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Bluegrass Odyssey: A Documentary in Pictures and Words, 1966-86

By Carl Fleischhauer and Neil V. Rosenberg

University of Illinois Press, 208 pages, $24.95 paperback

Reviewed by C. Eric Banister, July 2007

Find it on Amazon
The subtitle of this collaboration between photographer Carl Fleischhauer and historian Neil V. Rosenberg serves as a nice summation of the project: "A Dsocumentary in Pictures and Words, 1966-86."

When Fleischhauer and Rosenberg first met as students at Ohio 's Oberlin College in the early 1960s, they discovered a mutual love for bluegrass music and became fast friends and picking partners. Within a few years, they completed college and went their separate ways - Fleischhauer remaining in Ohio and Rosenberg movin to Indiana.

Rosenberg's move to Indiana University put him in close proximity to Brown County, Ind., the home of Bean Blossom and the Brown County Jamboree, the music park owned by Bill Monroe. Through local jam sessions, Rosenberg became acquainted with the musicians who frequented the park, soon becoming a member of the house band and eventually manager of the park in 1963. He continued to write on the topic of bluegrass for academic journals while finishing his graduate degree.

As he relates in the introduction, an editor at the University of Illinois Press encouraged him to submit a book on bluegrass for publication and his mind went immediately to his old friend Fleischhauer, who by this time had become a respected photographer in the bluegrass world. Both together and separately, they set out on field trips to capture the people and artists of the genre in both words and pictures.

The book is divided into five sections representing an aspect of the bluegrass culture: intensity, destination, transaction, community and family. Each section begins with an essay by Rosenberg that explains this aspect of the culture and those who thrive in it. Fleischhauer's photographs then complete the chapter.

Containing 203 photos in its 208 pages, "Bluegrass Odyssey" serves as a family album for the kinship of bluegrass artists. Rarely seen photos of artists such as Keith Whitley singing with Curly Ray Cline a song spoofing their then boss Ralph Stanley, a very young Marty Stuart sharing a joke with the jovial Sonny Osborne, Linda Ronstadt sitting in with the Seldom Scene at the Birchmere and Rosenberg having a discussion with the late Charles K. Wolfe and the late John Hartford offer a glimpse into the world of bluegrass at a crossroads of emerging new bands and the passing of the first generation.

A sixth section departs from the cultural theme a bit and focuses on the "Father of Bluegrass," Bill Monroe. Entitled "The Monroe Myth" it focuses on the most important man in the genre sharing a glimpse of the man in a variety of situations as well as photos of family, his childhood homestead and a parade rolling through Rosine, Ky, his birthplace.

Whether a longtime fan or a fan new to the music, "Bluegrass Odyssey" will give insight into the people who create the music adored by many.