Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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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.’

“Besides Monroe, ‘Uncle Pen’ was recorded by Porter Wagoner in 1956, Goose Creek Symphony in 1971, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees in 1973 on his solo album Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash, and by Ricky Skaggs in 1984. Skaggs’ recording was his ninth #1 single on the US Country chart. Bill Monroe, himself, played a character named ‘Uncle Pen’, disappointed at the citification of Ricky Skaggs, in the 1985 video for ‘Country Boy’.

“‘Uncle Pen’ was also recorded by Manassas, the rock band formed by Stephen Stills in 1971 following the acrimonious 1970 breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY), during the sessions for the group’s debut album Manassas, but it remained unreleased until its inclusion in 2009 on the Pieces album of outtakes and alternate takes. The improvisational-Rock band Phish has performed their cover version of Uncle Pen over 200 times in the band’s 30-year career. In 2013, the album Ventura was released which included a live performance dated July 30, 1997, from the Ventura County Fairgrounds.”

Manassas, “Uncle Pen” (1971, released 2009):

Goose Creek Symphony, “Uncle Pen” (1971):

Ricky Skaggs, “Uncle Pen” (1984):

Phish, “Uncle Pen” (1998):

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