PDA

View Full Version : Column: Writing About Bluegrass, Warts and All



Ted Lehmann
Mar-28-2018, 7:27am
My columnt in No Depression this week takes a look at the behavior of celebrities and how it affects our attitudes toward their art. Using Jimmy Martin as the focus as well as Barbara Martin Stephens book about her life with him, I explore some of his career, some of the controversies surrounding it, and the issue of how celebrity behavior affects how we feel about them. As always, I look forward to your thoughts on this topic as well as to joining into the conversation. - Ted

http://nodepression.com/article/writing-about-bluegrass-royalty-warts-and-all

Timbofood
Mar-28-2018, 8:12am
Lets face it, we build our artists up and then they must be torn down in shreds! This is apparently human nature, or at least the way human nature is going. There used to be some tolerance from the public and media, now, shoot as soon as they get famous! It makes me sad to see the modern demand to strip those in positions of authority or power or artistic accomplishment of any dignity at the first possible moment.
Personally, I have never been a big Jimmy Martin fan but, I can not deny his influence. His personal life was ruled by his own demons, ha has died and there is no defense possible, money will made by exposing the shortcomings of someone who worked very, very hard for the music and, for whatever reason, was never exalted by the Opry.
Jimmy Martin’s story is in the end sad and a bit bitter, such is the price of fame.

Mandoplumb
Mar-28-2018, 9:58am
I have musician I respect for their life, the stand they take. They may are may not be the ones I consider most talented. If I'm listening to music it's the music that matters. Jimmy Martin may have been a conceited arrogant SOB but he was talented and I like his music.others are like him and some are good guys, got nothing to do with the music they play.

Beanzy
Mar-28-2018, 10:43am
Not a modern phenomenon by a long shot, just look at Plato & Aristotle.
Build them up then knock them off their perch for ‘impiety’

However musical or revered someone is though, as soon as they resort to domestic violence they show their real worth as a person. I might go to a concert to hear what they do but I wouldn’t want to get to know them up close.

allenhopkins
Mar-28-2018, 11:14am
The Richard Smith Can't You Hear Me Callin' book on Bill Monroe raised the same issues. How much did we need to know about Monroe's infidelities and domestic conflicts, as opposed to his musical life and talents?

On the one hand, an all-round picture of a "celebrity" with whose music we're all familiar, can give us a deeper perspective; perhaps we can even see his/her personal life reflected in the music. On the other hand, it's too tempting to spend time on the more salacious aspects of a person's life. (Lots of that in the news these days, if you know what I mean.)

I thought Smith's book was valuable, but I'm not sure I'd feel the same about an ex-wife's tell-all, unless it provided some insight into the development of Martin's music. We all were pretty sure he was an unpleasant person; he made no secret of his bad temper and anger over perceived slights and mistreatment.

Monroe's domestic-violence issues were recognized and discussed in Smith's book, but there was so much more. I'll wait to hear from someone who's read Ms. Stephens' book, before considering investing in a copy.

Ted Lehmann
Mar-28-2018, 1:57pm
[QUOTE=

Jimmy Martin’s story is in the end sad and a bit bitter, such is the price of fame.[/QUOTE]

Both sad and bitter. I wonder, though, if it isn't also fully earned and about time.

Ted Lehmann
Mar-28-2018, 2:03pm
Monroe's domestic-violence issues were recognized and discussed in Smith's book, but there was so much more. I'll wait to hear from someone who's read Ms. Stephens' book, before considering investing in a copy.

Here's a link to my review of the book: http://tedlehmann.blogspot.com/2017/08/dont-give-your-heart-to-rambler-by.html Barbara Martin Stephens actually never married Jimmy Martin. Her real claim to fame is that she was the first woman booking agent in bluegrass and country music. She's managed to make a significant new life since leaving Martin over fifty years ago.

Timbofood
Mar-28-2018, 6:29pm
Both sad and bitter. I wonder, though, if it isn't also fully earned and about time.

I’d say the bitterness earned the sadness time after time.

And your point is well taken Beanzy! Thanks.

jaycat
Mar-28-2018, 7:42pm
I've told this story many times... when I was 6 yrs old I asked Brooks Robinson for his autograph. His response: "get lost kid."

