Note: This is the second review of Gene Lowinger’s newly released book, “I Hear a Voice Calling: A Bluegrass Memoir.” We rarely print two reviews of a book or CD. However, since both were submitted to us, we have made an exception. We hope that this second review will inspire you to join the author, Gene Lowinger, at the Barnes & Noble book-signing “Day of Bluegrass” on October 3.
As a “perspiring” musician and long time photographer, I thoroughly enjoyed this imminently readable and wonderfully illustrated memoir. I recommend it highly to every bluegrass fan and musician, particularly those who drag a bow across strings. Further, anyone who has ever peered through a lens focused on their favorite musician–bluegrass or not–will appreciate the challenge of candid photography, as well as capturing performing musicians. The photos and text combine to personalize the author’s love of music and photography. This book will not disappoint.
The story begins by relating fiddler Gene Lowinger’s life as a young, budding musician seeking out the music he loves at regional bluegrass festivals and his evolution as a “Bluegrass Boy” with Bill Monroe. Most of the photographs are through Lowinger’s eye. Priceless vintage photos from as early as 1963 of Gene in various musical ensembles, as well as other genre luminaries, including Flatt & Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Bill Keith, David Grisman, and Ralph & Carter Stanley provide an inside look into the 1960s Bluegrass scene.
Lowinger indicates that he made the early photos with no intention of publication. Fortunately, they survived the years to be scanned and presented to us. The first (early) set of photos was made with what he describes as a 35mm camera that would be considered today “point and shoot” and has included some photos that he feels are “mediocre” in order to put the story in perspective. In my opinion, these photos by no means suffer a lack of quality and no excuses are necessary as they add much value to the overall message of the book and document life at festivals, jam sessions, and behind the scenes.
To bring the circle round, the later text describes Lowinger’s struggles to reinvent himself post-Monroe. A second set of photos was taken about 30 years later and after Lowinger left Monroe’s band to pursue other interests, including formal training in classical music, a day job in computers, and coursework in photography, which led to a stint in photojournalism and assignments in Moscow. These images capture the rarely seen side of Monroe as few, if any, photographs have, and include several images of Monroe–sans his trademark hat!
Gene Lowinger is extraordinarily talented–both as a musician, writer, and photographer. With entertaining and often humorous anecdotes, his clear, crisp writing brings to life his relationship with Monroe. This Renaissance Man’s life’s journey is an amazing story and an inspiration in hope and perseverence. Gene has, in many ways, reached the holy grail by working at his art so diligently as to fiddle alongside Bill Monroe. That alone puts Lowinger in an elite group. However to earn the trust and respect of such a private man and tough taskmaster as Bill Monroe has put Gene Lowinger in the unique position to share with us through the art of photography a most intimate side of Monroe.
Thanks, Gene, for sharing your story and photos with us.