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  • Tim Newby, a tech ed teacher at Chesapeake High School, has been passionate about music for most of his life, leading him to write and publish “Bluegrass in Baltimore.” The book is due out in May.
    Photo by Shawn Brubaker
    Tim Newby, a tech ed teacher at Chesapeake High School, has been passionate about music for most of his life, leading him to write and publish “Bluegrass in Baltimore.” The book is due out in May.

Chesapeake Teacher Recalls Baltimore’s Music History In New Book

Shawn Brubaker
Shawn Brubaker's picture
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March 26, 2015

That old-timey bluegrass music may not be as old-timey as many thought, and its origins are farther north than many realized as well, as detailed in Tim Newby’s soon-to-be-published book “Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin’ Sound and Its Legacy.”

Newby, a technology education teacher at Chesapeake High School, has been a freelance writer for various musical publications, including Paste Magazine, Relix Magazine and Honest Tune, where he is a features editor. During a 2011 interview with bluegrass legend Del McCoury, who got his start in the bars of Baltimore, Newby realized there was an entire bluegrass scene that had arisen out of Baltimore without much fanfare.

From there, Newby dove into the research without a specific aim in mind. As he gathered information, he recognized that there was a story worth telling in Baltimore’s bluegrass scene. When he had the opportunity to talk with Russ Hooper, another bluegrass icon, Newby was inspired to turn that story into a book. “I got ahold of Russ, and Russ was the key to everything. Russ played with everybody. Every major person, he had played with,” Newby explained. “Once I got ahold of him, it set it apart and I was like, ‘Wow, this could be a book.’”

In the book, Newby profiles the rise of bluegrass in the 1950s and the 1960s in Baltimore. Surprisingly, the word “bluegrass” never appeared before that time. “The word ‘bluegrass’ actually wasn’t used to described this music until the late ‘50s,” Newby recalled. “Before that, it didn’t have a name. It was just country.” Even before the name surfaced, though, what is now known as bluegrass was making its way through Baltimore.

“The book starts in the bar, which is where so much of the music was played,” Newby detailed. Blue-collar, transient workers from Appalachia and southern Virginia had moved to the Baltimore area in search of work, bringing their down-to-earth, powerful music with them. Some had great success: The first bluegrass band to play in Carnegie Hall was Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys, a band that regularly played in the Baltimore bar scene.

From the earliest stages to the modern day, that blue-collar sound has characterized Baltimore’s music scene, according to Newby. “People talk about that there is a Baltimore sound, this hard-driving sound. Some of the guys don’t necessarily play the traditional sound, but there is definitely something there,” Newby mentioned. “They’re blue-collar people, and there is something about that in the sound.”

Newby had three audiences in mind as he wrote “Bluegrass in Baltimore” — hardcore bluegrass fans, general music fans and people who love Baltimore. “To me, the city is the most important character in the book. These bars and these neighborhoods and what was happening in the city,” Newby remarked. “People who like Baltimore, they’re going to like that.”

Newby said the book would publish sometime in May but a date has not been set yet; however, the book is available for pre-order on Amazon and other major booksellers’ websites. For more info, find and like “Bluegrass in Baltimore” on Facebook.

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