Jim Rooney’s journey through American music has taken him from low down barrooms to fine halls and grand stages throughout the world. Originally from Boston, he began playing guitar and singing with Woodstock banjo legend Bill Keith when both were in college, got immersed in the Cambridge music scene and ran the seminal club in Harvard Square, Club 47, in the 1960s and put together music for the Newport Folk Festivals; traveled the world as tour manager with Thelonious Monk, Dionne Warwick, Herbie Mann and other jazz acts; was the first manager of the Bearsville Studios here in Woodstock; made one of the seminal folk-country albums, Sweet Moments with the Blue Velvet Band, with Keith and Eric Weissberg; sang with the Woodstock Mountains Revue; landed in Nashville where he became a producer and publisher, making records with John Prine, Iris DeMent, Nancy Griffith, Don Everly, Alison Krauss, Townes Van Zandt…published music of Van Zandt, Jesse Winchester, Prine…and on and on.
The stories in his new memoir, In It For The Long Run: A Musical Odyssey, range through Cambridge, Woodstock, Nashville, California, Ireland, Texas, and it’s clear that Rooney was in the right place at many right times, but marked the experience by always being willing to work hard and dig deep into his creative well.
The book is his third. In 1971, he wrote Bossmen: Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters; followed in 1979 by Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, with Eric Von Schmidt.
Here’s an excerpt from Jim Rooney’s book, In It For The Long Run: A Musical Odyssey.
(Jim Rooney came to Woodstock in the late 1960s to manage Bearsville Sound Studios for Albert Grossman, and found a hole in the ground and a grand plan. He stayed on)
As the work on the studio progressed, there was a lot of specialized construction needed for acoustics and soundproofing. A man from New York named Bob Hansen was the first acoustic consultant. Paul (Cypert) had never done this kind of work before, but he was up to the challenge and was very creative. Hansen would tell him what was required. Paul would think about it, look at the space, and then say, “You could do this, this, and this.” That would be it. He’d get it done and get it done right. Rock and roll had opened up the idea of residential studios where a band could come and stay for the duration of the recording, so there was a two-bedroom apartment at one end of the studio. The restaurant was going to have a French chef. Albert had a Japanese gardener who grew organic vegetables. All of this was supposed to be tied together as a feature of the studio. As time passed it became clear to me that this was totally Albert’s operation. The Band had nothing to do with it, except that Robbie Robertson would occasionally be asked his opinion about things. But the studio was Albert’s all the way. He owned it. He paid for it. The name was the Bearsville Sound Studios.
Amazingly, by mid-September we had the “B” studio ready for a shakedown session. John Simon organized a session with John Hall, later of the band Orleans (and still later a U.S. Congressman from the area). He had a song called “Dancing in the Moonlight,” which was the first song recorded at Bearsville. Albert had some kind of a record deal with Ampex at the time, so he got a good deal on the two 16-track Ampex machines. We had a nice big Quad-Eight industrial-strength board. At the time Dolby and DBX had competing noise reduction systems, so we had DBX on the 16-track machines and Dolby on the 2-tracks. We had the latest in limiters, compressors and “gates” which had all been developed to deal with rock and roll volume levels. We also had two real echo chambers as well as two EMT echo plates. The place was well equipped, to say the least.