Delmore Dedication Vol 2: Will You Be Lonesome, Too?

The Delmore BrothersEarly country stars, the Delmore Brothers were huge influences on not only bluegrass and country music, but blues, folk, rock and roll, and more. The Delmore Brothers received a long overdue Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2014, recognizing their lasting impact on bluegrass music. In order to celebrate the legacy of the Delmore Brothers, I will be featuring a “Delmore Dedication” leading up to what would have been Alton Delmore’s 106th birthday on December 25th. Each day, I will showcase a different Delmore Brothers song and its popular bluegrass interpretations.

It has been said that a good song is timeless. Few artists exemplify this like the Delmore Brothers. While their original recordings (unfortunately) may not be as readily accepted by modern audiences, Alton and Rabon Delmore’s material continues to enjoy reincarnations in every generation of bluegrass music: a true testament to their music and legacy.

One of the finest examples of the Delmores’ relevancy throughout bluegrass history is Will You Be Lonesome, Too?

How would you like feeling lonesome
When someone is through with you
My heart is sad and I’m lonesome
I wonder if you’re lonesome too
I wonder if you’re lonesome too

Don’t want you to cry cause I’m leaving
Don’t want you to cry cause I’m blue
Only my thoughts make me lonesome
I wonder if you’re lonesome too
I wonder if you’re lonesome too

Why should two lovers quarrel
Why should they be so untrue
I know what it means to be lonesome
I wonder if you’re lonesome too
I wonder if you’re lonesome too

No one to love me little darling
Nothing but memories of you
When I’m far away I’ll be lonesome
I wonder if you’re lonesome too
I wonder if you’re lonesome too

Give me your right hand honey
I’ll say this farewell to you
I’ll be so lonesome without you
I wonder if you’re lonesome too
I wonder if you’re lonesome too

I’m going to assume that while reading the above lyrics, a certain voice was singing the lyrics to you. Depending on your age, that voice was (most likely) either Lester Flatt, Keith Whitley, or Ronnie Bowman. Although you probably weren’t automatically thinking of the Delmore Brothers’ original recording of Will You Be Lonesome, Too?, that doesn’t diminish their impact across three generations of bluegrass music.

Alton and Rabon Delmore recorded Will You Be Lonesome, Too? in New York City on September 11, 1940. The original version of this song is a tad slower than the fiery bluegrass interpretations with which we are most familiar, but it’s not draggy by any means. Although a lonesome song (I mean, the word “lonesome” is in the title), the song still maintains a certain cheeriness through, which is a nice contrast considering how miserable the lyrics are. Maybe it’s beautiful harmonies, maybe it’s the pep in Rabon’s tenor guitar, but whatever it is, it’s hard not to bop your head along with Alton and Rabon’s original.

 

Twenty-five years after Alton and Rabon recorded Will You Be Lonesome, Too?, the most commercially successful of the first generation bluegrass bands (if not the the most successful bluegrass band ever) brought the song into the bluegrass canon. Flatt & Scruggs included Will You Be Lonesome, Too? on 1965’s The Versatile Flatt & Scruggs. The song is vintage Foggy Mountain Boys! The song comes at you like a locomotive. Earl Scruggs’ powerful banjo takes the song to the next level, making it a full-fledged bluegrass number. Throw in Paul Warren’s fiddle and Josh Graves’ dobro, and you better hold on to your hat! This cut even includes Nashville harmonica player, Charlie McCoy. For many first generation bluegrass fans, this version is probably the one with which they are most familiar.

 

Nearly forty years after the Delmore Brothers recorded the song in New York City and nearly fifteen years after Flatt & Scruggs brought Will You Be Lonesome, Too? to bluegrass, it was recorded in the country-grass style which was so popular in the second generation bluegrass of the ’70s and ’80s. In 1979, J.D. Crowe & The New South featured the great, Keith Whitley. Their album, My Home Ain’t In The Hall Of Fame has been crowned a bluegrass classic, and it is pointed to as the standard of the country-grass sound. One of its standout tracks is none other than Will You Be Lonesome, Too? It’s no stretch of the imagination that J.D. Crowe grew up hearing his hero, Earl Scruggs, perform this song with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Steve “Boom-Boom” Bryant’s electric bass and Jimmy Ashby’s drums help this song straddle the country/bluegrass line. Keith Whitley’s powerful vocals and Crowe’s classic banjo are the true stars of this show though.

 

Nearly fifty-five years after the Delmore Brothers recorded the song, nearly thirty years after Flatt & Scruggs cut it, and fifteen years after J.D. Crowe & The New South did their country-grass version of Will You Be Lonesome, Too?, Ronnie Bowman opened up his first solo album, Cold Virginia Night, with this classic Delmore Brothers tune. This 1994 edition features members of one of the most influential modern bluegrass bands – The Lonesome River Band. LRB helped define the bluegrass of the ’90s, and it is this third major reincarnation of the song, featuring Ronnie Bowman up front, which is probably most familiar to our more modern bluegrass fans. Craig Smith absolutely eats up the five on this version, too. In addition to featuring members of LRB, this recording also features three members of Alison Krauss & Union Station, the most successful bluegrass band of the past twenty years. For those who discredit Alison’s fiddle playing due to her angelic voice, allow this cut to correct your way of thinking. Thanks to Ronnie for bringing this old song to a modern audience!

 

And now, here we are nearly seventy-five years after the Delmore Brothers, nearly forty-five years after Flatt & Scruggs, thirty-five years after J.D. Crowe & the New South, and twenty years after Ronnie Bowman, and we are still talking about Will You Be Lonesome, Too?

This is just one example of one great song from the Delmores catalog. There are dozens of others which follow a similar pattern. Their songs have remained relevant in bluegrass for generations in a way that few have been able to achieve. This lasting impact on bluegrass music is far from over, as Delmore Brothers songs continue to be recorded every year by bluegrass artists around the globe.

 

Out of curiosity, which version of Will You Be Lonesome, Too? do you like the best? One of the versions of above, or one of the many other renditions (the Larry Sparks version is pretty killer too!)? Sound off in the comments below!

Share this:

About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel is from southwestern Ohio and has been around bluegrass his entire life. He manages the Classic Country Connection, a music store in southern Ohio which specializes in bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and Americana music. He is the host of the Bending The Strings radio program, which plays a variety of bluegrass, newgrass, and Americana music. He also maintains the website for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers. photo by LuAnn Adams