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Can't You Hear Me Callin'
The Life of Bill Monroe
By Richard D. Smith
Little, Brown and Company
2000
365 Pages
ISBN:  0-316-80381-2

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Elvis Presley chose one of his songs, "Blue Moon of Kentucky," for his first single. A young Jerry Garcia traveled cross-country to audition for his band. Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, and even Frank Sinatra were fans. Considering the range of stars and styles that claim him as an influence, no single artist has had as broad an impact on American popular music as Bill Monroe.

Born in 1911 in rural Kentucky, Monroe melded the fiddle tunes, ballads, and blues of his youth into the "high lonesome" sound known today as bluegrass, making him perhaps the only performer to create an entire musical genre. His distinctive bluegrass style profoundly influenced country, early rock 'n' roll, and the folk revival of the 1960s. A Grand Ole Opry star for more than sixty years, Monroe was a searing mandolinist who redefined the instrument, a haunting high-range vocalist, and a god-like figure to generations of admirers who became famous in their own right.

When Monroe died in 1996, he was universally acclaimed as "the Father of Bluegrass," but the personal life of this taciturn figure remained largely unknown. His childhood feelings of isolation and abandonment - "lonesomeness" he called it - fueled his reckless womanizing in adulthood and inspired his most powerful compositions. From his professional breakthrough in the Monroe Brothers duet act to his bitter rivalry with former sidemen Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to his final days as a revered elder statesman of bluegrass, Monroe's career was filled with trials and triumphs. Now, veteran bluegrass journalist Richard D. Smith has interviewed a multitude of Monroe's surviving friends, lovers, colleagues, and contemporaries to create a three-dimensional portrait of this brilliant, complex, and contradictory man. Compellingly narrated and thoroughly researched, Can't You Hear Me Callin' is the definitive biography of a true giant of American music.

  • Richard D. Smith is a journalist whose work has appeared in a number of national publications, including the New York Times, Bloomberg magazine, and the Journal of Country Music. The author of Bluegrass: An Informal Guide, he is also a reviewer for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine and plays mandolin and guitar. He lives in Rocky Hill, New Jersey.