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If Trouble Don't Kill Me: A Family's Story of Brotherhood, War, and Bluegrass Hardcover – August 10, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307463060
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307463067
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Berrier, an award-winning journalist for the Roanoke Times tells the fascinating story of his grandfather Clayton and great-uncle Saford Hall, two Virginia musicians who were playing bluegrass before the term was even coined. The Halls played together until Saford's death in 1999 (he performed his last gig just months before with the help of oxygen), but it was ultimately the draft that cut their promising career short. Before WWII, the band they were part of had played for thousands, released records, and were heard six days a week on regional radio programs; after the war their careers stalled and the brothers took factory jobs to survive. Berrier writes with an appreciation for Appalachia, a colloquial voice ("There were just too many puissant high school boys catting around"), and nostalgia for how things were in his grandfather's time, "the good old days, which you and I will only know through the stories we inherit." But he's not sentimental, noting the darkness inherent in the stories and music, the "unholy communion of desperation, poverty, hunger and violence" in Depression-era Virginia.
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From Booklist

Lots of books are written about performers who have made it big in show business. Berrier tells the story of twin brothers, Saford and Clayton Hall, both talented musicians, who did not. Regional celebrities in Roanoke, Virginia, and regulars on the radio in that city, where they played “hillbilly music,” the Hall brothers never quite broke into national prominence. Then the momentum of their career was cut short by World War II, never to be fully regained. Berrier, the grandson of Clayton Hall, uses interviews with family members and his mother’s brief memoir of her father to recount their lives and careers, from a childhood spent in rural poverty to an adolescence in which the twin brothers discovered a talent for music, and an early adulthood in which it looked, for a time, like they were escaping a dirt-poor world where the best job was working at the local furniture factory. Berrier, a reporter at the Roanoke Times, combines a journalist’s love of getting the facts right with the art of a front-porch storyteller. --Jack Helbig

More About the Author

Ralph Berrier, Jr. is a features reporter for The Roanoke Times. He has written extensively about the music of Southwest Virginia and his work has earned more than 20 state and national awards, including those from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Newspaper Association of America, the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors, and the Virginia Press Association. He learned to play bluegrass fiddle from his grandfather, Clayton Hall, and great-uncle, Saford Hall, who are the subjects of his book, "If Trouble Don't Kill Me." He lives in Roanoke, Va., with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 19 customer reviews
Entertaining, well written and just plain great stuff.
Martin F. Clark Jr.
This is the story of these remarkable twins, these boy/men Clayton and Saford; so typical and yet so atypical of their generation.
D. Blankenship
A wonderful read - I enjoyed this more than any book I've read in awhile and I read a lot!
Cynthia G. Babb

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I read a lot of books; books scattered throughout quite a number of genres. Toward the end of the year I always check my "reading list" and try to pick the best reads of the year. Much of my reading deals with history and biography and has for years.

Well this year, I have to tell you that as to biographical reading, this book won hands down. As a matter of fact, it pretty well blew the competition away in all categories; and that includes the books from several years past. I was absolutely hooked with the first paragraph and that enthusiasm lasted through the last page. Hey, I even read several sections of the book two or three times over as I read.

This is the true story of two brothers, Clayton and Saford Hall. They were twins. Clayton was the grandfather of the author, Ralph Berrier, Jr. Now before you start thinking "good grief, not another mushy, sentimental bit of scribbling by an adoring relative," like I did when I first heard of this work, no, take heed! This author is first of all, a natural born story teller and secondly he is a very skillful and polished writer; more about that later. No folks, this is the real thing, funny, profound, gritty, heartbreaking, informative, and above all, honest. This is the story of these remarkable twins, these boy/men Clayton and Saford; so typical and yet so atypical of their generation.

The twins were born in 1919 in The Hollow, a place near the edge of Patrick County, Virginia. They were illegitimate as were all ten children of that family. They were raised by their single mother and grandmother in the deepest poverty. The boys had nothing and I mean nothing, which included adequate clothing and basic food!
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Terry L on December 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The problem with a book this much fun to read is you read it too fast and then you are done. The story of the brother's troubles growing up, their music career, their war experiences, and their changed lives and world after the war, would of itself be interesting to read, but it is the author's way of stringing words and sentences together that makes this book an enjoyable delight. It is like a circus going on in your head.

I knew on the first page when I read, "He lived enough adventure to fill two lives, so it's a good thing he had a twin," that this book was going to be a joy to read. And I was not disappointed. Not only does the author give us a wonderful description of the world in which the twins lived, he does it in a way that is completely entertaining to read.

It is also an impressive bit of skill in how the author's "voice" changes depending upon the seriousness of the situation (for example, the tone of writing is different at the beginning of the book compared to the style of writing during the war years).

The subject is captivating. The writing is delightful. The reading is completely enjoyable.

You just can't lose with this one.

(I rated this book a five because I can't imagine how this particular story could be told any better.)
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Pamela D. Poldiak on October 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not a bluegrass fan, but I still loved reading this book. The first section of the book was my favorite, about the twins' early years growing up in rural Southwestern VA. They lived with their unwed mother and grandmother in a tiny house, and it was fascinating to read about their adventures. The second section of the book covers the time when both twins served in World War II, and the third section covers the remainder of their lives after they returned home. The book alternates between being rip-roaring hilarious, frightening (the war stuff) and heart-warming. You can tell how much the author's family means to him, and how their history has shaped his life today. It's a very easy, entertaining read and I highly recommend it.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Haney on September 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a retired surgeon,raised in West Virginia, and a bluegrass and bluegrass history nut of the first order. This book describes the conditions of pre-WWII Appalacia to a T. The characters jump right off the page and I constantly compared them to relatives and others I knew growing up. This is an entertaining and informative read whether you are a bluegrass fan or not. I couldn't put it down. Michael Haney, M. D. Moultrie, Ga.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Burt on September 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like good story telling, old-timey music, fiddle playing, and the flavor of Southwest Virginia and Roanoke back around the fifties, this book is well worth your time. For Ralph Berrier, writing it was literally a labor of love (pun intended in honor of the twins). I got carried along by the story of two guys who did their best to figure it out and get it done, and I enjoyed the journey. Having lived in Lynchburg in the fifties and Roanoke for over thirty years, the rhythms and sounds of the book rang true for me. Ralph Berrier can rest assured he did his family proud with a testimonial that will entertain, enlighten, and keep the memories alive.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Martin F. Clark Jr. on November 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
IF TROUBLE DON'T KILL ME perfectly--and I do mean perfectly--captures a time, place and people, but this book's story is big and universal. Entertaining, well written and just plain great stuff.
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