Bluegrass Unlimited is a monthly magazine dedicated to the furtherance of bluegrass and old-time musicians, devotees and associates. The magazine was first published in 1966 and is considered the premier magazine for bluegrass music. Founded by Pete and Marion Kuykendall, the magazine moved from an informal to a full-time operation in the fall of 1970. The 1996 International Bluegrass Hall of Fame citation inducting Pete Kuykendall says that Bluegrass Unlimited magazine is “a publication affectionately referred to as the ‘bible of bluegrass music’”.
Bluegrass Unlimited is a monthly music magazine that is dedicated to the furtherance of bluegrass and old-time musicians, devotees and associates. The magazine was first published in 1966 and as of 2008 the magazine had a circulation of more than 25,000 copies and is widely considered the premier magazine for bluegrass music. Bluegrass Unlimited is a founding member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IMBA).
Folklorist and music scholar Neil V. Rosenberg, in Bluegrass: A History, sets out the history of Bluegrass Unlimited and thereafter notes its prominence and influence as the oldest of the nationally distributed bluegrass magazines. The magazine launched in 1966, in a typed, mimeographed 7x8.5 inch booklet-like format with a hand drawn logo, and was available for $3 per year. In the fall of 1970, the magazine moved from an informal to a full-time operation with “new publishers”, Pete and Marion Kuykendall, upgrading it to a larger, standard format on glossy paper. The current U.S. subscription rate is $25 per year and the magazine is full-color and printed on high-speed web offset presses.
As music historian Bill C. Monroe observed, Bluegrass Unlimited magazine was initially devoted primarily to bluegrass music in the USA and abroad with occasional reference to old-time country music. It is now a treasure trove of information on every phase of bluegrass and old-time music – biographical articles, discographies, record and book reviews, concert and festival dates, interviews, classified ads, and songs. “Bluegrass Unlimited has always been a thorough compendium of material on bluegrass and old-time music.”
Speaking of founder Pete Kuykendall and the influence of Bluegrass Unlimited, David Freeman, owner of Rebel Records and County Records, said: “When the magazine started publishing, bluegrass was pretty much at a low point. The magazine spread the word and highlighted the artistic aspect of the music, which helped to bring it out of the bars where it was in the 1950s. Without him I don’t know where the bluegrass industry would be today.”
The 1996 International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame citation inducting Pete Kuykendall says that Bluegrass Unlimited magazine is “a publication affectionately referred to as the ‘bible of bluegrass music’”.
Legendary banjo player Kyle Creed came from a musical family in Surry County, North Carolina. He began creating banjos at the age of 16 and soon had a list of orders for his custom designs from throughout the United States, Canada, England, Australia and Japan. Kyle was an innovator in banjo building. His innovative ideas, experiments, and playing skills have impacted the old-time banjo builders and players throughout the world. All the banjos Kyle built, around 200, are highly sought after by players and collectors today because of their uniqueness, sound and playability. A fretless banjo that Kyle built especially for Fred Cockerham was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in June 1988.
He has been referred to as “A Legendary Banjo Player”. Kyle Creed (1912-1982) lived at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Surry County, North Carolina. Coming from a musical family and being surrounded by old time music, he was just as adept at playing the fiddle as the banjo.
As a young man, Kyle married Percy Hicks (1912-1999) and had two daughters. He was skilled at saw mill operations, carpentry, and stone masonry. At times he found it necessary to relocate his family to different parts of the country in order to follow his occupation.Kyle and Percy moved to Galax, Virginia area in Carroll County in 1960 where they bought a country store. Moving back near his musical roots of North Carolina, he reunited with his “old music buddies” from the 30s and 40s. Together with Paul Sutphin, Earnest East, Fred Cockerham, Verlin Clifton and Ronald Collins, Kyle formed the “Camp Creek Boys” old time music band and began making numerous recordings.
At age 16 Kyle crafted his first banjo using tools and material available to him at the time. Repairing musical instruments and building personal banjos was the beginning of a new career. Soon he had a list of orders for his custom made banjos to be shipped throughout the United States, Canada, England, Australia and Japan.
