Bill Monroe - mandolin, vocals; Kenny Baker - fiddle; Wayne Lewis - guitar, vocals; Del McCoury - guitar, vocals; Jesse McReynolds - mandolin, vocals; Clarence Tate - bass, fiddle, vocals; Blake Williams - banjo, vocals
This live recording was made on December 15, 1983, at the legendary Bottom Line club in New York City, as Monroe's legendary status was beginning to take full bloom. Though he was 73 years old at the time, Monroe played this show as if it were his last, with an energy and enthusiasm that can be clearly heard throughout each track. When combined with the songs from the same day's late show, this collection makes for a proverbial "greatest hits" collection. This particular set from the early show includes Monroe's best loved songs - including "Mule Skinner Blues," "Dark Hollow," "Rocky Road Blues," "Uncle Pen" (written about his Dutch uncle Pendleton "Pen" Vandiver, who taught him to play fiddle during World War I) and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot."
The musical legend of Bill Monroe dates back to the 1920s. The Bluegrass music he developed and brought to the masses relies heavily on acoustic guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin (the instrument that Monroe played most of the time). In fact, the term "bluegrass" music was actually named after Monroe's band, the Bluegrass Boys. He chose the name for the band because of the fact that they hailed from Kentucky, where "blue" grass is prevalent in lawns and fields. Fans of country music living in the rural areas of the South quickly took to the purely acoustic music, which Monroe and his band played at a lightning-fast speed complemented with yodeling-styled vocals.
"There's probably nobody really on the face of the earth that ever influenced more music than Bill Monroe," said country star Ricky Skaggs recently. "In all of history, he's the biggest single influence in country music." Skaggs, who once played with Monroe at age six, eventually got his professional start in bluegrass music before moving on to Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and his own country superstardom. "He didn't just influence country music, he influenced all music, in general."
This show was recorded during Monroe's long absence from the recording studio. He hardly recorded or released any new studio albums between 1972 and 1987, and when he began touring heavily internationally in the mid-1980s and returned to the studio, his career suddenly soared again as country music purists came out to support a living legend who was still on the road.
Monroe first began performing on the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts in 1939, and remained a regular performer there until just before his death. Between 1971 and 1997, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Hall of Honor, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. To date, he is the only performer to receive all four honors. Monroe, who died at age 85 in 1996, performed until he passed away. Since forming the Bluegrass Boys in 1939, he had over 150 members including Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Peter Rowan, Sonny Osbourne and Del McCoury, among others.