Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with James Monroe, December 2, 2009

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:01 - Bill Monroe and his band members

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Partial Transcript: Hi. My name is Ronnie Reno and, uh, I'm here in Gallatin, Tennessee representing the International Bluegrass Music Museum today...

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about growing up as the son of legendary Bluegrass musician Bill Monroe. He talks about watching his father's rehearsals and growing up interacting with other Bluegrass musicians. He talks about his father's early days in the music business, describing his touring in tent shows.

Keywords: Accordions; Akeman, David "Stringbean" (Artist); Art Wooten (Artist); Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Birch Monroe (Artist); Blackface; Chubby Wise (Artist); Clyde Moody (Artist); Comedians; Comedy in bluegrass music; Concerts; Crowds; David "Stringbean" Akeman (Artist); Earl Scruggs (Artist); Fathers; Flatt, Lester (Artist); Forrester, Wilene "Sally Ann" (Artist); Gigs; Grand Ole Opry; Harmonicas; Howard "Cedric Rainwater" Watts (Artist); Howard Watts (Artist); Lester Flatt (Artist); Magness, Tommy (Artist); Melissa Monroe (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Monroe, Birch (Artist); Monroe, Melissa (Artist); Moody, Clyde (Artist); Rehearsal; Scruggs, Earl (Artist); Shows; Tent shows; Tommy Magness (Artist); Travel; Trios; Watts, Howard "Cedric Rainwater" (Artist); Watts, Howard (Artist); Wilene "Sally Ann" Forrester (Artist); Wise, Chubby (Artist)

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music audiences; Music fans.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance

00:06:47 - Early days of the Monroe Brothers and Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys

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Partial Transcript: But, but--and I'm sure you've heard your father, uh, uh, well, uh, talk about those early days.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks more about his father Bill Monroe's early days in the music business, first in the band with his brother Charlie, The Monroe Brothers. After their split, Bill formed Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

Keywords: Atlanta (Ga.); Auditions; Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Bluebird Records; Charlie Monroe (Artist); Cleo Davis (Artist); Davis, Cleo (Artist); Grand Ole Opry; Hits; Jimmie Rodgers (Artist); Melissa Monroe (Artist); Monroe Brothers (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Monroe, Charlie (Artist); Monroe, Melissa (Artist); Nashville (Tenn.); Radio shows; Rodgers, Jimmie (Artist); Singing; Songs; Tenor vocals; WPTF (Radio station); WWNC (Radio station)

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical instruments.; Musical performance; Radio programs.; Radio stations.

00:11:28 - The beginning of Bluegrass music / folk festivals / teaching the younger generation

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Partial Transcript: And 'course we can talk about, uh, when you, when you started--where I want to go with this is, is, you know, you were there when they actually put the phrase "Bluegrass music" together.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about his father's role in the advent of Bluegrass music as its own genre. He talks about the early folk festivals where musicians of his father's generation would teach and connect with younger aspiring musicians.

Keywords: Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Community; Competition; Don Reno (Artist); Folk festivals; Mac Wiseman (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Reno, Don (Artist); Reno, Ronnie (Artist); Ronnie Reno (Artist); Selling; Teaching; Wiseman, Mac (Artist); Younger generations

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass festivals; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Communities in music; Music festivals.; Music--Instruction and study.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance

00:17:03 - Getting into the business side of music--Booking and festivals

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Partial Transcript: But you know when I started playing the bass I never played before in my life.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe mentions beginning to play bass in his father's band. He talks about how he became involved in the business side of music, first through booking shows. He talks about the beginning of several famous Bluegrass festivals including his father's Bean Blossom Festival.

