Phil Leadbetter recovering from eye surgery

We caught up with our good buddy Phil Leadbetter yesterday, master reso-guitarist, bandleader, and everyone’s favorite Uncle Phil. He was resting at home after yet another hospital visit, this time for a second corneal transplant which he says seems to be successful.

Those who know Phil realize that he has had a rough few years, beating cancer five times, undergoing a hip replacement, battling kidney disease, and the loss of vision in his left eye. That is a great many more health issues than most of us see in a lifetime, but he has faced them all with good cheer and a smile on his face, accepting each new day as a gift to be cherished.

Phil shared a bit about how he is doing, but like always, was far more interested in talking about what he has on the horizon.

“I’m doing pretty good, considering the day. Had dialysis, got my eye checked out. Looks like I’m getting some vision back. Doc says it will take a little bit of time. It’s a transplant, so it could take a while before I get complete vision back. But it looks like things are going to work a lot better.

My cancer is in remission, and I’m hoping to soon be able to do dialysis at home. Right now I have to go to the UT hospital in Knoxville three days a week.

Dialysis is something that you don’t outgrow, unless I can get a transplant. You can’t get on the transplant list while cancer is still active, so I have to talk to my cancer doc and see if he will recommend me for a transplant since I’ve been in remission for a year.”

He was very excited about the upcoming Bean Blossom festival, with which he has been involved since new management took over the Bill Monroe Music Park in 2018. Phil works with owners Rex and Ben Voils, booking the talent and helping to organize and manage the craziness of a major, multi-day event.

This year, with the COVID-19 restrictions in place, they have decided to merge the two big bluegrass festivals into one, and will hold what is billed as Uncle Pen’s Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival from September 19-26 in Bean Blossom, IN. 

Leadbetter says that park staff will be making a number of safety provisions, but that despite the health concerns, he will be there with bells on.

“Attendance may be down, but I know that some people really can’t wait to get out there. I’m going to take my precautions, as usual, but you bet I will be there. I’ve been tested, and I’m negative.”

Tickets for the combined festivals are available now online.

What really has his pumped, though, is the upcoming album from Phil Leadbetter & The Allstars of Bluegrass, his side project band featuring a number of good friends and bluegrass soulmates. Phil is on reso, along with Alan Bibey on mandolin, Jason Burleson on banjo, Steve Gulley on bass, and Robert Hale on guitar. They will perform on a limited availability basis, both with Phil’s health in mind, and the varied schedule commitments these pickers all have with other bands.

“There’s lots of good things going on. The Allstars record is finished up, and should be out on Pinecastle in September. Everything seems to on the upswing. We know we can’t play out much, but we have a great core band, and everyone understands that we will have to find subs if someone can’t make a booking. Won’t be any hard feelings there.”

He went on to share details on a few of the songs that will be featured.

Swing For The Fences will be the album title. Bibey wrote a song with that name, which he sings. It’s a great song. We have Stuart Duncan on some cuts on fiddle, and Tim Crouch on others. Debbie Gulley sings on one, Yesterday’s Gone, that I used to do with Vern Gosdin back in the day. I think it was Melba Montgomery who sang with Vern on that cut. I thought about several female vocalists to sing that one with Steve and then I thought, ‘Hey… Steve’s got a great singer right there at home!’

Then we recut One Way Rider, like Skaggs did country style, but we do it with three lead singers in a grass mode. Time’s Are Tough is another good one written by Bowman and Menard. We also recut No End To This Road, a Restless Heart song, and they really liked our version when we had them at Bean Blossom for a concert last year.”

You can find performance dates for the Allstars of Bluegrass on Phil’s web site.

They say you can’t keep a good man down, and that is surely the story of Phil Leadbetter. Life has knocked him over a few times, but he always gets right back up ready to go. Don’t count him out just yet.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.