Songwriter Bill Castle passes 

After a spell of declining health, prolific bluegrass song writer Bill Castle passed away at Maysville Nursing and Rehabilitation, in Maysville, KY on February 27, 2023. He was 89.

William Lewis ‘Bill’ Castle was born on January 6, 1934, in Fleming County in eastern Kentucky, and leaned the rudiments of song writing while in the army, serving in Okinawa during the Korean War. Castle and his mentor formed a band that played in service men’s clubs. 

Back home he joined a bluegrass band, the Country Boys, which worked on several regional radio stations, including WMOR in Morehead and WFTM, Maysville, and at local festivals and schools. 

Like so many others from that part of the country, Castle travelled north to Indiana in search for reliable full-time employment, spending almost 20 years in work there. Continuing his musical exploits, he started a Country group, the Bill Castle Band, playing shows in the area. 

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, after he returned to his home state, he kept his own band working at VFW shows every Friday and Saturday evenings.  

In December 1989 the Ohio-based Hart Brothers became the first to record a Bill Castle song, the title track to their Old Homestead LP, Church at Hickory Grove. Doyle Lawson, who also cut the Dee Gaskin-Bill Castle co-write, God Is Love, cut a version of Church at Hickory Grove in May 1991. 

The brothers cut Call of the Wild and Brambles and Briars as well.

Boggy River Bluegrass sing The Church at Hickory Grove at a Greater Oklahoma Bluegrass Music Society show in 2010.

Although he had started his own publishing company, Yonder Hill Publishing Co., in 1982, that Lawson recording of The Church at Hickory Grove kick-stated a career that had up to that point just been a hobby for Castle. 

Russell Moore & llIrd Tyme Out cut several Castle songs including Pages Of The Past, I Will See You On The Other Side of Jordan, Big Muddy, Prayer For Peace, Just Over The Tide and The Dream …. 

Russell Moore & llIrd Tyme Out — Vine Grove, Kentucky, Bluegrass Festival, September 24, 2011.

Others who recorded The Dream include Hammertowne; Sandy Creek Gospel Bluegrass; The Gospel Plowboys; the Brady Family; Christian Messengers; Randy Waller; Darvin Sturgill; Herman McGee; and Sandy Creek Gospel Bluegrass. 

Shortly after Larry Sparks recorded it, Castle earned some wide recognition with the inclusion of his Christmas In The Mountains in a stage presentation, Sanders Family Christmas, featuring a fictitious family. Set in Mount Pleasant, NC, in 1941, the musical comedy sequel to the ever-popular New York hit, Smoke on the Mountain, it played at the Ryman Auditorium. Studio recordings of the show were released on a CD, Smoke On The Mountain Part II in 2000. 

Christmas In The Mountains

Gradually, however, Castle performed less and less and even eschewed participation in jam sessions preferring to devote his energies to writing songs. 

He released a few demo albums, one bluegrass, a bluegrass Gospel collection, and one with a band, that all led to cuts by others.  

He cited Tom T. Hall and Hank Williams Jr. as inspirations, and rated Larry Cordle and Randall Hylton as other great song writers. 

Among his best songs, Castle mentioned The Church at Hickory Grove. Working In The Vineyards (Sam Wilson and Five for the Gospel), Swing That Hammer (Lonesome River Band) and Kneel Down and Pray Up (Lou Reid, Terry Baucom & Carolina)  

Jason Burleson (Blue Highway) spoke highly of Castle’s talents … 

“He was one of the finest songwriters in the bluegrass music genre that he loved so much. His songs will be sung and enjoyed for years to come.”

What follows is a random list of some of the many varied Bill Castle songs that have been recorded along with the bands involved … 

I’m Ready To Fly – Darvin Sturgill

John Doe Made the Crossing (Bill Castle / Dee Gaskin) – Big Country Bluegrass 

God is Love (Bill Castle / Dee Gaskin) – Sherry Depolis Thompson

Still Driving Nails In The Hands Of The Savior – Jeff Parker

Remembrance Is a Golden Chain – The Heather Berry & Tony Mabe Show

Blue in the Blue Ridge Mountains – The Velvet Blue 

Here Today And Gone Tomorrow (William Castle / Ila Gaskin) · James King 

Another Day From Life – Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers

Miracle Man (Bill Castle / Dale Pyatt) – Paul Williams & the Victory Trio

Honky Tonked To Death – Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

Hang A Wreath On My Door · Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice 

