Bill Holden passes

One of the Blue Grass Boys of the mid-1970s, Bill Holden, passed away suddenly in Knoxville, Tennessee on November 15, 2021 at the age of 71. 

William O’Neal ‘Bill’ Holden was born on July 25, 1950 in Fort Worth, Texas, and developed a passion for bluegrass music in high school. He listened to Earl Scruggs, and with the assistance of influential Texas musician and songwriter, Stephen Bruton, Holden learned his first primary chords and modes for picking the banjo and the guitar – in fingerpick and flatpick styles – becoming adept at both. His banjo picking was solid mixture of Scruggs and Bobby Thompson/Bill Keith styles. 

While banjo was his primary instrument followed by the guitar, Holden played bass and fiddle as well. 

Also in high school, he developed a passion for football, and he took that into the University of Oklahoma, alma mater for fiddler Byron Berline a few years earlier.  

In 1972 he was a member of a band, the Bluegrass Salad Boys, based in Aspen, which only lasted a week. 

Holden worked with James Monroe’s Midnight Ramblers beginning in 1974, before moving further east to join the Country Gentlemen, with whom he played banjo for the LP Joe’s Last Train and singing baritone on Lord, I’m Just A Pilgrim for their Gospel set, Calling My Children Home.  

Texas Chili, a Holden original, is from Joe’s Last Train….. 

While on his way back to Texas, Holden stopped in Nashville and made contact with Bill Monroe expressing an interest in playing with him. As a result, in September 1976 Holden replaced Bob Black. 

A month later they were recording – for Holden it was the first of five sessions through to July 1977; six tracks were included on the LP Bill Monroe Sings Bluegrass, Body And Soul (MCA 2251), and ten can be found on the follow-up Bill Monroe: Bluegrass Memories (MCA 2315).

During his tenure as a Blue Grass Boy Holden did a nine-day tour of Japan in January and during the following month played the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. 

However, he left the band in March, only to return at the end of June before quitting early in August, but not before Holden recorded his own instrumental Pinewood Valley, for which Monroe, unusually, gave full credit. 

Other original Holden tunes are Texan Bluebonnets, Blue Goose, and Lucky Lady. 

For many years he was a long-distance truck driver and hadn’t played the banjo seriously since 1985, except in 2000 when he performed with Peter Rowan at a festival in Dripping Springs, Texas, and picked banjo on Rowan’s Reggaebilly album (circa 2001). 

After running his own businesses in Blanco, Texas, Holden retired to Tennessee.

For those who knew him, he will be remembered for his larger-than-life personality as well as his musical talent and a love for the history of bluegrass music. 

R.I.P. Bill Holden 

There will be a private family celebration. 

A Discography 

Bill Monroe 

  • Bill Monroe Sings Bluegrass, Body And Soul (MCA 2251, released January 10, 1977)
  • Bill Monroe: Bluegrass Memories (MCA 2315, October 3, 1977)

The Country Gentlemen

  • Joe’s Last Train (Rebel Records SLP-1559, 1976)
  • Calling My Children Home (Rebel Records SLP 1574, 1978) 

Peter Rowan

  • Reggaebilly (There! 70007, 2002)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.