So, I learned early on, our idols may have feet of clay. Not a bad lesson to take in at a young age, it serves you well throughout your life....

JEStanek
Mar-29-2018, 7:54am
There are plenty of famous people who's behavior has turned me off of their work. There are specific directors who's works (even though lauded as excellent) I won't see. The person and their craft are often tied together for me. It's a pretty high bar for someone's bad behavior to get on that list but, yes. how a person behaves and treats others is pretty important to me.

I volunteer at the Philly Folk Festival and I give credentials out to performers when they arrive at the fest. I can say that with only a few exceptions everyone I have met from local artists to world known performers have been pleasant and understanding, and enjoy being helped. One or two were having a bad day and I haven't met any that were just jerks (but we did have a performer who never showed up never called and left her band in a lurch on stage - totally uncool and I wouldn't buy anymore of her stuff.

We're all human and we all have bad days but, if I know you're awful, I'll pass your stuff by.

Jamie

lukmanohnz
Mar-29-2018, 9:37am
This is another short profile of Jimmy Martin that is not entirely flattering but more sympathetic. How sad that so many men of privilege don’t seem to be able to treat others with respect.
https://www.amazon.com/True-Adventures-King-Bluegrass-Martin/dp/0826516807/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1522333967&sr=8-3&keywords=Jimmy+martin+biography

doublestoptremolo
Mar-29-2018, 2:46pm
The Richard Smith Can't You Hear Me Callin' book on Bill Monroe raised the same issues. How much did we need to know about Monroe's infidelities and domestic conflicts, as opposed to his musical life and talents?


When I first started listening to bluegrass I read that book almost in one sitting. I thought it was fascinating and only made me more interested in Monroe.

Later I read Bob Black's book, which doesn't have that much personal stuff, and to be honest it was a bit of a snooze. Most of us are adults, we realize people don't always live up to their public image in private. You could spend 10 minutes on YouTube and determine (1) that Jimmy Martin was probably the most entertaining bluegrass performer ever; and (2) that he could be pretty insufferable sometimes.

swampy
Mar-29-2018, 3:15pm
I used to really enjoy Steve Earle's music. I read a biography on him. I can't stand to hear his music anymore. I've made it a point to try and not find too much out about someone whose music I like.

Ted Lehmann
Mar-29-2018, 8:17pm
e. You could spend 10 minutes on YouTube and determine (1) that Jimmy Martin was probably the most entertaining bluegrass performer ever; and (2) that he could be pretty insufferable sometimes.

That's pretty true. I still prefer artists I like as well as admire for their music. There are plenty of people whose characters disqualify them for serious consideration. And there are plenty in the middle.

Andy B
Mar-29-2018, 10:30pm
Many of the first generation bluegrass artists were tough customers who came up poor and hard without a lot of the advantages that many of us take for granted. That doesn’t excuse bad behavior but it may help explain it. For the most part these folks were monomaniacs for whom the music definitely came first. A few years ago I read Ralph Stanley‘s autobiography, which I enjoyed. I found it surprisingly and perhaps unintentionally revealing in ways not always flattering to the author. Thanks Ted for your very readable essay and those videos. The Gloria Belle song was especially nice.

ralph johansson
Mar-30-2018, 9:39am
The Richard Smith Can't You Hear Me Callin' book on Bill Monroe raised the same issues. How much did we need to know about Monroe's infidelities and domestic conflicts, as opposed to his musical life and talents?


I thought Smith's book was valuable, but I'm not sure I'd feel the same about an ex-wife's tell-all, unless it provided some insight into the development of Martin's music. We all were pretty sure he was an unpleasant person; he made no secret of his bad temper and anger over perceived slights and mistreatment.

Monroe's domestic-violence issues were recognized and discussed in Smith's book, but there was so much more. I'll wait to hear from someone who's read Ms. Stephens' book, before considering investing in a copy.




I found Smith's bio lacking in its attempts at musical analysis and evaluation, and a bit gossipy, esp. as regards his love life. However, Monroe did form musically significant relationships with three women,
Bessie Lee Mauldin (bass player, contributor to some of Monroe's songs, and "inspiration" for several of them), Virginia Stauffer (composer of, e.g., With Body and Soul), and Hazel Smith - Richard Smith should have concentrated on these three, and their roles in his musical life. Perhaps the most intriguing fact about Mauldin is that she (apparently) never performed with Monroe on the Opry.

