I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #348

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 13, 1911 William Smith ‘Bill’ Monroe was born on the family farm on Jerusalem Ridge two miles west of Rosine, Ohio County, Kentucky. He was the last child of eight born to J B and Malissa Monroe. *
  • September 13, 1942 Curtis Blackwell was born in Winchester, Oconee County, South Carolina. **
  • September 13, 1973 Bill Monroe returned to Rosine, Kentucky for the Monroe Homecoming First Annual Bluegrass Festival, which took place during the town‘s centennial celebrations.
  • September 13, 1983 The Mayor of Nashville proclaimed this day as Bill Monroe Day in Nashville. WSM’s Grant Turner, acting as MC for the event, presented the proclamation to Monroe at a surprise birthday party at Mason’s Restaurant in Goodlettsville, Tennessee.
  • September 13, 1987 Joe Stuart died at his home in Madison, Tennessee, after an extended illness. He was 59.  ***
  • September 13, 1989 Shanachie video recording – Bill Monroe and Tom Ewing sang an a cappella version of I’m Going back to Old Kentucky while traveling on Monroe’s bus, Blue Grass Special, near Hendersonville, Tennessee. ****
  • September 13, 1991 Recordings for video – During an evening show at the Brown County Jamboree Park, Bean Blossom, Indiana, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys were filmed by Steve Gebhardt while singing Uncle Pen, The Old, Old House and playing Southern Flavor. The Blue Grass Boys present on stage were Tom Ewing [guitar], Blake Williams [banjo], Jimmy Campbell [fiddle] and Tater Tate [bass]. Marty Stuart played guitar on Southern Flavor. *****
  • September 13, 2005 Ricky Skaggs played Monroe’s 1923 Lloyd Loar mandolin at a tribute to Monroe in Nashville, where it was announced that philanthropist Bob McLean had made it possible for the Country Music Hall of Fame to put it on permanent display in their collections.
  • September 13, 2010 CD released – Bill Monroe and Friends/Stars of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame (Raven RVCD-327), an Australian release.

* Bill Monroe – the Father of Bluegrass Music…… Happy Birthday  … 100 years old today!

Bill Monroe was the eighth child of J.B and Malissa Monroe, born in a region of rolling hills in western Kentucky. He was named in honour of two of J.B’s brothers.

His long career began in earnest with the partnership with older brother, Charlie, playing on radio and personal appearance ‘round the south-east. They recorded 60 songs and provided an alternative approach to the brother duet style, faster tempos and singing in a higher register.

In 1938 he set out to develop his own sound; to be Bill Monroe – the father of bluegrass music, a style that emphasized instrumental virtuosity, close vocal harmonies, and a fast, driving tempos.

His vast catalog of written work, includes songs such as Blue Moon of Kentucky, Uncle Pen, My Rose of Old Kentucky, My little Georgia Rose, On and On, Memories of Mother and Dad, I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling, Walking In Jerusalem, I’m Working On a Building and Body and Soul, and many more. He blended heartfelt lyrics with what he called the ancient tones.

Additionally he penned wonderful tunes like Jerusalem Ridge, Roanoke, Stoney Lonesome, Raw Hide, Old Dangerfield, My Last Days On Earth, the list goes on.

His creativity amounted to what he, in 1982, estimated to be about 500 songs; a vast catalog by any standards.

Those songs can be found on the three record labels for which he recorded; Bluebird (Victor), Columbia and/or Decca / MCA – he recorded some songs more than once. That recorded output amounted to about 100 singles, 20 studio albums, 46 compilations released while he was alive, 30 more subsequently. In addition, there have been about 15 albums of ‘live’ recordings.

All of Monroe’s recordings have been released in box sets by Bear Family Records.

Today much of his recorded catalog is available for digital downloads.

Monroe’s performing career spanned 60 years – 1936 to 1996 – as a singer, instrumentalist, composer and bandleader. He was a Grand Ole Opry member continuously from October 1939 until his passing.

