America's Music BLUEGRASS
a history of bluegrass music in the words of its pioneers

by Barry Willis
Self-Published in 1998 by Pine Valley Music

Table of Contents


Book Info



Foreword by Dr. Dan Crary

Foreword II by Dick Pierle

About the Author and Editor

Twenty Six Chapters


"Most exhausting compilation
of information about the history and personalities of bluegrass music
ever achieved."


Appendix A
Some of the Publications Devoted to Bluegrass

Appendix B
The People of Bluegrass
Personal Data

Twelve pages will help you find whatever or whoever you're looking for.
Very thorough.

  • Roots of Bluegrass
  • Understanding Bluegrass Music
  • Technology and the Recording
  • Industry
  • Radio and Television
  • Comics and Entertaining
  • Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys
  • Pioneers
  • Bluegrass Banjo
  • Bluegrass Mandolin
  • Bluegrass Fiddle
  • Bluegrass Guitar
  • Bluegrass Bass
  • The Dobro and the Resonator Guitar
  • Branches of Bluegrass - Modern Outgrowths, e.g. Newgrass
  • Women in Bluegrass
  • Regional Bluegrass
  • Studio Musicians and Their Music
  • Carlton Haney - First Bluegrass Festival
  • Festivals
  • Business of Bluegrass
  • Record Companies
  • Instrument Companies and Makers
  • The Invention of Bluegrass and Controversies
  • Around the World with an International Music
  • The Future of Bluegrass

by Dr. Dan Crary


When Barry first asked me to write a Foreword to this book, it was a few years ago. I sorta’ stalled around, and in the meantime the project has grown to about three times the original size. And that’s what you want it to do, because this is the book about how it really is in bluegrass music today. It will be the most talked-about book ever written on bluegrass, by far.

Barry Willis has tried to tell the whole story, warts and all, and he has done it with a fanatical sense of detail, and an attempt at an evenhandedness with the darker, more controversial material. I say "attempt" because not everyone will agree with all the conclusions this book reaches. But the data it is based on represents the most exhaustive compilation of information about the history and personalities of bluegrass music ever attempted, and certainly ever achieved.

The "skinny" is here, my friends. But the overall effect is to show Bluegrass as a very human enterprise which has moments of greatness and a few not so great, yet maintains its position as one of the great traditional arts of the world.

The road really is rough and rocky in this book, the heroes are noble and human, and the foibles are juicy. But the music has inspired a richly diverse story of the people that play it. Read this book, and you’ll love the music more.

Foreword II
An Important Word from Dick Pierle


Barry Willis has a passion for bluegrass. Not just the music but the entire lot of what makes up bluegrass as a whole. I also have a passion for bluegrass. The difference between Barry’s passion and mine is that he wrote this book about it. And what a book it is!

My passion for bluegrass started about thirty years ago when I was one of the lucky ones in attendance at that Labor Day horse farm event near Fincastle, Virginia, in 1965, that some refer to as the first bluegrass festival. Since that time I guess I can say that I have had my fair share of bluegrass experiences. When Barry asked me to take a look at his book before it went to the printer, I was delighted to add this task as one more bluegrass experience. What I discovered was extremely "impactual."

The research and interviews in this book are extensive and somehow never give the author a real opportunity to call it quits. I am sure that if he was allowed the space, this book could easily have been five times larger with no end in sight. But he had to stop somewhere and he told me that he was satisfied with what had been assembled. So am I.

Those who read this book in order to find out more about what makes up bluegrass as a whole are going to be pleased and feel more informed, whether they are new to the music or are knowledgeable veterans. Those who read this book who have been around bluegrass as long as, or longer than, I have may have the opportunity to say, "That’s not the way I saw or heard it." This brings me to the point I wish to make about this book:

Bluegrass as a whole is a wonderful world of emotionally-charged experiences. People, being what they are, sometimes, if not most often, see or hear things differently from the way others may recall the same event. The author has done as much as is reasonably possible to bring forth the facts that make this book a rewarding bluegrass experience. The book will be enjoyed by anyone that has a passion for bluegrass. America’s Music: Bluegrass will certainly give everyone in the world of bluegrass something to talk about.

