I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #277

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.

  • July 4, 1878 The actual horse race between Molly and Tenbrooks (Ten Broeck), commemorated in song by Bill Monroe, took place at the Louisville Jockey Club.
  • July 4, 1903 Charles ‘Charger’ Pendleton ‘Charlie’ Monroe was born near Rosine, Kentucky.  *
  • July 4, 1932 Robert ‘Red’ Cravens was born in Champaign, Illinois.  **
  • July 4, 1942 Peter Hamilton Rowan was born in Wayland, Massachusetts.  ***
  • July 4, 1961 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were among the high class selection of bluegrass bands at Bill Clifton’s special Bluegrass Day at Oak Leaf Park, Luray, Virginia.
  • July 4, 1969 The Monroe brothers, Bill, Charlie and Birch were re-united at the annual Smithsonian Festival Of American Folklife on Capitol Mall, Washington DC.  ****
  • July 4, 1974 Ralph Lewis joined Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.
  • July 4, 1975 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were hosts at Monroe’s Bluegrass Music Land Park, Rosine, Kentucky, for a three day festival. (see May 9)
  • July 4, 1982 Recording session at Cathedral Caverns – At what was a concert at Cathedral Caverns, near Huntsville, Alabama, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys recorded Precious Memories, Little Shepherd (Call of the Shepherd), The Old Crossroads, Wayfaring Stranger, The Gloryland Way, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Shouting On the Hills Of Glory, Baptize Me in the Cumberland River, Wicked Path Of Sin and I’ll Fly Away. The recordings were from two sets, one in the afternoon and one during the evening. The Blue Grass Boys – Wayne Lewis [vocal/guitar], Blake Williams [banjo], Kenny Baker [fiddle] and Mark Hembree [bass] – were assisted by Buddy Spicher [fiddle], John Mohr [bass vocal] and an unknown baritone singer.  The producer was Walter Haynes.  *****
  • July 4, 1984 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys performed at The Pike County Breakdown Festival of the Master, Pikeville, Kentucky.
  • July 4, 1987 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys headlined the second day of the Toyota presentation of The Opryland Bluegrass Festival, Opryland, Nashville, Tennessee.

* Charlie Monroe, although eight years older than his brother, formed a duo with Bill Monroe in 1934.

The duo stayed together for about four years making their recording debut in February 1936.  In all, they cut 60 sides for the RCA Victor company, their records being released on the Bluebird label.

These recordings, like their on-stage performances, were characterized by faster tempos than those of all the other brother duets that were on the radio during the 1930s.

Following the brothers’ split, Charlie Monroe went on to form the Kentucky Pardners, a band that included Lester Flatt, Red Rector, Curly Seckler and Ira Louvin at various times.

** Guitarist Red Cravens, along with Francis and Harley Bray, played fill-in dates in June 1958 and through the summer of 1960. All of these dates were at Bean Blossom, Indiana.

Red Cravens and the Bray Brothers were part of a most noteworthy band of the early 1960s, playing their own style of traditional bluegrass in the central Illinois area.

*** Peter Rowan was the first northerner to be recruited by Bill Monroe to sing lead and play guitar for the Blue Grass Boys.

He stayed with the band for a little over two years, from October 1964 to March 1967 and he participated in five recording sessions during that time.

Since leaving the Blue Grass Boys, Peter Rowan has found success playing a wide range of musical styles. Firstly, he formed the folk-rock band Earth Opera with David Grisman, then joined Seatrain, a rock fusion band than also included Richard Greene.

In 1973, Rowan, together with Greene, Grisman, Bill Keith, and Clarence White formed the bluegrass band Muleskinner. In the same year Rowan and Grisman formed Old And In The Way with Greene, Jerry Garcia and John Kahn. Then for a period of time he played with his brothers in a rock band.

In the mid-1970s he began recording solo albums, with backing bands including the Free Mexican Airforce, the Panama Red Riders and Crucial Reggae.

He has paid tribute to Monroe with the album The First Whippoorwill, featuring Bill Keith and Richard Greene, as well as the title track from his album Bluegrass Boy.

Even so, Rowan’s musical wanderlust and creative spirit could not be sated as he embraced Woody Guthrie-style folk music, western lore with Don Edwards and new world sounds, as well as collaborating with guitar ace Tony Rice. He often kept different bands on the go at the same time, as he does today.

Most recently, he has at last found a place in the bluegrass world with which he is comfortable and formed the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band and release an album, Legacy, at once paying homage to Bill Monroe, his mentor, and refining his own brand of bluegrass music.

**** This re-union concert, consisting of six numbers: Paddy on the Turnpike, How Old Are You My Pretty Little Miss? He Will Set Your Fields on Fire, Durang’s Hornpipe, I Know My Lord’s Gonna Lead Me Out and Uncle Pen – was recorded and later included on the CD Bill Monroe: Live Recordings 1956-1969: Off the Record. Vol. 1 (Smithsonian Folkways SF 40063)

***** The recordings from the Cathedral Caverns concert remained un-released until they were included on the Bear Family Records set My Last Days on Earth – Bluegrass, 1981-1994 (BCD 16637 DK), which was released on February 26, 2007.

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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.