A Review -- I just completed a mighty fine read - Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe written by the late Marty Godbey. The first thought that comes to mind is "What an enjoyable book to read." This book is superbly written and once you start, you just can't put it down. From beginning to end, author Marty Godbey takes you inside the inner circles of bluegrass from its early beginnings through today as she carefully takes you on a journey of the legendary artist, J.D. Crowe.
The first thing one notices in this book is that you instantly become an "insider" as Godbey takes you to all the places J.D. evolved in and how all the influences of many artists are all intertwined. The verbal scenery is as if you are actually there witnessing a legend being born as Godbey takes you on a magical journey through time.
The descriptive circle of influences is infinite and never ends as bands and circumstances bring different artists together in unique and exciting ways of listening, seeing and learning from each other through each other's journeys through life. The way it is written is just so personal that one can easily picture the scenes as the reader learns about Crowe along the way.
The essence of this book is that it flows without effort. The story evolves as naturally as J.D.'s playing of the banjo. One could easily say that this book also has great tone. The story flows from J.D. to other artists like Jimmy Martin in a manner that brings you closer to the others that influenced Crowe.
Godbey takes you into the smoky bars, less than desirable neighborhoods, Japan and even the Holiday Inn as she share's Crowes environment that he evolved in. Mixed with that physical places are the other artists that he encountered along the way and even those who he was fortunate enough to perform with.
The banjo is central to the theme and again, the professional thoroughness is perfect. The evolution of Crowe and his Gibson banjos as well as the instruments themselves are covered with ease and in a way that is fitting and proper.
The supplemental material is awesome and the only sad part is that the actual music couldn't be included to let the reader hear and experience Crowe -- whether for the first time of hundredth. Those lucky enough to have some of Crowe's early works and the essential Rounder 0044 Old Home Place albums will want to get those out and relive their experience after reading this book.
It is often said through the volume that J.D.' playing is "as good as it gets" and Marty's book shares that emotion. As the first biography of the legend known as J.D. Crowe, this too is as good as it gets.
The book ordering information is now on the University of Illinois Press catalog web page. The volume is 272 pages including 25 black & white photographs. The book is "A musical biography of one of bluegrass's true pioneers." This is just another addition to the University's Music in American Life series which has included works on the National Barn Dance, Bluegrass legend Hazel Dickens, Bluegrass Odyssey, Bill Monroe, WSM and others who were either a part of bluegrass, influenced by bluegrass or the roots of the genre.