Monday, January 16, 2012

On The Air: Were You There

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys: Were You There

[purchase studio version]

The Grand Ole Opry got its name as a result of a gag. Introducing the DeFord Bailey following the Music Appreciation Hour show on 10 December 1927, announcer George D “Judge” Hay riffed on the transition from the just finished classical music show to the upcoming Old Time Music (as country was then called) programme WSM Barn Dance by saying: “For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on, we will present the ‘Grand Ole Opry’.”

The Barn Dance show changed titles several times, often to reflect sponsorship, but wasn’t officially termed the Grand Ole Opry till the 1950s. When people talk of artists being members of the Opry before that, they are referring to frequent performers on the show, much like a club or hall of fame.

The track featured here is from the 28 December 1940 show, then called The Prince Albert Show, after the sponsoring cigarette brand, and recorded at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville, which still serves as a concert venue today (and which in 2010 temporarily housed the Opry). Apart from Bill Monroe, the 28 December 1940 show also featured Roy Aycuff, Brother Oswald, Pap & Odie, Ford Rush and Paul Womack and the Gully Jumpers.

Bill Monroe (1911-96) is regarded as the inventor of bluegrass, a sub-genre of country that drew from the traditional music of the Appalachians, ranging from furious and intricate breakdowns dominated by fiddle and banjo to broadside ballads to gospel. It took it its name from Monroe’s backing band, the Blue Grass Boys, which had been formed just a few months before this recording.

By 1940, Monroe was already a big name as half of the Monroe Brothers. He would go on to become a long-serving and massively influential country icon (Elvis’ “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” was a cover of Monroe’s original).

The song here is the spiritual “Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)”. I would surmise the vocals are by Clyde Moody, “The Genial Gentleman of Country Music” who was a member of the Blue Grass Boys until 1944.

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