Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
In It for the Long Run

In It for the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    In It for the Long Run
    Book Description:

    Inspired by the Hank Williams and Leadbelly recordings he heard as a teenager growing up outside of Boston, Jim Rooney began a musical journey that intersected with some of the biggest names in American music including Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Bill Monroe, Muddy Waters, and Alison Krauss. In It for the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey is Rooney's kaleidoscopic first-hand account of more than five decades of success as a performer, concert promoter, songwriter, music publisher, engineer, and record producer. As witness to and participant in over a half century of music history, Rooney provides a sophisticated window into American vernacular music. Following his stint as a "Hayloft Jamboree" hillbilly singer in the mid-1950s, Rooney managed Cambridge's Club 47, a catalyst of the 60's folk music boom. He soon moved to the Newport Folk Festival as talent coordinator and director where he had a front row seat to Dylan "going electric." In the 1970s Rooney's odyssey continued in Nashville where he began engineering and producing records. His work helped alternative country music gain a foothold in Music City and culminated in Grammy nominations for singer-songwriters John Prine, Iris Dement, and Nanci Griffith. Later in his career he was a key link connecting Nashville to Ireland's folk music scene. Writing songs or writing his memoir, Jim Rooney is the consummate storyteller. In It for the Long Run: A Musical Odyssey is his singular chronicle from the heart of Americana.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09606-8
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxii)
    (pp. 1-2)

    With these words, Gammy—my mother’s mother, Julia Flaherty—would dismiss one or the other of us grandchildren as we informed her of how we were about to do something. So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since—going my own way in the world, finding my own voice, following my own path—doing it “my own ignorant way.” That path took me on a musical journey from Dedham, Massachusetts, to Cambridge, to New Orleans, to Newport, to Woodstock, to Nashville, to Ireland, to Vermont, and all around the world. I’ve been making my story up as I went along....


      (pp. 5-15)

      They tell us that we carry all kinds of information in us, locked in our genes, passed down through the generations. So when I first heard the sound of the fiddle and banjo coming out of the radio as I tuned in one night, I’m convinced that my Irish genes woke from their slumber and started jangling. Nothing had prepared me for this. It was 1951. I was thirteen years old, living outside of Boston in Dedham, Massachusetts, far from the mountains of Appalachia, farther still from the Emerald Isle, definitely not a musical hotbed.

      My parents had moved there...

      (pp. 16-19)

      After graduating from Roxbury Latin in 1956 I chose to go to Amherst College in western Massachusetts. As I settled in, I discovered other kids like me, who had brought their record albums with them. Many of the people I gravitated toward were into jazz, so I started hearing Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins. When I went home at Christmas I went into The Book Clearing House, and looked at the jazz section and started buying those records.

      I tried out for WAMF and eventually got myself a one-hour weekly program. On my show I decided to play...

      (pp. 20-35)

      Toward the end of my senior year, a folk music promoter named Manny Greenhill came up from Boston. He wanted to put Odetta on in concert at the University of Massachusetts across town. He needed a campus organization to sponsor the concert, so he helped organize The Pioneer Valley Folklore Society. Among the founding members were Bill and me, fellow Amherst students Rick Lee and Jesse Auerbach (later named Josh Dunson), and UMass students Taj Mahal and Buffy Ste. Marie. (The Society is still going!) Manny heard Bill and me play at that time and liked us well enough to...

      (pp. 35-40)

      The American School of Classical Studies in Athens had a program for graduate students, and we spent the first part of the year going around to various archaeological sites with our guide, Eugene Vanderpool. He knew every inch of the country and every bit of its history from the earliest sacrificial sites on the tops of mountains to the fountain in a town square donated by the Greek-American community of some town in Pennsylvania. Each of us would give a paper to the group about some archaeological site, some battle, some historical event. In the process

      we covered great swaths...

