bluegrass music, as well as the world we share. International touring has been a hallmark of the McLain Family Band’s career, performing in over 64 countries to date. Paul’s book is a deep dive into the McLain legacy.
Thanks to Paul for his time, care, and dedication. We’re looking forward to reading it, too!”
Jenkins is the university librarian at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, and writes frequently about bluegrass and old time music.
To read the complete, detailed history of The McLain Family Band, look for Bluegrass Ambassadors wherever you shop for books.