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Music from the True Vine

Mike Seeger's Life and Musical Journey

Bill C. Malone

Publication Year: 2011

Malone’s biographical work covers the life and musical contributions of folk artist Mike Seeger, the brother of folk singer Pete Seeger. One of the founding members of influential folk group the New Lost City Ramblers, Mike Seeger spent more than fifty years preserving, performing, and commemorating the culture and folk music of white and black Southerners, which he called “music from the true vine.” Malone argues that Seeger, while not as well known as his brother, may be more important in his work to identify and give a voice to the people from whom the Folk Revival borrowed its songs. Malone calls Seeger a musician, documentarian, and scholar, saying that his interest in folk music began during--and was shaped by--the post-Depression era. Malone believes Seeger (who died in 2009) made great contributions to the emerging field of American Roots Music, which has become a topic of increasing importance for scholars and an enduring area of interest for the listening public. This manuscript shows why generations of traditional musicians and fans of traditional music count Seeger as a mentor and an inspiration, and presents Seeger as a gatekeeper of American roots music and culture.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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pp. vi-ix

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pp. xi-xii

Although my research debts are indicated in the note on sources and in the chapter notes, I feel the need to acknowledge more clearly those who have made exceptional contributions to my work. Judith Tick not only wrote the marvelous biography of Ruth Crawford Seeger that informed much of...

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pp. 1-7

I was asked that question far too often after mentioning that I was writing his biography. And a second question frequently followed: “Is he related to Pete Seeger?” Trying not to show my irritation, I generally responded with, “Yes, he’s his half brother, but he’s a much more talented...

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pp. 9-26

When Mike Seeger began contemplating a musical career in the early 1950s, he despaired about whether such a goal was possible. He certainly would have been acutely aware of, and probably burdened by, the Seeger name and the prominence that his family enjoyed in the realm of American...

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2 FOLK MUSIC AND POLITICS: Growing up in the Seeger Household

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pp. 27-52

Although Mike Seeger spent most of his youth and early adulthood in the Washington, D.C., area, he lived his first thirty months in New York. He was born in the Sloane Hospital for Women in New York City and, except for brief interludes at Fairlea, his paternal grandparents’ home in...

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pp. 53-76

The Baltimore period proved to be one of the pivotal phases of Mike Seeger’s life. Between 1954 and 1958, he became immersed in the city’s thriving bluegrass music scene and, with his introduction to Hazel Dickens and her family, became intimately involved for the first time with the working-class...

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4 THE NEW LOST CITY RAMBLERS: Creating the Old-Time Music Scene

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pp. 77-112

In January 1959 Mike moved into what he called a “dreary little apartment” on Douglas Street in Northeast Washington. His job as a recording engineer at Capitol Transcriptions was sometimes interesting, but it was not totally satisfying. He was not yet married and was still unsure about what to...

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5 MUSIC FROM THE TRUE VINE: Mike Seeger and the Search for Authenticity

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pp. 113-146

During his involvement with the New Lost City Ramblers, Mike Seeger never ceased making music on his own or being active in a multitude of ways in the emerging old-time music scene. When he made the decision in 1960 to devote his life fully to music, Mike invested his total energy...

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pp. 147-168

As Mike’s marriage dissolved, his thoughts turned toward Virginia. In the months immediately following his separation from Alice, he lived in a Washington apartment, still beset with the anxieties, compulsive habits, and physical ailments that had long troubled him and dependent on...

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pp. 169-174

Alexia told me that sometime during the last few weeks before his death, Mike said, “I wonder if Bill Malone has one more question.” I did, of course. In fact, there are still many questions that I would like to have asked him. Mike’s life was so full and vital and his work practically unending—he was...


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pp. 175-207

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Note on Sources

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pp. 209-213

My research on Mike Seeger began as early as 1959, when I started buying records made by him and the New Lost City Ramblers. Not too long after that, I also obtained the important anthology that he produced for Folkways, Mountain Music Bluegrass Style, and his first solo album, Old Time Country Music. These were my introductions to the Folkways...

Selected Works

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pp. 215-216


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pp. 217-235

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602653
E-ISBN-10: 1469602652
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835104
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835102

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011