      (pp. 41-45)

      Before leaving Greece, I was visited by Ethan Signer. Ethan had played mandolin in the Charles River Valley Boys and was now studying biochemistry in Cambridge, England. He had just returned from a trip to Ireland with Bill Clifton, an American bluegrass singer who was living in England at the time. A woman named Peggi Jordan had organized some gigs for them in Ireland. Ethan suggested that she could possibly do the same for us later that summer. That sounded good to me, so he said he’d contact her and get something organized.

      After leaving Greece I visited John and...

    • THE CLUB 47
      (pp. 45-56)

      Bill Keith and John Richardson had kept the apartment on Upland Road, so I had a place to land when I got back. I still had a teaching fellowship and was still taking courses toward a PhD, so it was a bit of a step back in one way, but it gave me some space to figure things out. Right away I had to go down to the Club 47 at its new location. When I left it had been a cellar with a dirt floor. It was now a fine space with stone and brick walls and a brick...

      (pp. 56-74)

      I wasn’t there. I was in New Orleans! Ralph Rinzler had been hired to produce a Jazz festival there, but had taken a job at the Smithsonian Institution to start up an American Folklife Division, so he asked me if I’d be interested in taking his place in New Orleans. He also asked me if I would be interested in stepping into his role as talent coordinator of the Newport Folk Festival. I talked to George Wein and the board about it and it was decided that I would start to work full-time that summer for the Folk Festival and...


      (pp. 77-84)

      So there I was in the fall of’ 69, out of work. Even though I was genuinely laid of, for some reason it never entered my head to apply for unemployment. I’d saved up some money over the summer. Sheila and I had decided to get married, but I figured that I’d come up with something. We were young. We weren’t worried. At such times you need to get creative, and I did. I woke up in the middle of the night with this thought in my mind that Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters were just alike as people. The...

      (pp. 84-100)

      With the book completed and turned in, Sheila and I packed up and headed for Woodstock. I had been in touch with Albert Grossman off and on. He had suggested that, since The Band was to be involved in the studio, I should go out on the road with them a couple of times to see if we would “get along.” I had no doubt that we would, so I readily agreed. I drove up to Kingston, New York, one weekend and met them at the airport where we boarded a small, chartered plane to fly to their first gig...

      (pp. 100-119)

      With Sheila gone and no job to go to every day, my life was suddenly my own to do with as I pleased. It was a strange feeling. I’d worked for the Club for two and a half years, the Newport Festivals for two years and I’d been working for Albert for two and a half years. It seemed to be a pattern. All of the jobs were seven days a week, all kinds of hours. Whatever had to be done, I’d do it. Sheila and I had spent all of our spare time together working on the house. In...

      (pp. 119-123)

      I headed back to Dedham for the holidays. Without my saying anything, I think my mother understood that I could use some space to settle in. She was planning to sell the house in Green Harbor, but it was available for me to stay in for the time being. Green Harbor in the winter was pretty quiet, so I entered into sort of a forced retreat, with lots of time to think, to strum my guitar and write the occasional song, to go for walks on the beach, to learn to live with myself. To earn my keep I put...

      (pp. 123-135)

      In early April I screwed up my courage and decided to take my tapes and drive down to Nashville to try my luck, like so many had before me. One of the people I called when I got there was John Lomax III, who was still working for Jack Clement. John was based at Jack’s Tracks and invited me to drop by. His office was finished in rough-sawn lumber, and Lomax explained that it had once been part of a tree house Jack had built in his apartment! I’d heard lots of stories about Jack. This just added to the...

      (pp. 135-140)

      Late in the summer I went up to Eric Von Schmidt’s place in Henniker, New Hampshire, to help him celebrate the sale of a big painting of Custer’s Last Stand to the Western Museum at Wichita State University. It was a great reunion of the old Cambridge crowd. Geoff Muldaur was there with Sheila. Fritz Richmond had come from California where he was working as Paul Rothchild’s recording engineer. There were a couple of new additions to Eric’s circle of friends, Darlene Wilson and Chance Browne, members of “The Cruel Family,” in which Eric, of course was Father Cruel, who...

