Can't You Hear Me Calling: The Life Of Bill Monroe, Father Of Bluegrass
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Publish Year note: First published in 2000
Considering the range of stars that have claimed Bill Monroe as an influence—Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Jerry Garcia are just a few—it can be said that no single artist has had as broad an impact on American popular music as he did.
For sixty years, Monroe was a star at the Grand Ole Opry, and when he died in 1996, he was universally hailed as "the Father of Bluegrass." But the personal life of this taciturn figure remained largely unknown. Delving into everything from Monroe's professional successes to his bitter rivalries, from his isolated childhood to his reckless womanizing, veteran bluegrass journalist Richard D. Smith has created a three-dimensional portrait of this brilliant, complex, and contradictory man.
Featuring over 120 interviews, this scrupulously researched work—a Chicago Tribune Choice Selection, New York Times Notable Book, and Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2000—stands as the authoritative biography of a true giant of American music.
the circumstances of his marrying Carolyn to explain why he was not free. In September 1941, Bill brought Bessie to Nashville and installed her in a hotel.43 She became his road girlfriend. The pattern was the same for years:44 The Blue Grass Boys would start to leave town; Bill would stop at a pay phone and make a call; Bessie would then meet them at a designated pickup spot to join him for the trip. Meanwhile, Carolyn was keeping their house and Bill’s books, keeping family and business
Monday afternoon.23 To them, imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. To Monroe, it was the baldest kind of theft. In fairness to the Stanleys, they had no idea that Monroe had not yet released “Molly and Tenbrooks.”24 And their version for Rich-R-Tone Records, an independent label based in nearby Johnson City, Tennessee, became one of the most important in bluegrass history. It wasn’t necessarily better than the one Monroe recorded, but it proved that Bill’s music had gone beyond being the
anonymous Bessie—all were manifestations of his conflicted feelings. The Georgia Rose never publicly identified herself.77 She died on July 24, 1998, her July 29 Lexington (Tennessee) Progress obituary memorializing her connection to Bill Monroe. Jimmy Martin’s talents continued to develop and in the process heavily flavored his employer’s music. Martin had a country voice, more descended from the lineage of the new commercial singers than the first generation of rural musicians. Yet it was a
Flatt and Scruggs even more keenly—was eager to latch on to a strong singer-guitarist/banjo duo. And having the Stanleys would mean having two name acts in one. (Ralph Stanley says he has often wondered about this but cannot say for sure why Bill made the offer.) Carter was all for it. Ralph was honored, but knew that Bill had an even more grueling touring schedule than the one he’d just escaped. Ralph said he’d think it over. Then he drove back to McClure, Virginia, with Pee Wee Lambert, who
guitar player Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter), was suggested on the spur of the moment by fiddler Bobby Joe Lester, who was performing it in a side group he had with Tony Ellis.98 “Danny Boy,” a contemporary composition by Fred Weatherly based on the traditional Irish ballad “The Londonderry Air,” was urged by Bradley. The number had long been a favorite of Irish tenors, and in 1959 Conway Twitty had taken it to number 7 on the pop charts.99 Monroe’s high lonesome vocals brought a new dimension to