24 October 2019

Book report: John Duffey's bluegrass life (and Irish roots)

John Duffey’s bluegrass life: featuring the Country Gentlemen, Seldom Scene, and Washington DC. By Stephen Moore and G.T. Keplinger, with a foreword by Tom Gray. Booklocker, 2019. 420 pp, fifty monochrome photos.

This is not a review - I bought the book because of interest in the subject and am writing now about how it impressed me. Chris Stuart reviewed it in Bluegrass Unlimited for Oct. 2019, and wrote: 'I can recommend this book whole-heartedly... I rarely use the word “essential” in reviews, but this one has earned it', and I agree.

A copy-editor will spot the odd slip, most visible in names (e.g. 'John Fortster' for 'Nick Forster', 'Marty Stewart', 'Ronnie Dillard'), but that's a featherweight against the tons of information and anecdote from and about John Duffey himself and practically everyone involved with him, and the light these throw not only on Duffey's own multi-faceted personality but on the internal workings of the Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene, and the factors that produced their distinctive and very influential sounds.

Ads for the book draw attention to 'Duffey's Irish roots', examined in an appendix by Robert Kyle, whose opening sentence is likely to please many BIB readers:

John's wit, smile, personality, story-telling and love of music left no doubt his ancestors were Irish.

Not all of them were, though. The earliest to be named is his great-great-grandfather John M. Duffey, born 1770 in Pennsylvania. John M.'s wife was Catherine Waldeck, born in Maryland of German parents. John (1811-89), son of John M. and Catherine, had two successive wives, Catherine Raimer and Arthalinda Bauers; both names may indicate German origin. So John Humbird Duffey jr (1934-96) had some German ancestry, whether it showed itself or not.

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