Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Tater Tate, April 4, 2006

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


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00:00:00 - Wife's health / Early life

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Partial Transcript: --Uh--this is a session with Tater Tate in Johnson City, Tennessee on April the 4th, year 2006...

Segment Synopsis: Tate briefly discusses his wife's health. Tate also recalls his childhood and early experiences with music.

Keywords: Accident; Back spurs; Carpenter; Chair; Construction; Daughter; Doctor; Gibson guitar; Gift; Houses; Johnny Cash (Artist); Living; Musical instruments; No case; Packing; Peg; Progression; Relatives; Returned; Rough; Saw; Small; Son-in-law; Standing; Toddler; Wife; Worn out; Yard sale

Subjects: Age; Barter; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Brothers; Childhood; Children; Chores; Early life; Eggs; Father; Flour; Grandchildren; Great Depression; Health; Home; Independence; Johnson City (Tenn.); Kingsport (Tenn.); Mother; Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nashville (Tenn.); Parents; Poverty; Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy; Regret; Siblings; Sound; Surprise; Teaching; Virginia; Windows

00:06:27 - Inspiration to play music / Early career

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Partial Transcript: What really--what really got me into--to--uh--deciding to play music was later years in 1948 on Farm and Fun Time in Bristol, I heard the first note that Flatt and Scruggs hit on that station.

Segment Synopsis: Tate considers what inspired him to play music. Tate discusses his early music career in eastern Tennessee.

Keywords: Bluegrass music; Broad Street Furniture Show; Carl Smith (Artist); Caz Walker (Businessman); Country Barn (Radio show); Country music; Dinner Bell Show; Farm and Fun Time (Radio show); Fiddles; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Governor; High; Impactful; Improvisation; Interested; Jack Haines (Artist); Jam sessions; Jimmy Shoemake (Artist); Moore Brothers (Artist); Morning show; Moving; Musical instruments; Radio programs; Reese Shipley (Artist); Return; Roy Acuff (Artist); Takeoff; Train whistle; Tunes; Typical; WKPT (Radio station); WROL (Radio station); Walter Haines (Artist)

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Bristol (Tenn.); Bristol (Va.); Experience; Inspiration; Kingsport (Tenn.); Knoxville (Tenn.); Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Radio; Radio stations; Running; Sound; Tennessee; Tone; Walking; Work

00:10:54 - Learning to play instruments / Pursuing a career in music

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Partial Transcript: In other words, let's go back a little bit, back to when you were first learning your guitar.

Segment Synopsis: Tate remembers how he learned to play instruments from his brothers. Tate explains when he realized that he wanted to be a musician full-time.

Keywords: Admiration; Bill Monroe (Artist); Cakewalks; Clinch Mountaineers (Artist); Country music; Curly King (Artist); Determined; Dinner; Dobro players; Dobros; Fiddle players; Fiddles; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Fun Time Radio Show; Guitar players; Guitars; Hard work; House; Ice cream dinners; Intentions; Jimmy Shoemake (Artist); Liked; Live performances; Mac Wiseman (Artist); Mandolin players; Mandolins; Occasional; Pay; Playing; Saw mill; Shelby Hotel (Bristol, Tenn.); Stanley Brothers (Artist); Stayed; Steam engine; Thrilling; Uncle; WCYB (Radio station)

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Bristol (Tenn.); Brothers; Career; Change; Grand ole opry (Radio program); Heroes; Influences; Inspiration; Kingsport (Tenn.); Learning; Listening; Money; Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Radio; Radio stations; Success; Tennessee; Ukulele; Work; Young

00:19:33 - Life and career in the 1950s

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Partial Transcript: I was drafted into the--uh--Marines in '52.

Segment Synopsis: Tate describes his life and music career during the 1950s.

Keywords: Agreed; Arrangements; Assistant manager; Bailey Brothers (Artist); Banjo players; Banjos; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Bud Brewster (Artist); Carl Story (Artist); Cause; Cluster headaches; Convinced; Country music; Cuisine; Dinner; Dwindled; Early morning show; Elvis Presley (Artist); Familiar; Fiddle players; Fiddles; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Friends; Hardship discharge; Help; Incomplete; Jam sessions; Joe Stuart (Artist); Leaving; Living; Macaroni factory; Martha White Biscuit Time (Album); Met; Parks; Pennsylvania; Performing; Phone call; Prominent; Radio programs; Return; Salary; Shows; Standard; Stayed; Sunday country shows; Visiting

Subjects: Atmosphere; Begging; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Brothers; Cooking; Draft; Dutch; Good; Harrisburg (Pa.); Knoxville (Tenn.); Korean War, 1950-1953; Love; Marines; Marriage; Military; Morning; Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nashville (Tenn.); Night; Nineteen fifties; Parents; People; Time; Training; Upper class; Wheeling (W. Va.)

