I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #281

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 8, 1995 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys topped the bill at the 30th Anniversary of Blue Grass Festivals, 1965 to 1995, Watermelon Park, Berryville, Virginia. Monroe presented The Story Of Bluegrass Music #30 on each of the two days of this weekend event.
  • July 8, 1995 CD released – Bill Monroe – Bluegrass ’87 (MCA MCAD 31310) *
  • July 8, 2008 DVD released – Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music (MVD Visual MVDV 4577)  **
  • July 8, 2011 Kenny Baker passed away. He suffered a stroke and was hospitalized about a week prior.

* Bluegrass ’87, 10 tracks

Track listing – Long Bow, Mighty Dark To Travel, Music Valley Waltz, Jekyll Islands, Old Crossroad Is Waiting, Old Brown Country Barn, Stay Away From Me, Bluest Man In Town, Angels Rock Me To Sleep and Dancin’ In Breakin’.

** Bill Monroe: Father of Bluegrass Music: MVD Visual re-issued this DVD following the WinStar Home Entertainment release on June 29, 1999.

“With acoustic string components that stretch across centuries and a ‘high lonesome’ vocal signature that evokes windblown mountain tops, bluegrass music sounds like an artifact of a pre-industrial America. Yet, for all its hand-hewn craft and plangent ‘ancient tones,’ the style is a pure 20th-century dialect roughly contemporaneous with bebop–a small group sound designed, refined, and arguably perfected by just one man, eastern Kentucky mandolinist Bill Monroe. It’s common practice for pundits to confer patriarchy on artists who popularize a style, but Monroe’s paternity for bluegrass is absolute: without him, the style would not exist.

That achievement is chronicled with care and precision in Steve Gebhardt’s superb 90-minute portrait of Monroe, which benefits from extensive interview footage shot three years before Monroe passed away in 1996. Under the gentle interrogation of musical acolytes, folk veteran John Hartford and country-bluegrass star Ricky Skaggs, the white-haired, hawk-faced octogenarian relives his bluegrass genesis. He recounts the pivotal influences of his fiddle-playing Uncle Pen Vandiver (inspiration for Monroe’s classic Uncle Pen) and black bluesman Arnold Schultz, discusses how he came to devise the style’s classic instrumentation (fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, and ‘bull fiddle’), and reminisces about his 1940s emergence as an early star of WSM/Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry–a media crucible for modern country music which Monroe played a vital role in building.

Both casual fans and bluegrass fanatics will revel in the completeness of Gebhardt’s vision, which expertly weaves the often poignant Monroe interviews (including sweetly moving duets with Hartford and Skaggs) with additional interviews and archival film, television, and still photographs. Past and present members of Monroe’s Bluegrass (née Blue Grass) Boys testify to Monroe’s sure command of his lifelong franchise, as do an impressive choir of believers including Emmylou Harris, Jerry Garcia, Marty Stuart, and former Bluegrass Boys Del McCoury and Peter Rowan.

Skaggs convincingly traces the vocal harmonies of Monroe’s early bands through the Delmore Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, and the Louvin Brothers to the Everly Brothers and the Beatles. And when Paul McCartney is heard performing a live version of Monroe’s de facto anthem, Blue Moon of Kentucky, the mandolinist’s seminal impact on Elvis Presley is undeniable.”

Sam Sutherland

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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.