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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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