I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #211

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.

  • April 29, 1967 Red Allen played his last date with the Blue Grass Boys, filling in on guitar.
  • April 29, 1969 Recording session – During an early evening session at Columbia Recording Studio Bill Monroe recorded Cripple Creek, What About You?, With Body and Soul and Methodist Preacher. Accompanying Bill Monroe were James Monroe [guitar], Rual Yarbrough [banjo] and Joe Zinkan [bass], and Kenny Baker and Tommy Williams [fiddles]. The producer was Harry Silverstein. Joe Zinkan was listed as leader.
  • April 29, 1997 CD released – Bill Monroe & the Monroe Brothers – The Essential Bill Monroe & the Monroe Brothers (RCA 67450-2) *
  • April 29, 2001 Bill Monroe’s mandolin sold for $1.25 million was the subject of a National Public Radio feature.  **
  • April 29, 2011 Blue Grass Boys Reunion: A Tribute to Bill Monroe took place at MerleFest, Wilkesboro, North Carolina (Watson Stage). ***

* The Essential Bill Monroe & Monroe Brothers, 25 tracks

Despite both the historical importance and high quality of these 25 songs, this collection remains a bit vexing. For one, Bill recorded more than 60 tracks with older brother Charlie between 1936 and 1938, but only nine appear here. In addition, their two best-known (and earliest) collaborations  — My Long Journey Home and What Would You Give in Exchange (For Your Soul) — are omitted (they can be found at the beginning of the four-CD Music of Bill Monroe instead). The remaining 16 cuts focus on Bill’s transitional banjo-less “pregrass” recordings from 1940 and 1941, which offer hints–forceful mandolin picking, intricate harmonies–of the more-refined trademark sound to come. The music herein is often spectacular: the rough-and-tumble quartet produces raging instrumentals (Katy Hill, Tennessee Blues), fervent gospels (Cryin’ Holy unto the Lord, Were You There?), and poignant ballads (In the Pines, No Letter in the Mail) that bridge the gap between traditional country and bluegrass. The brother duos are terrific examples of the close-harmony style of the 1930s and truly deserve a deep compilation of their own.

Marc Greilsamer

Track listing – Mule Skinner Blues, No Letter in the Mail, Cryin’ Holy Unto My Lord, Six White Horses, Dog House Blues, I Wonder If You Feel the Way I Do, Katy Hill [Instrumental], Tennessee Blues [Instrumental]. Shake My Mother’s Hand for Me, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, Blue Yodel No. 7, Coupon Song, Orange Blossom Special, Honky Tonk Swing, In the Pines, Back Up and Push, Great Speckled Bird – Charlie Monroe’s Boys, No Home, No Place to Pillow My Head – Charlie Monroe’s Boys, New River Train – The Monroe Brothers, Once I Had a Darling Mother – Charlie Monroe’s Boys, On the Banks of the Ohio – The Monroe Brothers, Weeping Willow Tree – The Monroe Brothers, Just a Song of Old Kentucky – The Monroe Brothers, Don’t Forget Me – The Monroe Brothers, and I Am Thinking Tonight of the Old Folks – The Monroe Brothers.

** NPR reported “The favored mandolin of Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, was sold this week for more than one million dollars. The instrument’s new home is The Bill Monroe Foundation, based in Monroe’s hometown of Rosine, Kentucky.”

The Bill Monroe Foundation was unable to complete the deal due to lack of funds and the mandolin was later bought by Bob McLean, the notorious Tennessee business man who donated the instrument to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where it is currently on display.

*** The all-star reunion of Blue Grass Boys paid tribute to Bill Monroe through music and stories of life on the road with the Father of Bluegrass Music. Among those who appeared were Roland White, Del McCoury, Peter Rowan, Bobby Hicks, Blake Williams, Mark Hembree and other special guests.

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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.