About the Author
Barry R. Willis


I became interested in bluegrass music after listening to country music stations back in the sixties. The music on the radio was okay, but I’d always tune into the station right at the end of the hour before the news when they’d play an upbeat instrumental. Country and western, as you know, has very few of its own instrumentals, so what I listened for were the bluegrass instrumentals. They were uplifting and exciting. I really didn’t know what they were at the time, but I knew I liked them.

I moved around with my family and didn’t come across bluegrass again until after the military and in college in 1973. I bought a Conquerer banjo (it was very pretty) and asked Jack Flippin (near Sherman, Texas) to show me a few things. I bought the Scruggs banjo book, learned a few tunes, bought the "Foggy Mountain Banjo" LP, and was on my way to being hooked.

My other passion is flying. I’ve been an airplane pilot since 1965, professionally since 1974. After stints of flight instruction, charter, Alaskan bush flying, scheduled night freight and commuter airlines, I finally got on with United Airlines as a pilot, where I am a captain today.

I started Folk Music Unlimited in 1982 to promote folk and bluegrass groups in Oregon for a while. I had a syndicated radio show, "Barry’s Bluegrass Show," on two stations and actually made money at it. This ended in 1985.

In late 1985, I read The Big Book of Bluegrass. It filled me with questions about bluegrass and how I could apply what I learned about bluegrass to my radio show, should I ever decide to start another (I never did). A book or pamphlet which started out to be just a deejay helper evolved into what you have in your hands—talk about overkill; I just found it impossible to quit in my search for the truth and in an effort to be as complete as possible. Bluegrass radio show host Wayne Rice later published a booklet just like the one that got me going in the first place. I don’t know how he was able to be so brief. I couldn’t do it. I guess one of the reasons it grew to such length is because I let the artists add to it and change it however they wanted, with the presumption that this was their story—not mine. I wanted to merely act as a vehicle for them to bring their story to you.

The final stages of the production of this book began in 1994 when I solicited the help of Dick Weissman to help me put all these two hundred or so biographies into some sort of cohesive and interesting format. We worked for some time and came up with its existing form and with the decision that I should self-publish; I did.

About the Editor
Dick Weissman, Editor


Dick Weissman is the author of six published books about music and the music business. The Folk Music Sourcebook, co-authored with Larry Sandberg, won the ASCAP Music Critics Award. His other books include: The Music Business: Career Opportunities & Self Defense (Crown, revised ed. 1990) a best seller on the Random House back list and in print for sixteen years. Audio In Advertising (co-author Ron Lockhart), Music Making In America, Survival; Making A Living in Your Local Music Market, and Creating Melodies. He has also written over thirty-five published instructional manuals for banjo, guitar, and on songwriting. He is an Assistant Professor of Music, teaching in the Music Management program at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Dick has a long career as a studio musician, record producer, songwriter, composer and performer. In the sixties, he recorded for Capitol Records in the folk-pop group, The Journeymen. His 1993 album, "New Traditions," is an exploration of the banjo in a variety of unusual contexts. Dick writes: "I’ve always had a great deal of interest in all kinds of American Music. Barry Willis’ project was an enormous challenge because he had so much material. This book could have easily have been two or three times as long as the work you are holding in your hands. My job was to retain the most interesting aspects of the book while eliminating unnecessary repetition. We haven’t shied away from controversy, but occasionally we edited out the statements that seemed particularly unfair or out of date. Because I am not really a bluegrass musician, I feel that I had less investment in specific points of view or attitudes than people totally immersed in the music might possess."


Thank you for your interest.
Jan and Barry Willis

Email us

Jan and Barry Willis
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
(808) 325-0321

Send mail to Jan  with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 1997
Last modified: 08/08/09