Tom Gray inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame

Tom Gray is inducted into the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame – photos by Barb Diederich

Iconic bassist, Tom Gray, was inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Bean Blossom, IN last month. In the ceremony, coinciding with Uncle Pen Fest, Gray was inducted along with the late great fiddler, Vassar Clements. As part of his induction, Gray performed on stage with the Country Gentlemen Tribute Band.

He explained, “The Hall of Fame and Museum in Bean Blossom was established by Bill Monroe long before there was any hall of fame or museum established by IBMA. I was deeply honored that they would put me in their hall of fame. The committee chose two people to go in this year. One was Vassar Clements, famous fiddle player, who passed away several years ago. The other inductee was me! I was so shocked and humbled. I’m just a bass player.”

This interviewer stressed that there is no such thing as “just a bass player.”

Gray acknowledged the statement.

“It is a necessary part of the music. I always try to take on a role of doing more than just providing rhythm and stating the chord in the moment. I like to find notes that I can play that will lead you into the next chord or announce the next line or verse of a song. 

I was deeply influenced when I was young by the bass playing of George Shuffler, who played very aggressively when he recorded with the Stanley Brothers in the early 1950s. I wanted to be like George. I was encouraged to do so by some of the band leaders I played with in my career, namely Buzz Busby and John Duffey, with whom I was a band mate with in the Country Gentlemen in the 1960s and the Seldom Scene in the 1970s and ’80s.

I did get somewhat of a unique role in redefining the way the bass could be played in bluegrass. I was so honored that they would choose to put me in their hall of fame.”

Gray was thrilled to join his former band mate, John Duffey, who was already in Bill Monroe’s Hall of Fame. The bass man got to the tour the museum for the first time while at the site for his induction.

“It was Bill Monroe’s own property. It was interesting that he chose that site for his museum. He was originally from Kentucky, and spent most of his life near Nashville, TN. He could have chosen to put it in Nashville where all those other museums are, but he really liked Bean Blossom. He had a warm spot for it.

I really enjoyed seeing all the photos and mementoes, their instruments, and the clothing they wore. I had not gone to Bean Blossom too many times. All those years that I was playing with John Duffey, he refused to do business the way Monroe did it. John always insisted on a firm contract spelling out how much we would be paid and when. Bill liked to have people who were willing to see how much money came in at the gate and accept what Bill dispersed once the festival was over.

I did play Bean Blossom once with Bill Clifton. He accepted those terms and had a deep respect for Monroe and the other artists who agreed to be paid that way. In later years, I did get to play Bean Blossom with other acts that I was with including Eddie & Martha Adcock, Darren Beachley & the Legends of the Potomac, and the Country Gentlemen Reunion Band. The Reunion Band was a bunch of former members of the Gentlemen which included Eddie Adcock, Jimmy Gaudreau, Randy Waller, and me.

 All the people at Bean Blossom were so kind, friendly, and generous. The new owner, Rex Voils, was a gracious host to me and my wife, Barb. He put us up in Bill Monroe’s old homestead and we slept in Bill Monroe’s bed. 

They asked me to supply a photo. They used one taken by my daughter at her farm. They enlarged that, put it in a frame and it is now hanging in the museum. I’ve promised to give them some more artifacts such as the necktie I wore with the Country Gentlemen when we played Carnegie Hall. We all wore pleated black ties with hand painted images on it.”

Voils, Operations Manager of Bill Monroe’s Music Park, explained the Hall of Fame selection process. “The selection of inductees is made by our 20 plus board members. We induct two members annually, one living and one deceased. We narrow it down to three candidates and then vote. Tom was a real nice man and so appreciative. He knew Bill Monroe.”

 Regarding the ceremony, Gray was thankful.

“It was all done on the stage at Bean Blossom during Uncle Pen Days on September 23, 2023. Historian, Ken Hydinger, gave a  biography of the accomplishments that I have had. Then I performed a 90 minute show with the Country Gentlemen Tribute Band. Their current bass player, Kyle Windbeck, has a fine bass and he let me play his. I joined the band along with Mike Phipps, David Propst, Lynwood Lunsford, and Darren Beachley. Mike Phipps, who does such a good job sounding like Charlie Waller, asked me for a list of songs I would like to play. They were so well prepared.

Before I completed the list, I called up Darren and asked, ‘Would you be able to sing John Duffey’s verses to The Young Fisherwoman?’ That was one of my favorite songs I did with the Country Gentlemen. It has seven verses and three choruses that are all different from each other, so that’s a lot of words to memorize. Darren did it very well and allowed me to play some backup bass that I recorded with Country Gentlemen. It was a very good event.”

Voils added, “That performance brought back a lot of old memories.”

Next year’s inductees will be the Lewis Family and the late James King.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.