I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #87

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 26, 1955 Alan O’Bryant was born in Reidsville, North Carolina. O’Bryant worked occasionally as a fill-in on banjo during the period from 1975 through to 1979. *
  • December 26, 1961 Maude Bell Monroe died, age 63. **
  • December 26, 1993 John Palmer died.   ***

* Alan O’Bryant has been an unabashed fan of Bill Monroe’s since he was a kid and a regular visitor to Bean Blossom festivals since he was 17 years old.

His first show filling in as a Blue Grass Boy was for a Christmas Eve Grand Ole Opry appearance.

He moved to Nashville in 1974 to study for a degree in electronic engineering and after his first year at Nashville Tech he got a summer job with James Monroe’s band. O’Bryant spent four years with James Monroe, often playing the same dates as the Blue Grass Boys.

In 1979, he took a job with Claire Lynch’s Front Porch String Band.

That same year, O’Bryant wrote Those Memories of You, first cut by Bill and James Monroe in 1980. Subsequently it was recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt for their 1988 platinum album, Trio. O’Bryant also wrote The Other Side of Life, a beautiful gospel tune cut by both Emmylou Harris and Vern Gosdin.

In 1982 he joined Butch Robins, who had just formed The Bluegrass Band, for a job that lasted for just one year.

Two years later he formed the Nashville Bluegrass Band with Pat Enright, Mike Compton, Stuart Duncan and Mark Hembree.

In recent years the multiple nominee for the IBMA’s Banjo Player of the Year award, has been heavily involved with recording and production work, helping the likes of Blue Highway, Valerie Smith and Becky Buller, the Gibson Brothers and Chris Henry.

Well qualified as an instructor, O’Bryant has given private banjo lessons at the Musical Heritage Center of Middle Tennessee in Pegram, Tennessee, where he is a long time resident.

** She was buried in Bethel Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio County, Kentucky

*** John Palmer is best known as the long-standing bass player with Don Reno & Red Smiley and the Tennessee CutUps and, later, with Smiley and the Bluegrass CutUps.

He was an unconfirmed fill-in with the Blue Grass Boys.

Alan O’Bryant remembers some of his times with Bill Monroe …..

“There were a few times I filled in for/or was banjo player between Bill’s player for the Grand Ole Opry.

Also two times I remember somewhat. I played with Bill for a two week period which could be easy to narrow down because it was when Kenny Baker cut his hand on the Bobby Slone hunting knife and had to have surgery. Jim Brock filled in for him during that time.

We played a festival in Kentucky and it rained, rained, rained. The bands had to be delivered to the stage in four wheel drive vehicles and it was a huge mess. The great story from that weekend was how Bill in the midst of all this wore a solid white suite and never got muddy! He also had a bad cold and I was asked to do some of the lead singing, which was a huge opportunity for me at the time.  I believe it was during that same two weeks we also drove to Denver, Colorado, and did a show at the fairgrounds. I remember there was a continuous poker game on the bus which Bill would drift in and out of and he would always clean the guys out when he did.

My most memorable occasion to play as a Blue Grass Boy was the first time he asked me to fill in at the Opry. It was very close to Christmas, maybe even Christmas Eve. I was asked to fill in for either Butch Robins, or Bob Black, or Bill Holden. I remember we played Christmas Time’s A-Coming. And I thought this was really the greatest moment of all time, and for me it may have been. Somewhere in my archives I have a cassette tape of that performance and I think the date is on the tape. It would be early on in the period between 1975-1979.”

Editor’s note: The injury to Kenny Baker’s hand occurred just prior to the July 1977 recording sessions.

Share this:

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.