I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #134

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 11, 1869 Pendleton M Vandiver [Uncle Pen] was born in Butler County, Kentucky. *
  • February 11, 1962 John Justine Monroe died, age 65. (see May 17) **
  • February 11, 1985 Rudy Lyle died in Franklin, Tennessee, from a massive heart attack, age 54.  ***
  • February 11, 2003 CD released – Various Artists – The Legend Lives On: A Tribute to Bill Monroe (Audium Entertainment  AUD-CD-8170) ****
  • February 11, 2005 Pete Sayers died, Cambridge, England.  *****

* Uncle Pen was the older brother to Bill Monroe’s mother Malissa Vandiver. Like Malissa Monroe, he was a great influence Bill Monroe’s taste for music, as he often brought his fiddle to the Monroe household when he came to supper. Afterwards he would play such tunes as Soldier’s Joy, Boston Boy, Methodist Preacher and Jenny Lynn.

He was a tradesman when young, but turned to farming in later life.

Uncle Pen was also instrumental in introducing the youngest Monroe child to the blues playing of Arnold Shultz and the banjo playing of Clarence Wilson.

After Bill Monroe’s father died in 1928, making him an orphan at 16 years of age, Bill Monroe lived with his uncle Pen and often played guitar back-up at the many square dances uncle Pen played.

He is immortalized in the very popular Monroe song Uncle Pen.

** John Monroe was the third child to ‘Buck’ and Malissa Monroe. He spent some years of his working life as miner. He also worked in Chicago before returning to Kentucky, where he died.

*** As a youngster Rudy Lyle was taught to play the banjo by Lawrence Wright, a banjoist who hailed from the Rocky Mountains. Then in his teens, he joined Uncle Joe Johnson’s band and appeared on WPAQ radio in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

A recording from the time when he was at WPAQ is featured on the Rounder compilation WPAQ: The Voice of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a collection of radio recordings done in the late 1940s.

After leaving the Blue Grass Boys in 1954, he worked with Jimmy Dean and later also with artists such as Roy Clark, Claude King, Patsy Cline, Cas Walker and Red Rector.

He also recorded a single, Brown Eyes Cryin Over Blue, for Starday Records. Lyle was a private air pilot and often flew self-built planes.

**** The Legend Lives On: A Tribute to Bill Monroe 2-CD set, 28 tracks

In April 1997 some of bluegrass music’s greatest names (including Ralph Stanley, Ricky Skaggs, the Del McCoury Band) gathered at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to remember Bill Monroe, the music he made, and the genre he all but single-handedly spawned. This double-CD set captures 28 songs performed live that evening, including such standouts as Skaggs’s renditions of Uncle Pen and Get Up John; Tim O’Brien’s impassioned Workin’ on a Building; the Del McCoury Band’s John Henry, where McCoury’s tenor is as tense and charged as a high-voltage wire; and Stanley’s Can’t You Hear Me Callin’, featuring vocal harmony so high and piercing it’ll make you shiver. The producers might have fared better paring the program down to one 14-song disc, since too many average moments dilute the impact. But the album retains a certain poignancy in two songs from the late John Hartford, one of which, Cross-Eyed Child, traces the pain of the disfigurement that led to Monroe’s mournful music, and in Marty Stuart’s version of the traditional Rabbit in the Log, a woeful reminder of the hardscrabble Southern upbringing that so many of Monroe’s contemporaries endured. This is not the ultimate tribute to the Father of Bluegrass, but it’s a gift anyway.

Alanna Nash

Track listing – Uncle Pen – Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder; Cross Eyed Child – John Hartford; John Henry – Del McCoury Band; Walkin’ to Jerusalem – Connie Smith & the Whites; Rawhide – Marty Stuart with Del McCoury Band; Can’t You Hear Me Callin’ – Ralph Stanley; Rose of Old Kentucky – Larry Sparks; Highway of Sorrow – Tim O’Brien; Wicked Path Of Sin – Jerry & Tammy Sullivan; Orange Blossom Special – Charlie Daniels; Rocky Road Blues – Jim & Jesse; Blue Eyed Darlin’ – The Bluegrass (sic) Boys; Blue Moon of Kentucky – James Monroe; Will the Circle Be Unbroken – All Artists; Rabbit in the Log – Marty Stuart; True Life Blues – Del McCoury Band; What Would You Give in Exchange – Larry Sparks, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder; Used to Be – The Whites; Swing Low Sweet Chariot – Bill Carlisle; Rollin’ In My Sweet Baby’s Arms – Charlie Daniels; I Got a Letter – Ralph Stanley; In the Pines – The Bluegrass Boys; Workin’ on a Building – Tim O’Brien; I’ll Meet You in Church Sunday Morning – Jerry & Tammy Sullivan; Little Cabin on the Hill – John Hartford; Bean Blossom Memories – James Monroe; I’ll Fly Away – All Artists

***** In 1972 Pete Sayers left Nashville and returned to the UK and began the Grand Ole Opry (England), which staged country shows in the Kingsway Cinema in Newmarket. It became very popular and was on the touring schedule for visiting Americans including Bill Monroe and Marvin Rainwater.

Sayers became a significant act in his own right, hosting television shows, appearing at the International Country Music Festival at Wembley, London, and touring with George Hamilton IV.

For 30 years, Sayers was a member of the bluegrass group the Radio Cowboys, based in the Cambridge area, and he can be heard on their CD Riding the Airwaves (2004).

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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.