Bluegrass stars turn out for Pete Corum Memorial Service

Pete Corum, 73-year-old North Carolina singer and bassist, best known for his time backing Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass in the mid-1970s, passed away on December 1, 2021. A memorial service reflecting on his musical career was held this past Sunday (January 30) at Troutman Church of God in Troutman, NC. Special guests included Jim Lauderdale and Jack Lawrence.

The church’s pastor, Connor Lambert, who is also mandolinist with the Sons of the South, welcomed those gathered that included family, friends, and musicians. “We are here to celebrate Pete Corum’s life and the music that he loved. He was a man who made a difference for the music that he played.”

When picker, Jeff Michael, stepped up, he confessed, “Pete and I used to sing House of the Rising Sun. We were both younger and skinnier then. We had an act called Scrambled Eggs and Ham. I was Ham. Pete was a joy to be around. We’ll all get to pick together some day.”

A fifteen-minute video was screened. It included pictures from Corum’s musical career with his songs playing throughout the presentation, including his versions of Little Georgia Rose and House of the Rising Sun.

Next, Tom Isenhour, mandolinist and one of the organizers of the service, shared comments from some of Pete’s musical friends. Here are a few:

Frank Poindexter, Tony Rice’s uncle and dobroist with Deeper Shade of Blue, said they used to pass each other as they played live radio shows. They finally got to know each other at fiddlers’ conventions. “What a powerhouse tenor singer. He put everything into his playing. He had a big heart.”

Mandolinist, Ronnie Privette, had been in Bluegrass Alliance with Pete. “We both left North Carolina for Louisville, KY. All we wanted to do was live out our dreams and play music for a living. Fly high, cowboy, we’ll meet you on the other side.”

Doug Hutchens, bassist for Bill Monroe, recalled, “In 1971, in Lavonia, GA at Roy Martin’s festival, Bill asked me if Pete could play bass. He had helped Bill at Bean Blossom for no pay.”

Blake Williams who picked banjo with Nashville Grass said, “Pete was a fine musician and his high tenor voice could fill up a whole bluegrass festival.” He sent a humorous tale. 

Once three band mates, all dressed in dark winter coats, entered a bank to get change for their record table. One went to the teller, one stood by the door, and Pete went to the restroom. Almost immediately, police entered with hands on holsters. The teller had hit the silent alarm, thinking the bank was about to be robbed. Blake explained the situation and the officers wanted Lester’s autograph. After taking them to the bus to meet the bluegrass legend, Lester warned Pete. “Don’t ever go to the restroom in a bank again.”

Charlie Cushman sent condolences, too. “I worked with Pete in 1979 with James Monroe and the Midnight Ramblers. He had a happy personality. Rest easy, old friend.”

Tim Graves, Uncle Josh’s nephew, also played with James Monroe. “Pete was always the first one on the bus and the last to leave.”

Isenhour then shared his own sentiments. “I believe the good Lord put us on this earth for a special purpose. Pete’s was to entertain. In 1984, Bill Monroe played Jim and Tammy Bakker’s PTL for a tent revival. He didn’t have a bass player so he grabbed Pete. When they did Beautiful Life, Monroe asked Pete to sing bass. When Pete explained he couldn’t sing that low, Monroe sang the bass and Pete sang the tenor.”

Marty Stuart’s comments were then read. “I truly loved working with Pete Corum in Lester Flatt’s band. He was one of the truly great characters in bluegrass music. It was like working alongside of Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza. Everybody loved Pete: country people, hippies, musicians. His House of the Rising Sun never failed and Lester’s line, ‘If any of you people want to hear Pete just raise your window, you can hear him from whenever he’s singing from.’ It kind of made him famous. He was a cool Carolina cat. It was an honor to work alongside of him.”

Next, famed North Carolina guitarist, Jack Lawrence, spoke. “I met Pete at a fiddlers’ convention. We both were in Bluegrass Alliance. We liked each other, but came from completely different sides of bluegrass. My side was little more progressive than Pete’s.”

Lawrence then related a story about an old bus the band had purchased. “Our first trip with the old bus was to DC. Near Frederick, MD, the engine threw a sleeve. There was a loud explosion and the bus had no power. We started going back down the mountain. We also had no emergency brake. I said, ‘Pete, you’re the biggest one on this bus, you’ve got to stop this bus.’ He jumped out, somehow got behind the bus, and slowed it down. The rest of us climbed out and stopped the bus.”

Jim Lauderdale came next. “I met Pete in 1981. We were both in the play, Cotton Patch Gospel. We were roommates in Boston. He was up every morning at 7:00 a.m. and was very purposeful.”

The pair then relocated to New York City. “He was a bluegrass Crocodile Dundee. New York was intimidating to me, but Pete was always his solid self. He had a transformative effect and made it better, as corny as it may sound.”

Lauderdale then performed two numbers.

A video, the Good Samaritan segment, from Lauderdale and Corum’s Cotton Patch Gospel days was shown. Attendances also watched an interview with Flatt talking about his career in music. The final clip was Lester’s last television appearance with the Nashville Grass, performing Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Pete was right behind him.

Lambert returned to the pulpit to conclude the memorial service. “It’s been a wonderful day to honor Pete. He preached his own funeral. He was put here to entertain people. He did what he was made to do. I do believe bluegrass is the music of Heaven.”

Michael interjected, “For once, they’ll all be in tune.”

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.