Univ. of Illinois Press 9780252082764. Paperback, 200 pp, b/w photos, $19.95. (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1325 S. Oak St., Champaign, IL 61820, press.uillinois.edu.)
Fans know the professional life of Jimmy Martin from his years on stage and on record, but in this behind-the-scenes account (audio book also available), they’ll read a straightforward portrayal of the bluegrass icon’s personal life.
Barbara Martin Stephens, who lived with the King of Bluegrass for years, bore four of his children and served as his booking agent and promoter. She tells her involvement with Martin, including surviving years of domestic abuse and his numerous infidelities. Yet, she also writes about his insecurity: “Jimmy was the type of person who couldn’t bear having anyone telling him anything. I think he believed people thought he was dumb because of his lack of education. There was nothing further from the truth. Jimmy was a smart man in many ways.” She mentions his generosity at times: “There were times I was with him when we learned about musicians in financial trouble, who were about to lose their houses. He would tell me to call and tell them he could lend them money to save their house.”
Stephens goes on to theorize why this early bluegrass pioneer was never granted membership on the Grand Ole Opryand also reflects on their life together with the Osborne Brothers and J.D. Crowe. After reading this book, fans should have a broader knowledge of Martin’s flamboyant personality and the complex, conflicted character he displayed away from the spotlight.BC