00:28:02 - Life and career in the 1960s

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Partial Transcript: Carl Story had gone to--um--uh--South--uh--South Carolina--Greer, South Carolina.

Segment Synopsis: Tate details his work in bluegrass and country music in the 1960s.

Keywords: Aggravated; Agreed; Apartment; Appointments; Bluegrass music; Considered; Country music; Difficult; Disc jockeys; Fiddle players; Fiddles; Jesse McReynolds (Artist); Jim McReynolds (Artist); Keep; Phone call; Phone number; Quit; Radio salesman; Wife

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Change; Greer (S.C.); Home; Johnson City (Tenn.); Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nineteen sixties; Spartanburg (S.C.); Time; Training; Work

00:31:45 - Cas Walker Show / Work with Archie Campbell

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Partial Transcript: I was doing some--uh--some work in Knoxville with--with--uh--Cas Walker...

Segment Synopsis: Tate illustrates what it was like to work on the Cas Walker Show, a radio program in Tennessee that had famous artists such as Dolly Parton make appearances. Tate describes Cas Walker and his generous personality. Tate also discusses working with Archie Campbell following the end of Tate's tenure at the Cas Walker Show.

Keywords: Accepted; Admired; Archie Campbell (Artist); Bluegrass music; Cas Walker (Businessman); Cas Walker Show; Cash; Claude Boone (Artist); Country music; Drinking; Early morning show; Employee; Enjoyed; Fast food; Fun; Funny; Generous; Governor; Grocery store chain; Grocery stores; Help; Hired; Illness; Kind; Knew; Live performances; Loved; Nice; On air; Owner; Pay; Present; Radio programs; Restaurant; Right; Roy Acuff (Artist); Salary; Shows; Soda machine; Speedy West (Artist); Stage name; Talent; Treatment; Wife; Will G. Brewster (Artist)

Subjects: Advertising; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Comedy; Competition; Entertainers; Jokes; Kingsport (Tenn.); Knoxville (Tenn.); Listening; Maynardville (Tenn.); Money; Music; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Musicians; People; Poor; Popular; Poverty; Radio stations; Singing; Soda; Storytelling; Success; Tennessee; Wealth; Work

00:40:42 - Nature of bluegrass music industry

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Partial Transcript: How did you guys know--how did you keep up with who was picking with who in--in the days before the Internet and--and cell phones?

Segment Synopsis: Tate explains why people in the bluegrass music industry are so kind to one another, for the most part.

Keywords: Bands; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Close; Common; Deal; Familiar; Family; Fiddlers; Fiddles; Forgiving; Gigs; Harsh; Kept up; Nice; No animosity; No issues; Offer; Playing; Punctual; Sidemen; Today; Treatment; Trouble; Unkind; Word of mouth

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Character; Communication; Friendship; Jokes; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; People; Personality; Work

00:43:58 - Red Smiley / The Shenandoah Cutups

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Partial Transcript: Well let's back up and go to--um--Red Smiley, 'cause I do want to come back and talk a lot about Bill Monroe.

Segment Synopsis: Tate briefly talks of his time spent playing in Red Smiley's band, the Bluegrass Cut-ups. Tate details his time spent with the Shenandoah Cutups, the successor band to the Bluegrass Cut-ups, which dissolved after Smiley's death.

Keywords: Accepted; Agreed; Asked; Audio recording; Billy Edwards (Artist); Bluegrass Cut-ups (Artist); Bluegrass music; Bookings; Carl Story (Artist); Cas Walker (Businessman); Connections; Country music; Deal; Don Reno (Artist); Early; Fiddle players; Fiddles; First fiddle album; Good start; Good work; Hard work; Herschel Sizemore (Artist); Job; John Palmer (Artist); Last day; Lester Flatt (Artist); Live album; Live performances; Mac Wiseman (Artist); Manager; Mobile home; Moving; Nice; Owner; Phone call; Pinnacle (N.C.); Production; Purchased; Restaurant; Rimrock Records; Sold; Station wagon; Stayed; The Shenandoah Cutups (Artist); Tiring; Trailer park; Unsure; Wayne Raney (Artist); Weekend; Well-run; Wheeling Jamboree (Radio program); Wife

Subjects: Bluegrass festivals; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Coffee; Little Rock (Ark.); Logistics; Maine; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Neighbors; New England; Nineteen sixties; North Carolina; Popular; Retirement; Richmond (Va.); Roanoke (Va.); Spring; Stokes County (N.C.); Success; Tennessee; Thinking; Virginia; Walking; Wheeling (W. Va.)