Kyle Creed was an innovator in banjo building, as well as a talented banjo and fiddle player. He excelled in his trade as a carpenter which aided his craftsmanship abilities. With his excellent banjo playing in the clawhammer and the older two-finger picking styles he knew the qualities that were most desirable in an old-time banjo. While growing up he had noticed that the fretless banjo played by the older musicians in the area had the bridge located toward the center of the banjo head. Thus, he came up with a formula to shorten the scale length of the banjo and bring the bridge toward the center of the head. Today the shorter scale length is considered very desirable by most open back banjo players and is used by open back banjo builders around the world. He also retro-fitted tenor banjo rims with his 5-string necks, built a few resonator banjos, came up with his own tone rings from brass and bronze and a few of his own peg head designs. He liked to experiment and built some banjos with 11 and 12 inch heads. He designed his own two sided finger pick that slips over the first finger to enable him to pick upwards or down. The pick was cut from the brass of a model T Ford headlight reflector in the shape of a “T” and then shaped to fit over and around the finger.
Being a saw miller, Kyle knew about the particular characteristics of different types of wood. He used local wood in his banjo building process; maple, curly maple, apple, wild cherry, black walnut and dogwood. Sometimes he used table top formica on the fingerboard and pegheads. Using the formica on the fretted banjo fingerboard was time consuming and tedious fitting between the frets and was much easier on the fretless since the fingerboard was cut in one piece. The fretless banjo players like the formica fingerboard because it enables them to slide their fingers to note. A fretless banjo built by Kyle especially for Fred Cockerham was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. Fred’s family made the presentation in June 1988.
Kyle’s innovative ideas, experiments and playing skills have impacted the old-time banjo builders and players throughout the world. All the banjos Kyle built, just under 200, are highly sought after by players and collectors today because of their uniqueness, sound and playability.
Part of the dynamic duo of Flatt and Scruggs, Lester Flatt helped to define the sound of traditional bluegrass music. Besides being well known for his singing and guitar playing abilities with such highly acclaimed groups as the Kentucky Pardners, Blue Grass Boys, Flatt and Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys and the Nashville Grass, Lester Flatt is also remembered for his library of compositions. The Flatt songbook looms titanic for any student of American acoustic music. Some of the songs Flatt wrote through the years were “My Cabin in Caroline,” “Come Back Darling,” “I’ll Never Shed Another Tear,” “Down the Road,” “Head Over Heels in Love with You”, and many others.
Lester Flatt was born in Tennessee in 1914 and learned to play banjo from his father at an early age. He didn't particularly like the banjo, so he quit that to pick up guitar before he was seven. By ten years old, Flatt was playing guitar and singing in local schools and churches.
As a teenager, he moved to North Carolina to work in a silk mill. While there, he married his wife, Gladys, with whom he began performing as a duo. When the mill shut down, the Flatts returned to Tennessee for a short time before moving to Virginia. As the result of a bout with rheumatoid arthritis, Flatt quit the mill permanently to focus on a career in music.
He played with a handful of groups before being invited by Charlie Monroe to join the Kentucky Pardners in North Carolina. Charlie had Flatt playing mandolin and singing tenor, niether of which pleased Flatt too much. Upon finally leaving the Kentucky Pardners, Charlie's brother Bill Monroe immediately invited Flatt to join his Blue Grass Boys as a guitar player and lead singer. His first gig with the band was in 1945 at the Grand Ole Opry, with no prior rehearsal.
Soon after, banjo player Earl Scruggs joined the Boys, as well, and the group surged to popularity, holding down a rigorous tour schedule for nearly three years. Tired of the road, Scruggs left the band in 1948, followed soon after by Flatt and Cedric Rainwater.
Together, the three formed Flatt & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Boys, who became one of the most influential bands in the genre. Flatt and Scruggs continued to perform together until 1969, when they went their separate ways. Lester formed the Nashville Grass, hiring most of the Foggy Mountain Boys, with whom he played for ten years before his death on May 11, 1979.
His role as lead singer and rhythm guitar player in each of these seminal ensembles helped define the sound of traditional bluegrass music. He is also remembered for his library of compositions. The Flatt songbook looms titanic for any student of American acoustic music.
