Pickin' Magazine

by Sean BARRY, Founder and First Listowner of Banjo-L

Date: Thu, 19 Dec 1996 08:11:31 -0800 (PST)
From: Sean Barry 
To: Banjo-L@ucdavis.edu
Subject: Pickin' Magazine

On Thu, 19 Dec 1996, Ernest wrote:

> Years ago, I subscribed to a string music magazine entitled "Pickin.'"
>  After, i took a two year sabbatical from actively playing music, (and let
> all my subscriptions lapse), I don't see any evidence of the magazine
> anymore.  Does anyone know whether "Pickin" is available anymore?  Is there
> another good magazine (Other than "Bluegrass Unlimited" and "Bluegrass Now"
> that might fill the void?

Pickin' was a bluegrass-oriented magazine that started in 1973 in
Morristown, New Jersey.  Up to then, the only general bluegrass magazine
available was Bluegrass Unlimited, which is still in production.  At that
time, BU was rather plain and uneven editorially, and even then a
potential market existed for a slick, well-edited and laid out bluegrass
magazine with lots of color pictures--thus came Pickin'. Most of the
Pickin' issues were quite informative, and aimed at a relatively
sophisticated readership.  The Vega/Fairbanks issue (June 1978) was an
absolute classic, and there were several others equally noteworthy.
Pickin' also was not afraid to give mediocre bluegrass albums mediocre
reviews, although good albums received high praise.  Some of each issue
was devoted to technical aspects of instruments and instrument
construction, largely at the hands of Roger Siminoff.  To call Siminoff a
Loar obsessive would be a bit of an understatement (in search of Loar lore
he found Loar's widow alive and well, unaware of the mystique that
surrounded her late spouse), and he wrote extensively and well not only
about that era in Gibson history but about earlier Gibson mandolins and
Mastertone banjos as well.  Siminoff was also the only regular "columnist"
in the magazine, and he was the President and technical director of
Pickin' throughout most of its existence.  Don Kissil was the editorial
director (=editor-in-chief).

"Pickin'" was a great idea gone awry, in that it was quite successful until the editorship decided to take it to the newstands in 1978, instead of the subscription-only policy that prevailed prior to that. Hand in hand with that decision was an overt move away from a centrist bluegrass theme to include various styles of acoustic/electric music under its umbrella--the subtitle and masthead on the June 1976 issue reads "The Magazine of Bluegrass and Old Time Country Music," but the April 1978 masthead reads "bluegrass/country/folk/country and western/classical/jazz/old time/dixieland/plus fashions and lifestyles." The subtitle for the April 1978 issue is "For People into Music." Issues from that year include articles about recreation vehicles alongside tap-tuning articles and historical pieces, and cover stories about Mike Auldridge, Steve Martin, and Minnie Pearl (!). Finally, in August 1978 the magazine arrived at the newstand and in subscribers' mailboxes with a new name: "People Into Music," and the first issue of this debacle featured a far-out color shot of Earl Scruggs and his sons, i.e., the Earl Scruggs Review--if there was a "group-non-grata" among traditional bluegrassers at the time, the Earl Scruggs Review was it. Subscribers did not take this laying down, and cancelled in droves, and the magazine was also unsuccessful in its debut on the newstand. The very next issue returned to the name "Pickin'," and Kissil made many apologies and attempted amends in the editorial page.

Pickin' never recovered from this travesty, and less than six months later Jim Crockett's Guitar Player Publications (later GPI) of Sunnyvale, California, introduced an even slicker and well-financed magazine called "FRETS," which was devoted to acoustic string music in general. The editor in chief of FRETS was none other than Roger Siminoff, enticed transcontinentally from Pickin' (which was still in production) to take up residence in San Jose. FRETS was quite successful, and hit the newstands from the start--Crockett's experience with Guitar Player served him well and he and Siminoff were able to entice many prominent players and authorities as regular columnists--Bill Keith, Earl Scruggs, David Grisman, Dan Crary, George Gruhn, etc, etc with many changes over the years. FRETS was much more of a "fanzine" than Pickin'--Lester Flatt was a "Giant," Sam Bush a "Newgrass Commando," and I don't recall ever reading even a slightly negative album review in its pages--the words "commando" and "giant" were not typsettable in the Pickin' production plant. Siminoff wrote regular columns and feature pieces, but his presence was less evident than it was at Pickin'. Pickin' finally folded 2-3 months into 1979, after the second or third issue of FRETS was published. Crockett purchased Pickin' (i.e., its subscriber's list) and officially buried it by resubscribing its devotees to FRETS. FRETS thrived through the 1980's, although Siminoff was removed in about 1982 from the editor-in-chief position, and later disappeared altogether from the masthead. I believe that Crockett sold GPI about 1988-89, and the purchaser declined to continue publishing FRETS, even though it was still successful.

Sean Barry