      (pp. 140-145)

      After a couple of days on the beach swimming and playing bocce, I headed back to Nashville and picked up where I had left off. Judy and Johanna had been in and out of my life since I moved to Nashville. She was no longer with John Annas. Sometimes they had stayed with me, which I loved because Johanna was such a bright spark, but Judy just had to be on her own and, after a stint living in the basement of the Kountry Korner bar a few blocks from me, had moved down to Winchester, Tennessee, so they weren’t...

      (pp. 146-150)

      Since I had first run into him when I arrived in June of ’76, Don Everly and I had become pretty good eating and drinking buddies. Many Sundays I’d join Don and his wife Karen at their apartment while Don whipped up a gourmet meal and we talked about music, books, and art. Our major hangout was the Sutler Saloon, run by a Nashville character named Johnny Potts. I had talked Don into getting together with Phillip, Tony, Rachel, and Lamar, and we somehow came up with a name for the band—The Dead Cowboys! Johnny Potts was adding another...


      (pp. 153-161)

      My life at this time was nothing if not full. Judy and Johanna had been back with me for a few months after a stint living over in East Tennessee, and we were making a stab at being a family, which gave me the opportunity to share in Johanna’s life, taking her to school and gymnastics classes, helping her learn to ride a two-wheeler, taking her to Disney World and then to the beach at Eric Von Schmidt’s in Siesta Key, reading stories to her at night. She was nothing but a positive presence in my life. Our life together...

      (pp. 161-167)

      I went out one night in early ’83 to hear Richard Dobson, my old friend from the Bishop’s Pub days. His drummer Leland Waddell asked me whether I could help Richard make a record. I could easily have blown him off (since there was little or no money involved), but Richard was a good friend, and I liked what I was hearing that night, so I found a time when the studio was free. I had a hunch that Phillip Donnelly’s style would work with him, so I had him come in and listen to the songs, which were a...

      (pp. 167-174)

      At the end of ’84 I got a chance to reconnect with my old Cambridge community when Tom Rush put on three nights of concerts at Symphony Hall in Boston as a reunion of the Club 47 gang, including Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, Eric Von Schmidt, the Charles River Valley Boys, Spider John Koerner, Joe Val, Peter Rowan, Bill Keith, me, and lots more. Every night Eric would hold court after the concerts, and the music would never end. Some of us stayed around for a couple of days and on New Year’s Eve, Joan, Mimi, John Cooke, Fritz Richmond...

      (pp. 174-180)

      One evening at Cowboy’s, Curt Allen and I were having a drink after our day’s work. When he had a drink in him Curt could sometimes be a bit on the testy side. He looked at me and said, “Rooney! What are you gonna do?” I had no idea what he was talking about, so he said it again. “What are you gonna do?” Underneath the question, I suppose, was the unsaid, “You’re getting old. Almost 50. You’re 48 or whatever the hell you are, and you’re still knocking around.” There was certainly more than a hint of truth in...

      (pp. 180-184)

      Throughout this period, my work as an engineer and producer was what was keeping the bills paid and enabling me to keep my stake in Forerunner. I engineered and produced albums with Pat Alger’s friend and songwriting collaborator, Rick Beresford; with David Grier, a brilliant young acoustic guitarist; and a singer/songwriter from Austin named Jane Gilman. I enjoyed helping writers and musicians give a shape and a sound to their work without having to spend a lot of money doing it. I was also starting to get some recognition for my efforts in the form of Grammy nominations for both...

      (pp. 184-187)

      Phillip Donnelly had moved back to Ireland and was helping to organize a couple of concerts for a television series called “The Session,” bringing artists from Nashville and Austin together with Irish artists. I went over with Don Everly, John Prine, Jack Clement, Guy Clark, and Marty Stuart. We shared the stage with The Chieftains, Mary Black, and a great young band, Arcady, among others, and the mixture of American Roots music and Irish music showed how much we shared in common.

      After the gig we went back to our headquarters at Bloom’s Hotel and got the guitars out and...

