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In It for the Long Run

A Musical Odyssey

Jim Rooney

Publication Year: 2014

Inspired by the Hank Williams and Leadbelly recordings he heard as a teenager growing up outside of Boston, Jim Rooney began a musical journey that intersected with some of the biggest names in American music including Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Bill Monroe, Muddy Waters, and Alison Krauss. In It for the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey is Rooney's kaleidoscopic first-hand account of more than five decades of success as a performer, concert promoter, songwriter, music publisher, engineer, and record producer.As witness and participant of over a half century of music history, Rooney provides a sophisticated window into American vernacular music. Following his stint as a "Hayloft Jamboree" hillbilly singer in the mid-1950s, Rooney managed Cambridge's Club 47, a catalyst of the `60's folk music boom. He soon moved to the Newport Folk Festival as talent coordinator and director where he had a front row seat to Dylan "going electric."In the 1970s Rooney's odyssey continued in Nashville where he began engineering and producing records. His work helped alternative country music gain a foothold in Music City and culminated in Grammy nominations for singer-songwriters John Prine, Iris Dement, and Nanci Griffith. Later in his career he was a key link connecting Nashville to Ireland's folk music scene.Writing songs or writing his memoir, Jim Rooney is the consummate storyteller. In It for the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey is his singular chronicle from the heart of Americana.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Music in American Life

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. xi-xiv

The journey of this book began back in 2003 at the annual Folk Alliance Conference, where I was the subject of an oral history interview by Scott Alarik, who covered the Boston folk music scene for many years for the Boston Globe. Scott asked me to talk about various times in my journey...

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Music Publishing Credits

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pp. xv-xxii

Acknowledgment is hereby made for permission to quote selected song lyrics and poetry from the following publishers and copyright holders. In cases where the current owner is unknown or has failed to respond to...

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Introduction: “Do It Your Own Ignorant Way!”

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pp. 1-2

With these words, Gammy—my mother’s mother, Julia Flaherty—would dismiss one or the other of us grandchildren as we informed her of how we were about to do something. So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since—going my own way in the world, finding my own voice, following...

Part I. Going My Own Way in the World

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Tex and Abe

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pp. 5-15

They tell us that we carry all kinds of information in us, locked in our genes, passed down through the generations. So when I first heard the sound of the fiddle and banjo coming out o the radio as I tuned in one night, I’m convinced that my Irish genes woke from their slumber and...

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Beats and Bluegrass at Amherst

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pp. 16-19

Ater graduating from Roxbury Latin in 1956 I chose to go to Amherst College in western Massachusetts. As I settled in, I discovered other kids like me, who had brought their record albums with them. Many o the people I gravitated toward were into jazz, so I started hearing Miles Davis...

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Into the Folk and Bluegrass Pool

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pp. 20-35

Toward the end o my senior year, a folk music promoter named Manny Greenhill came up from Boston. He wanted to put Odetta on in concert at the University o Massachusetts across town. He needed a campus organization to sponsor the concert, so he helped organize The Pioneer...

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The Light of Greece

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pp. 35-40

The American School o Classical Studies in Athens had a program for graduate students, and we spent the first part of the year going around to various archaeological sites with our guide, Eugene Vanderpool. He knew every inch of the country and every bit of its history from the earliest...

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Ireland of the Welcomes

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pp. 41-45

Before leaving Greece, I was visited by Ethan Signer. Ethan had played mandolin in the Charles River Valley Boys and was now studying biochemistry in Cambridge, England. He had just returned from a trip to Ireland with Bill Cliton, an American bluegrass singer who was living...

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The Club 47

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pp. 45-56

Bill Keith and John Richardson had kept the apartment on Upland Road, so I had a place to land when I got back. I still had a teaching fellowship and was still taking courses toward a PhD, so it was a bit o a step back in one way, but it gave me some space to figure things out. Right away I...

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Festival Time

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pp. 56-74

I wasn’t there. I was in New Orleans! Ralph Rinzler had been hired to produce a Jazz festival there, but had taken a job at the Smithsonian Institution to start up an American Folklife Division, so he asked me if I’d be interested in taking his place in New Orleans. He also asked me if I...

Part II. Finding My Own Voice

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Time Out: Bossmen

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pp. 77-84

So there I was in the fall of ’69, out o work. Even though I was genuinely laid of, for some reason it never entered my head to apply for unemployment. I’d saved up some money over the summer. Sheila and I had decided to get married, but I figured that I’d come up with something. We...

