Don't Give Your Heart to a Rambler-University of Illinois Press

As charismatic and gifted as he was volatile, Jimmy Martin recorded dozens of bluegrass classics and co-invented the high lonesome sound. Barbara Martin Stephens became involved with the King of Bluegrass at age seventeen. Don't Give your Heart to a Rambler tells the story of their often tumultuous life together.

Barbara bore his children and took on a crucial job as his booking agent when the agent he was using failed to obtain show dates for the group. Female booking agents were non-existent at that time but she persevered and went on to become the first female booking agent on Music Row. She also endured years of physical and emotional abuse at Martin's hands. With courage and candor, Barbara tells of the suffering and traces the hard-won personal growth she found inside motherhood and her work. Her vivid account of Martin's explosive personality and torment over his exclusion from the Grand Ole Opry fill in the missing details on a career renowned for being stormy. Barbara also shares her own journey, one of good humor and proud achievements, and filled with fond and funny recollections of the music legends and ordinary people she met, befriended, and represented along the way.

Straightforward and honest, Don't Give your Heart to a Rambler is a woman's story of the world of bluegrass and one of its most colorful, conflicted artists.


"For anyone who has ever yearned to know more about the man behind the boisterous King of Bluegrass personality, Don't Give Your Heart to a Rambler should certainly offer an intriguing perspective."--Bluegrass Today

"While the music of Jimmy Martin is documented for the ages, his detailed personal life has never been so thoroughly told until now. Barbara Martin lived with the man, bore four of his children, and served as his manager and booking agent during the glory days when he was known as 'Mr. Good ‘N Country Music.' Brutally honest, this book runs the gamut of emotions giving us a first-person account of one the most talented—yet complicated—performers during the golden years of country and bluegrass music." —Eddie Stubbs, WSM Grand Ole Opry Announcer 

"Jimmy Martin was a sparkling stylist, both as a singer and a guitarist, a brilliant showman whom few could follow onstage, and a tortured soul who once, when I simply said hello to him at the Grand Ole Opry, threatened to whip my ass right there on the side of the stage. I met Jimmy early in my career and thought I knew him fairly well. After reading Barbara's painfully honest portrayal, however, I realize I hardly knew him at all."--Bill Anderson 

"I can't say enough good things about Barbara Martin and her influence on bluegrass music. She was an early pioneer with booking and representing her artist partner Jimmy Martin. The new venues she was able to put Jimmy into with his music was not easy in any way because Bluegrass is a music that is only appreciated by being watched and performed. Barbara was on the ground floor of all concerts and shows that was the forerunner of bluegrass festivals as we know them today. Thanks again Barbara for all your hard work, courage, many years of hearing no from promoters and telling us your story with this book."--Ronnie Reno 

"Barbara Martin has written a fascinating book about her years with Jimmy Martin, the King of Bluegrass. If you are a fan of Jimmy Martin—the artist or the man—buy this book to understand more about both."--Jesse McReynolds


Barbara Martin Stephens worked for many years as a booking agent and promoter, first for Jimmy Martin and then for numerous other bluegrass and country music performers.


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