I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #103

From October 1, 2010 through to the end of September 2011, we will, each day, celebrate the life of Bill Monroe by sharing information about him and those people who are associated with his life and music career. This information will include births and deaths; recording sessions; single, LP and CD release dates; and other interesting tidbits. Richard F. Thompson is responsible for the research and compilation of this information. We invite readers to share any tidbits, photos or memories you would like us to include.

  • January 11, 1978 NBC recording – Bill Monroe recorded Blue Moon of Kentucky for the NBC program Fifty Years of Country Music.  *
  • January 11, 2005 CD released – The King & the Father (Music Mill 70048) **

* In addition to Blue Moon of Kentucky, Monroe, dueting with Dolly Parton, recorded Mule Skinner Blues for an NBC television program that was broadcast on January 22, 1978.

The Blue Grass Boys for these recordings were new-to-the-band Butch Robins [banjo], Wayne Lewis [guitar], Kenny Baker [fiddle] and Randy Davis [bass].

** The King & the Father understandably focuses on the Father of Bluegrass Music, Bill Monroe, and the King of Bluegrass Music, Jimmy Martin, who together set the tone for Monroe’s years with Decca Records (later MCA Records). They played and sang together on and off from December 1949 through to 1954) and their duets led to the description of bluegrass music as the “high lonesome sound.”

They recorded together during 11 sessions with Martin singing lead on such classics as Uncle Pen, Memories of You, Letter from my Darling, On and On and The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake, all of which are included in the dozen cuts presented on this set.

Track listing –  Uncle Pen, On and On, The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake, Sitting Alone In the Moonlight, I’m On My Way Back To the Old Home, Walking In Jerusalem (Just Like John), In the Pines, I Hope You Have Learned, River of Death, Memories of Mother and Dad, Letter From My Darling and I’ll Meet You In Church Sunday Morning.

The King and the Father features a dozen of Bill Monroe’s early-1950s Decca recordings on which Jimmy Martin provided lead or duet vocals. Although these performances were originally billed only to Monroe, the anthology cleverly gives joint credit to Monroe, “the Father of Bluegrass”, and Martin, the “King of Bluegrass”, to emphasize Martin’s contribution and to target his audience. Many bluegrass devotees regard Martin as the finest bluegrass vocalist of all time, and at the very least, his high lonesome tenor is a model for the genre. He harmonizes sublimely with Monroe, and the two join together in a heartsick cry that matches their penchant for unvarnished, sorrowful bluegrass songs about tragedy and suffering. Many of Monroe’s classic recordings are included, such as Uncle Pen, The Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake and In the Pines, as well as less-frequently anthologized performances. There is much overlap between Monroe and Martin’s audiences, but, in the years since Monroe’s death, Martin has inherited the “elder statesman of bluegrass” mantle and continued to perform, reaching new and younger listeners. As a result, Martin’s stature has only grown, and he may be reaching some new bluegrass fans that investigate Monroe because of his association with Martin, instead of the other way around. Whatever the listener’s motivation, The King and the Father provides a sampling of Martin’s collaborations with Monroe for old and new fans alike at an affordable price.

Greg Adams

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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.