A truly definitive look at a bluegrass legend and the scene that produced him.

JOHN DUFFEY'S BLUEGRASS LIFE

FEATURING THE COUNTRY GENTLEMEN, SELDOM SCENE, AND WASHINGTON, D.C.

An exhaustively researched profile of bluegrass legend John Duffey (1934-1996) that covers not only his life in music, but also those of his colleagues and contemporaries.

Duffey was a musician and singer who founded the important bluegrass groups The Country Gentlemen and The Seldom Scene. But even in the late 1950s, when The Country Gentlemen were forming, Duffey felt that the popular bluegrass sound was starting to get stale. When the band started recording in the early ’60s, he pushed them to incorporate more modern sounds to accommodate the folk boom. Purists scoffed, but it allowed the band to play a wider variety of clubs. That’s also when Duffey realized that entertaining a crowd took showmanship as well as musicianship, and he encouraged the band members to do things like play an agonizingly slow version of the usually fast-paced song “Cripple Creek.” Duffey also had some quirks of his own, and the authors collected extensive quotes from his friends and band mates that describe them. The Country Gentlemen were limited by Duffey’s fear of flying and his love of bowling, for example—both of which may have factored into his quitting the band in 1969. That didn’t last long, though, and Duffey pushed the boundaries of bluegrass again with The Seldom Scene in the early ’70s. Moore (co-author: Cerphe’s Up, 2016, etc.) and Keplinger (Film/Stevenson Univ.) also devote considerable time to their subject’s band mates, such as Charlie Waller, Eddie Adcock, and Tom Gray, as well as fringe figures in Duffey’s story, including musician Buzz Busby, photographer Carl Fleischhauer, and bluegrass luminary Ralph Stanley, who respected Duffey’s ability but not his off-the-cuff personal style. It’s obvious from the first chapter of this book that Moore and Keplinger aim to spare no details. They even start with a short history of Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Hospital for Women, where the musician was born, and include a photocopy of the hospital birth certificate. The book is roughly chronological from there, occasionally circling back to offer a different perspective on a particular story or some additional background. As a result, the authors leave very little untouched, right down to what Duffey preferred to eat for breakfast when he was hungry (six eggs, fatback, and buttered toast) and when he wasn’t (four eggs, fatback, and buttered toast). Despite the copious detail, however, the book offers a rich and entertaining musical history of the bluegrass scene as well as more academic materials, including an essay by Robert Kyle on Duffey’s Irish roots and a lengthy discography. Throughout, the authors’ prose is straightforward, but it can be a bit dry, as when they devote a single paragraph to breakthrough surgery that was used to restore Adcock’s playing ability but offer no quotes from the man himself about the experience. Also, when they use Duffey’s own words, they frequently and distractingly italicize them throughout the book rather than more smoothly working them into the text.

A truly definitive look at a bluegrass legend and the scene that produced him.

Pub Date: April 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63263-840-3

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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