I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #124

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.

  • February 1, 1898 U S Patent No. 598245 was issued to Orville H Gibson. (see May 11) *
  • February 1, 1929 Bill Duncan was born in West Virginia. **
  • February 1, 1939 Delano ‘Del’ Floyd McCoury was born in Bakersville, North Carolina. ***
  • February 1, 1941 Tom Gray was born in Chicago, Illinois. ****
  • February 1, 1963 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys made their first appearance before a folk music crowd when they performed at the three-day University of Chicago’s Folk Festival. It was also their first college appearance.
  • February 1, 1983 Recording session – During an evening session at Burns Station Sound Bill Monroe and the Oak Ridge Boys recorded Blue Moon of Kentucky. Wayne Lewis and Joe Stuart [guitar], Blake Williams [banjo], Mark Hembree [bass], Kenny Baker and Buddy Spicher [fiddle] the in-studio musicians. The producer was Walter Haynes. *****
  • February 1, 1991 CD released – Bill Monroe Blue Grass 1959-1969 (Bear Family BCD 15529 DH) ******

* Orville Gibson’s patented designs were a departure from the traditional Italian-style mandolins’ looks and technical features.

His mandolins featured a relatively flat carved back, a carved top, sides cut from a solid piece of wood and a longer fret board. They were constructed with either a teardrop shape or in a Florentine style with points and a scroll.

** Guitar player Bill Duncan had two brief spells as a Blue Grass Boy, one, lasting three months, in 1957 and the other in 1960.

He was not involved in any recording sessions.

Captivated by country music at an early age, Duncan formed his own band, the Harmony Mountain Boys in 1954. The band had a lengthy run on WOAY-TV in Oak Hill, West Virginia and in April 1961 recorded 12 songs that were released on the LP A Scene Near My Country Home (King 825).

Another member of the Harmony Mountain Boys was Don Sowards, a ‘fill-in’ Blue Grass Boy in 1960. The duo played together later in the Laurel Mountain Boys.

In 2008 he was reported as living in Kenna, West Virginia, where he continues to play music.

*** Del McCoury filled in playing banjo in early February 1963. When Bill Monroe offered McCoury a permanent position, McCoury found himself usurped by Bill Keith, so he switched to playing guitar and taking lead vocals.

He participated in just one recording session for Decca Records while a Blue Grass Boy; that on January 28, 1964, during which he sang lead on the chorus to Roll on Buddy, Roll On and Legend of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

However, he played some personal appearances that were recorded during 1963; the Friends of Old Time Music concert – February 8; a concert at The Ash Grove – May; the Newport Folk Festival – July 26 and July 27; and at Mechanic’s Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts – November 11.

He left the Blue Grass Boys in February 1964.

Later, in June 1985, McCoury sang lead vocals on I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky and Bluest Man in Town, and in June, (24th) 1990 he and Billy Baker moved to California in February 1964 to join the Golden State Boys. After leaving the band, he filled in for a show or two on banjo. McCoury stayed in California for only a few months before returning to Pennsylvania, where he and Baker played as the Shady Valley Boys.

McCoury formed his own band 1967, first called Del McCoury and the Dixie Pals, and, since 1987, the Del McCoury Band. He has won IBMA award for Male Vocalist of the Year on four occasions and has become one of the most popular bands in bluegrass today. His group has won IBMA award for Entertainer of the Year nine times and has been selected the IBMA Instrumental Group of the Year twice.

McCoury became a member of the Grand Old Opry on October 25, 2003.

**** Tom Gray filled the bass spot on a date at New River Ranch, Rising Sun, Maryland, in the summer of 1959 and again in 1969 at a date at the Shindig In The Barn, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

As a 19 year old, in September 1960, he joined the Country Gentlemen and was a member of the ‘classic’ edition of the band, with which he remained for four years.

From 1971 through to 1987 he played bass with The Seldom Scene.

Additionally, Gray has graced bluegrass stages around the Washington D.C. area playing bass with a host of other bands, including Bill Clifton & the Dixie Mountain Boys, Buzz Busby, Pete Pike & the Bayou Boys, Benny & Vallie Cain & the Country Clan, Bill Emerson, Cliff Waldron & the New Shades of Grass, the Gary Ferguson Band, the Hazel Dickens Band, John Starling & Carolina Star and Eddie & Martha Adcock.

He played a leading role in making Washington, D.C. the most prominent center for bluegrass music from 1958 through to the 1970s.

Gray’s party-piece Grandfather’s Clock can be heard on The Seldom Scene Recorded Live at the Cellar Door double album (Rebel Records).

Voted best bluegrass bass player eight times while a member of the Seldom Scene, Gray, as part of the Country Gentlemen, was the first bass player to be inducted into the IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 1996.

A cartographer for the National Geographic Society by profession, he played bass with the Federal Jazz Commission for about 15 years also.

***** The Oak Ridge Boys were Duane Allen (lead), Joe Bonsall (tenor), William Lee Golden (baritone) and Richard Sterban (bass).

****** Bill Monroe Blue Grass 1959-1969 4-CD Box-set and 28-Page Book

“The second Bill Monroe box set contains four CDs, 120 tracks in all, and continues the complete documentation of his recording career with Decca. This set issues Monroe’s ’59-’69 recordings, and also includes a wonderful 28 page booklet complete with discography and great vintage photos.

