An introduction from the editor, part 2

Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir by Josh GravesHere is the second part of the “Introduction from the editor,” by Fred Bartenstein. Read Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir by Josh Graves, available now.

“It was clear to me that the material would offer interesting insights into the life of Graves and the history of bluegrass music, so I took on the responsibility of editing and preparing it for publication. Willis and Dow transferred their rights to the project; it had been a labor of love for them and would be the same for me. Willis and Dow searched but were unable to locate either an electronic file of the transcript or the original audiotapes of the interviews.

I made a photocopy of the transcript and marked it with educated guesses as to what the garbled or misunderstood passages meant, using my knowledge of the subject matter and published source materials. I also eliminated the interviewers’ questions and comments by others who were present during the taping. My assistant Jessica Bily retyped the extensive document, adding copyediting suggestions as she worked. Meanwhile, I consulted with the then editor of Bluegrass Unlimited, Sharon McGraw, who suggested I approach Bobby Wolfe in Davidson, North Carolina, for his counsel.

I had known Bobby Wolfe four decades earlier from bluegrass festivals and fiddle conventions. Wolfe was a Dobro picker then and has since become a well-known builder of resophonic3 instruments and compiler of articles and a self-published book, The Resophonic and the Pickers (1993). Bobby Wolfe signed on to the project and agreed to help me with it as best he could.

My next call was to Pat Ahrens in Columbia, South Carolina. I had met Pat during my teenage years as well and knew her skills as an enthusiast and historian of bluegrass matters (Pat is the author of The Legacy of Two Legends: Snuffy Jenkins and Pappy Sherrill, 2007, among several other publications). Pat readily agreed to assist; she would approach contemporaries and associates of Josh Graves for photographs and reminiscences and secure their permission to reproduce that material.

One of Pat’s early contacts was Stacy Phillips, a Dobro player and fiddler whom I had known when he was a member of the band Breakfast Special in the 1970s. Stacy had written Complete Dobro Player (2002, Mel Bay Publications), which included his own 1993 interview with Josh Graves. Phillips suggested I incorporate material from that interview, gave his permission, and arranged permission from Mel Bay Publications. Bobby Wolfe liked this idea and made available his 1990 interviews with Josh Graves for the same purpose. They were originally published in Bluegrass Unlimited, which also granted permission for their reuse.

Pat Ahrens approached Neil Rosenberg, the noted bluegrass historian and author of Bluegrass: A History (1985, 2005, University of Illinois Press), who has generously contributed a foreword summarizing Josh Graves’s career and significance.

Bobby Wolfe referred me to Betty Wheeler, a Dobro player and attorney from Del Mar, California. She had compiled A Tribute to Josh Graves, which the worldwide resonator guitar community presented to Graves at the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America Awards Show in Nashville on February 4, 2001. Wheeler had hoped that excerpts from that project could someday be published for broader audiences and quickly agreed to collaborate in what was now turning into a much more extensive undertaking than I had originally envisioned.

Over the first three quarters of 2009, I worked to reorganize Josh Graves’s rambling discourses from three separate sources into a readable narrative. I felt like a museum curator restoring the scattered pieces of an old mosaic, identifying similar colors and patterns and adding connective material where it had been lost or was needed to pull the image together. My collaborators—Barry Willis, Bobby Wolfe, Pat Ahrens, Stacy Phillips, Betty Wheeler, and Jessica Bily—liked my early drafts and encouraged me to finish the project. Willis suggested I add footnotes to explain references that would be unfamiliar to readers lacking extensive prior knowledge of bluegrass and country music history. The next phase of the work involved sending chapter drafts to my six collaborators and incorporating their many excellent suggestions.

At the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “World of Bluegrass” in September of 2009, Betty Wheeler arranged for my wife Joy and me to visit Evelyn Graves, Josh Graves’s widow, in the home where the interviews had been recorded and where the couple had lived during much of the period covered by the autobiography. I presented her with an almost-final draft of the book, asking her to share it with their children and let me know if there was anything in it they wanted to correct or that Josh wouldn’t have wanted to see in print. On the five-hour drive from Yellow Springs, Ohio, to Nashville and back, I read the draft out loud to Joy, to make sure it retained the flavor of Josh’s storytelling and that the sequence and the sense of the narrative were as clear as we could make them. Joy was a sensitive listener and a good critic, as well as a tireless driver.

The last phase was to edit the supplemental material (introduction, foreword, tributes, and appendixes). Thomas Goldsmith, who was one of the readers for the University of Illinois Press, agreed to supply introductions that added context to each section and perform last-minute tweaking to some of the material. My brother John Bartenstein, former “Hillbilly at Harvard” host Fritz Mulhauser, and Betty Wheeler—all attorneys—helped with the task of securing permissions and a publishing contract. Tim Davis at the Country Music Hall of Fame provided invaluable assistance with the photographs. Joey O’Donnell coordinated the pulling together of countless loose ends. Librarian and bluegrass scholar Charley Pennell of Raleigh, North Carolina, generously prepared the index.

I owe a debt of gratitude, mainly to Josh Graves for living a fascinating and significant life and for describing it so candidly and colorfully. It is clear from these interviews that he enjoyed telling a good story on himself just as much as he loved playing the Dobro. I believe he would be pleased to know that the story of Josh Graves the son, husband, father, friend, and mentor—as well as Uncle Josh the musician—has been preserved in his own wonderful words.

I am also indebted to the many individuals, named and unnamed, who collaborated and contributed to this book. I am grateful to have been given the unexpected opportunity to work with and preserve these materials and—most of all—to get to know Josh Graves so much better than I had during the years that our bluegrass careers intersected.

Fred Bartenstein

Yellow Springs, Ohio”

From Bluegrass Bluesman: A Memoir, on sale now at a 40% discount–only $13.17–from our website with promo code MAL40.