Ten bluegrass albums that will change your world

Bluegrass might be the punk version of country.
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JIMMY COLLIER – Freedom on My Mind – 1965

I wish I knew more about Jimmy Collier. I wish his album Freedom on My Mind was readily available. Late in life, a few videos surfaced of him performing which made him more of a real man and less of a myth. Those tiny snippets can only hint at what it must have been like to see him performing as a young man, essentially warming up the crowd at Martin Luther King, Jr. rallies. In a local news profile about fifteen years ago, Collier told the reporter he never knew if he would be playing for a few minutes or a few hours when opening for King.

Collier is the least known name on this list, and judging by the small sample size I have heard, he was not the virtuoso player that some of the others were. He was a good guitar player and competent on the banjo, and he had a powerful baritone and compelling presence as a performer. He is also one of the very few artists of color who made any kind of mark in the early decades of bluegrass.

Collier came out of a gospel tradition and soon applied the lessons of his youth to the civil rights struggle. He was both a musician and organizer and the one album from which I have heard pieces, Freedom on My Mind, shows that he was a first-rate performer. If that isn’t enough for you to consider him worthy of inclusion on this esteemed list, let me offer one other piece of supporting evidence.

Collier also told that news program that when traveling in the south during the civil rights era, he was frequently denied the opportunity to purchase strings for his guitar. Since he played a lot and was constantly breaking them, he had to figure out ways to make his own strings out of whatever materials he could find. And that, as much as anything I have heard, hearkens back to the earliest days of bluegrass. Back when it was mountain music and all the performers built their own instruments so that they could play their own music.