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Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  180 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
A giant of American music opens the book on his wrenching professional and personal journeys, paying tribute to the vanishing Appalachian culture that gave him his voice.
He was there at the beginning of bluegrass. Yet his music, forged in the remote hills and hollows of Southwest Virginia, has even deeper roots. In Man of Constant Sorrow, Dr. Ralph Stanley gives a surpri
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Published October 15th 2009 by Gotham Books (first published April 2nd 2009)
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Suzanne Moore
Mar 26, 2013 Suzanne Moore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
My daddy raised me on old-time music, and hearing the songs today makes me homesick for the mountains. I also remember hearing that Ralph was a big Dylan fan, and had recordings of his folk songs put to banjo. When this book came out, I knew I had to read it. I read this book with another Stanley Brother fan ... Mr. Garrett, a blind man the same age as Ralph. Reading the memoirs aloud, I noticed my voice began to take on a "hillbilly" twang. Ralph wrote his story the way he talks ... country, do ...more
May 28, 2014 Chuck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Dr. Ralph Stanley describes himself as "a man who don't much like to talk unless he's got something to say", it turns out that he has a whole lot to say, as this book weighs in at 452 pages. Sure, there's a little repetition -- understandably, since the work is cast as a series of reminiscences -- but Stanley's easy conversational style (assisted by journalist Eddie Dean) works perfectly here.

Ralph Stanley is one of the original giants in bluegrass music (although he prefers other terms
Feb 22, 2010 Christine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far this is a very interesting autobiography by one of the foremost bluegrass banjo experts. He tells about the trials and pleasures of growing up way back in the hills of Virginia during a time long gone. Good descriptions of family relationships and childhood occupations written as though he is speaking to you in his local accent.

