The editor of The Bill Monroe Reader and a guitarist/lead singer of Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys for ten years pens a biography of the Father of Bluegrass Music, drawing on his own recollections, interviews with fellow musicians, and other sources.
Ewing...writes himself into the narrative at the appropriate times, but in the third person. It’s a little off-putting at first, but it fits with the flow of the book: He’s just another Blue Grass Boy, one of the nearly 150 who played in Monroe’s band ... If you’re looking for an analytical view of Monroe and bluegrass music, you’ll have to provide it yourself. And in the end that’s the real success of this remarkable book. It’s a definitive work, one that’s sure to be an indispensable source for future writers. And one that will enable all of us to create our own personal biographies of Bill Monroe.
Mr. Ewing calls his account a 'chronicle' instead of a conventional biography, and the result is a mosaic-portrait enlivened by eyewitness details from sidemen and others whom Monroe molded and collaborated with. The book presents bluegrass history as it happened, as well as a fresh look at 'this extraordinary individual' ... Mr. Ewing’s biography is at its best in such scenes, where ex-Bluegrass Boys offer glimpses of an inscrutable musical giant—including their auditions, in which they literally shook with fear as Monroe rated their talent as if sizing up horseflesh. At times, though, the chronicle bogs down in accounts of recording sessions and show dates, blitzing the reader with too much minutiae ... a girlfriend said Monroe, then 77, beat her with a Bible. This side of Monroe is, for the most part, left unexplored by Mr. Ewing but rates a disclaimer: 'It should be noted . . . that those relationships helped Bill continue to feel young and vital throughout the years we knew him, and they inspired some great love songs.' If this seems over-generous, consider the songs Monroe got out of his rocky romances, not just 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' and 'Can’t You Hear Me Callin’' but 'My Little Georgia Rose' and 'Walk Softly on My Heart.'
[Ewing] writes very well, indeed, if, as chronicles are wont to encourage, without razzamatazz. He presents information narratively, not via charts, lists, itineraries, and the like, and he preserves the vernacular wording, grammatical gaffes and all, of his informants. Every performance and recording seem accounted for, and any future biographers per se will just have to make this book their number-one resource. Plain bluegrass fans will worship and adore Ewing’s achievement.