Bill Monroe - vocals, mandolin; Doug Green - guitar; James Monroe - bass fiddle; Roland White - guitar; Byron Berline - little fiddle; Lamar Grier - 5-string banjo; Bob Warford - 5-string banjo
Bill Monroe, the pioneering band leader, singer, and mandolin player who can be credited with creating the classic bluegrass sound (as well as the genre's name), grew up in Rosine, Kentucky, learning the mandolin at 10 years old and eventually playing with his brothers Birch and Charlie in East Chicago, Indiana starting in 1932. In 1934, Birch left the group, leaving Bill and Charlie to continue as the Monroe Brothers, touring the Midwest and South before signing with Bluebird in 1936. Eventually, Charlie would start a group called the Kentucky Pardners, and Bill set off to start his own group too, starting the Kentuckians after a move to Little Rock, Arkansas, and later putting together the Bluegrass Boys when he moved to Atlanta, Georgia. After a 1939 performance at the Grand Ole Opry, the Bluegrass Boys' stature increased considerably, making known his group's fast-paced style—which encouraged open tuning, high tenor voices in chorus, and demanding solos from individual players—which came to be popularly known as "bluegrass," named after his group. Monroe's style was very influential on not only other country groups but the development of rock 'n' roll, most notably when Elvis Presley recorded Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" in 1954 for his first single with Sun Records.
The 1944 line-up of the Bluegrass Boys, whose line-up shifted many times over the years, featured the pioneering pair of guitarist and vocalist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs, as well as fiddle player Chubby Wise, bassist Howard Watts, and Monroe. In 1946, the group had hits with "Kentucky Waltz" and "Footprints in the Snow," the latter of which is a fulfilled audience request at this show. By the time of this show in 1967, the line-up was quite different, and Monroe had already released several albums since his 1958 debut, Knee Deep in Bluegrass, the most recent of which was Bluegrass Time, featuring "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," which also makes an appearance in this set alongside several other Monroe favorites. Their show begins with a brief introductory instrumental, after which we hear a charming spoken introduction from Bill, whose son, James Monroe, features on bass fiddle among a stellar group of players.
It's a fast-paced show, moving for a time into solo numbers once Monroe starts singing on "Put My Rubber Doll Away," and eventually requiring a second banjo player on "Lonesome Road Blues," for which "banjo-picker" Bob Warford is invited up to join the already six-piece group. The set includes Monroe's renowned cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues," a career-long favorite and the tune that first got himself and his group recognized at the Opry. A second wave of interest in folk during the '60s also assisted his profile, allowing him to play festivals and college campuses nationwide. Following a sing-a-long rendition of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" at the end of the show, Monroe announces that they're slated to play two further shows that night and three more the following night, and they finish with a closing ditty, "Y'All Come," whose refrain is as inviting and endearing as the music is: "Y'all come see us when you can!"
This same year, Monroe initiated the annual Bean Blossom Festival, a bluegrass festival that would continue into the '90s, and he continued to record with Decca/MCA. In 1970, he was induced into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He successfully fought off cancer after a 1981 diagnosis, and later underwent a successful double coronary bypass ten years later. Performing and hosting at the Grand Ole Opry into the '90s, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 1993. Monroe passed away on September 9, 1996 at the age of 84, following a stroke earlier that year.
Written by Alan Bershaw