As for Jimmy Martin, after hearing one of his cheap sex jokes (and about a few of his racist jokes) at a festival in 1969 I have no trouble understanding why he never was invited to join the Opry.

Timbofood
Mar-30-2018, 9:56am
The racist thing is still pretty common amongst some southerners, I know several who love to tell the worst racist jokes and pretty deplorable sexist jokes too, they may well be in the minority but, they do exist. Some of it is generation, some is regional. It’s the way of the old south, the new south is less so.
I am not making a sweeping generalization but, there are individuals who hold fast to some of that, Yankees too for that matter. Sad but true.

Willie Poole
Mar-30-2018, 11:35am
What ticks me off is when a super star is put on a pedestal after he/she is convicted of doing drugs and then says they are clean...That sends a message to the youngsters that it is OK to do this and you will be forgiven...I agree they should receive some help in breaking their habits but don`t make them a hero for breaking a habit that they should not have started in the first place...

I have seen Jimmy Martin many times and just about every time if there was slight mistake in the way the band played a song he was real quick to make sure the audience knew who made the mistake, and it was never him, he had a young banjo player in tears while on the stage at one festival because Jimmy just would not let up on the kid not playing exactly like J.D. did when he was with Martin, I know that is the banjo sound that Jimmy wanted, sort of a trade mark, but not everyone could play like J.D....

After a star is dead a lot of people want to make money by writing about them, Hank William`s wife was no exception, she exploited every thing she could and even sold songs that Hank had on his reel to reel tape recorder but were never released until she sold them to recording studios...

Just my 2 cents worth...Willie

Timbofood
Mar-30-2018, 3:26pm
I saw another fairly well respected bandleader grab the guitar out of his guitar players hands to “show him how it’s supposed git done!” Talk about never wanting to see the guy again, that was it he left the guitar player standing there with his hands in his pockets looking all but ready to kill.
That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen, what a gold plated jerk! I think he may have passed by now but, I’ll never forget that embarrassing moment. Especially stupid as the guitar player was dead shot playing!

Ivan Kelsall
Apr-01-2018, 3:51am
Watch the DVD - ''Jimmy Martin - King of Bluegrass'' & you'll understand a lot about JM. IMHO - he was Bill Monroe's very finest singer for the duets. He was a 100% Bluegrass musician,but he seems to have managed to offend almost everybody who could have furthered his career,especially getting him made a 'member' of the Grand Ol' Opry. In the DVD,despite his saying that he wouldn't accept membership if it was given to him (or words to that effect),it was obviously a very,very sore point with him.

Maybe his stage 'persona' detracted a lot from his Bluegrass credence for many folk,but IMHO (again), he was 100% Bluegrass ''in his own way''.

Timothy - That has to be one of the most disgusting things in music i've ever read of.
I left one band standing on stage,packed my banjo & left. The other 2 guys never wanted to practice - i practiced everything. We used to run the Manchester Uni. Folk Club. I kicked off a song 4 times before the guitar player got it right,then,in the middle of the song,the fiddle player stopped & asked if we could start again !!. ENOUGH !!. Maybe i was wrong,but it seemed right at the time,
Ivan:mad:

Timbofood
Apr-01-2018, 7:42am
Ivan, I was so irritated, I will never forget that. I was shocked, and dumbfounded that a “band leader” would treat his guy that way. Getting it right is one thing when it is wrong but, this was just to thrash the kids guitar to boot. I wanted to give the guy an easy to carry case for his banjo! Sitting down would have been difficult but, the neck would have been covered...so to speak.

RTRDick
Apr-25-2018, 1:53pm
I have no doubt that most of what Ms Stephens describes happened, but I am not interested in another account of what a mean and disgusting character Jimmy Martin was. I met him a few times and was not impressed by his personalty, stage antics or sartorial sensibility. What did move me was his amazing singing voice and incredible rhythm guitar playing. While Ms Stephens may be interesting as a booking pioneer, without ever meeting Martin would she have enough material to justify a book? I believe not.

