Monadnock Ledger-Transcript – Franklin Pierce University Librarian Paul Jenkins Writes New Book About McClain Family Band

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Franklin Pierce University librarian Paul Jenkins can trace his love for bluegrass music back to when he lived in Minnesota as a high school student.

His father was an English professor at Carleton College, and he came home one day with a huge stack of McLain family records.

“It’s a bluegrass band, and I’ve never listened to bluegrass in my life. I grew up listening to the Beatles and 70s rock ‘n’ roll and folk music and a bunch of stuff, but not bluegrass music,” Jenkins said. “I listened to these records that my dad brought home from the McClain Family Band and I was like, ‘That’s really cool. I like bluegrass. These guys are awesome.

Now Jenkins has published a book about the McLain Family Band, titled “Bluegrass Ambassadors: The McLain Family Band in Appalachia and the World”.

“It’s a compelling story about a family, and how a family works together to achieve their dreams and passionately engage in music,” Jenkins said. “It’s a book about the power of music and how America’s signature music, bluegrass, can be kept as an ambassadorial tool around the world.”

It’s more than a metaphor in the case of the McLain Family Band, Jenkins said, as the group worked with the US State Department to tour 62 foreign countries, as “bluegrass ambassadors.” . They were also educators, teaching formal courses in higher education on bluegrass and traditional mountain music.

“They weren’t just an interesting group of musicians,” Jenkins said. “They did a lot of interesting things with their music, and that kind of inspired me and why I thought it was a good topic for a book.”

This is not Jenkins’ first book, nor even his first book on music. He wrote a book about folk musician Richard Dyer-Bennett, “Richard Dyer-Bennett: The Last Minstrel,” and co-edited the book “Teaching the Beatles,” released in 2018.

“Bluegrass Ambassadors” is the result of seven years of work from start to finish, he said, involving an intense process of research, writing and editing. It also involved interviews with the band members, many of which were conducted by Jenkins’ initial co-writer Katie Hoffmann, who eventually dropped out of the project.

According to the band’s website, mclainfamilyband.com, the main touring band includes Raymond McLain, Ruth McLain, Alice and Al White and Daxson Lewis, with Nancy Ann Wartman and Michael and Jennifer McLain making occasional appearances.

Even after the manuscript was completed and edited, there was still work to be done to get permission to use photographs and song lyrics. He was also interrupted by other projects, including his co-edited Beatles book, which took 2½ years to complete.

“And then the magic day comes in November 2020, when I get home from work, there’s a box of my 10 free author copies that arrived at my house,” Jenkins said. “And I’m like, ‘Hallelujah,’ because seven years after I started this work, I have a finished product.”

But the work was far from tedious, Jenkins said — in fact, it was fun to research and write.

“It’s great fun working with them,” he said. “They are very nice people, they are kind, they made time for me despite their busy lives, busy schedules, and I had to go to various places to see them.”

Jenkins also said he learned a lot while writing the book, especially about the Appalachian region. The book was published as part of the West Virginia University Press series titled “Sounding Appalachian”, and so some of Jenkins’ angle in the band’s history was heavily influenced by Appalachia as a region.

“Nobody had ever written a book about the McLain Family Band before,” added Jenkins, making the project particularly exciting.

All of this work happened in addition to Jenkins’ day job as a librarian at Franklin Pierce. Although the university encourages faculty to research and publish, Jenkins said he did most of the work for the book in his spare time between family life and work.

“It’s a lot to juggle,” he said. “But once you get into a project, it motivates you, and what really motivates you is doing it. And that’s exciting, you know, and that’s what gives you the energy to take on those tasks.

Jenkins said he hopes readers come away from the book with an appreciation for its many subjects, both the band and Appalachia.

“I want readers to get excited about the band and listen to their music, I want them to learn more about Appalachia,” he said. “I want them to learn more about how music can bring people together.”

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