It's finally here! After 11 years in the making the DVD documentary Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in Their Own Words has been released to anxiously awaiting bluegrass music fans. This labor of love by James Reams went through a whole gamut of production interruptions, any one of which would have stopped a less dedicated producer.
When James decided to start shooting at the Grand Opening of the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, KY, he had no idea that over the next decade he would suffer many personal losses including the death of his long time partner Tina Aridas, his early collaborator Walter Hensley, and most recently, his mother, before the film was finally completed.
In the process, computer glitches resulted in clips being lost or having to be re-edited to the point that funds finally ran out on the project. When it looked like these interviews would never see the light of day, James decided to send out an appeal through Kickstarter to generate the final funding to "git 'er done!" And the fans came through for him. The modest funding goal was reached, final editing completed, and now...drum roll, please...the film is only available for purchase online through CDBaby, by mail order to James Reams (click here for the order form) or from the gift shop at the International Bluegrass Music Museum. Don't wait...get your copy today!
James comments on Pioneers of Bluegrass Music saying, "In early 2002, I was sitting in my office in Brooklyn and realized what a loss the bluegrass community had suffered recently with the deaths of so many legends like Benny Martin, Jim McReynolds, Ola Belle Reed, Pappy Sherrill, Jimmy Stoneman, John Hartford, and Bill Napier to name a few. I remember saying to my partner, Tina, 'It’s a shame that all of these pioneers of bluegrass music are passing away and their stories may never be told.' And we got to thinking about all the unsung heroes of bluegrass that have died, with barely a ripple in music circles. What stories would they have told about the early days, about the big name stars, about their love of this music? So we thought it would be amazing to be able to talk to some of the remaining pioneers and share their thoughts and insights with future generations."
One of the most important excerpts from this film is an interview with Patsy and Donna Stoneman from the Stoneman Family. Few people realize that before the Carter family, there was Ernest “Pop” Stoneman, his wife Hattie, and their family. Their music spanned old time country music to what eventually became known as bluegrass. The Bristol, TN sessions from 1927 are often credited as the earliest country recordings. But starting back in 1924, Ernest Stoneman had already cut two unissued songs for Okeh Records followed by more than 100 other recordings over the next 3 years, including string band standards such as Old Joe Clark, John Hardy, Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, Wild Bill Jones, The Long Eared Mule, and Going Up Cripple Creek — all prior to the Bristol recordings. Patsy and Donna were visibly upset because Poppa Stoneman wasn’t even in the Country Music Hall of Fame [he was finally inducted in 2008]. They worried that the entire legacy of the Stoneman Family would be forgotten and were anxious to talk to me...to preserve their family history.
Reams remembers sitting on the porch of a log cabin in Pennsylvania with Kenny Baker talking about his music and realizing that his story and his association with Bill Monroe is just as important as Bill Monroe’s story. Kenny worked with Bill for over 25 years, playing longer than anyone else as a Blue Grass Boy, before moving on to release albums of his own. His insights into Bill Monroe’s music and the tunes that he helped Bill create, like Jerusalem Ridge, are some of the rare gems collected by this film.
Driving down winding roads back into the hills and bouncing through creeks to interview some of these reclusive musicians, he was struck by how many of them felt that nobody was interested in their story. To see their eyes light up as they talked about their contribution to music they love made it all so real to Reams. Time after time, they reiterated that one man didn’t create this genre, it was born from the dedication of many old time musicians that took their licks and gave them right back again in the form of their music.