This book is an amazing memoir of places and people from the 1930s on up to the very present time. It was written just last year. Dr. Stanley has kept up with the
Jan 22, 2010 Leslie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The NPR reviewer liked this book because Dr. Ralph Stanley talked about people way back in the history of country music, people who have long been forgotten. Yes, he did. I'm not sure that I was as interested in them as the reviewer was, though. Dr. Stanley announced up front that he was just going to talk to us as though we were all sitting around the kitchen table. He said that he could use good grammar, but he was going to talk country. And he did. And he did. After awhile, it became easier t ...more
Mar 08, 2010 Bonnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating, matter of fact, smooth flowing autobiography of a man who truly can be called a living legend in American roots music. The style is in Mr. Stanleys own words and it is like he is sitting on the front porch with you on a warm summers evening relating all the major events and influences in a long life well-lived to an old friend. Family, place, and faith are the major influences in his life, but always, always it is the music. Born in 1929, and major figure in bluegrass music and cl ...more
Nov 09, 2010 Fred rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are many reasons to read this book (yet another autobiography of an iconic musician), not the least of which is my name appearing in the acknowledgements. :) Ralph Stanley's story and voice are of a type that is fast disappearing -- the story of a man who made music because he loved it and the voice that rode every mile along the way. No corporate America shaped the sound of The Stanley Brothers. If you want a clear vision of what simple-minded politicians call "the American Dream", you wi ...more
Dec 14, 2009 Ralph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eddie Dean was able to draw out the good Dr. Ralph like no one ever has. The quiet, reserved bluegrass legend has a quite a story to tell -- a funny, tragic, inspiring tale that takes the reader back to the mountains of Southwest Virginia and winds through eight decades before culminating at the Grammy Awards. The best parts are about his Depression-era Appalachian childhood and the early days of the Stanley Brothers during the dawn of recorded country and bluegrass music. Maybe too much bluegra ...more
Jan 07, 2010 Rock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was surprised at the strength of the writing here. I guess writing songs for 60 years gives you some skills that you can then transfer to writing books. This book would be notable for the way it makes the monotonous road life of an ever-touring band interesting, but it actually is most important for its portrayal of Depression-era culture in Appalachia. Dr. Stanley's home region survives today as a (the?) bastion of relatively strong regional identity in a morass of American corporate homogene ...more
Sam Honeycutt
This book is an excellent read for fans of bluegrass music. Ralph and his brother Carter were pioneers of the genre of music. As most of the "old time" bluegrass There is now a third generation on Stanley and Ralph is now a Doctor. There will never be another Ralph Stanley when he goes to pick in the quartet up in heaven that has the beloved Carter waiting for him.
Garrett Cash
Much like Ralph Stanley and his music, this book is a treasure. It's just like getting to sit and talk to the grandfather you never had about his incredible life. Which means that all the repetition and dull parts are there, but you love it nonetheless because it's authentic, inspiring, and insightful.
Jul 07, 2016 Drtaxsacto rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ralph Stanley died on June 24 of this year. I had the pleasure of seeing him in large venues and small over a couple of decades. I first saw him at the UCLA folk festival in the early 1960s and then McCabes in LA and then a couple of larger venues and even a roadhouse called Ruby's - which was very close to his home. Over a very long career he stuck to his roots. He was one of the best shape note singers and his bluegrass banjo was unparalleled. With Bill Monroe, he brought traditional mountain ...more
Jan 12, 2011 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gotta love bluegrass, but if you do, a must read. Very skilfully told in his own words, without making the dialect sound awkward.
Shaun Davidson
Jul 16, 2010 Shaun Davidson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book for anyone interested in old time music, the music business, or growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.
Jan 31, 2016 Brent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: music fans
Recommended to Brent by: Atlanta-Fulton Public Library
This is a joyful, heaping helping of a great life and life story.
Highly recommended.
Jun 21, 2016 Ellen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
While inspiring (the man was an overnight success after decades in the business) the book was a little, no a lot of repeated detail. Mr. Stanley finally received a Grammy and was inducted into the Opry long after many of peers had retired.
The ups and downs of musicians on the road, the life style, the stress on marriage all while being true to oneself and to the music that was and is important to him. By not bending on the music, he was not recognized while his peers were skyrocketing to "succes
Oct 05, 2010 Tim rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you like Ralph Stanley, the Stanley Brothers, or bluegrass music in general, you'll probably enjoy Ralph's story. His down-home way of writing might grate on some readers (using "borned" instead of "born," for example). It could have used a good editor -- there are numerous places where the exact same thing was said in two consecutive paragraphs, sometimes in slightly different words, sometimes in the same words. And it could have been about 100 pages shorter with no real loss of information. ...more
Amy Conard
Jul 10, 2014 Amy Conard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Enjoyed reading and learning so much about Dr Ralph Stanley and the traditional music of the American South. Traditional Southern/Bluegrass/Appalachian music is a love of mine. The history of the Stanley Brothers as well as others who started playing this wonderful music on the radio in the 40's is amazing.
Monte Dutton
Feb 11, 2014 Monte Dutton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why did I read this book? I love music and am fascinated by how it developed. Also, I found it at Dollar Tree. I'm glad I did.
One word for Ralph Stanley: honest. His book is plain-spoken and grammatically atrocious. It works, and it wouldn't work any other way.
It's achingly sad in some parts and uplifting in others. At times it's quite funny. Dr. Stanley's book fits his music, which fits his life, which, after all, is the whole point.
Oct 12, 2013 Ginny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is for dedicated Ralph Stanley fans who want to learn every detail of his musical career, or at least for music enthusiasts who have a particular interest in the history of old-time or bluegrass. I don't envision it having much appeal to the general reader. I enjoyed it very much myself. I have very little knowledge of bluegrass and am trying to fill in this gap in my education, so this book really served the right purpose for me. Some GoodReads members have commented that Dr. Stanley' ...more
Feb 05, 2010 Kid rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is usually about a two star read. Dr. Stanley is MAD CORNY. OK - brother grew up on a mountain top I reckon. That's OK. But bein' country and bein' articulate are not mutually exclusive - I'm sorry. Not gonna buy that. I'm also not gonna buy that this 500 page book was written by a reticent man. Or perhaps it was compiled by the ghost writer and OKed by Dr. Stanley.

