I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #74

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.

  • December 13, 1901 Elliott “Eli” Everett Oberstein was born in New York City. Oberstein was the producer of the Monroe Brothers’ recordings, supervising all six sessions and sixty cuts in total.  *
  • December 13, 1930 H S ‘Buck’ White was born in rural Oklahoma, but raised in Wichita Falls, Texas. He filled in on bass several times during the early 1970s. **
  • December 13, 1973 James ‘Jim’ Moratto [banjo] began his eight month stint working for Bill Monroe. ***
  • December 13, 1974 Concert recording – The concert at Mainichi Hall, Osaka, Japan, was recorded and five instrumentals were included on the 2005 CD re-issue of Bob Black’s Ladies on the Steamboat. ****

* Eli Oberstein was a record producer and industry executive, who was very successful during the Swing Era. Ralph Peer recruited Oberstein from Okeh to RCA Victor Records. He was one of the first record producers to make deals with songwriters, publishers and others in order to make a living.

Oberstein is given credit for the launch of the 35-cent Bluebird label, which was a big success during the Depression.

He has been described as “an irresistible salesman, a smooth talker and artful persuader.” He put all of those skills to good use when he signed the Monroe brothers. Firstly, he sent a telegram to them indicating that he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Not getting any response, he called them at the radio station where they worked and within three hours had the duo signed up.

What Would You Give In Exchange? Drifting Too Far From The Shore, Do You Call That Religion? On The Banks of The Ohio, New River Train, This World Is Not My Home, Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Darling Corey, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, Just a Song of Old Kentucky, Have a Feast here Tonight, A Beautiful Life, Where is my Soldier Boy? Little Joe and Roll on Buddy is just a sample of the songs that they recorded together.

** Buck White and his family – his wife Pat, and daughters Sharon and Cheryl, jointly working as the Down Home Folks – moved to Nashville in 1971and shortly afterwards Bill Monroe hired them to work at some of his festivals.

White became a trusted member of the Monroe troupe and between the time Doug Hutchens stepped down from bass playing duties and Monroe Fields was recruited he would fill in a number of times particularly on the Grand Ole Opry appearances.

In 1979 the Down Home Folks opened for Emmylou Harris on her Blue Kentucky Girl album tour and two years later The Whites, as they were now called, earned a recording contract with Capitol Records. They had a minor country hit with Send Me the Pillow You Dream On.

The following year, the group switched to Elektra and recorded their first Top Ten hits – You Put the Blue In Me and Hangin’ Around. They had similar success with their recordings of I Wonder Who’s Holding My Baby Tonight and Pins and Needles.

White has recorded two solo albums; Poor Folks Pleasure in 1978 and More Pretty Girls Than One in 1980.

Since then, the Whites have joined the Grand Ole Opry (in 1984), signed with Ricky Skaggs’ Ceili Records label (1999), appeared in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and been inducted into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame (2008).

*** Jim Moratto, who has played banjo since he was a teenager, became a member of the Blue Grass Boys in September 1973.

He did not record a formal session for Bill Monroe, but Moratto is featured on some tracks that are included on the album, Lester Flatt Live! (RCA APL1-058) recorded at Vanderbilt University on March 18, 1974.

Moratto wrote and recorded Ode to Bill Monroe, a tribute to his former boss, for the 2005 release Possum On The Half Shell.

A university drop-out in 1971, Moratto resumed his studies at Mesa State College in 1989 where he earned his Banjo of Arts degree. In January of this year he was appointed to the bluegrass faculty at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas, where he will continue his teaching of the banjo, an activity that he began about 20 years ago.

**** Ladies on the Steamboat (Green Valley Records 147), released in 2005. Five instrumentals, Dear Old Dixie, Train 45, Blue Grass Special, Blue Grass Breakdown and Rawhide, were taken from the recording of this concert in Japan and included on the re-issue of Bob Black’s classic debut album.

The personnel involved were Bill Monroe [mandolin], Bob Black [banjo], Ralph Lewis [guitar], Kenny Baker [fiddle] and Randy Davis [bass].

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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.