Always Been a Rambler

G.B. Grayson and Henry Whitter, Country Music Pioneers of Southern Appalachia


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About the Book

GB. Grayson and Henry Whitter were two of the most influential artists in the early days of country music. Songs they popularized—“Tom Dooley,” “Little Maggie,” “Handsome Molly,” and “Nine Pound Hammer”—are still staples of traditional music. Although the duo sold tens of thousands of records during the 1920s, the details of their lives remain largely unknown. Featuring never before published photographs and interviews with friends and relatives, this book chronicles for the first time the romantic intrigues and tragic deaths that marked their lives and explores the Southern Appalachian culture that shaped their music.

About the Author(s)

Josh Beckworth is a high school English teacher. He has received the W. Amos Abrams prize from the North Carolina Folklore Society and published in the North Carolina Folklore Journal. He lives in Crumpler, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Josh Beckworth

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 234
Bibliographic Info: 61 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6729-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3186-8
Imprint: McFarland
Series: Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1

Biography and History
A Dark Road Is a Hard Road to Travel: Brief Biographies of Grayson and Whitter 7
Straddling the Appalachian Divide: Fries and Laurel Bloomery 26
Henry Whitter and the Creation of Country Music 41
The Long Shadow of G.B. Grayson 73
I Wish I Was Single Again: Marriage and Divorce in the Grayson and Whitter Families 87
Grayson, Whitter and the Hill Billies: Manufacturers of Music 104
James W.M. Grayson, Tom Dula and the Appalachian Civil War 127
The Courthouse Massacre 139
On the Trail of Nancy Blevins 148

The Music
Overview 161
The Dance Tunes 163
The Murder Ballads 171
Folksongs of the British Isles 177
The Victorian Songs 182
The Temperance Songs 184
The Railroad Songs 188
The Tin Pan Alley Songs 195
The Comedy Songs 198
American Folk Songs 200

Notes 207
Bibliography 214
Index 221

Book Reviews & Awards

“My academic tenure has been guided by two beliefs: scholarship grounded in a personal connection to the subject yields the most passion and perspective; and music that springs directly from the soil closest at hand has the greatest power to affect us. Josh Beckworth’s Always Been a Rambler hews to both of these principles, revealing insight informed by a personal subjective relationship tempered through objective research…. Always Been a Rambler is very much a music history that devotes equal measure to the music and the history, fully examining the ways one informs the other.”—Ron Pen, The Journal of Southern History