Friday, March 25, 2011

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys Summer 1971

On June 26, 1971 I stepped on stage with Bill Monroe to play bass for one tune, Bill ask me an hour or so before the show if I "had ever played any bass" to which I replied 'no not really', then he said "Go out there and let Joe Stuart show you how to play "Tallahassee". (a tune which was on his latest single record) Tonight you can play that number, then go set up the record table". Joe was very happy to show me the notes on the bass because that would mean that he would play twin fiddles with Kenny Baker and Joe loved to play fiddle.

It was "Shindig at Cripple Creek", Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Dan Jones first show on guitar, Jack Hicks was on the banjo, Kenny Baker on Fiddle and Joe Stuart had been playing bass for several months since Skip Payne's departure from the band. Bill had invited me on the previous Monday at Bean Blossom to travel around with the band for the summer, "sell records, and keep gas in the air conditioner generator".
photo borrowed from

Bill had asked me the previous fall to work with him for the summer and I had been at Bean Blossom Indiana since mid May helping Birch and Bertha, Bill's brother and sister in getting the Park ready for the week long festival that was held the 3rd week in June. After the week long festival we spent a couple of days cleaning up the cans, bottles and bags of trash left at camp sites. It was then Bill had asked me what it would cost me to go to school for the next year. (I had just finished my freshman year at Berea College) I told him it would be about 8 or $900.00. He counted out 9 one hundred dollar bills and said "take this home and put it in the bank and meet at the truck stop on 11W South of Roanoke on Friday afternoon". The plan was for them to call me as they came thru Bristol in order to give me time to get there.

After "Tallahassee" I started to take Joe's fiddle, give him the bass and go set up the records, Bill said "just stay with us". After a second tune; Footprints in the Snow, (Joe had slipped over near me to show me encouragement on the bass) again I started to take Joe's fiddle and give him the bass when Bill turned around and said "are you determined to leave us" I said "well no not really", he said "You stay right here until I tell you to go". This was only the second time I had ever played bass with a group on stage, up until this time I thought I was a banjo player .

In the March 1972 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Robert Cantwell wrote a piece called "Believing in Bluegrass." He was impressed with the performance of a young group "The Brown County Boys" who had won the band contest at Bean Blossom and how they paid tribute to Bill Monroe when someone in the audience called out one of his popular instrumentals by saying "lets leave that one for the master".

Well as Paul Harvey says, here is the rest of the story.

Three of the Brown County Boys were brothers and as brothers tend to do, a couple of hours prior to the performance, for some reason one of them along with another of the band members left and went home, leaving the group with out a mandolin or bass player. Darrell Sanson was a very good young mandolin player from Ohio so they asked Darrell to play mandolin but couldn't find a bass player.

They were discussing the situation at Calvin Robins camp site along the fence of the wooded area of the park and Calvin suggested that I play bass with them. I had literally never played bass but they convinced me to give it a shot. We borrowed a bass from Buck White and the girls who were camped right beside us, the boys were going to play "Mention her name" that they had written and recorded and was later recorded by the Bluegrass Alliance, then"Love Come Home was next. Like I said earlier I was not a bass player anyway, sure I could play simple G positions but only simple tunes. Calvin suggested that I use a Bill Russell guitar capo and told me to put it on backward so I could slide it to the appropriate position on the neck of the bass and continue to play in simple G notes and all I had to do was just keep time, smile allot and ease through it.

Things were going well, we had played 2 or 3 tunes then someone called "Rawhide". Rawhide was one of Bill's signature mandolin instruments that I had played on the banjo countless times but I had no ideas of the bass lines for "Rawhide" so I told the boys "Lets leave that one for the Master" as Bill and The Blue Grass Boys were following us. I had no idea that anyone would remember those words.

I guess all this just goes to show that doing something that I wasn't comfortable at all, lead to a great opportunity. In later years I've often wondered if Bill had seen me on stage that night as he walked toward the stage and the idea was possibly planted that lead to be becoming the bass man for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys from June 26 until August 28th 1971.

There are lessons in everything we do, opportunities are all around us, all we have to do is be open and accepting to new and exciting possibilities.


  1. Doug,
    Love and enjoy seeing your posts. Your chronicling some of the more behind the scenes happenings in bluegrass history gives so much more color to the main time line.

    From Greylock to Bean Blossom

  2. Pretty incredible story, Doug. And incredibly fascinating. I love hearing what you know.

    Barry Willis

  3. Enjoyed this post, Doug! Keep posting!

  4. Once again, I love hearing how it was. Thanks for sharing your stories.
    Alice White