Joe Forrester R I P

Joe Webb Forrester passed away on Sunday, January 16, age 91.

Joe Forrester, who was born on March 21, 1919, was the older brother of the better known bluegrass musician, fiddler ‘Howdy’ Forrester. Like ‘Howdy,’ he was a member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, playing bass from December 1945 through to March 1946.

Forrester moved to Nashville in 1935 where he embarked on a show business career with ‘Howdy.’ He appeared with Harold Goodman on the Grand Ole Opry as well as on KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was also a radio performer in Tuscola, Illinois.

He served during World War II as a member of the 3rd Army where he participated in the D-Day landing on Utah Beach and saw combat in France and in the Hertgen Forest campaigns.

In 1945 he resumed his show business career working with such country music artists as Bill Monroe (as mentioned above), Gene Autry, Art Davis and Georgia Slim Rutland’s Texas Roundup on KRLD in Dallas, Texas.

According to Howard H Harris, Chairman and CEO, Grand Master Fiddler Championship, Inc., “Forrester was one of the best chop-rhythm guitar pickers that ever played. He was such a great person as well.”

He returned to Nashville in 1949 where he served 26 years as a letter carrier at East Station. He retired in 1978.

He was a lifetime member of the Nashville Association of Musicians Local #257 and he was a member of the Masonic Lodge.

Harris remembers his friend …..

“I knew Joe from the time I was a young boy and listened to him tell interesting stories of being on the road with Bill Monroe, Georgia Slim, his brother Howard and Howard’s wife Billie, who was the first woman to play with Bill Monroe. Joe’s guitar playing was well noted and in demand for many years.

We enjoyed many wonderful times hunting and fishing in Hickman Country, Tennessee, near Bucksnort on Sugar Creek. There was always music when the brothers got together. Family, making music and friends were at the center of Joe’s life and he was such a soft spoken gentleman, as were all the Forrester men.

He leaves a great legacy and will surely be missed by many.”

Dr Roby Cogswell, Folklife Program Director, Tennessee Arts Commission, added …….

“Joe Forrester was one of the last survivors of the pre-World War II Nashville music scene. Being older brother to the remarkable fiddler Howdy, Joe became an adept accompanist on both bass and guitar, and much of his professional career, which ended nearly 60 years ago, took place in association with him. Gayel Pitchford’s fine book Fiddler of the Opry: The Howdy Forrester Story details early musical ventures in which Joe was involved. From nearby Hickman County, the Forrester Brothers busked and worked radio spots in Nashville as teenagers.

In 1938 they were recruited by Opry veteran Herald Goodman for his band, The Tennessee Valley Boys, which also included their fiddle hero Arthur Smith.  Joe played bass and did rube comedy under the stage name “Lespedeza” (“as green as the grass he was named for”). During a busy touring schedule, this outfit recorded two sessions in Rock Hill, SC, that resulted in Bluebird recordings issued under both Goodman’s and Smith’s names.

Goodman’s bookings gave the Forresters experience and contacts in Texas and Oklahoma. Howard married his musical wife Billie (later dubbed “Sally Ann” by Bill Monroe) in 1940, and the Forrester Brothers turned to booking themselves independently, with Billie added as “The Little Orphan Girl,” on radio stations both in this area and in Illinois. World War II brought career disruptions for both brothers with military service, which for Joe involved him in the Normandy Invasion.

Back in Nashville after his service, Joe played bass some with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass (sic) Boys in the winter of 1945-46, just as Howdy and Billie also did stints with the Father of Bluegrass. But the Forresters soon moved back to Dallas, where Joe played guitar for Howdy’s landmark fiddle partnership with “Georgia Slim” Rutland. They were an important part of the regional western swing scene during the remainder of the decade, working radio and dancehall engagements. Joe also worked some as guitarist in Gene Autrey’s group during the period.

The early 1950s found both Forresters again in Nashville. Howdy soon assumed fiddle duties for Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys, which occupied him for the rest of his career. Joe’s professional musical work dwindled and he settled into family life and a long career as a postal worker. He remained, however, a fine sock rhythm guitarist, often playing informally and at parties with Howdy. He remained active in Nashville fiddle circles, especially among colleagues of Acuff and Dr. Perry Harris, who founded the Grand Master Fiddler Contest in the 1970s and continued to support it over the years.

During the last years of his long life Joe continued to regularly play backup guitar to the fiddling of Howdy’s son Bob Forrrester and frequently with his friends Mark and Sally Wingate. He was a fine instinctive musician and old-school gentleman who loved the camaraderie of playing together. He had a full life, many friends, and an incredible span of musical experiences.”

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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.