IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN: A MUSICAL ODYSSEY
BY JIM ROONEY
University of Illinois Press 9780252079818. Paperback, 321 pp., $24.95. (University of Illinois Press, 1325 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820, www.press.uillinois.edu.)
Just how important is Jim Rooney—singer, songwriter, show promoter, record producer, and author—in the history of bluegrass, folk, and folk/country music?
Just browse through the index of his story-packed and densely-populated autobiography In It For The Long Run. You’ll find not idle name-dropping, but a roster of figures who Rooney has known well and/or worked with closely. These include, to name but a scant few, Bill Monroe (Rooney wrote the first Monroe biography, Bossmen), Bill Keith (a college friend with whom he performed and recorded, as Keith perfected his innovative melodic banjo style), the Lilly Brothers, Don Stover, Tex Logan, Peter Rowan, and Joe Val (all major players in the vibrant New England bluegrass community of which Rooney was also a stalwart), Joan Baez, Taj Mahal, Tom Rush, Buffy Ste. Marie, Jim Kweskin, Geoff Muldaur and Eric Von Schmidt (of the equally important 1960s Boston-Cambridge folk scene and Rooney and Von Schmidt’s 1979 book Baby Let Me Follow You Down is an invaluable document of that heady era), and a pantheon of other greats including Doc Watson, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Béla Fleck, Nanci Griffith, Iris Dement, Don Everly, and many, many more.
It’s indeed been a long run, starting way back in 1951 when Rooney, then a 13-year-old in Dedham, Mass., first heard “hillbilly” music on a regional radio show. As he writes in his engaging style, at the sound of a fiddle and banjo, “My Irish genes woke from their slumber and started jangling.” From there, Jim embarked on a musical odyssey worthy of one of the Greek heroes he later studied as a university Classics scholar. He experienced smooth sailing and storm-thrashed seas, prosperous reigns and grueling labors, loves and losses, cherished moments, and miserable frustrations. But there’s been music, music, music throughout. And that’s the emphasis here—on the artists and attractions, the shows and recording sessions, all recalled honestly, but affectionately, with no scores to settle.
Jim Rooney tended American roots music during its modern flowerings. You can enter his life’s garden sequentially with such lively opening chapters as: “Beats and Bluegrass at Amherst.” Or just wander down the index rows and jump into fields of interest. Either way, In It For The Long Run is a substantial history, as lived and recalled by a grand character.RDS