He gave an early opportunity to bluegrass music ‘greats’ Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, Sonny Osborne, Peter Rowan, Bill Keith, Gene Lowinger, Bobby Hicks, Del McCoury, Bob Black, Butch Robins, Blake Williams, and Wayne Lewis.

Other illustrious Blue Grass Boys include Kenny Baker, Carter Stanley, Mac Wiseman, Don Reno, Vassar Clements, Tony Ellis, the ubiquitous Joe Stuart, Roland White, ‘Tater’ Tate and Tom Ewing.

It is commonly accepted that Monroe has employed about 175 regular band members, but there’s a legion of other talented musicians who have worked for him for odd dates, filling in for an absent Blue Grass Boy.

Additionally, he influenced Jerry Garcia and Paul McCartney, Buddy Holley and Carl Perkins, to mention just a few notables from the wider world of music.

Monroe has been honored with many awards – he is the only person who has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (1970), the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1997) and Nashville Songwriters and Hall of Fame (1971).

He is the recipient of the National Medal of Arts (1995) and the Grammy(r) Lifetime Achievement Award (1993).

Fittingly NARAS members selected his album Southern Flavor as the first Grammy for Best Bluegrass Recording (Vocal or Instrumental) in 1989.

These bare facts amount what is only a representation of Monroe’s many achievements.  They aren’t any substitute for the great music that he created, that we can enjoy for ourselves on this auspicious occasion.

His many friends will remember Bill Monroe as a farmer, using mules to plow a furrow, a supportive friend and a playful individual.

We love him for a variety of reasons, our own reasons.

The big ole moon was shining at dawn today.

** Curtis Blackwell joined the Blue Grass Boys in March 1967 as the replacement for Peter Rowan. He remained with the band for a few weeks only whereupon Doug Green took over.

He did not do any recordings while working for Bill Monroe.

In 1960 Blackwell first formed the Dixie Bluegrass Boys, a band that he still leads today.

During the 1990s he released two CDs on the Atteiram label. Later he again teamed up with Randall Collins and released two singles before recording an album, Shadows of Time, for the County label.

Blackwell, whose latest album, Where Did The Good Times Go? was released in April 2003, was honored by the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky, as one of the official Legends of Bluegrass.

*** Joe Stuart played with Bill Monroe on and off for about 18 years and was even utilised as a studio session musician as late as April 1983.

Earlier, in the late 1940s, Stuart played mandolin and guitar with the Sauceman Brothers.

In 1953 he moved to Nashville and got a job playing bass with Flatt and Scruggs, but two years later   he left to join the Blue Grass Boys.

After his last regular stint with Bill Monroe, he was a member of the Sullivan Family band, played with Rual Yarbrough’s Dixiemen, and also played some reunion shows with Carl Sauceman.

He wrote It’s A Lonesome Road To Travel, a biographical song, to be sure.

Stuart passed away on Bill Monroe’s birthday, having lost his battle with brain cancer.

**** The sequence was included in the Rachel Liebling film High Lonesome (SHA 604), released in 1994.

***** The recording of Southern Flavor was included in the Original Cinema film Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass Music (OC-1001), released in 1993.

****** Bill Monroe and Friends/Stars of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 2 for 1 CD collection, 23 tracks

Track listing Bill Monroe And Friends (1984)

Blue Moon of Kentucky, The Sunset Trail, My Sweet Blue-eyed Darlin’, I Still Miss Someone,  Kentucky Waltz, My Rose of Ol’ Kentucky, Is The Blue Moon Still Shining, With Body and Soul, Old River Man and My Louisiana Love

Bill Monroe and Stars Of The Bluegrass Hall Of Fame (1985)

I’m On My Way Back to the Old Home, Can’t You Hear Me Callin’, Lord Protect My Soul, The Golden West, Travelin’ This Lonesome Road, I’m Going Back To Ol’ Kentucky, I Hear a Sweet Voice Callin’,  Remember The Cross, True Life Blues and Let The Gates Swing Wide

Bonus tracks: Mighty Dark To Travel, Bluest Man in Town and Old Brown County Barn

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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.