Robert Billy ‘Bill’ Yates Sr., who passed away on January 26, 2015, was born on April 30, 1936, in Big Rock, Virginia.
He learned an appreciation for music from his family as they worked on the farm, sang in church or listened to the Saturday night Grand Ole Opry show on their battery-powered radio.
Yates learned to play the bass by listening to records. He was influenced by Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, and Don Reno & Red Smiley.
Bill and his brother, mandolin-playing Wayne, formed The Yates Brothers & the Clinch Mountain Ramblers.
In 1952 he joined the United States Air Force.
Yates later moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and, for six years, worked with Jimmy Martin and, from July to November 1969, with Bill Monroe.
In the mid-1960s the brothers teamed up with Red Allen and Bill Emerson, the combination recorded an album released under the name of The Kentuckians.
Following his departure from the Blue Grass Boys he moved back to northern Virginia and joined The Country Gentlemen. Bill worked alongside Charlie Waller in The Country Gentlemen for 20 plus years, gathering many awards, accolades and friends along the way before finally retiring in 1989.
Yates’s popularity and continued bluegrass music activity through the years led to him being dubbed “The Ambassador of Bluegrass Music” in 2004.
In 2005 he put together a new band, Bill Yates & the Country Gentlemen Tribute Band, a tribute to the band into which he had put so much of his musical-soul. He enjoyed the welcoming acceptance that the band received throughout the bluegrass community.
Bill Yates was inducted into the Hall of Greats in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Virginia Folk Music Hall of Fame.
A couple of former Country Gentlemen have shared their thoughts with us.
Doyle Lawson joined the band in September 1971 and stayed for almost eight years …….
“Since learning of the passing of Bill Yates this past Monday evening I have had countless thoughts and memories of the friendship we had for close to fifty years, including the seven and half years as members of The Country Gentlemen.
I met Bill in 1967 at the county fairgrounds in Irvin, Kentucky, when he was playing the bass for Jimmy Martin. Vassar Clements and Chris Warner were in the band as well. Jimmy didn’t have a mandolin and tenor singer with him at the time and Bill was singing tenor.
Bill had a heart bigger than the state of Virginia and always had a big grin on his face and a funny story. In the years we worked together we saw a lot people, places and things while as the song says ‘looking at the world through a windshield.’ In those days it seemed we were constantly touring, and I recall many times of being worn out to the point of exhaustion and still have a long overnight run to make the next show. Bill would say, and I quote, “‘well we can sit here and dread it, but we still have to go so let’s get going!’ He possessed a work ethic second to none and took pride in all that he did. Thankfully he could (and did) mechanical work and more than a few times got us back on the road to make the show or got us home from the show.
These are but a few things I share with you about the man that I am proud to say was a dear, dear friend. Rest In Peace brother Bill, you’ve surely earned it!”
Eddie Adcock joined The Country Gentlemen in the very early days and stayed with them until 1970 ………
“Bill Yates is part of the ‘old guard’ now, and we hate to lose him not only because he’s part of bluegrass history, but because he was a good friend. All of us Washington, DC guys ran around together in the ‘50s and ’60s, so I’d known Bill a long time when I hired him for the Gentlemen in 1970.
He’d been working for Monroe driving bus and playing bass — those two occupations used to go together —and he’d previously done the bus-and-bass thing for Jimmy Martin. When I hired Bill away from Monroe, I’d gone to Nashville on record business, probably to stop by Starday or something, and I ran into him there and told him Ed McGlothlin was having to leave and asked him if he’d like to come to work with us. He said ‘yes,’ and he was there with the Gentlemen for a long time.
Bill was Charlie Waller’s right arm, and kept things going on the road. Bill was a hard worker, always. And he was a hell-raiser in his early days, but we were all young and sort of crazy then. I could tell you wild stories about the fights and such, like the time I saw Bill actually knock a guy out of his shoes. They were loafers, but Bill knocked the fellow right out of them, left them sitting there where the guy came out of them.
Bill wasn’t raised as tough as I was, on a farm and such, but those Yates boys were raised to work. They came from a good family and were raised right. We got into a lot of scrapes together when we were young, but of course I’ll always remember him fondly. He was a good friend. We had a lot of good and bad times together, but mostly really good ones.”
Funeral arrangements …..
The family will receive friends from 6:00-8:00 p.m.on Saturday, January 31, 2015, and Sunday, February 1, 2015, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at Pierce Funeral Home, 9609 Center Street, Manassas, Virginia, where funeral services will be held 12:00 p.m. on Monday, February 2, 2015. Interment will follow at Stonewall Memory Gardens, Manassas, Virginia.