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Crowe on the Banjo

The Music Life of J. D. Crowe

Marty Godbey

Publication Year: 2011

In this first biography of legendary banjoist J. D. Crowe, Marty Godbey charts the life and career of one of bluegrass's most important innovators. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Crowe picked up the banjo when he was thirteen years old, inspired by a Flatt & Scruggs performance at the Kentucky Barn Dance. Godbey relates the long, distinguished career that followed, as Crowe performed and recorded both solo and as part of such varied ensembles as Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys, the all-acoustic Kentucky Mountain Boys, and the revolutionary New South, who created an adventurously eclectic brand of bluegrass by merging rock and country music influences with traditional forms. Over the decades, this highly influential group launched the careers of many other fresh talents such as Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, and Doyle Lawson._x000B__x000B_With a selective discography and drawing from more than twenty interviews with Crowe and dozens more with the players who know him best, Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J. D. Crowe is the definitive music biography of a true bluegrass original.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Music in American Life

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

In the mid-1960s, my husband and I were deeply immersed in the bluegrass music scene in and around Columbus, Ohio. At least once a week, usually more often, we ventured into some dark, sleazy, possibly dangerous “hillbilly” bar to listen to the excellent local musicians. ...

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pp. xv-xvi

This book would not have been possible without the cooperation and memories of J.D. Crowe, who talked with me on numerous occasions, sometimes for hours, occasionally to answer a quick question on the telephone. He was always helpful and generous with his time, and said, at one point, “If we’re going to do this thing, we need to do it right.” ...

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1. I Never Heard a Sound Like That

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pp. 1-17

Centered in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Bluegrass Region, Lexington, seat of Fayette County, was the prosperous market center of an agrarian economy at the end of the Great Depression. Here were the famous horse farms, with their bluegrass pastures surrounded by white fences; tobacco was the “money crop” for farmers. ...

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2. I Just Wanted to Pick

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pp. 18-35

“How I got with Esco Hankins, for the very first time,” J.D. said, “they used to put on amateur contests. As an aspiring picker, everybody goes through that phase—at least back then they did—and so I entered the contest, and I happened to win. The prize—the big prize—was you got to appear on his radio show, which he had every Saturday night from six to seven, ...

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3. The Road to Detroit: We Rehearsed

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pp. 36-53

“I went back up to Middletown after school was out,” J.D. said. “Enos Johnson was still there, and Bill Price, who sang tenor and played mandolin with Jimmy—he was from North Carolina—and Bobby Simpson was there also. Smokey Ward called me, and I went back up there and worked with them. ...

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4. Louisiana to Wheeling and Home Again

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pp. 54-73

The music Jimmy, Paul, and J.D. made was “different” in many ways. “Jimmy’s rhythm patterns are definitely a little different,” J.D. said. “I’m sure Alan Munde and Kenny Ingram [both played banjo with Jimmy; Ingram also played with Lester Flatt] will tell you it’s a lot different playing with Jimmy than it is with Lester. ...

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5. Why Don’t You Come Down to Martin’s?

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pp. 74-91

Left-handed Pike County, Kentucky, native Bobby Slone has a self-deprecating sense of humor and described teaching himself to play: “I had the awfullest time there ever was [learning to play guitar], because I played it upside down.” When he attempted the fiddle, “I ran off about three dogs that never did come back,” ...

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6. The Red Slipper Lounge

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pp. 92-112

Lexington’s Holiday Inn North faces a section of interstate highway on which I-64 and I-75 run congruently; incomplete in 1968, both were nevertheless main arteries, heavy with north-south and east-west traffic. One of the largest and most elegant motels in Lexington at the time, the Holiday Inn’s size and grandeur made it comparable to some of today’s fine hotels, ...

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7. Rounder 0044 and the Convergence of 1975

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pp. 113-131

The vocals weren’t so much the problem, as it was the rhythm section. At that time, I don’t think there had been any rhythm section that could touch them in terms of being able to hold a piece of music together from beginning to end. ...

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8. The New South: Bluegrass, Country, and More

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pp. 132-151

The album the New South had recorded in January was released in September 1975, as Rounder 0044, and created an immediate furor. The cover art was different from most bluegrass albums, and J.D.’s hand, in the band picture, was making what is commonly referred to as “a rude gesture.” ...

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9. Burn Out, Time Out, and Second Wind

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pp. 152-170

Steve Bryant was gone by the time the album picture was taken. “[He] left after I was there about a year,” Wendy said, “and went to Nashville as a studio musician. I recommended Randy [Hayes]—we called him ‘Cosmo’—and he did a great job.”1 ...

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10. The New New South

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pp. 171-188

When the new New South went into the studio, they took with them some new material and some old songs, but it all came out as bluegrass, Crowe style. Well named, Flashback, the CD reflected various periods in J.D.’s recording life, with Richard’s Tony Rice–influenced voice and guitar; ...

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Coda: Tone, Touch, Timing, and Taste

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pp. 189-194

In a lifetime of public performance, J.D. Crowe has won just about every award available to him, although honors and recognition have never been among his goals. They are, however, the only tangible way for a devoted public to let an artist know he is appreciated, to “give back” for the hours of enjoyment his work has provided. ...


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pp. 195-210

Selected Listening

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pp. 211-216

Additional Reading

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pp. 217-218


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pp. 219-222


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pp. 223-232

About the Author, Further Reading, Publication Information

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E-ISBN-13: 9780252093531
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252078255

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Music in American Life