Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Bill Monroe

Uncle Pen

Written and first recorded by Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys (1950).
Also recorded by Manassas (1971, released 2009), Goose Creek Symphony (1971), Michael Nesmith (1973), Phish (1997)
Hit versions by Porter Wagoner (C&W #14 1956), Ricky Skaggs (C&W #1/CAN #1 1984).

From the wiki: “James Pendleton Vandiver was a Kentucky fiddler, born there shortly after the American Civil War. He was uncle to Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, who immortalized him in a song, ‘Uncle Pen’, first recording in 1950.

“Monroe’s parents had both died by the time he was 16, and he lived part of the time with his Uncle Pen. Monroe used to hear his uncle playing fiddle on the hilltop where he lived, while Monroe put away his mules at night. He later said that Vandiver was ‘the fellow that I learned how to play from.’ Bill Monroe’s biographer, Richard D. Smith writes, ‘Pen gave Bill more: a repertoire of tunes that sank into Bill’s aurally-trained memory and a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones. Sometimes Bill played guitar behind his uncle, sometimes the mandolin.’

Orange Blossom Special

Written and first recorded by Ervin T. Rouse (1939).
Hit versions by Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys (1942), The Spotnicks (UK #29 1964), Doug Kershaw (CAN #9 1970).
Also recorded by Johnny Cash (1965).

From the wiki: “‘Orange Blossom Special’, written by Ervin T. Rouse i 1938 and first recorded by him in 1939 with his brother, Gordon, is often referred to as ‘the fiddle player’s national anthem’. By the 1950s, it had become a perennial favorite at Bluegrass festivals, popular for its rousing energy. For a long time no fiddle player would be hired for a Bluegrass band unless he could play it. Bill Monroe, regarded by many as ‘the father of Bluegrass music’, recorded the song, with Art Wooten on fiddle, in 1942 and made it a hit. ‘Orange Blossom Special’ was further popularized by Chubby Wise’s weekly performances of it on the nationally-broadcast Grand Ole Opry radio show.

“Swedish instrumental Rock band The Spotnicks recorded ‘Blossom’ for their first album – The Spotnicks in London – Out-a-Space! – and it became a UK Top 30 for them in 1962. Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw’s 1970 recording went Top 10 in Canada. Johnny Cash titled his 1965 album after the song. While Bluegrass performers tend to play ‘Blossom’ strictly as an instrumental, Cash sang the lyrics and replaced the fiddle parts with two harmonicas and a saxophone – with Cash playing both harmonicas himself.”

Mule Skinner Blues (aka Blue Yodel #8)

written and first recorded by Jimmie Rodgers (1930).
Hit versions by Bill Monroe (1940), The Fendermen (US #5/UK #32/CND #2 1960).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1944), Odetta (1956).

From the wiki: “‘Mule Skinner Blues’ is a classic country song written by Jimmie Rodgers. The song was first recorded by Rodgers in 1930 and has been recorded by many artists since then, acquiring the de facto title ‘Mule Skinner Blues’ after Rodgers named it ‘Blue Yodel #8’.

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