Keywords: Bass players; Bassists; Bean Blossom Festival, Indiana; Berryville (Va.); Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Booking; Booking agents; Careers; Carlton Haney; Clyde Moody (Artist); Concerts; Cosby (Tenn.); Dillman, Dwight; Don Reno (Artist); Dwight Dillman; Fathers; Fincastle (Va.); Gigs; Haney, Carlton; Inheritance taxes; James Monroe & the Midnight Ramblers (Artist); James Monroe and the Midnight Ramblers (Artist); Joining; Mac Wiseman (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Moody, Clyde (Artist); Multi-day festivals; Renfro Valley; Reno, Don (Artist); Reno, Ronnie (Artist); Roanoke (Va.); Ronnie Reno (Artist); Selling; Shows; Wiseman, Mac (Artist)

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass festivals; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music business; Music festivals.; Music--Performance.; Musical families; Musical groups.; Musical performance

00:26:25 - Bill Monroe's legacy

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Partial Transcript: Well there was so much, I, I think, heritage.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about his father Bill Monroe's contributions to music and to Bluegrass specifically. He talks about the songs his father wrote, his work on the Grand Ole Opry, his change in opinion on people covering his songs, and the camaraderie among Bluegrass musicians.

Keywords: Acuff, Roy (Artist); Benny Martin (Artist); Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Buses; Bush, Sam (Artist); Camaraderie; Chubby Wise (Artist); Cline, Patsy (Artist); Community; Competition; Contributions; Copying; Dobros; Earl Scruggs (Artist); Fathers; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Flatt, Lester (Artist); Grand Ole Opry; Graves, Uncle Josh (Artist); Heritage; Imitation; Instrumentals; Jim Reeves (Artist); Learning; Lester Flatt (Artist); Macon, Uncle Dave (Artist); Martin, Benny (Artist); Melissa Monroe (Artist); Money; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Monroe, Melissa (Artist); Musical styles; Nightcaps; Patsy Cline (Artist); Payment; Poverty; Publishing companies; Reeves, Jim (Artist); Role models; Roy Acuff (Artist); Salary; Sam Bush (Artist); Scruggs, Earl (Artist); Selling; Sisters; Song covers; Songs; Songwriters; Songwriters Hall of Fame; Songwriting; Sound; Sponsor

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Communities in music; Music business; Music icons; Music--Economic aspects.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance

00:35:29 - Childhood and parenting

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Partial Transcript: Yeah. A, a--well I--your father, uh, I always thought that he told his story.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about his father Bill Monroe's childhood and the lessons he learned which were then also passed along to James. He tells a story about stealing his father's limousine to drive to the store and talks about being disciplined by his father.

Keywords: Child-rearing; Chores; Driving; Hard work; Limousines; Motorcycles; Parenting; Personality; Punishment

Subjects: Childhood; Discipline of children; Families.

00:38:49 - The importance of the classics / Bill Monroe's influences

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Partial Transcript: But, uh, well I, I wanted to--James, you know it's, it's such a wonderful thing to hear these things from you.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe gives advice to the younger generation of Bluegrass musicians, especially regarding the importance of having a base built on the older generations' music. He talks about his father's musical influences.

Keywords: Basics; Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Blues; Classics; Contributions; Drive; Family; Fathers; Gospel music; Irish music; Learning to play; Legacy; Melody; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Mothers; Roots; Tempo; Timing; Tunes; Vandiver family; Young people

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Instruction and study.; Music--Performance.; Musical families; Musical groups.; Musical performance

00:43:33 - Bluegrass today / Bill Monroe records

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Partial Transcript: Well, he, uh, he left us, uh, James, with an, an, an enduring thing that will go past several lifetimes and mine and yours.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about the state of Bluegrass today. He talks about some of his father's hit records.

Keywords: Audio recording; Basics; Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Classics; Columbia Records; Current music; Driving rhythm; First; Future; Guitars; Harmonies; History; Hits; Legacy; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Music recording; Natural; Perfection; Production; RCA Records; Records; Songs.

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance; Sound recordings.; Sound studios; Sound--Recording and reproducing

00:48:06 - Starting out on the bass / costumes and clothing

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Partial Transcript: My, my, uh, time Ronnie starting out on the bass like I was telling you...

