On This Day #50 – Southern Flavor wins a Grammy

On this Day ….

On February 22, 1989, the first bluegrass Grammy was awarded to Bill Monroe, for his MCA album, Southern Flavor (MCA-42133/MCAD-42133).

The LP was released in May 1988 and consisted of 10 tracks recorded at the Sound Stage Studio in Nashville.

Beginning on January 4, 1988, there were several sessions during the month, culminating in that on January 14 when Monroe recorded three Gospel quartet numbers, Give Me Wings, What A Wonderful Life and Take Courage Un’ Tomorrow, all featuring Tom Ewing (lead vocals), Bill Monroe (tenor), Blake Williams (baritone) and Clarence ‘Tater’ Tate (bass).

The Carl Butler song, White Rose, was a Bill Monroe solo, while Days Gone By and Life’s Highway are both trio numbers with Ewing (singing lead), Monroe (tenor) and Williams (baritone).

There are four instrumentals; Stone Coal, Texas Lone Star, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the title track Southern Flavor.

In addition to the fiddle playing of Mike Fagan, and the other regular member of the Blue Grass Boys at that time, two other fiddlers Bobby Hicks and Buddy Spicher were featured during the sessions.

Emory Gordy, Jr. was the producer. Also, he played bass on What A Wonderful Life, Give Me Wings and Take Courage Un’ Tomorrow.

32 years old at the time of the award, Blake Williams remembers the album for the fact that he was using a new banjo   …..

“It was such an honor to have been a part of the Southern Flavor project. I was playing my ‘new’ Gibson Granada (‘87-07-01). It has a Gibson prototype decal inside the rim, and I was really excited about that. Emory Gordy produced the album and set us up in a semicircle, much like the configuration we performed on stage. We tracked the songs complete with vocals all at once, then repeated the songs four or five times each. Emory then digitally maneuvered the tracks to get the best results – no overdubs. The banjo tune that starts the record, Sugar Loaf Mountain, was written by Bill when we were on tour in the Northeast, and I was there to learn the parts when he wrote it. He wrote so many instrumentals and many are lost forever. While in the studio, Emory said we needed a banjo tune for the album. When I started playing Sugar Loaf Mountain, Bill asked, ‘Who wrote that?’ I said, ‘You did!’ He got a big ole smile on his face and Emory said that needs to be on the record!”

Tom Ewing notes the historical significance of the award and sets the record straight regarding some of the recording processes ……

“After a recording career that spanned fifty years, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences finally recognized Bill Monroe. Contrary to what is suggested in Richard Smith’s biography concerning the Southern Flavor album, Bill did no overdubbing, he did not use headphones, and he did not sing additional vocals on open tracks.”

The full track listing for Southern Flavor is as follows ..

Stone Coal / Life’s Highway / What A Wonderful Life / Texas Lone Star / Give Me Wings / Sugar Loaf Mountain / White Rose / Days Gone By / Southern Flavor / Take Courage Un’ Tomorrow.

Grammy Award was for Best Bluegrass Recording (Vocal or Instrumental), currently identified as the Best Bluegrass Album category.

In this clip Bill Monroe & The Blue Grass Boys perform Southern Flavor for the TNN television series, American Music Shop, with special guest Marty Stuart, playing lead guitar.

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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.

  • Ron Hazlett Jr

    Just wanted to add a comment or two, on this article cocerning Bill Monroe’s GREAT album: “Southern Flavor!”

    First of all, let me say, (with the greatest, and utmost due respect), to Mr. Tom Ewing, that I do not mean to contradict your commentary on the portion of Richard Smith’s fascinating biography on Mr. Monroe, which you mentioned.

    I do wish to say though, that I have owned a copy of that biography since shortly after it’s release, and though I haven’t had it handy in nearly 4 years now; up until then I had read and re-read it countless times! ?

    So I would like to say this; if memory serves correct, Mr. Smith quoted producer Emory Gordy Jr. as saying that due to the fact, that Mr. Monroe sung flat in many spots on the vocal numbers, due to his aging voice; he DID consider either overdubbing some of the tracks, or “electronically sweetening” some of them a bit, but in the end, decided to let them alone, as he rather felt that it would just not be right to do that to Mr. Monroe.

    I think in listening to the cut of “Life’s Highway” in itself, it is pretty evident that at least, no “electronic sweetening” was done on that number, and I for one, am glad of that!

    For even though Mr. Monroe’s voice WAS a bit quavery on that song, and he did fall flat in spots, (bless his heart), I happen to like that song JUST the way it is! ?

    Sure like your lead vocals on it too, Mr. Ewing, and wish I could even begin, to sing it close to how you did it! ? Like Mr. Williams’ Baritone vocals, and all the other Blue Grass Boys’ work on that cut as well, AND throughout that album!

    As I said before, I really DO like this album just the way it is!! ?

    Btw., I don’t believe I was ever aware that this album had earned a Grammy, but I’m sure glad to learn that it did, for it was VERY WELL DESERVED!!!

    With Highest Respects,

    Yours Very Humbly, & Sincerely,

    Ron Hazlett Jr.
    Fife, WA.