Traveler: The Musical Odyssey of Tim O’Brien – new book 

Hot off the presses this month (September 2022) is the biography, Traveler: The Musical Odyssey of Tim O’Brien by award-winning biographer Bobbie Malone and premier country music historian Bill C. Malone. 

For five decades, as a singer, musician, songwriter, and producer, Tim O’Brien has ceaselessly explored the vast American musical landscape. While Appalachia and Ireland eventually became facets of the defining myth surrounding him and his music, he has digested a broad array of roots styles, reshaping them to his own purposes. 

The authors chronicle O’Brien’s career and trace the ascent of Hot Rize and its broadening and enrichment of musical traditions. 

Bill C. Malone reflected … 

“We have been at work on it for a couple of years. On one hand, the pandemic made it easy for us to do lengthy interviews—everyone was at home—but on the other, we’ve found it difficult to do proper promotion of the book. 

As we note in the book, we first got interested in Tim as a fan several years ago, when he was a member of Hot Rize. We continued to be impressed with his versatility, commitment, and talent. It seemed like every time we turned around, we found Tim on someone else’s record—as an accompanying musician, as a harmony singer, as a songwriter, or as a producer. For lack of a better term, we began to think of him as the ‘renaissance man’ of country music. I find him to be comparable to the late Mike Seeger in his knowledge of many traditions and his ability to recreate what he had heard. But he has also been a thorough going modernist, in his ability to create new sounds out of traditional ingredients.”

At the beginning of his career, O’Brien moved from his native West Virginia to the Rocky Mountain West. In just a few years, he became the lead singer, mandolin, and fiddle player, and principal songwriter of beloved 1980s Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize. Seeking to move beyond bluegrass, he next went to Nashville. O’Brien’s success in navigating the shoals of America’s vast reservoir of folk musical expressions took him into the realm of what is now called Americana.

The core of Tim O’Brien’s virtuosity is his abiding and energetic pursuit of the next musical adventure. As a traveler, he has ranged widely in choosing the next instrument, song, style, fellow musicians, or venue. Written with O’Brien’s full cooperation and the input of family, friends, colleagues, and critics, Traveler provides the first complete, behind-the-scenes picture of a thoroughly American self-made musical genius—the boy who grew up listening to country artists at the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and ended up charting a new course through American music.

The book includes 22 black and white illustrations. 

Publisher‏: University of Oklahoma Press (30 September 2022)
Hardcover: ‎ 232 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 0806190620
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0806190624
Dimensions: ‎ 15.19 x 2.59 x 23.01 cm (6 x 9 inches)
Also available as an e-book (ISBN ‎ 978-8061-9138-6)

Publication of this book is made possible through the generosity of Edith Kinney Gaylord. 

It includes two Appendices – a discography and lyrics to selected songs – and an index of songs and albums. 

Traveler: The Musical Odyssey of Tim O’Brien can be purchased from the publisher, all good book shops, and the usual on-line outlets. 

Bobbie and Bill Malone’s previous collaboration for University of Oklahoma Press was Nashville’s Songwriting Sweethearts: The Boudleaux and Felice Bryant Story (March 2020). 

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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.