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks more about starting to play bass in his father's band. He talks about comedians in Bluegrass, and talks about the suits his father wore on stage.

Keywords: "Cousin Wilbur"; Akeman, David "Stringbean" (Artist); Bass players; Bassists; Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Clothes; Comedians; Comedy in bluegrass music; Contracts; Costumes; David "Stringbean" Akeman (Artist); Embarrassed; Hayseed; Learning to play; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Pull bass; Slap bass; Suits

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Clothing and dress.; Fashion.; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance

00:51:37 - Touring with Bill Monroe

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Partial Transcript: Where was we at-------(??)

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about the experience of touring with his father during his childhood and selling songbooks to fans. He talks about vehicles breaking down and also talks about a set of horns his father attached to his bus.

Keywords: Acuff, Roy (Artist); Bass players; Bassists; Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Breaking down; Buses; Cars; Embarrassed; Fathers; Melissa Monroe (Artist); Money; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Monroe, Melissa (Artist); On the road; Payment; Roads; Roy Acuff (Artist); Salary; Selling; Shy; Sisters; Songbooks; Sons; Steer horns; Tent shows; Touring; Traveling; Vehicles; Wages

Subjects: Bands (Music); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music business; Music--Performance.; Musical groups.; Musical performance

00:57:14 - Songs

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Partial Transcript: I remember--uh, uh, James you'll, you'll enjoy this.

Segment Synopsis: Ronnie Reno and James Monroe talk about Hank Williams demonstrating his new songs for Bill Monroe. James Monroe talks about some of his father's hit songs. He talks about how his father felt about Elvis Presley covering his song "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

Keywords: Acuff, Roy (Artist); Airtime; Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe & the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys (Artist); Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Blue Moon of Kentucky (Song); Chubby Wise (Artist); Elvis Presley (Artist); Footprints in the Snow (Song); Gospel music; Hank Williams (Artist); Hits; I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (Song); Mac Wiseman (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Musical styles; Presley, Elvis (Artist); Publishing; Roy Acuff (Artist); Songwriters; Songwriting; Sound; Style; Train tours; Williams, Hank (Artist); Wise, Chubby (Artist); Wiseman, Mac (Artist)

Subjects: Songs.; Sound--Recording and reproducing

01:02:05 - Current work and career overview

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Partial Transcript: Well, uh, tell us what James Monroe is up to today.

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe talks about his current work building a recording studio. He talks about some of the other business ventures he has begun throughout his career. He talks about his relationship with his father.

Keywords: Advice; Audio engineers; Audio recording; Bill Monroe (Artist); Buses; Business partners; Careers; Charlie Monroe (Artist); Children; Digital recording; Disagreements; Don Reno (Artist); Family; Fathers; Heritage; Legacy; Melissa Monroe (Artist); Monroe, Bill (Artist); Monroe, Charlie (Artist); Monroe, Melissa (Artist); Museums; Music industry; Music recording; Quitting; Recording studios; Relationships; Reno, Don (Artist); Restaurants; Retirement; Singers; Sons; Sound engineers; Theaters; Travel; Young musicians

Subjects: Families.; Music business; Sound studios; Sound--Recording and reproducing

01:09:02 - Advice for young musicians / Bill Monroe's character

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Partial Transcript: Well is there, there anything that, uh, uh, that you would like to, you know, to basically, uh, leave as a, uh, uh, uh, some im, importance...

Segment Synopsis: James Monroe gives advice for young musicians. He tells a story demonstrating his father's character. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Advice; Basics; Bill Monroe (Artist); Character; Classics; Cursing; Cussing; Family; Ladies; Learning to play; Love; Money; Monroe, Bill (Artist); Personality; Practice; Practicing (Music); Respect; Swearing; Time; Young musicians; Young people; Youth

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Music--Instruction and study.