On the Bus with Bill Monroe by Mark Hembree

When, in June 1979, Chicago-born Mark Hembree approached Bill Monroe about taking over as the permanent replacement for Randy Davis, Hembree had hair “to the middle of my back,” not an ideal candidate it would appear. However, a trim of his locks and a successful audition led to his tenure as the bass player with the Blue Grass Boys. 

In what looks to be an occasionally amusing account, Hembree will have his memories of his time working for the father of bluegrass music published in the forthcoming book, On the Bus with Bill Monroe – My Five-Year Ride with the Father of Blue Grass, next April (2022). 

Hembree relates …. 

“I actually began this in 1979. Back then, I knew my experience was significant, and so I did write. I just never felt I had the perspective to write it well enough. I’m actually surprised at how much of the material I was able to keep, though — not a diary, but a briefcase full of notes and essays that survived three moves. 

I began in earnest in late 2018 during a job where I had a lot of down time, but had to remain at my desk. Better than searching seminars or surfing Facebook. The interesting part was sorting my memories. Tom Ewing helped me a lot by supplying an itinerary he had compiled that included the years I was with Bill. It helped me get my ducks in a chronological row. 

My research was mostly double-checking myself, and that brought some surprises and additional perspective. Blake Williams and I discussed writing a book back then, but he figured we would have to wait until everyone had died. However, as Blake noted a few months ago when I was trying to run some details down, people didn’t have to die first. No one remembers anymore. Same thing! I avoided books by the other [Blue Grass Boys] because I didn’t want their memories to sneak into mine. Now I can read them! 

One startling realization I had was that Bill was only two years older than I am when he hired me. Yeesh! Anyway, my fond hope is that people will find my account enlightening and, dare I say, more humorous than previous books. At the recent Monroe Mandolin Camp, I was called upon to deliver some stories. Hearing a live audience laugh with me was great (and a big relief).”

The publisher, University of Illinois Press, has this to say about the book …. 

A backstage audition led Mark Hembree into a five-year stint (1979–1984) as the bassist for Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. Hembree’s journey included playing at the White House and on the acclaimed album, Master of Bluegrass. But it also put him on a collision course with the rigors of touring, the mysteries of Southern culture, and the complex personality of bandleader-legend Bill Monroe. Whether it’s figuring out the best time for breakfast (early), or for beating the boss at poker (never), Hembree gives readers an up-close look at the occasionally exalting, often unglamorous life of a touring musician in the sometimes baffling, always colorful company of a bluegrass icon.

The amusing story of a Yankee fish out of water, On the Bus with Bill Monroe mixes memoir with storytelling to recount the adventures of a Northerner learning new ways and the Old South.

Hembree participated in several studio sessions and can be heard on recordings of live performances from the period as a Blue Grass Boy. 

Hembree sings If I Should Wander Back Tonight from a Bill Monroe set, circa 1982, Norco, California 


Filmed by Don Clark and from the archive of The Bluegrass Bus Museum.


On the Bus with Bill Monroe – My Five-Year Ride with the Father of Blue Grass
Publication Date: April 5, 2022.
Pages: 224 pages
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in
Illustrations: 23 black and white photographs

It will be available in three formats …

Cloth – $110.00
ISBN 978-0-252-04442-7
Paper – $19.95
eBook – $14.95

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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.