Ballad Hunting with Max Hunter

Stories of an Ozark Folksong Collector
Author: Sarah Jane Nelson
Foreword by Robert Cochran
On the road recording Almeda Riddle and over 200 other Ozarks singers
Cloth – $110
Paper – $26
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/24/2023
Cloth: 01/24/2023
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About the Book

A traveling salesman with little formal education, Max Hunter gravitated to song catching and ballad hunting while on business trips in the Ozarks. Hunter recorded nearly 1600 traditional songs by more than 200 singers from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, all the while focused on preserving the music in its unaltered form.

Sarah Jane Nelson chronicles Hunter’s song-collecting adventures alongside portraits of the singers and mentors he met along the way. The guitar-strumming Hunter picked up the recording habit to expand his repertoire but almost immediately embraced the role of song preservationist. Being a local allowed Hunter to merge his native Ozark earthiness with sharp observational skills to connect--often more than once--with his singers. Hunter’s own ability to be present added to that sense of connection. Despite his painstaking approach, ballad collecting was also a source of pleasure for Hunter. Ultimately, his dedication to capturing Ozarks song culture in its natural state brought Hunter into contact with people like Vance Randolph, Mary Parler, and non-academic folklorists who shared his values.

* Publication of this book was supported by a grant from the L. J. and Mary C. Skaggs Folklore Fund.

About the Author

Sarah Jane Nelson is a writer and musical performer. She has written on music for Old-Time Herald, Ozarks Watch, Fiddler Magazine, and other publications.



"Vividly illuminates the efforts of a remarkable ballad-hunter, festival impresario, and personality, while offering attention to nationwide folksong currents intersecting with the Ozarks. There is an audience of scholars, folksong performers and enthusiasts, and Ozarks residents and aficionados awaiting this book."--James P. Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946

“This is a must read for anyone interested in folk music or the culture of the Ozarks. Max Hunter was a major collector and interesting character, who tape-recorded music throughout the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks in the late twentieth century. Sarah Jane Nelson has done a marvelous job of telling his story. Hunter was a sort of protégé of two of the other major folk song collectors, Mary Celeste Parlor and Vance Randolph. Nelson gives a lot of information on these two and other Ozark music personalities.”--Alan L. Spurgeon, author of Waltz the Hall: The American Play Party

“Sarah Jane has written a fine book about my old friend, Ozarks song collector Max Hunter. . . . and I enjoyed hearing so many familiar names and stories. He was a kind man, and his song collection remains an enormous gift to the Ozarks.”--Nancy Cardwell Webster, Cardwell Family Band