Norman Blake was born in Tennessee and raised in Georgia. At the age of 16, he began to play mandolin in a band and music has been the focus of his life ever since. Playing multiple instruments including the guitar, dobro, fiddle and mandolin, Norman Blake has toured with June Carter’s road group, Johnny Cash’s band, Kris Kristofferson’s road group, Joan Baez, and John Hartford’s Aeroplane Band. He has recorded with Bob Dylan on “The Nashville Skyline” album and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle be Unbroken” album. Norman and his wife, Nancy, have been nominated for two grammys in the “Best Traditional Folk Recording of the Year” category in 1989 and 1992.
Norman Blake, born March 10, 1938 in Chattanooga, TN, grew up in Sulphur Springs and Rising Fawn, GA. He quit school at the age of 16 to play mandolin in a band, and music has been the focus of his life ever since.
His first band, The Dixie Drifters, played the Tennessee Barndance on KNOX Radio in Knoxville, TN. Later, they went to WDOD Radio, and from there to WROM-TV in Rome, GA where they stayed until 1956. Norman then worked with banjoist Bob Johnson as The Lonesome Travelers. They joined with Walter Forbes in making two records for RCA. In 1959, Norman left those groups to go with Hylo Brown and the Timberliners, although he continued as a duet with Bob Johnson in making several guest appearances on WSM's Grand Ole Opry.
At that time, Norman was drafted and stationed in the Panama Canal as a radio operator. There he formed the Fort Kobbe Mountaineers, a bluegrass band in which Norman played the fiddle and mandolin. They were voted Best Instrumental Group of the Caribbean Command, with Norman voted Best Instrumentalist.
Upon returning to the United States, Norman taught guitar to as many as 150 students weekly, and played the fiddle in a country and western dance band three and four nights a week. He also made frequent trips to Nashville to play sessions and, for a time, played as a member of June Carter's road group.
In 1969, Norman moved to Nashville to do the Johnny Cash Summer TV show, in which he played the guitar and dobro as a member of Cash's group. Along with country and western sessions, Norman recorded with Bob Dylan on The Nashville Skyline album. He was a member of Kris Kristofferson's first road group, playing guitar and dobro, and did a seasonal tour with Joan Baez, playing mandolin, guitar, and dobro; Norman recorded with both groups. He left Kristofferson to join and record with John Hartford's Aeroplane Band. After that band dissolved, Norman toured with John Hartford as his accompanist for 1 1/2 years, during which time he recorded his first solo album, Home in Sulphur Springs. He also received a gold record for his participation on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's legendary, Will the Circle be Unbroken album. After a nine-month tour with the Red, White and Blue(grass), he left to go back on his own where he has been ever since.
In the ensuing years, Norman and his wife Nancy Blake have toured extensively, playing to larger and more dedicated audiences. Again, Frets Magazine Readers Poll Awards voted Norman first place, this time in the category of Best Multi-Instrumentalist of 1986. In 1989, the Blakes received Grammy nominations for "Best Traditional Folk Recording of the Year" on their duet record, Blind Dog, and again in 1992 in the same category for their Shanachie debut Just Gimme Something I'm Used To.
A San Francisco Examiner music critic wrote, "What Blake does is important, of course - but the glory of his string sounds, the Tennessee-Georgia twangy drawl of his vocals and the awesome blend of the Blakes' instruments produces an American music of incomparable purity and integrity."
The Stoneman Family originated with Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman who learned to play guitar, autoharp, banjo and harmonica. His fiddle-playing wife Hattie began performing with “Pop” in the 1920s. “Pop” and Hattie’s children grew up learning how to play various instruments and after World War II the Stoneman Family began entertaining together. They became a popular touring act and appeared on various network television shows in the early 1960s. From 1966 through 1968, the Stonemans hosted their own television series. In 1967, the Country Music Association voted the Stoneman Family the Vocal Group of the Year. All of the Stoneman children were excellent musicians and won awards and accolades throughout their lives.
