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; Guest: Roland White - mandolin
This second of two sets played by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys at the Bottom Line in New York City in December of 1983 features a greater sampling of Monroe's classic hits than the earlier set - including "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (made famous as the theme in Bonnie & Clyde), "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms" and the classic "Blue Moon Of Kentucky," which Elvis Presley introduced to the masses as the B-side of his Sun Records hit, "That's Alright Mama."
Although he was in his seventies at the time, and had been professionally playing for nearly a half century, Monroe showed no sign of slowing down when he and the band kicked into "On My Way Back Home," the first song on this recording. Monroe is widely credited for establishing bluegrass as a household musical style. It had been called "old time music" prior to receiving the bluegrass tag, which was taken directly from the name of Monroe's own band. Born in 1911, on a farm in Rosine, Kentucky, Monroe learned his musical craft (in between hard work on the farm and schooling) from his mother, Melissa Vandiver Monroe, an accomplished accordion and fiddle player. An uncle, also an old time fiddle player, helped Monroe form his musical direction, before he eventually formed a trio on mandolin with older brothers Birch (on fiddle) and Charlie (on guitar). The trio eventually became a duo of Bill and Charlie before splitting up in 1938, when Monroe formed the first version of the Bluegrass Boys.
"Bluegrass music hadn't really started then," said Monroe in 1983. "It was really old timey farm music. Just old time songs you would sing at church, and fiddle playing from square dances." Monroe is widely credited for blending country blues (he was a big fan of blues legends Leadbelly and Mississippi John Hurt), gospel and standard country music with old time fiddle dance music to create what is generally regarded as bluegrass. He was also an accomplished country songwriter, composing such standards as "Blue Moon Of Kentucky," which Elvis Presley made famous and performed throughout his career.
Before his death, Monroe taught over 700 musicians how to play bluegrass music. Among the instrumentalists to graduate from his Bluegrass Boys were Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and Old and in the Way (one of Jerry Garcia's many side projects) creator Vassar Clements. In the 1960s, when rock 'n' roll and modern country had put his traditional style out of favor with many country fans, Monroe found new audiences at Folk Festivals and other acoustic outlets. Monroe performed until his 85th birthday, battling cancer, pneumonia and heart disease along the way. Even in his 80s, it was not unusual for Monroe to do nearly 200 dates a year. "I'm not going to give up," Monroe said in 1996, four years before his death. "I'd never see my friends and fans no more. That would hurt me."