Many former sidemen have commented on his ability to direct them into playing what he wanted, without being able to play instruments other than guitar himself. He also could hear and separate the beat into several dimensions, and instill this into his players, forcefully. Some analysis of these abilities and his means of creating and sustaining his own sound, over dozens of years and personnel changes; this is what interests me and would move me to purchase such a book.

Many musical legends have treated their families atrociously, think of Woody Guthrie or John Lennon; do we excuse their behaviour? Absolutely not but they are still treated with some respect for their artistic accomplishments.

A positive side of Jimmy Martin would be his helping hand and support to an aging, unhealthy Charlie Monroe. He toured with him for a summer and the Sunny Mt Boys backed him on stage. I saw them together and enjoyed it, this was Charlie's last go around. Jimmy couldn't have much to gain from this gesture but he did it. There must be other examples of positive deeds over a lifetime.

MikeEdgerton
Apr-25-2018, 2:25pm
:popcorn:

KGreene
Apr-25-2018, 8:58pm
I've told this story many times... when I was 6 yrs old I asked Brooks Robinson for his autograph. His response: "get lost kid."

So, I learned early on, our idols may have feet of clay. Not a bad lesson to take in at a young age, it serves you well throughout your life....

Yep.... my two oldest young'uns learned that same lesson with Alan Jackson....Although he didn't even speak ... they asked for an autograph, he just looked at them and walked away (7 and 8 years old at the time)...

poymando
May-01-2018, 8:21pm
<removed by site administrator>

- Topics started for or end up being used to discuss religion, politics or sex as well as other hot button issues meant to create discord are prohibited. Posts or threads deemed inappropriate or unrelated to our subject matter are subject to immediate removal at the discretion of the forum owner and/or lead moderator.

Interjecting this kind of content into this discussion is not only off topic but has no place here and violates forum posting guidelines.

jesserules
May-01-2018, 10:10pm
I've told this story many times... when I was 6 yrs old I asked Brooks Robinson for his autograph. His response: "get lost kid."



Brooks Robinson? I do not believe that.

drbluegrass
Jun-15-2018, 12:13pm
I saw the video of Jimmy going off on Ricky Skaggs, calling him "a a**hole" to his face. Ricky loved Jimmy and his music. Ricky just stood there and took it, very politely. As I watched it I really hurt for Ricky. And I think Ricky was very hurt by it. I don't know Ricky personally but I consistently hear he is a very good hearted guy and very humble. I can't accurately remember what it was all about. Something about Ricky declining to sing tenor for Jimmy on a song?? I think Ricky wasn't going to be available...not sure? Anyway, I understand they reconciled when Jimmy was dying. It's been several years since I viewed the video, so I hope what I've stated is accurate. I think it is.

jaycat
Jun-15-2018, 5:13pm
Brooks Robinson? I do not believe that.

Well, I was there, I oughta know.

Hey, anyone can have a bad day. But to a young hero-worshiper, it can be devastating.

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-16-2018, 1:37am
My Dublin,Irish friend & mandolin player,Enda Donnelly, had a similar experience after asking Doyle Lawson a question when DL was over here with a band years back. Doyle's answer was far from Christian in flavour !!. However - i too believe that folks can have an off day. Ask the same question on another day & you might (hopefully ?) get a different response,
Ivan

Timbofood
Jun-16-2018, 7:37am
You have a completely valid point Ivan, not every day is perfect and, no one has an entire lifetime of good days. Especially travelling musicians! I have never seen Doyle on one or Charlie Waller, Bill, Jesse, Jim, Roland either for that matter but, I KNOW it happens. In most cases they simply get away from the gladhand sessions and decompress in private but, there is not always a good escape route. When someone has a bad dat and are pressed, there will be blowback!

And, yes even a lowly mandolin player like me has those days so, if I look peevish, stand clear.
Have a nice day!:mad: :grin:

I did see a certain guitar player after a bad set and to my surprise, he “softened” when I saw his flare, and held out my lighter for his post set smoke. I still respect him. He saw his public and realized his duty to fans.

Rush Burkhardt
Jun-16-2018, 8:23am
It seems celebrity, in all walks of life, is difficult to live with for most! Pick a vertical populated by humans - music, sports, politics, Hollywood, religion. As with Jimmy, stepping from a "normal" life into one where a spotlight and its treasures focus on one, it seems difficult for some celebrities to remain "humble, self-aware and caring".