The Stoneman Family originated with Ernest V. ‘Pop’ Stoneman (1893-1968) who learned to play guitar, autoharp, banjo and harmonica and showed a talent for quickly learning songs that he either heard or read in early songbooks. He worked in cotton mills, coalmines and as a carpenter in various parts of the area. He traveled to New York where, providing his own autoharp and harmonica backings, he auditioned for Columbia Records and OKeh Records. He made his first recordings for Okeh in September 1924, including his million-seller, ‘The Sinking Of The Titanic’. It proved to be one of the biggest hits of the 20s and has since been recorded by many artists, including Roy Acuff. The records sold well enough and further sessions soon followed; on one he was accompanied by Emmett Lundy, a noted Virginian fiddler, and on occasions, he recorded with his fiddle-playing wife Hattie Stoneman (1900-1976). In 1926, he recorded for RCA - Victor Records with his first band the Dixie Mountaineers and later with the Blue Ridge Cornshuckers. In the following years many recordings were made, which saw release on various labels, some under pseudonyms such as Slim Harris, Ernest Johnson, Uncle Ben Hawkins and Jim Seaney. In July 1927, he recorded at the noted sessions at Bristol, Tennessee, where Ralph Peer also recorded the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Owing to the Depression, he did not record between 1929 and 1933, but even so he had proved so popular that between 1925 and 1934, he had still recorded over 200 songs. Some recordings were with other musicians, including his banjoist cousin George Stoneman, fiddlers Alex ‘Uncle Eck’ Dunford and Kahle Brewer and on his last pre-World War II session in 1934, he was accompanied by his eldest son Eddie, who played banjo and took some vocals. In 1931, financially insecure in spite of the earnings from record sales, he moved to Washington DC to support his family. Some of the children learned to play instruments during childhood and when, after the war, he gradually began to return to entertaining, his band was made up of his wife and their own children.
A winning appearance on a television quiz show in 1956 led him to reactivate his career. With his wife and five of his children, he recorded again (on Folkways Records) in 1957. After adding some contemporary country and bluegrass music to the old-time and folk songs that he had always performed, the Stoneman Family became a popular touring act. They played on the Grand Ole Opry in 1962 and even appeared at Fillmore West in San Francisco, America’s first psychedelic ballroom. In 1964, they moved their home to California, where they became active on the west coast folk scene and appeared at the prestigious Monterey Folk Festival. They also played on various network television shows in the 60s, including the Jimmy Dean TV Variety Show, and between 1966 and 1968, they hosted their own series. At this time, the group consisted of Pop (autoharp, guitar), Scotty (1933-1973: fiddle), Van Haden (1941-1995; guitar), Donna (mandolin), Roni (banjo) and Jimmy (1937-2002; bass). They had five minor hits with recordings on MGM Records in the late 60s but later recorded for other labels including Starday and RCA. In 1967, the Country Music Association voted the Stoneman Family the Vocal Group Of The Year. Ernest Stoneman made his last recordings on April 11th of 1968, and continued to perform with the group almost up to his death. He was in all probability the first person ever to record using an autoharp and he is well remembered by exponents for his ability to play the melody line, instead of merely playing chords, the standard method of playing the instrument, even by its inventor. He is also accepted as being the only country musician to record on both Edison cylinders and modern stereo albums and he was also the leading performer of string-band music in the Galax area of Virginia.
After ‘Pop’ Stoneman’s death, his daughter Patti (autoharp) gave up her solo career to join with Donna, Roni, Van and Jimmy and as the Stoneman Family, they continued to play his music and toured all over the USA and Europe. Scotty Stoneman, who also worked with the Blue Grass Champs and the Kentucky Colonels, won many fiddle competitions, including the national contest on several occasions and at the time of his death, in 1973, he was rated one of the world’s finest bluegrass fiddle players. Hattie Stoneman, who first recorded in 1925, died in hospital aged 75. In later years, Donna left to concentrate on gospel music, and Roni became a featured star of the television show Hee Haw. Patti, Jimmy and Van continued to play as the Stoneman Family. Another brother John (1923-2001; autoharp) was one of the original members of the family group but later in life become a farmer. Twin brothers Gene (1930-2005) and Dean (1930-1989) performed for a time in the Maryland area as the Stoneman Brothers, until Dean formed his Vintage Bluegrass band. In 1981, several members of the family reunited to record a special album.