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pp. 84-100

With the book completed and turned in, Sheila and I packed up and headed for Woodstock. I had been in touch with Albert Grossman of and on. He had suggested that, since The Band was to be involved in the studio, I should go out on the road with them a couple o times to...

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Ramblin’ Man

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pp. 100-119

With Sheila gone and no job to go to every day, my life was suddenly my own to do with as I pleased. It was a strange feeling. I’d worked for the Club for two and a half years, the Newport Festivals for two years and I’d been working for Albert for two and a half years. It seemed to...

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Sitting in Limbo

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pp. 119-129

I headed back to Dedham for the holidays. Without my saying anything, I think my mother understood that I could use some space to settle in. She was planning to sell the house in Green Harbor, but it was available for me to stay in for the time being. Green Harbor in the winter was pretty...

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Enter: “Cowboy”

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pp. 129-135

In early April I screwed up my courage and decided to take my tapes and drive down to Nashville to try my luck, like so many had before me. One of the people I called when I got there was John Lomax III, who was still working for Jack Clement. John was based at Jack’s Tracks and invited...

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Baby, Let Me Follow You Down

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pp. 135-140

Late in the summer I went up to Eric Von Schmidt’s place in Henniker, New Hampshire, to help him celebrate the sale of a big painting of Custer’s Last Stand to the Western Museum at Wichita State University. It was a great reunion of the old Cambridge crowd. Geo Muldaur was...

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pp. 140-145

After a couple of days on the beach swimming and playing bocce, I headed back to Nashville and picked up where I had left off. Judy and Johanna had been in and out of my life since I moved to Nashville. She was no longer with John Annas. Sometimes they had stayed with me...

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The Dead Cowboys

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pp. 146-150

Since I had first run into him when I arrived in June of ’76, Don Everly and I had become pretty good eating and drinking buddies. Many Sundays I’d join Don and his wife Karen at their apartment while Don whipped up a gourmet meal and we talked about music, books, and art. Our major...

Part III. Following My Own Path

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At Home in the Studio

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pp. 153-161

My life at this time was nothing if not full. Judy and Johanna had been back with me for a few months after a stint living over in East Tennessee, and we were making a stab at being a family, which gave me the opportunity to share in Johanna’s life, taking her to school and gymnastics...

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Coming into My Own

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pp. 161-167

I went out one night in early ’83 to hear Richard Dobson, my old friend from the Bishop’s Pub days. His drummer Leland Waddell asked me whether I could help Richard make a record. I could easily have blown him off (since there was little or no money involved), but Richard was...

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pp. 167-174

At the end of ’84 I got a chance to reconnect with my old Cambridge community when Tom Rush put on three nights of concerts at Symphony Hall in Boston as a reunion o the Club 47 gang, including Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, Eric Von Schmidt, the Charles River Valley Boys, Spider...

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pp. 174-180

One evening at Cowboy’s, Curt Allen and I were having a drink after our day’s work. When he had a drink in him Curt could sometimes be a bit on the testy side. He looked at me and said, “Rooney! What are you gonna do?” I had no idea what he was talking about, so he said it again...

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The Texas Connection

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pp. 180-184

Throughout this period, my work as an engineer and producer was what was keeping the bills paid and enabling me to keep my stake in Forerunner. I engineered and produced albums with Pat Alger’s friend and songwriting collaborator, Rick Beresford; with David Grier, a brilliant...

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Bringing It All Back Home

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pp. 184-188

Phillip Donnelly had moved back to Ireland and was helping to organize a couple of concerts for a television series called “The Session,” bringing artists from Nashville and Austin together with Irish artists. I went over with Don Everly, John Prine, Jack Clement, Guy Clark, and Marty Stuart...

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Forerunner: Onward and Upward

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pp. 189-197

At Forerunner we’d signed two more writers, a groove piano player named Pete Wasner and a lyricist named Charles John Quarto. Pete came to Nashville from Colorado and was playing with The Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Charles John had lived in various places, including California...

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Infamous Angel

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pp. 197-200

I’ve had more than my share o lucky days: the day I met Bill Keith, the day I met Jack Clement, the day I met John Prine, the day I met Nanci Griffith, the day I met Pat Alger. I could go on and on. Among those days I would have to include the day I met Iris DeMent. It almost didn’t...

