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New Books about Music

By John Lilly

There is much to learn about West Virginia traditional music, so we are pleased to see several new books come into our office, concerning various performers and regional styles from around the state.

Hazel Dickens is an icon, and it is about time a book-length biography was published about her. Several years in the making, Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens, by Hazel Dickens and Bill C. Malone, was released by the University of Illinois Press in May 2008. It is a unique combination of autobiography, historical record, photo album, and songbook.

Noted country music scholar Bill C. Malone offers a detailed 29-page biography, tracing Hazel’s life from her hard-times childhood in Mercer County, through her unsettled teen years and early 20's in Baltimore, her development as a musician and songwriter, to her ascent as an internationally revered figure in country and bluegrass music. Much of the book consists of the lyrics to 40 of Hazel’s original songs, along with her personal comments, offering insight and background information about each title.

The book also includes an exhaustive discography and index. A treat for friends and fans of Hazel is the inclusion of dozens of marvelous personal photographs, many of them never before published, showing her at various important points in her life and career.

Hazel Dickens was the subject of a feature story in our Summer 2004 issue, titled “‘West Virginia, My Home’: A Visit With Hazel Dickens,” by John Lilly.

Working Girl Blues is a 144-page paperback, available for $17.95, plus shipping, from or phone (217)333-0950.

Morgan County native Jim McCoy has enjoyed a long and varied career in country music, documented in a new book by Morgan Messenger editor John Douglas, called Joltin’ Jim McCoy: Jim McCoy’s Life in Country Music. Douglas wrote a feature story about McCoy in our Spring 2002 issue, titled “Joltin’ Jim McCoy: Morgan County’s Country Music Troubadour.”

Born in 1929 on Highland Ridge, near Berkeley Springs, Jim McCoy was a teenaged disc jockey when he met a young Patsy Cline and played a key role in introducing her to local radio audiences in 1947. McCoy soon developed a performing career of his own, writing and recording numerous songs. He later started his own recording studio and label, featuring acts from West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Currently, McCoy owns and operates a nightclub and restaurant, located a few hundred feet from where he was born.

The 79-page, large-format paperback chronicles each phase of McCoy’s multi-faceted life and career, illustrated by numerous personal photographs, publicity pictures, and memorabilia. The book sells for $15.95, plus $4 shipping and in-state sales tax ($20.91 total), and is available from Jim McCoy Book Project, P.O. Box 901, Berkeley Springs, WV 25111.

Songwriter, performer, painter, humorist, poet, and author Billy Edd Wheeler is featured in the Winter 2008 edition of Appalachian Heritage: A Literary Quarterly of the Southern Appalachians, published by the Berea College Appalachian Center in Berea, Kentucky. Born in 1932 at Whitesville and raised at Highcoal, both in Boone County, Billy Edd Wheeler today is a Nashville songwriting legend and a highly regarded artist. He has written hit songs for Johnny Cash and others, released several successful CD recordings, coauthored books on Appalachian humor, and had paintings on display at prestigious art galleries throughout the region. Last November, he was inducted into the new West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

This issue of Appalachian Heritage highlights Billy Edd Wheeler, including 19 of his colorful paintings, 48 pages of writings by or about him, and a special CD recording of Billy Edd performing 20 of his original songs. The journal and CD together sell for $6, plus $2 shipping.

To purchase a copy, or for additional information, call (859)985-3699 or visit

Patchwork Dreams: Stories, Songs, and History from Big Ugly Creek and Harts Creek, WV, is an anthology of essays, oral histories, vintage photographs, artwork, and songs from Lincoln County. Published in 2007 by Step by Step, Inc., the 202-page, spiral-bound, large-format book is the result of grant-supported work by artists and teachers to promote education and the arts, wellness, and local leadership in southern West Virginia since 2004, through the Big Ugly Community Center.

Edited by Charleston-based musician and songwriter Heidi Muller, Patchwork Dreams offers a broad range of content, tied together by a central theme of life and art in this rural and rugged area. Much emphasis is placed on local history, along with recently written original songs with local topics and titles, such as “Big Ugly Woman,” “Sangin’ Time,” and “Lincoln County Crew.” Two CD recordings accompany the book, providing full versions of the 24 songs that appear in the text, followed by instrumental-only versions for teaching purposes.

Patchwork Dreams is available at local bookstores, at Tamarack, or on-line at; phone (304)414-4452. The cost is $30, plus shipping.

West Virginia is well-represented in a new book about the pioneers of country music, titled Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost, by Tony Russell. Published in 2007 by Oxford University Press, Country Music Originals offers brief biographies of 110 musicians or string bands who recorded during the 1920's, ‘30's, and ‘40's. Concise, entertaining, and smartly written, the book includes many popular artists, as well as those who are nearly forgotten.

West Virginia artists highlighted in the book include Blind Alfred Reed, Roy Harvey, Clark Kessinger, Frank Hutchison, Molly O’Day, Ed Haley, and Billy Cox.

Country Music Originals is a 258-page hardcover edition, including 274 black-and-white photographs and a bibliography. It sells for $29.95 and is available from the publisher at