      (pp. 188-197)

      At Forerunner we’d signed two more writers, a groove piano player named Pete Wasner and a lyricist named Charles John Quarto. Pete came to Nashville from Colorado and was playing with The Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Charles John had lived in various places, including California where he had worked with Graham Nash. Charles was a bit of a mystic and had another dimension to his writing. He fancied himself a poet, but I felt he was a better lyricist—not that I could have easily told you the difference. He’d written a fine song with Steve Gillette called “Grapes on...

      (pp. 197-200)

      I’ve had more than my share of lucky days: the day I met Bill Keith, the day I met Jack Clement, the day I met John Prine, the day I met Nanci Griffith, the day I met Pat Alger. I could go on and on. Among those days I would have to include the day I met Iris DeMent. It almost didn’t happen. I didn’t know Iris, but she called me up one day to invite me to come down to the Bluebird Café where she was going to be part of a showcase of songwriters from Kansas City who...

      (pp. 200-204)

      When I was first in Nashville in 1974, David Olney—along with Townes Van Zandt, Richard Dobson, and the crew that hung out at Bishop’s—was obviously a kindred spirit. David was originally from the Northeast—Rhode Island—and I suppose we shared some of that somewhat harsher, slightly cynical outlook on life that set us apart from most southerners. David liked his music raw. He reminded me a lot of Eric Von Schmidt that way. When he had his rock-and-roll band The X-Rays, it was an all-out, no-holds-barred affair. Over the years, Olney, along with Pat McLaughlin, Sam Bush,...

      (pp. 204-211)

      I had become involved in the development of the Folk Alliance as a member of the board of directors in 1989. Although some people compared trying to organize a bunch of folkies to trying to herd a bunch of cats, I felt that it would be helpful to those trying to make a living playing folk music to approach it in a more organized fashion. The executive director was Phyllis Barney, one of those people who knows how to bring people together to work for a common cause. She insisted that we create a solid structure that would be inclusive...

      (pp. 211-222)

      Going into 1992 Forerunner was flying. We were also gaining a reputation as a “writer’s house.” Some publishing companies would have quotas for their writers. If you wrote with another writer that only counted as half a song toward your quota. If you were supposed to write twenty-five songs a year and you cowrote all the time, it would mean that you’d have to write fifty songs. We felt that was a foolish approach. We assumed that writers wanted to write. The fact that they wrote fifty songs or ten songs was meaningless if the songs weren’t any good. That...

      (pp. 222-226)

      The response to Iris DeMent’sInfamous Angelwas greater than I dared was greater than I dared to hope for. For a record on a small independent label, it started to sell pretty well. Rounder eventually released the album in England, where my old friend Andrew Wickham heard it. I hadn’t heard anything about Andy really since the Blue Velvet Band days when he introduced me to Joe Smith. Miraculously, Andy was still with the company, working for Warner Brothers in London. Iris’s music was just what Andy thought country music should be. He loved it and wasted no time...

    • OUT WEST
      (pp. 226-229)

      Pat Alger had gotten to know Ian Tyson and went out to his ranch in Alberta to write with him. He had let the music scene for a while after he and Sylvia broke up and had become involved in raising cutting horses at a championship level. When he came back to music, it was through his life as a cowboy. The first album he came out with in this new incarnation was the brilliantCowboyography. When Pat was out visiting Ian he mentioned that he was involved with me as a publisher and producer and suggested that Ian get...

      (pp. 229-234)

      Led by the phenomenal success of Garth Brooks, all album sales were well above what they had been just a few years earlier when we had started. In addition to Matt Lindsey, we added another, equally enthusiastic and committed song plugger to our ranks, Leslie Barr. There was more than enough work for two people to keep up with all of the songs in our growing catalogue. However, it seemed that the pitching process itsel was getting harder. More and more there were a lot of middlemen coming into the process. Some producers hired assistants to listen to songs. Then...


