Connie M Gately Jr., singer and guitarist of Connie & Babe and the Backwoods Boy,s died on Monday, October 15. He was 83 years old.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 31,1929, he grew up in Henderson County, middle Tennessee, where local pickers made a lasting impression on him. Gately started to play bluegrass early in his teens, firstly having use of a borrowed guitar before getting his own as a Christmas gift.
Gately performed and recorded with Babe Lofton as Connie & Babe and the Black Mountain Boys – later the Backwoods Boys (who were formed about 1952) – with releases for the Republic, Starday labels and Rounder Records. Recordings for the first two labels were released on The Early Days of Bluegrass. Vol. 10 (Rounder) also.
Occasionally, they went under the name of Connie & Joe – bringing to prominence another of the Backwoods Boys, banjo player Joe Drumright.
An excellent songwriter, Gately wrote the now-standard Home is Where the Heart Is, a song that was recorded as the title track of an album by David Grisman (Rounder 0251/2) and was nominated for a Grammy award.
Other songs that he penned were Down the Road to Home; Grave on the Rolling Hillside; Roll on Blues; Daddy, My Dollies Would Cry; How Will the Flowers Bloom; The Lonely Years Belong to Me and Toil and Tears and Trouble.
In recent years his songs have been recorded by the Johnson Mountain Boys, James King, Traditional Grass, Longview and Audie Blaylock.
Although he never was a full-time musician, Gately played guitar for Bill Monroe for a period through from 1958 to 1959. He didn’t feature on any of Monroe’s recordings. Gately and Joe Drumright and Backwoods Boy fiddler Charlie Smith often played with Monroe on the Grand Ole Opry.
Gately, who attended the university at Lipscomb, Memphis State and Peabody, earning a B.S. and M.A. degrees while playing college baseball there, worked for more than 30 years in a management position at Aladdin Industries, a maker of character lunch boxes in Nashville.
His bluegrass memories were recorded by the International Bluegrass Music Museum for its oral-history program.
Connie Gately was laid to rest in the Hermitage Memorial Gardens, Nashville, on Saturday.
Ken Irwin, A&R man at Rounder Recorders has very fond memories of Gately….
“Connie Gately was one of the nicest people I’ve met in my years in bluegrass. I first met Connie at Indian Springs in 1973, shortly after Connie and Babe were ‘rediscovered’ living in the Nashville area.
Connie recorded some of the finest early bluegrass as Connie and Joe and Connie and Babe on Republic and Starday and then seemed to disappear for more than a decade.
The Backwoods Boys were never a full time band, though it wasn’t for a lack of quality in their music, but rather that they had full time jobs. Connie worked at Aladdin Industries until his retirement when he could spend more time with his various hobbies which included collecting and selling knives and guitars, working on old Mustangs and Packards and spending time with his family.
For a time, Connie helped distribute Rounder albums in the Nashville area, taking orders from the local stores, placing orders with Rounder and then hand delivering the albums to the stores.
While he liked playing before audiences, he seemed to have just as much or more fun playing at home with friends and band mates and eating homemade ice cream.
He still would attend festivals…I sat with him and his wife Bernita at a Sierra Hull Bluegrass Festival a number of years back. Connie had been one of the first to let me know about Sierra. He also would show up at SPBGMA to sell and buy instruments.
Wherever he was, whoever he was with, he had a ready smile, great energy, and a twinkle in his eye.
Connie was a real gentleman, and one of those people you loved to be around as he seemed to make those around him feel good about themselves. He was a jewel and will be missed by all who knew him.”
Basic Bluegrass (Rounder 0042, 1973)
Backwoods Bluegrass (Rounder 0043, 1975)
Early Days of Bluegrass, Vol. 10 (Rounder 1022, released in 1980)
Down the Road to Home (Rounder CD 0298, recorded in 1992 and released in 1995)