On This Day #68 – Muleskinner Live

On this day …

On February 13, 1973, Muleskinner – the first super group of bluegrass music – made its debut on what was the first nationally televised bluegrass music concert. 

The program was intended as a showcase for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. However, a bus breakdown meant that they missed their scheduled appearance at the KCET-TV studio in Hollywood, California. 

Former Blue Grass Boys Richard Greene (fiddle), Bill Keith (banjo), and Peter Rowan (vocals, guitar), joined by David Grisman (vocals, mandolin), Clarence White (vocals, guitar), and Stuart Schulman (bass) stepped into the breach, and thus the band Muleskinner was formed. 

As William Henry Koon, who was in the audience, wrote for the video release, “In the finest show business tradition, the show went on anyway, even though the ‘boys’ had a scant three hours to rehearse. No matter. They had known one another and played in myriad combinations for years ……”

Pete Rowan remembers …

“Richard invited us (myself, Clarence, David, Bill) to play a television program for KCET in Hollywood with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass (sic) Boys as a sort of ‘Father of Bluegrass and His Songs’ show. Well, Bill’s bus broke down in Stockton, California and we had to do the show on our own.” 

He went on to praise one of the band members …

“Clarence’s gentle soul was our unifying force, holding our music together. We had all the time in the world and no idea how quickly things would change.”

(extracted from notes to the album, Muleskinner – A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam (Sierra Records SXCD 6009, released in 1994.)

The material captured was varied – a couple of traditional tunes arranged by White; original tunes from Grisman and Frank Wakefield; two Monroe songs; one each from Merle Travis and Ed Mayfield (another former Blue Grass Boy); a staple from Bill Browning, and Rowan’s perennial Land Of The Navajo

Filmed before a live audience, part – just nine songs – of this ground-breaking performance was originally broadcast on PBS in September 1973, and it this 30-minute selection that that was made available to the public by Sierra Home Video (SHV 1001) on April 22, 1991.

When subsequently released on CD, the four numbers that were edited for the broadcast – Goin’ To The Races; Eighth Of January; I Am A Pilgrim; and Sittin’ Alone In The Moonlight, on which folk and blues singer Maria Muldaur dueted with Rowan, were included – see Live – Original Television Soundtrack (Sierra OXCD-6001). 

The full track listing is as follows … 

New Camptown Races / Dark Hollow / Land Of The NavajoBlackberry BlossomKnockin’ On Your DoorOpus 57 In G MinorRed Rocking Chair / Goin’ To The RacesEighth Of January / I Am A Pilgrim / The Dead MarchSittin’ Alone In The MoonlightOrange Blossom Special 

Here are a few highlights … 

New Camptown Races / Dark Hollow

The Land Of The Navajo

Red Rocking Chair 

Eighth of January 

I Am A Pilgrim

Sittin’ Alone in the Moonlight 

Tragically, there would only be a handful of concerts and one album before Clarence White died five months later (on July 15, 1973), after being struck by an automobile as he was loading equipment into a car. Muleskinner never performed again.

Additional credits: 

  • Executive producers – John M. Delgatto and Michelle White Adkins
  • Television producer – Alan Baker
  • Director – Allan Muir 
  • Program concept, consultant and advisor – Richard Greene

For bluegrass aficionados, Muleskinner Live was something of a watershed event. 

Demonstrating the enduring popularity of these powerhouse performances and the personnel involved, there have been further releases of this material – a few, typically including the Japanese album, limited to nine tracks. Confusingly, some incorporate the phrase ‘A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam’ the title of their Warner Brothers’ studio album.  

  • Muleskinner – Live- Original Television Soundtrack (Sierra Records SXCD 6000, 1994)
  • Live : A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam (Hollywood, (VHS) March 31, 1999) 
  • Live: A Potpourri Of Live Bluegrass Jam (Rural Rhythm Records RHY 1018, June 3, 2003) 
  • Live The DVD – A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam (Sierra DVDSRDVD 2001, 2006)
  • Muleskinner Live: Original Television Soundtrack (Micro Werks MIW 101042, August 11, 2009)
  • Muleskinner Live — Original Television Soundtrack (Sheer Sound #6000, January 1, 2013)
  • Muleskinner 1973 (Warped 7321, 2015)
  • Muleskinner Live (MSI MSIDV 048 (Japan), 2021; distributed by Liberation Hall)

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.