In the spring of 1966, a small group of Washington, D.C. area bluegrass fans came together for a very important meeting. The group, including Pete Kuykendall, Gary Henderson, Dianne Sims, Dick Spottswood and Dick Freeland, were upset after discovering that the Stanley Brothers had made an appearance at a local bar unknown to anyone outside the club’s regular patrons. They were devastated and called all their friends. No one knew the Stanleys had been in the area, and they felt cheated.
The main agenda for the meeting was to discuss producing a newsletter to keep the bluegrass faithful in the area up-to-date on band appearances. As the discussion continued, they decided it would also be good to included articles and record reviews, since little info was available concerning bluegrass at that time.
Dianne Sims purchased a used mimeograph machine and volunteered her secretarial skills. Pete Kuykendall, who had published earlier articles on bluegrass artists for Disc Collector magazine was there to help, as were Gary Henderson with WDON, Dick Spottswood of Melodeon Records, Dick Freeland with Rebel Records and Dianne’s husband, Vince Sims. In the early days, this core group handled the gathering of information and overall writing of the magazine, with Spottswood and Henderson serving as editors.
Bluegrass Unlimited, Volume 1, Number 1, a nine-page edition dated July 1966, was printed and circulated among friends at nearby bluegrass music events and at a big one-day bluegrass show held in Warrenton, Va. In January 1967, the newsletter published its first cover photo, a picture honoring Carter Stanley who had passed in December 1966. That same year, the workload had increased to the point that more help was needed and friends were called in. By the August 1967 issue, Wayne Borden, John Duffey, Alice Gerrard, John Kaparakis, Tom and Mary Morgan, Keith Russell, Joan Shagan, Walt Saunders, Lola Emerson, June Mitchell and George McCeney had been enlisted for support. Things were going well and by October 1968 circulation had reached 1,400. At the end of 1969, Dianne Sims left and after Alice Gerrard filled in temporarily, she was replaced by Sally Gray.
In 1970, Pete Kuykendall took over publication of the magazine full-time. He had received a substantial royalty check via his music publishing company, courtesy of Cream’s recording of an old Skip James composition to which he had the publishing rights. His late wife Marion joined as business manager to ensure the administrative chores were covered. Then, with gradual upgrades, by 1977 the magazine evolved from the stapled-in-the-corner mimeograph form to an offset press production allowing for more photos, printed ads, improved typesetting and style, and the use of full color. The magazine is now handled via computer set-up with all files for printing being sent electronically.
Pete put together a hardworking staff and a network of freelance writers whose contributions are the backbone of the magazine. He transformed the magazine from a quaint newsletter to a professionally produced journal that appears in thousands of mailboxes worldwide each month. Sadly, for the bluegrass community the magazine lost Pete on August 24th, 2017. His wife Kitsy Kuykendall and his dedicated staff hope to continue Pete’s legacy for as long as possible, vowing to keep the magazine “dedicated to the furtherance of bluegrass music”.