Author: Daniel, Bert

My Very Own Bill Monroe Project

Happy New Year to all you Bluegrass fans out there! This year happens to be a very special year because it marks the centenary of the birth of the greatest Bluegrasser of them all. In case you didn't already know, Bill Monroe, the revered founder of a very vibrant musical genre, was born on September 13, 1911 in Rosine, Kentucky.

Over the years, Bill's music has added immensely to my life. I therefore feel compelled to mark the occasion of his 100th year with some sort of personal project as a token of my respect. So, a couple of days before the end of 2010, I went to the local book store and purchased a bound journal with ruled lines and 200 or so blank pages. My plan is to keep a daily log related to Bill's music and events of the centenary year. I'll play at least one of Bill's tunes every day that I play, and I'll invite friends to choose a tune and play or sing something with me that Bill would have liked to play or sing.

Since I'll be at home on New Year's Day, I had to pick my first "victim" carefully. Fortunately, he's already agreed to participate and it wasn't a hard sell. It's my fiddle playing ten year old son Ethan. He'll probably choose one of the fiddle tunes Bill recorded that he happens to know, like Cripple Creek, Old Joe Clark, Turkey in the Straw or Soldier's Joy. After that we can watch football games. Ethan has always liked Jerusalem Ridge but hasn't learned it yet. He was so impressed when he heard Tim Elson play it at Plymouth a few years ago and soon after that he was completely blown away by Michael Cleveland's live performance of the tune. This might just be the perfect year for Ethan to add Bill's classic to his repertoire.

Ethan's fiddle teacher is Ed Neff, who obviously knows a lot about Bluegrass fiddle, but more importantly knows how to impart some of that skill to a young child like my son. Ed was kind enough to lend me his copy of Neil Rosenberg's Monroe Discography, so I've been going through the pages compiling a list of tunes and songs that Bill is known to have played. Of course Bill composed a lot of great music, but in 2011, I want to include traditional standards as well. Those standards are such an integral part of the music I associate with him that I'd hate to leave them out. Going through the discography, the thought occurred to me that you could easily play a new tune every day (if you knew them all) and never repeat yourself. I don't think I'll be that ambitious but we'll see. At the very least I plan to learn some new Monroe material this year.

As you're reading this I'm probably on the road, driving back from Bakersfield, California's music Mecca this time of year. (I'd been hearing so much about all the fun at the great 48 Jam, that I finally decided to find the time to go this year). I hope to be driving back with a journal partially filled with musical signposts that I can peruse in years to come and remember the year we played Bill Monroe's music like never before. A hundred years from now, people will still be playing Bill's music "like never before". I'm sure glad I'm here for this first centennial. I hope you all have a great year and if you want to send me an e mail about your own personal Bill Monroe Project this year, I'd love to hear from you! ( Happy New Year!
Posted:  1/9/2011

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