I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #143

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 20, 1940 R. C. Harris was born.  *
  • February 20, 1998 Manuel ‘Old Joe’ Clark died at the age of 75. He had been hospitalized in Richmond, Kentucky, for abdominal surgery. **

* Harris played banjo for Bill Monroe on two separate occasions, the first was a three month spell from January to April 1971 and the second was during July 1981.

A singer and songwriter, originally from Statesville, North Carolina, Harris now lives in Gallatin, Tennessee.

He began his musical career at age 13 playing on the Ole Mountain Opry. In 1973 he formed Blue Denim a band that at one time included Herschel Sizemore and Terry Baucom.

Harris has three albums for Old Homestead Records and one on the Grassound label; Grass Won’t Grow on a Busy Street (GR 116, released in 1978), which featured guest artists Bobby Hicks, Del McCoury and Herschel Sizemore.

Soon after that, Harris tried his hand at commercial country music, only to return to his roots and record a tribute to John Duffey, The Scenic Route (RCH Records 1, released in 2001).

In 2006 he released Comin’ Back to Bluegrass (RCH Records 1003), which leans heavily on the Flatt and Scruggs repertoire of bluegrass classics.

** As a tap-dancing, guitar-strumming, mountain balladeer, ‘Old Joe’ Clark, or ‘Speedy’ Clark as he was originally known, first joined the ranks of a local band, playing at the schoolhouses and theatres throughout East Tennessee.

In 1942, after twelve years of learning his craft as an all around entertainer, he was hired by John Lair to do commercial announcements on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance where, apart from his time touring  with Bill Monroe, he stayed for the remainder of his career.

As well as in his radio and television appearances his fame as a comedian and banjo player grew through his participation in films such as Country Music on Broadway, Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar and Marshall of Sleepy Hollow.

He was still performing – in later years with his son Terry – although slowed down by emphysema, until his illness led to surgery and death in 1998.

“Well I have some cool memories of Bill. But one that I keep always was actually captured in a photo backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. As you probably know, Bill was famous for handing out quarters to children. And so it was when my daughter was only 8 years old. We were playing on the Opry that night and so was Bill. We were standing around in the Green Room when I guess he started talking to her… and soon he was handing her a quarter. I was fortunate enough to have a family member snap a photo for a keepsake. There were lots of people looking on… and one of the folks who got captured in the picture was Tater Tate. I have the photo, the quarter and Bill’s autograph from Horsepens 40 Bluegrass Festival in Alabama all framed together and hanging in my office.”

Claire Lynch

Share this:

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.