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Old Friends

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pp. 200-204

When I was first in Nashville in 1974, David Olney—along with Townes Van Zandt, Richard Dobson, and the crew that hung out at Bishop’s—was obviously a kindred spirit. David was originally from the Northeast— Rhode Island—and I suppose we shared some o that somewhat harsher...

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Carol Again

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pp. 204-211

I had become involved in the development of the Folk Alliance as a member of the board of directors in 1989. Although some people compared trying to organize a bunch of folkies to trying to herd a bunch of cats, I felt that it would be helpful to those trying to make a living playing folk...

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Other Voices

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pp. 211-222

Going into 1992 Forerunner was flying. We were also gaining a reputation as a “writer’s house.” Some publishing companies would have quotas for their writers. I you wrote with another writer that only counted as half a song toward your quota. I you were supposed to write twenty-five songs...

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Growing Pains

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pp. 222-226

The response to Iris DeMent’s Infamous Angel was greater than I dared to hope for. For a record on a small independent label, it started to sell pretty well. Rounder eventually released the album in England, where my old friend Andrew Wickham heard it. I hadn’t heard anything about...

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Out West

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pp. 226-229

Pat Alger had gotten to know Ian Tyson and went out to his ranch in Alberta to write with him. He had left the music scene for a while after he and Sylvia broke up and had become involved in raising cutting horses at a championship level. When he came back to music, it was through his life...

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Changing Times

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pp. 229-234

Led by the phenomenal success of Garth Brooks, all album sales were well above what they had been just a few years earlier when we had started. In addition to Matt Lindsey, we added another, equally enthusiastic and committed song plugger to our ranks, Leslie Barr. There was more than...

Part IV. The Long Run

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A New Life

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pp. 237-241

Since our amazing trip to Louisiana, Carol and I had been doing our best to weave our lives together. When I came into the picture Sarah was nineteen, living in Boston, and getting ready to go to Indiana University to study recorder and early music. Matthew was fifteen and Sonya was thirteen. They were in the local schools and lived part o the time at...

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Bluegrass and Folk Voices

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pp. 242-251

On September 9, 1996, just after I had returned to Nashville from our “wedding at the rock,” Bill Monroe left this world. He had been incapacitated by a stroke a few months earlier and had been living in a nursing home in Springfield, Tennessee. Two or three weeks before he died, I...

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Prine Country Time I

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pp. 251-256

John Prine was a happy man. He had a new woman in his life. Fiona Whelan was working at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin when John happened by one day. He caught her eye, and when she heard that there was a good chance that he’d be at Bloom’s Hotel after The Session show...

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Ireland Calls

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pp. 256-266

Carol’s oldest daughter, Sarah, had been studying recorder in The Hague in Holland, and Carol and I went over for a visit in December of ’96. As long as we were that close, I insisted that we spend a couple of days in Amsterdam. Among other things, the Michelin Guide recommended...

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Back to Business

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pp. 267-270

Ater being away for a while, I got a bit more perspective on things in Nashville. I was already aware of the difficulties presented to us by the infiltration of the recording process by middle management types and marketing people. However, I wasn’t really aware of our own situation...

All This Way for the Short Ride

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pp. 270-273

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Herbal and Me

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pp. 273-276

Back in January of ’98, I’d come over from Ireland on a visit. One morning Herb McCullough told me that he’d made a New Year’s resolution to write a song with everyone in the building—“and that includes you!” Right away I started backing up and making excuses. I hadn’t written...

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Prine Country Time II

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pp. 276-280

John Prine’s recovery from his surgery and radiation was slow but steady. They’d taken a pretty good chunk out of his neck behind his jawbone. The radiation had fried his saliva glands, so he needed to drink water all the time. His voice was pretty much a whisper, but John was determined and...

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Life after Forerunner

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pp. 280-294

Happy as I was to have successfully completed In Spite of Ourselves, this was a bittersweet time for me. Once we made our decision to sell Forerunner, the hard work started. From the time we made the decision until we completed the sale, it took us eighteen months. As it turned out...


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pp. 295-302

Index, About the Author, Series Page, Back Cover

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pp. 303

E-ISBN-13: 9780252096068
E-ISBN-10: 0252096061
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038235

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Music in American Life

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Subject Headings

  • Rooney, Jim, 1938-.
  • Sound recording executives and producers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Popular music -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Folk music -- United States -- History and criticism.
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