I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #290

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 17, 1908 Bertha Lee Monroe, Bill’s sister, was born.  *
  • July 17, 1949 Tom Holt was born in Hamilton, Ohio.  **
  • July 17, 1981 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were top of the billing at The World’s Largest Outdoor Bluegrass Festival, Super Grass ’81 at Westco – Highland Grounds. Other major acts performing at the three day event were Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Doc and Merle Watson, Jim and Jesse, The Dillards, J D Crowe and II Generation.
  • July 17, 1986 Cleo Davis died after a long battle with cancer. He was aged 67.  ***
  • July 17, 1990 Recording session – Monroe was not actually present at this session; he added mandolin and tenor voice later, date unknown. ****
  • July 17, 1991 Bill Monroe signed his last will and testament.

* Bertha Monroe was the seventh child of J B and Malissa Monroe. She was the nearest in age to Bill Monroe, being three years older than him. He helped to look after him before he moved into Uncle Pen’s cabin.

In the early 1930s several of the siblings, including Bertha and Bill, lived in Whiting, Indiana, and, later, East Chicago, where income from working in the oil industry helped to support the family.

She married Bernard Kurth and they had two sons.

** Tom Holt filled-in on bass deputizing for Monroe Fields at a show at the Chattanooga Convention Centre on January 23, 1973.

Holt recalls …..

“In the winter of ’72/’73 I traveled with James Monroe, following the release of the Father and Son album, with Bill.

That winter tour was called the Bluegrass Express, and featured Bill Monroe, James Monroe, Lester Flatt, along with Jim & Jesse. Marty Stuart was Lester’s mandolin player during that tour.

The Blue Grass Boys consisted of Joe Stuart on guitar, Jack Hicks on banjo, Kenny Baker on fiddle, and Monroe Fields on bass.

Following that tour, Monroe Fields was sick for the weekend, and Bill asked me to play bass with them. We travelled to Chattanooga for a show at the Convention Center for the Cancer Foundation.

Also on that show were the Osborne Bros., and I believe Jim & Jesse.

The night was memorable for me, in that our show was interrupted by the MC who came to the microphone and announced that the President had just signed a peace treaty in Paris and the Vietnam War was over. The news brought a standing ovation.

After the Monroes, I became front man for Jeanie Shepherd and the Second Fiddles and then later joined with my brothers and uncle as the Boys from Indiana.”

*** Cleo Davis was the first musician that Bill Monroe recruited after moving to Atlanta from Arkansas.

After leaving the Blue Grass Boys late in 1940, Davis moved to Lakeland, Florida, formed a band and began performing on radio station WLAK. He entered the service during World War II, but returned to WLAK after and continued performing there for about fourteen years.

When the radio station changed format Davis worked and recorded with a Gospel group.

More recently he helped to build the Florida Opry House, located three miles east of Lakeland.

**** The recording of You’re Drifting Away (MCA master number MC 35227) was the product of three recording sessions.

Tom Ewing [baritone] and Tater Tate [bass] added their vocal parts to Ricky Skaggs’ already recorded lead vocal. Billy Rose played bass.

The recording was included on the album Cryin’ Holy Unto The Lord (MCA-10017), which was released on April 30, 1991.

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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.