I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #340

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.

  • September 5, 1965 Recording – The recording of Bill Monroe’s Sunday afternoon set during the first Roanoke Bluegrass Festival, Cantrell’s Farm, Fincastle, Virginia, led to the release of six songs – Get Up John, Kansas City Railroad Blues, Walls Of Time, When He Reached Down His Hand For Me, Traveling Down This Lonesome Road and Raw Hide. On stage with Bill Monroe were at various times Peter Rowan [guitar], Mac Wiseman [guitar], Don Reno [banjo], Benny Martin [fiddle] and James Monroe [bass]. *
  • September 5, 1971 The readers of the Muleskinner News magazine voted Bill Monroe the Best Singer and the Best Mandolin Player.
  • September 5, 1988 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys headlined the closing day of the four-day Rogers Bluegrass & Old Time Country Music Festival, Rogers Farm Sale, Rogers, Ohio.

* The recordings of Get Up John, Kansas City Railroad Blues, Walls Of Time and When He Reached Down His Hand For Me were included on the Smithsonian Folkways album Bill Monroe: Live Recordings 1956-1969: Off the Record. Vol. 1 (SF 40063).

The first three numbers featured Peter Rowan playing guitar (and singing lead on Walls of Time) and the last one featured Mac Wiseman on guitar and singing lead.

The recordings of Traveling Down This Lonesome Road and Raw Hide were included in the Shanachie video High Lonesome (SHA 604). Both numbers featured Mac Wiseman on guitar, with Don Reno on banjo, Benny Martin on fiddle and James Monroe on bass.

In his own inimitable way, Ron Thomason shares this story…..

I remember well the first time I ever met Bill Monroe, which is surprising because I was only five years old.

The town was Honaker, VA; and the place was Sid Whited’s restaurant; and the year was 1949. My second cousin, Buzzy Hicks, had gone along on this trip to town with my dad and I in my grandfather’s ’39 Ford pick-up. My dad had to stop at the ESSO station to jaw with the locals, and then he intended to head up to the mill to get several bags of grain ground into feed for the cows. As was usual he dropped Buzzy and me off on the “corner of town” (as the main and only intersection was called) and told us he would pick us up “in an hour or so.” The usual activity for us kids was to walk around town, speak to all the “grown-ups” and get patted on the head or sometimes engaged in conversations with them. Of course, everybody knew everybody else, and everybody considered it their responsibility to “watch out” for kids in town.

As it happened that day (I will always believe by providence), Buzzy and I just sat on the corner across from the ESSO station and, I suppose (since I can’t remember) discussed for longer than you would think it would take whether to go to the drug store where we could get “soda-fountain-cokes” for a nickel or go into Sid’s where there was enough treats for each of us to eat up our whole quarter in one place.

When Dad came out of the ESSO station we were still there. So he walked across the street and offered to take us into Sid’s and see if there was anything in there that we wanted.

When we entered there was a man sitting at the counter wearing a suit and a big (what would later be called) “cowboy” hat. Dad stopped us right at the door and said, “That’s an important man. He’s one of the ones we hear on the radio.”

We all went in and Dad sat us at the end of the counter from the “important man,” who happened to be having a BIG breakfast. So Dad did something that he only did about once a year; he ordered breakfast for Buzzy and me and left to go on his errands.

I noticed that as folks entered Sid’s they would stare at the “important man” and some would approach him and have a short conversation. The man always stopped his eating and politely addressed everyone who addressed him. He tipped his hat to the ladies, and he stood and shook hands with each man. When he stood, he seemed quite tall and “strong” to Buzzy and me; and we must have discussed it some between us.

We finished breakfast before the “important man” did, and stood to go. The man said, “Would you boys like a Coke from the machine and a piece of chocolate; I’m going to have one.”

Well, of course, we did; and we nodded. The “important man” walked over to the Coke machine, put in his coins, and slowly withdrew three bottles of Coke along the rails that held them dangling in the cold water of the cooler. He removed the tops in the attached bottle opener and sat one bottle in front of each of us. Then he called to Sid himself (instead of the waitress) and asked him to cut off some rather large chunks from the big piece of “milk chocolate” that sat under a glass on the counter and pointed for Sid to give us each one.

When Dad came in looking for us we were still sitting there eating chocolate and drinking Coke. He asked where we had gotten the money for those, and the man told Dad that he had “been proud to get it for the boys.” Dad thanked him and said that Mom and he would “be at the show” and that he “hoped we hadn’t been any trouble.”

The man said, “Bring the boys; I’ll see that they get in”, which seemed like a strange thing for someone to say at the time.

When we got back to the farm Dad hurried into the barn and told Grandma that Buzzy and me had eaten breakfast with Bill Monroe and that he had invited the two of us to his show that night at Honaker High School.  I don’t know whether or not I would have remembered the event or even the show for that matter if that story hadn’t been told over and over amongst our family and friends for several years after that morning. But I believe that I would have.”

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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.