A photographic tribute to some of the pioneers and biggest names in bluegrass music is included in a new book about the genre that started right here in the commonwealth.
"Kentucky's Bluegrass Music," part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, has just been published by James C. Claypool, professor emeritus at Northern Kentucky University.
Claypool, who speaks regularly for the Kentucky Humanities Council, researched and developed a talk about Kentucky's music history a few years ago, which prompted a curiosity about Bluegrass music. But it was about four years ago when Claypool was aboard the Delta Queen for a speaking engagement when he heard and met the bluegrass group the Steep Canyon Rangers, when he really turned into a fan.
The group, named Emerging Bluegrass Group of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2006, became fast friends with Claypool, who they now refer to as Ranger Jim.
"Their music is so good it will make your heart race," said Claypool. "And besides being great musicians, as I got to know them they introduced me to people with bluegrass music connections who were able to help me with this book."
The book, which includes about 200 photos, some dating back as early as 1918, were compiled from sources nationwide. Claypool said many have never before been seen in print.
By meeting with and obtaining photos from such big names in the business as J.D. Crowe, Charlie Sizemore and Dale Ann Bradley, Claypool amassed quite a collection.
His most prized photo is of Richard Burnett, the composer of "The Farewell Song," also known as "I am a Man of Constant Sorrow," which was used as the theme song to the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"
"This photo of Burnett is one of three known to exist," said Claypool. "Burnett wrote the song, but Carter Stanley got the copyright, so Burnett did not make a dime off it."
Claypool, 71, who taught history at NKU for 32 years, says there are many things about Bluegrass music that make it enjoyable.
"It has a great harmony. It is played by masters of their instruments. The tempo and beat go at least three times as fast as country music, and the chorus is easily learned so you can always sing along."
Claypool has authored eight books and served as co-editor of "The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky," but this is his first book on music.
"This music just moves you," he said. "You can't help but tap your foot to it."