I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #346

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 11, 1910 Loren Otis ‘Jack’ Shook was born.  *
  • September 11, 1955 Mark G Hembree was born in Chicago, Illinois. **
  • September 11, 1966 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys made a personal appearance at Chatauana Park, near Franklin, Ohio.
  • September 11, 1982 Doug Hutchens arranged the first organized birthday celebration by the Blue Grass Boys. ***
  • September 11, 1996 Bill Monroe’s memorial service was held at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Tennessee. ****
  • September 11, 2000 Bill Price died at his home in Indian Trail, North Carolina after a battle with liver cancer. *****

* Jack Shook, a Grand Ole Opry veteran and studio session player, participated in one recording for Decca, playing guitar on the recordings of Soldier’s Plea, My Carolina Sunshine Girl, Ben Dewberry’s Final Run, Peach Pickin’ Time In Georgia, Those Gambler’s Blues and Highway of Sorrow.

** Mark Hembree joined the Blue Grass Boys in July 1979, replacing Randy Davis. He was a member of the band for almost five years and participated in about 15 recording sessions for MCA.

Recordings from those were included on the albums Bill Monroe: Master of Bluegrass (MCA 5214) and on Bill Monroe and Friends (MCA 5435), released on July 2, 1981 and January 12, 1984, respectively.

Hembree was also present at some dates that were recorded; firstly at the Cathedral Caverns’ concert – July 4, 1982 – with recordings there from being released on the Bear Family set Bill Monroe: Bluegrass 1981 – 1994 My Last Days on Earth (BCD 16637); at The White House – August 7, 1980 – where video recordings were later released by Homespun Tapes (VD-MON-MN01); and he played bass during the Silver Eagle radio program – December 15, 1983 – released on radio and on the CD Bill Monroe: Lookin’ Back (SEA-CD-70007).

As well as playing bass, Hembree sang the bass part in the Gospel quartets.

Before joining Bill Monroe’s band he was a member of the second edition of Monroe Doctrine. After his time with the Blue Grass Boys, he was a co-founder of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and played with them from 1984 through to 1988, helping with the recording of their first three LPs.

Hembree has featured on albums with others including the all-star album band Dreadful Snakes eponymous release and Hazel Dickens’ A Few Old Memories, David Grisman’s Home Is Where The Heart Is, Peter Rowan’s New Moon Rising and Tony Trischka’s Dust On The Needle.

He has since returned to his home state of Wisconsin where he plays bluegrass with the Nob Hill Boys and Western Swing with the Western Box Turtles.

*** Band members who honored Bill Monroe with a presentation on stage at the Kentucky Fried Chicken Festival at Louisville, Kentucky, were Byron Berline, Cleo Davis, Doug Hutchens, Tex Logan, Red Taylor, Gordon Terry with then-active members Kenny Baker, Mark Hembree, Wayne Lewis and Blake Williams. Gifts handed to The Chief included a leather-covered mandolin case, custom beaver hat and a large bound birthday card with greetings from 72 former band members.

**** During a highly emotional hour-long service attended by 1500 friends, family and colleagues, including a host of Grand Ole Opry members, there were two eulogies, one of which was delivered by Pastor Roger Bush, from the Holiday Heights Church, the church at which Monroe attended during his later years.

Providing the musical tributes were Vince Gill, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Roy Huskey Jr, Stuart Duncan, Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, Connie Smith and Patty Loveless.

As funeral staff ushered Monroe’s casket from the auditorium where Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys had sung on many a Saturday night, three bagpipers played Amazing Grace.

***** Raised on a farm in Union County, North Carolina, Bill Price fell in love with the sound of Bill Monroe. His dream came true in 1954 when he became a Blue Grass Boy for about five months. He again worked for Bill Monroe during 1956.

In between time, Price played mandolin with Jimmy Martin and J D Crowe on WPFB in Middletown, Ohio. As Martin moved on to play with the Osborne Brothers he got a job at the Jimmie Skinner Music Center in Cincinnati.

In 1955 he formed the Country Pardners with Carlos Brock, Bobby Simpson and Benny Williams and recorded a few sides for RCA, later re-issued in Rounder Records’ Early Days of Bluegrass series.

He returned to North Carolina, recorded with his wife, Betty, with whom, in the late 1960s he set up a booking agency, arranging shows for Bill Monroe, among others.

Price recorded for a variety of labels, with one release on Folkways and another bearing the name of the Country Pardners, but he never did get to re-unite the Pardners before his death.

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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.