You get the sense that Stanley has stuck to his guns and that's somehow connected with the mountains where he was "borned
Sorcia MacNasty
Jul 29, 2016 Sorcia MacNasty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mostly quite poignant and told in a heartbreakingly familiar style if you're southern and have ever had an uncle or grandpa who knows how to tell stories. Made me look up a lot of the music, and I'm glad I did.
Dana Kraft
Aug 31, 2013 Dana Kraft rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is written like Ralph Stanley talks so you get the sense of listening to an old granddad from the country. I found myself reading out loud in Ralph's deadpan drawl just because I like to hear that way of talking.

Tough to pick out my favorite quote, but here's one you won't see on Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature. "One time, Duffey pulled a prank on Jimmy Martin. I reckon he probably thought it was the slickest stunt he'd ever done. I thought it was one of the worst things I've ever seen
Kent Beck
Jan 24, 2015 Kent Beck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A personal history of roots country music. Also a remarkable cautionary tale of the costs (and benefits) of following your muse. Riveting.
Buck Hales
I learned so much about mountain music, the predecessor of modern bluegrass, and about the history and evolution of modern country music from this book. I was inspired to buy the complete Mercury and the complete Columbia recordings of the Stanley Brothers, and am now exploring further into the Stanley sound and Ralph Stanley's recordings post Carter. Pure to the original form, he virtually singlehandedly kept the music alive. And even if you are not inclined toward church going, the gospel musi ...more
Marshall Bright
Sep 08, 2015 Marshall Bright rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful read for fans of the banjo, bluegrass, or history. Ralph Stanley's voice shines through in this exceptional musical memoir.
It was so interesting to re-visit all the small towns, creeks, hollers, mountains, ridges and music of my early childhood. The almost haunting "line-out" method of singing hymns a cappella is a memory I cherish, while attending a revival and "all day dinner on the ground" with my grandmother Nanny B. STANLEY Markham. You probably have to have an appreciation for mountain music, bluegrass and the Appalachian culture to love the book, which I do!
John Steinbeck
As enthusiastic as I was (I was the first to read our town's library copy), and as much as Ralph Stanley's story actually deserves 4 or 5 stars, I had to give it a 3 for all the typos. Sorry, it's the editor in me. There are lots of vignettes and stories that I'd never heard before, and the ones that have been traveling around the bluegrass world for years were told afresh through the perspective of this ancient man. How can you not love Ralph Stanley?
Jim Bronec
You ever sit with someone in your family who is old and ask them to tell you stories of there past. It is usually interesting to a point and then you find yourself drifting off in thought as they ramble on commenting on how "those darn kids are" these days. Well this book was like that, rambling. Ralph Stanley had an interesting life but the way the book is written, train of thought, makes it hard to stay interested.
Sep 05, 2012 Evan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is a bit of a misnomer, though there's certainly a lot of tragedy and heartache in the book: it turns out that the reason Stanley is capable of writing a consistently interesting, distinctive, and readable 500-page autobiography at 82 is that he was a shy mama's boy who didn't get drunk, didn't raise too much hell, and generally kept his head while everyone around him was losing theirs.
I was really eager to read this, after seeing Ralph Stanley for the first time last month at the Birchmere. But I put the book down in disgust about halfway through, after far too many "amusing" anecdotes about acts of animal cruelty perpetrated by both the Stanley brothers, both as children and in adulthood. He's an incredibly talented musician, but I've lost all respect for him as a person.
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Ralph Stanley, also known as Dr. Ralph Stanley, was an American bluegrass artist, known for his distinctive singing and banjo playing. Stanley began playing music in 1946, originally with his brother Carter as part of The Stanley Brothers.

Stanley received numerous accolades, including an honorary Doctorate of Music; induction into the International Music Bluegrass Hall of Honor and the Grand Ole
More about Ralph Stanley...

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