A Black Hearse Following Me – Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice

It’s in My Mind to Wander – Michelle Nixon & Drive 

The Ballad of Charlie Dill – Ernie Thacker

War is Hell – American Drive

Brush Arbor Church In The Hills – Five for the Gospel 

Don’t Point Your Finger – Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Mountain Boys 

Carrying On – Ralph Stanley II 

All of God’s Children – Billie Renee & Cumberland Gap

I And Young Billy – The Rarely Herd 

Cecil Barfield’s Georgia Blues – The Rarely Herd

Walking on Holy Ground – The Rarely Herd

Yonder Hills of Old Virginia – The Rarely Herd

Blue Yesterdays – The Rarely Herd and Kim Robins

I Always Get Lonesome When It Rains – The Lost & Found 

Randy Kohrs – If All Those Trains Were Still Around (I’d Be An Ol’ Hobo)

Kohrs spoke of working with Castle ….

“We seemed to always have a synergy when writing. For us, writing was almost always done in the car while at a festival when we had some time to kill between shows. Words came fluently to him, as does a new melody to me, so, we were a good fit when writing together. I’m sure gonna miss that infectious laugh of his when he knew we’d locked in a really good line together. It’s a painful reality to know you’ll never get to write with him again.”

Tell ‘Em About Jesus and Mama’s Songs – Larry Sparks 

The Birthday Of Our King – Larry Sparks And The Lonesome Ramblers 

Annie’s Boy (Bill Castle / Dee Gaskin) – Larry Sparks

Mama’s Old Camp Meeting Song – Larry Sparks and Sam Wilson 

Call Of The Wild – The Bluegrass Cardinals and Sam Wilson 

Working In The Vineyards – Sam Wilson

Lorena’s Gown Of White – Sam Wilson

I Like Trains – The Grascals 

Stone Cold Loneliness – Blue Moon Rising and The Bluegrass Cardinals

I Wouldn’t Miss It For The World – The Lewis Family 

Old Simon Tuckett (Ode To Lucy Mae) – Jeff Clair 

Morningtime Always (Bill Castle / Levon McCall) – Larry Stephenson Band 

Another Day From Life – Gerald Evans & Paradise 

So Blue in the Blueridge Mountains – Colonel Larry Fuller

High Geared Daddy – Colonel Larry Fuller

A Place That Has No Yesterday – Rickey Wasson 

My Music Comes From Bill (Bill Castle / Steve Watts) – The Spinney Brothers 

Going Home to Tennessee – Spinney Brothers 

Going Home to Tennessee – The Bluegrass Strangers and Hammertowne

Dusty Roads And Blue Kentucky Mountains – Bluegrass Strangers

The Price Sisters recorded two of Bill’s on their A Heart Never Knows album in 2018, God’s Beautiful Hills and Remembrance is a Golden Chain ….. 

Needed More Soldiers To Carry The Cross – Claybank

Coat of Southern Gray – David Davis and the Warrior River Boys

Several achieved significant chart success. 

Mark ‘Brink’ Brinkman wrote many songs with Castle during a 15 to 20-year period …  

“Wherever we started with a song… in the end they always ended up traditional country.  I would ask him, ‘You got any number ones laying around there…’ he’d say, ‘Sorry… this week I’ve only got number 2’s’  LOLOL. If you didn’t have a couple hours to talk on the phone you didn’t dare call. No such thing as a short phone call with Bill.”

In addition to being a wonderful individual song writer, as many have said, he was a great man, encouraging and kind to aspiring writers and a friend to everyone he met. Banjo player Dick Roach, who did demos with Castle, had this to say …

“[He was] just a guy anyone would enjoy being around every time you ran into him! I truly love the guy!”

R.I.P. Bill Castle 

Visitation will be held on Friday, March 3, 2023, from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at 7:00 a.m. at the Boone-Nickell Funeral Home in Flemingsburg, KY.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday, March 4, 2023, at 11:00 a.m. at the same location.

He will be laid to rest in Mineer Cemetery in Lewis County (17858 Route 344, Wallingford, Kentucky 41093). 

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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.