00:51:38 - Working with Lester Flatt / Nashville Grass Band

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Partial Transcript: How long were you with--with--uh--Lester Flatt?

Segment Synopsis: Tate describes what it was like to work with Lester Flatt. Tate highlights the efforts of himself and other band members of the Nashville Grass to continue performing following Lester Flatt's death.

Keywords: After; Attempt; Banjo players; Banjos; Bluegrass music; Bookings; Break; Bus; Cool; Country music; Covers; Curly Seckler (Artist); Dwindle; End; Enthusiastic; Fiddle players; Fiddles; Finished; Friendly; Funny; Heart issues; House; Jacket; Johnny Cash (Artist); Kenny Ingram (Artist); Kind; Live performances; Marty Stuart (Artist); Miserable; Mistake; Music medicine; Nashville Grass (Artist); Nice; Old; Pleasure; Shows; Slow; Song; Spread out; Stage; Struggling; Supportive; Talent; Tour dates; Tune; Unbothered; Unconcerned

Subjects: Aging; Air conditioning; Bluegrass festivals; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Cold; Death; Grand ole opry (Radio program); Health; Hot; Marriage; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nashville (Tenn.); Nineteen seventies; Pennsylvania; Rain; Responsibility; Sick; Spring; Suits (Clothing); Sun; Virginia; Weather; Work

00:58:12 - Working with Wilma Lee Cooper / Playing with Bill Monroe

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Partial Transcript: But I--I went ahead and went to work with--uh--Wilma Lee Cooper.

Segment Synopsis: Tate briefly talks of playing with Wilma Lee Cooper at the Grand Ole Opry during the 1980s. Tate also discusses playing with Bill Monroe for several years.

Keywords: Abroad; Arrived; Back spurs; Bad; Bass players; Big; Bill Monroe (Artist); Blake Williams (Artist); Bluegrass music; Borrowed; Car; Charlie Cushman (Artist); Close; Cool; Country music; Crowds; Decision; Driving; Early; Enjoyed; Fiddle players; Fiddles; Furnished; Harmony fiddle; Hired; Illness; Investment; Last night; Late; Leader; Manager; Matinees; Mike Snider (Artist); Monday; Mowing; Nashville Now Show; Nervous; No bass; No preparations; Parks; Pay; Pension; Phone call; Places; Playing; Preference; Purchased; Ralph Emery (Artist); Robert Bowlin (Artist); Setup; Strings; Tour; Tryouts; Tune; Unable; Unaware; Union; Upcoming; Weekends; Wife; Yard

Subjects: Age; Air conditioning; Beanblossom (Ind.); Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Games; Grand ole opry (Radio program); Home; International travel; Learning; Man; Money; Morning; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nashville (Tenn.); Opryland U.S.A.; Pennsylvania; Retirement; Sick; Sister; Social security; Summer; Travel; Washington (D.C.); Work; Writing

01:06:04 - Final days of Bill Monroe

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Partial Transcript: Just about the time that that whole thing was to transpire...

Segment Synopsis: Tate shares his memories of Bill Monroe in his last days before he passed away.

Keywords: Backstage; Bed; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys (Artist); Bluegrass music; Collar; Difficult; Hallway; Hospital; Hospital gown; Hospital room; Medics; Neck; Nursing home; Standing; Stayed; Support; Tugging; Uncomfortable; Unresponsive; Visiting; Wife

Subjects: Aging; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Death; Flowers; Grand ole opry (Radio program); Health; Memory; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nashville (Tenn.); Night; Recognition; Walking; Water

01:09:58 - Friendship with Bill Monroe

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Partial Transcript: You and--you and Bill Monroe were--were more than--uh--employer-employee; y'all--y'all were friends.

Segment Synopsis: Tate describes in detail his friendship with Bill Monroe over the years.

