Robert Morgan/Daniel Boone/Tony Rice/Tony Williamson/Doc Watson

        Sounds like a new bluegrass super-group, huh?  Well, no it is not that, but on the other hand these five do have common bonds.  And as a physician bluegrass fiction writer, I like to connect the dots between worlds that on the the surface might appear unrelated.

        Robert Morgan is an English Professor at Cornell.  He is an intellectual cat if I have ever met one.  At the same time, he grew up country like me.  I heard him speak at the Conference for Southern writers in Chattanooga, and he talked of his early days on the farm.  When they would plow they often turned up arrow heads and artifacts from the Native American culture.  It sparked an interest in history that persists to this day.  Some time back I interviewed mandolinist Tony Williamson for an article, and Dr. Morgan’s fascination with the subject was reminiscent of Tony’s love of the native people.

        Dr. Morgan’s latest book, ‘Boone’ might well be the definitive work on the life of Daniel Boone.  I am not an expert on the subject but folks who should know, such as  ‘Boston Globe,’  ‘Chicago Tribune,’ and ‘The New York Review of Books’ say it is, and I think they are correct.  His attention to detail was beyond impressive.

         I know y’all recall ‘Ginseng Sullivan’ from Tony Rice’s Manzanita album.  It is still one of my favorites.  You remember the line:  “A tote sack full of ginseng won’t pay no traveling bills.”

        Mr. Morgan had me riveted from the get-go but when he brought up the subject of ginseng I paid extra attention.  He told the story of how Boone gathered ginseng and took up it up the river by keelboat to sell in Hagerstown.

          At one point Dr. Morgan commented there was a legend Boone had taken fifteen tons of ginseng up the river.  That got my attention for sure.  I recalled Tony Rice’s words.  Ginseng is light.  Fifteen tons?  Why, that would have taken several modern barges, not just a few men in small keelboats.  

        Dr. Morgan went on to say he was familiar with ginseng and also realized this didn’t ring true, so he went to the record book.  Somehow he found copies of the original invoices on microfilm and the mystery was solved.  It was fifteen ‘tuns,’ a word at that time for a barrel, not tons.  It made sense. 

         And it made sense to me too.  This Dr. Morgan was the real deal, a writer who I knew had searched for the truth.  After the ginseng story he had my total trust.  It’s like Wayne Benson says about Doc Watson:  “When Doc sings, I believe every word.”  Well when Dr. Morgan writes I believe every word of that too.  A bluegrass man would know if a writer didn’t show the truth about a subject as important as Daniel Boone and ginseng.

          So if you like American history and want the true story of Daniel Boone, get a copy of Robert Morgan’s ‘Boone.’  I haven’t finished it yet, but the man took the better part of a decade to write it, so I am going to take my time.  Like a Tony Rice guitar solo or Tony Williamson mandolin tune, or Doc Watson’s  guitar and singing, or Daniel Boone’s long ago invoices, all honest work deserves proper attention to the details.

Dr. B

Contact info:

‘Boone’   ISBN-13: 978-1565124554

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

A Shannon Ravenel Book

Algonquin Books

a division of Workman Publishing

225 Varick St.,  New York, N. Y.  10014

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6 Comments on “Robert Morgan/Daniel Boone/Tony Rice/Tony Williamson/Doc Watson”

  1. That’s quite fascinating, Dr. B! I find it incredible that people can dedicate so many years of their lives to finding out the truth about someone, about the events of their lives. This dedication awes me, and I can only dream of learning that sort of patience and perseverance. I might well look this one up when I’m in the US of A.

  2. drtombibey Says:

    ms slightly,

    For a lot of these writers, their day job is a college Professor, and it part of what they do. For me it does reinforce the importance of allowing them that ‘luxury’ in a civilized society.

    And of course, I have always believed in supporting music. Life would be mighty drab without the arts.

    Dr. B

  3. I enjoyed meeting you and other writers at the conference. We do strike sparks against one another, as Dr. Morgan seemed to do for you. I regret I missed him, probably while working registration, but because of your recommendation, I’ll keep his book Boone in mind for future reading.

  4. drtombibey Says:


    For a guy like me who is trying to learn to write, it was might near a religious experience.

    I have some personal business to tend to this weekend, but I plan a series of posts on the AEC Chattanooga Southern Writer’s Conference come first of the week.

    Dr. B

  5. Dr B, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Robert Morgan’s wonderful biography. Until now, Boone has been remembered mainly for his explorations which led to settlement. Morgan shines a light on Boone showing him to be equivalent to Jefferson and Washington as the primordial embodiment of the American spirit. This was not my first introduction to Mr. Morgan’s work. When he released his amazingly inspirational novel, “The Rock,” he arranged for Gary Williamson and myself to play and sing old time brother duets on his book tour. As a longtime lover of Carolina music and history, this was a dream gig I would love to repeat. Thank you so much for your review and also for your love of traditional music.

    • drtombibey Says:


      It doesn’t surprise me that this one would appeal to you. Like Daniel Boone you are a true friend to the Native people and respectful of their traditions.

      I have an article I have submitted to ‘Oxford American’ I think you would enjoy. I do not have a final word on this yet but I have my fingers crossed. In it, I try to show the rest of the world what they are missing if they do not know of the beauty of the mandolin and it’s best players.

      ‘The Mandolin Case’ is in a final revision, and we have all hope to release it in 2010. I’d sure love to have you sit in on a book store signing one day. I want people to really know how the thing is played, and I can only get them prepared for the master.

      Dr. B

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