Written and compiled by Neil Rosenberg and Charles Wolfe, the booklet succeeds admirably in placing Bill’s work in proper historical perspective, as he was being influenced by new events and personalities in the 60’s. During the “folk boom” of the time Decca encouraged him to record his versions of old chestnuts like Cottonfields/ Nine Pound Hammer/ Darlin’ Corey/ Shady Grove and others that were being sanitized by urban folkies.

The rise of folk and bluegrass festivals led to exposure to new audiences, which led to young folkies like Bostonians Peter Rowan and Bill Keith becoming formidable musicians, and eventual Bluegrass Boys. The inclusion of these and other young players like sometime Kentucky Colonel Roland White and the underrated banjoist Tony Ellis helped spread the popularity of the music – and the musicians had their influence on Bill’s music as well.

Bill Keith in particular, with his unique “chromatic” approach to the banjo, caused banjo fiddle tunes to be featured more; although his tenure was only nine months, his influence was immense. His entire recorded output with Monroe is here, including masterpieces like Salt Creek/ Devil’s Dream/ Sailor’s Hornpipe/ Pike County Breakdown/ Shenandoah Breakdown.

Of the many great fiddlers employed by Monroe, three stand out here. Kenny Baker’s talent became known worldwide during this period, and the man Monroe considered talented enough to play his Uncle Pen’s fiddle tunes is featured throughout this set. Richard Greene, the young classically trained violinist from Los Angeles, is present on 14 tracks here, playing some of the most imaginative and expressive fiddle of the time. Byron Berline recorded only three tracks with Bill, but two of them, Gold Rush/ Sally Goodin are classics.

Del McCoury, most Monrovian of the current bluegrass singers, served his apprenticeship with the master during this period, also recording only three cuts – Roll On, Buddy Roll On/ Legend of the Blue Ridge Mountains feature fantastic vocal duets with Del and Bill.

Among the other diversely talented Bluegrass Boys here are future honky tonker Carl Butler, banjoists Lamar Grier and Vic Jordan, fiddlers Benny Williams, Buddy Spicher, Bobby Hicks and Dale Potter, the stalwart Joe Stuart on several instruments, and on and on – throughout this era, players considered time spent with Monroe as a valuable apprenticeship.

It should be noted that during this time Bill was singing, playing and composing at the peak of his powers – many of his best recordings and compositions are here, including Crossing The Cumberlands/ Kentucky Mandolin/ Dark as The Night (Blue As The Day) and many others.

This collection is a wonderful document, richly deserved and very welcome, particularly because much of this material has been long unavailable and MCA’s recent Country Hall Of Fame CD is woefully inadequate to the task of covering his extensive career. An invaluable addition to any serious bluegrass fan’s collection – highly recommended.”

Roots & Rhythm

Track listing – When the Phone Rang, Tomorrow I’ll Be Gone, Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day, Stoney Lonesome, Lonesome Wind Blues, Thinking About You, Come Go With Me, Sold Down the River, Linda Lou, You Live in a World All Your Own, Little Joe, Put My Rubber Doll Away, Seven Year Blues, Time Changes Everything, Lonesome Road Blues, Big River, Flowers of Love, It’s Mighty Dark to Travel, Bluegrass Part 1 (Bluegrass Twist), Little Maggie, I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky, Toy Heart, Shady Grove, Nine Pound Hammer, Live and Let Live, Danny Boy, Cotton Fields, Journey’s End, John Hardy, Bugle Call Rag, Old Joe Clark

There Was Nothing We Could Do, I Was Left on the Street, Cheap Love Affair, When the Bees Are in the Hive, Big Ball in Brooklyn, Columbus Stockade Blues, Blue Ridge Mountain Blues, How Will I Explain About You? Foggy River, The Old Country Baptising, I Found the Way, This World Is Not My Home, Way Down Deep in My Soul, Drifting Too Far From the Shore, Going Home, On the Jericho Road, We’ll Understand It Better, Somebody Touched Me, Careless Love, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy, Pass Me Not, The Gloryland Way, Farther Along, Big Sandy River, Baker’s Breakdown, Darling Corey, Cindy, The Master Builder, Let Me Rest at the End of the Day

Salt Creek, Devil’s Dream, Sailor’s Hornpipe, Were You There?, Pike County Breakdown, Shenandoah Breakdown, Santa Claus, I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning, Mary at the Home Place, Highway of Sorrow, One of God’s Sheep, Roll On, Buddy, Roll On, Legend of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Last Old Dollar, Bill’s Dream, Louisville Breakdown, Never Again, Just Over in the Gloryland, Fire on the Mountain, The Long Black Veil, I Live in the Past, There’s an Old, Old House,  When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again, I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, Turkey in the Straw, Pretty Fair Maiden in the Garden, Log Cabin in the Lane, Paddy on the Turnpike, That’s All Right, It Makes No Difference Now, Dusty Miller

Midnight on the Stormy Deep, All the Good Times Are Past and Gone, Soldier’s Joy, Blue Night, Grey Eagle, The Gold Rush, Sally Goodin’, Virginia Darlin’, Is the Blue Moon Still Shining?, Train 45 (Heading South), Kentucky Mandolin, I Want to Go With You, Crossing the Cumberlands, Walls of Time, I Haven’t Seen Mary in Years, Fire Ball Mail, The Dead March, Cripple Creek, What About You, With Body and Soul, Methodist Preacher, Walk Softly on My Heart, Tall Pines, Candy Gal, Going up Caney, The Lee Weddin’ Tune, Bonny, Mary and The Miles in Between.

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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.