Traveler: The Musical Odyssey of Tim O’Brien – new book

Fresh off the presses this month (September 2022) is the biography, Voyageur: The Musical Odyssey of Tim O’Brien by award-winning biographer Bobbie Malone and early country music historian Bill C. Malone.

For five decades, as a singer, musician, songwriter and producer, Tim O’Brien has continued to explore the vast American musical landscape. As Appalachia and Ireland eventually became facets of the defining mythos surrounding him and his music, he digested a wide range of root styles, reshaping them for his own purposes.

The authors chronicle O’Brien’s career and trace the rise of Hot Rize and its broadening and enrichment of musical traditions.

Bill C. Malone pondered…

“We have been working on it for a few years. On the one hand, the pandemic made it easy for us to do long interviews – everyone was at home – but on the other hand, we struggled to do good promotion for the book.

As we note in the book, we first became interested in Tim as a fan many years ago when he was a member of Hot Rize. We continued to be impressed by his versatility, commitment and talent. It seemed like every time we turned around, we found Tim on someone else’s record – as a backing musician, harmony singer, songwriter or producer. For lack of a better term, we’ve come to think of him as country music’s “renaissance man.” I find him comparable to the late Mike Seeger in his knowledge of many traditions and his ability to recreate what he had heard. But he was also a diligent modernist, in his ability to create new sounds from traditional ingredients.

Early in his career, O’Brien moved from his native West Virginia west of the Rockies. In just a few short years, he became the lead vocalist, mandolin and fiddle player, and main songwriter for beloved 1980s Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize. Seeking to go beyond bluegrass, he then traveled to Nashville. O’Brien’s success in navigating the shoals of the vast reservoir of American folk musical expression brought him into the realm of what is now called Americana.

The core of Tim O’Brien’s virtuosity is his constant and energetic pursuit of the next musical adventure. As a traveler, he varied widely in choosing the next instrument, song, style, fellow musicians, or location. Written with the full cooperation of O’Brien and input from family, friends, colleagues and critics, Traveler provides the first full behind-the-scenes image of a self-taught, all-American musical genius – the boy who grew up listening to country artists at the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree and ended up forging a new path through American music.

The book includes 22 black and white illustrations.

Editor‏: University of Oklahoma Press (September 30, 2022)
Hardcover: 232 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 0806190620
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0806190624
Dimensions: 15.19 x 2.59 x 23.01 cm (6 x 9 inches)
Also available as an e-book (ISBN ‎978-8061-9138-6)

Publication of this book is made possible through the generosity of Edith Kinney Gaylord.

It includes two appendices – a discography and lyrics of selected songs – and an index of songs and albums.

Voyageur: The Musical Odyssey of Tim O’Brien can be purchased from the publisher, all good bookstores and the usual online outlets.

Bobbie and Bill Malone’s previous collaboration for University of Oklahoma Press was Nashville’s Songwriting Lovers: The Story of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant (March 2020).