Everyone has set of psychological underpinnings that cause them to react to outside stimuli; how they handle those traits dictates their behavior. And we, the audience, can tolerate or not. It's, we, the audience, who are the triggers for the behaviors. It's, we, the audience, who reward the behavior. And, we, the audience, keep them coming back for more, just like Pavlov's dogs!

At some point, "society" (not just Southerners, my generalizing friend) will realize that these "celebrities", being rewarded, and treated deferentially, while exhibiting over-the-top behaviors, do so at our bidding!

Challenge yourself: If there are bad players out there, don't patronize the venues (or products) where they play, sing, act, pontificate or preach. The people who are NOT PROFITING because of YOUR ABSENCE will get the point! It may take some character and self-sacrifice, on our part; the message will be delivered!
:popcorn:

bigskygirl
Jun-16-2018, 9:28am
I think it’s all just in how a person is made up and brought up and their life experiences...years ago I worked as a walking scorer at PGA golf tournaments so I got to spend substantial time “inside the ropes” alongside some of the best players. One day I was waiting around after a tournament and watched player after player brush by the patrons waiting for autographs or just scribbling while walking away.

After a while one player came out who had just finished an hour long interview as to why he lost by one stroke...how does it feel to lose again...yada, yada, yada...he came out and signed autographs and answered questions until everyone was gone...he must have been there another hour or so. I had met this player maybe 20 years prior as a young phenom and he was still as eager and joyful as he was way back when. He has since gone on to greatness and continues to display grace.

I have had mixed experiences with musicians - mostly at music camps some good some not so much...

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-17-2018, 12:29am
Sometimes folk simply don't want the hassle - OK !. Politely excuse yourself & walk away - it's as simple as that. I've had the great pleasure of meeting 2 of my favourite artists in very different forms of music - Mike Seeger,whom i got to know very well because of his frequent visits to the UK,& the guitar player,Albert Lee,whom i've met 3 times when he's played in Manchester. Both these guys were at the top of their respective trees, & were the total embodiment of courtesy - as was Bill Monroe when i met him briefly back in 1966.

I've often wondered if this offhandedness is the way that some top musicians (or 'whatever'), use to distance themselves from us,who are merely 'people'. I can understand some of them being annoyed at being expected to sign autographs !. That's something that they choose to do or not = it isn't compulsary !!,
Ivan

TonyP
Jun-29-2018, 11:09am
As an introvert I'm baffled by folks who seek the limelight. And only through the evolution of instantaneous communication has the whole idea that with any notoriety your life is now a fishbowl and you belong to your fans has become expected. Along with every lurid detail. This was not mainsteam and only in the seedy tabloids when I was young. This fake one sided intimacy I'm sure is distressing to anybody doesn't thrive in a fishbowl. I'm surprised when one of my musical hero's treats me warmly because they can't know if I'm a nut or not. And it doesn't take much digging to see there are more and more nuts out there who's only way of getting their 15min of fame is do something to their hero's or obsessions. And how many times have we seen friends and neighbors of a serial killer or somebody who's gone off the rails say " he seemed like a nice guy, there's no way he could have done this!". I only bring this up because how ell do any of us really know anybody that we have lots of contact with? Then you are going to base this whole idea of who somebody is by second hand accounts written by somebody who seems to have an agenda?

My impression of Jimmy Martin from people who knew and followed him was he reveled in his persona. Some folks confidence is arrogance to others. And some folks maintain the spotlight through controversy and chaos. He seemed to love to shock people. The one time I saw him he was at a huge festival and a guy I knew who's persona was a lot like JM's and I think he saw as a hero was right down front. Every time JM did anything this guy would whoop and cheer at the top of his substantial lungs. You could see it was getting to JM. Finally he got in the mic and said something like "somebody get this a**hole outta here!" The audience looked like somebody had just set off a bomb and "mr. Rude crude and unexceptible" just whooped and hollered through the rest of the show.

To me delving into performers personal lives and morals is not interesting. I guess if they are trying to push an agenda like a politician or religious figure then it's ok. Those folks have an impact on our lives and they should be held to a higher standard IMHO.