    • A NEW LIFE
      (pp. 237-241)

      Since our amazing trip to Louisiana, Carol and I had been doing our best to weave our lives together. When I came into the picture Sarah was nineteen, living in Boston, and getting ready to go to Indiana University to study recorder and early music. Matthew was fifteen and Sonya was thirteen. They were in the local schools and lived part of the time at Carol’s and part of the time at their dad’s. Carol and her former husband Peter had been divorced for about five years and she had had two or three relationships during that time, so it...

      (pp. 242-251)

      On September 9, 1996, just after I had returned to Nashville from our “wedding at the rock,” Bill Monroe left this world. He had been incapacitated by a stroke a few months earlier and had been living in a nursing home in Springfield, Tennessee. Two or three weeks before he died, I went out to pay him a visit. Over the course of the past few years Bill had had a series of health problems. I had seen him when he looked weak and barely able to get to the stage, but once on stage, he would come to life...

      (pp. 251-256)

      John Prine was a happy man. He had a new woman in his life. Fiona Whelan was working at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin when John happened by one day. He caught her eye, and when she heard that there was a good chance that he’d be at Bloom’s Hotel after The Session show, she made it a point to be there. Her strategy worked. Here it was, several years later, and they were getting married in Nashville. Everything was working for John. Oh Boy! Records was doing great. We had done three albums together, two of which,German Afternoons...

      (pp. 256-266)

      Carol’s oldest daughter, Sarah, had been studying recorder in The Hague in Holland, and Carol and I went over for a visit in December of ’96. As long as we were that close, I insisted that we spend a couple of days in Amsterdam. Among other things, the Michelin Guide recommended three “coffeehouses.” We picked one and found it. It was a nice little place with lots of potted plants and lovely music playing. You went to a high counter to order your coffee, tea, or pastry. Behind the bar was a big chalkboard menu listing all of the various...

      (pp. 267-270)

      After being away for a while, I got a bit more perspective on things in Nashville. I was already aware of the difficulties presented to us by the infiltration of the recording process by middle management types and marketing people. However, I wasn’t really aware of our own situation until one day at one of our periodic meetings when our accountant Kent Harrell opened up by saying, “You guys lost about $200,000 last year.” This was news to all of us. Terrell was on a salary because she was running the company, but Allen, Mark, and I were not dependent...

      (pp. 270-273)

      A year or so earlier Carol and I had gone out to the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City to collect the Wrangler Award for Don Edward’sWest of Yesterdayalbum. The actual award was a bronze statuette of a wrangler on a horse. If you didn’t show up in person, they wouldn’t send it to you, so we definitely had to go. As it turned out, the whole thing was a pretty big deal. They had a reception for the honorees and guests at the Hall of Fame and Museum. The Museum alone was worth the trip. It...

      (pp. 273-276)

      Back in January of ’98, I’d come over from Ireland on a visit. One morning Herb McCullough told me that he’d made a New Year’s resolution to write a song with everyone in the building—“and that includesyou!” Right away I started backing up and making excuses. I hadn’t written anything in ages. I was going right back to Ireland and wouldn’t be back in the States until April. But Herb wouldn’t let go, so finally we got out our calendars and picked a date. As it turned out, I was going to be mixing Sean Keane’s album on...

      (pp. 276-280)

      John Prine’s recovery from his surgery and radiation was slow but steady. They’d taken a pretty good chunk out of his neck behind his jawbone. The radiation had fried his saliva glands, so he needed to drink water all the time. His voice was pretty much a whisper, but John was determined and optimistic. He had lots of reasons to come back, none more important than his two young sons, Jack and Tommy, “Irish Twins,” born eleven months apart. John treasured his new life as a husband and a father. That was all the motivation he needed.

      In July of...

      (pp. 280-294)

      Happy as I was to have successfully completedIn Spite of Ourselves, this was a bittersweet time for me. Once we made our decision to sell Forerunner, the hard work started. From the time we made the decision until we completed the sale, it took us eighteen months. As it turned out, if we’d waited another year or even six months, that door would have closed, and we would have been stuck. The business was changing that fast. It was difficult. We had a staff to tell that they were going to lose their jobs. They genuinely loved their work,...

    (pp. 295-302)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 303-322)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-330)