Keywords: Accident; Accompany; Back injury; Beautiful; Bill Monroe (Artist); Blake Williams (Artist); Bluegrass music; Break; Bus; Casket; Closer; Consistent; Couch; Country music; Disliked; Dobro players; Dobros; Eating; Expensive; Family; Fans; Fiddle players; Fiddlers; Forgot; Friends; Full Moon; Funeral; Gene Wooten (Artist); Generous; Giving; Got along; Grocery store; Help; Horse; Hot type fiddling; Hurt; Isolated; Issues; Kind; Knew; Late; Leaving; Lessened; Liked; Manager; Medical bills; Medication; Modern music; Never concerned; New music festival; Nice; No cussing; Not allowed; Not charged; Osborne Brothers (Artist); Pay; Problems; Resolve; Restaurant; Serious; Set; Sightseeing; Stay; Stayed; Stop; Tour; Union trust fund; Wagon; Waiting; Wife; Wilma Lee Cooper (Artist)

Subjects: Aging; Bluegrass festivals; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Cards; English; Fame; Food; Grand ole opry (Radio program); Groceries; International travel; Japan; Japanese; Loans; Memory; Money; Mountains; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Night; Notes; Pallbearers; Personality; Respect; Roanoke (Va.); Solitaire; Stars; Streets; Surgery; Tokyo (Japan); Travel; Vanderbilt University; Virginia; Walking; Work

01:22:31 - Accomplishments / Songwriting

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Partial Transcript: What--what have you achieved in your life that you really are--are most proud of?

Segment Synopsis: Tate reflects upon some of the accomplishments of his music career. Tate also briefly explains why he did not write songs.

Keywords: Accepting; Accomplishments; Backgrounds; Bands; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Chilling; Clean; Common; Confusing; Country music; Distractions; Double shuffle fiddle; Enjoy; Exciting; Family; Fiddle players; Fiddles; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Groups; Guitar players; Guitars; Help; Inducted; Instructor; Jim Shoemake (Artist); Knew; Living; Loved; Never mentioned; Nice; No children; No doubt; No role models; Old; Phone call; Problems; Quit; Road; Second marriage; Selection; Similar; Songwriting; Strange; Tunes; Unable; Underrated; Unsung hero; Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame; Wife

Subjects: Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Brother; Career; Career paths; East Tennessee State University; Enthusiasm; Father; God; Honor; Jealousy; Johnson City (Tenn.); Learning; Life; Loyalty; Mother; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; People; Proud; Richmond (Va.); Siblings; Sisters; Success; Tennessee; Travel; Trust

01:28:33 - Future plans / Health problems / Family

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Partial Transcript: What do you think you're gonna do over the next hopefully thirty years?

Segment Synopsis: Tate talks of his future plans and the challenges of caring for his wife, who has reflex sympathetic dystrophy (complex regional pain syndrome). Tate then briefly discusses his family and their lives.

Keywords: Afraid; Back; Bluegrass music; Boat; Child; Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS); Country music; Crib death; Dizzy spells; Enjoyed; Ex-wife; Falls; Finances; Friends; Glad; Great-grandchildren; Healing; In shape; Infant; Instructor; Kind; Liked; Missing; Mowing; Nice; No problems; Places; Plans; Playing; Problems; Red Cross; Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD); Return; Son-in-law; Stay; Treatment; U.S. Army; Unable; Wife; Yard

Subjects: Age; Caring; Children; Death; East Tennessee State University; Experience; Fingers; Grandchildren; Health; Life; Marriage; Money; Panama; People; Stepchildren; Students; Surgery; Teaching; Tennessee; Travel

01:33:57 - Differences in styles of bands

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Partial Transcript: Uh--you've played with a lot of people. Uh--could you describe the difference in their styles?

Segment Synopsis: Tate offers a comparison between the various country and bluegrass artists he has performed with throughout his career.

Keywords: Archie Campbell (Artist); Audio recording; Bailey Brothers (Artist); Bands; Benny Martin (Artist); Best friend; Bill Monroe (Artist); Bluegrass music; Cas Walker (Businessman); Clean; Close; Country music; Different; Disagreement; Disc jockeys; Diverse; Flatt and Scruggs (Artist); Fun; Funny; Good show; Gospel music; Lester Flatt (Artist); Mountain song; Moving; Nice; No grudges; Reception; Red Smiley (Artist); Shows; Slow; Styles; Trick bluegrass; Versatile; WKPT (Radio station); Willing; Wilma Lee Cooper (Artist)

Subjects: Artists; Bluegrass music.; Bluegrass musicians; Change; Comparisons; Friend; Good; Jokes; Kingsport (Tenn.); Knoxville (Tenn.); Listening; Music--Performance.; Musical performance; Nineteen sixties; Radio stations; Square dancing; Tennessee; Vermont