MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And finally this hour to a recent music festival in western Kentucky that featured a historic reunion. Dozens of people got together who all played in the Blue Grass Boys, the backing band for the legendary musician Bill Monroe. The band existed for more than 50 years.
Micah Schweizer of member station WNIN talked with some of the members about their mentor.
(Soundbite of music)
MICAH SCHWEIZER: I'm standing outside the International Bluegrass Music Museum in downtown Owensboro, Kentucky. Most towns don't have bluegrass piped out to the sidewalk, but then, Owensboro is home to this music. It's not far from Rosine, the birthplace of Bill Monroe, widely considered the father of bluegrass. It was here in Owensboro, members of his band from over the years, the Blue Grass Boys, converged for a musical reunion.
Mr. GUY STEVENSON (Former Member, Blue Grass Boys): It's just like you going to a family reunion, you know? I mean, we're all in the same family because we're all taught by the same teacher.
SCHWEIZER: Guy Stevenson played in the band in 1973. Over the years, there were countless incarnations of the group that backed up Bill Monroe's singing and mandolin picking.
(Soundbite of song, "Uncle Pen")
Mr. BILL MONROE (Musician): (Singing) Oh, the people would come from far away. They'd dance all night till the break of day. When the caller hollered do-si-do, you knew Uncle Pen was ready to go.
SCHWEIZER: Between its formation at the start of World War II and Monroe's death in 1996, about 175 Blue Grass Boys wore the band's signature Stetson hats.
This summer, the International Bluegrass Music Museum's annual ROMP festival hosted a reunion for 29 of them. Before ROMP, many of those never shared a stage together.
(Soundbite of song, "Walk Softly on this Heart of Mine")
Mr. STEVENSON: (Singing) Walk softly on this heart of mine, love. Don't treat it mean and so unkind.
SCHWEIZER: That's Guy Stevenson playing guitar and singing lead, along with fiddler Wayne Jerrolds and Scottie Baugus playing banjo. Monroe's band included some of the best bluegrass pickers, but not everyone was well known when they joined the band. And some couldn't even really play the instruments they were hired to play.
Scottie Baugus, for instance, was 29 when Monroe tapped him to sing and play guitar. He remembers a daunting audition for Monroe backstage at the Grand Ole Opry.
Mr. SCOTTIE BAUGUS (Former Member, The Blue Grass Boys): And I was scared to death. And we sang the "Cabin Home on the Hill."
(Soundbite of song, "Little Cabin Home on the Hill")
Mr. BAUGUS: (Singing) Tonight, I'm alone without you, my dear. It seems there's a longing for you still. All I have to do now is sit alone and cry in our little cabin home on the hill.
And when we got through, he turned around to Bobby Osborne, he says, what do you think about this young man? And Bobby, being honest, he said, well, he's not very loud. And Bill said, oh, I can work on that. He said, he plays the guitar in time, and said, he sings right on key, so I think I could work on getting him a little louder.
SCHWEIZER: Once he was hired, Baugus says things were still stressful. The band hardly rehearsed. At his first show, he got to see the set list only 20 minutes before stepping on stage.
Fiddler Wayne Jerrolds remembers when he joined the band in 1988. His first gig was the next night at the Grand Ole Opry.
Mr. WAYNE JERROLDS (Former Member, The Blue Grass Boys): And, man, I got in there, I'm about to have a heart attack, because I always wanted to do it. And this is my big chance, but I'm going to blow it. I'll freeze. But I made it through it. I had to take about three Xanax, or I couldn't have made it, just to tell you the truth.
SCHWEIZER: But some guys are less reverential, like banjo player Curtis McPeake, who toured and recorded with Monroe in the early 1960s.
Mr. CURTIS McPEAKE (Former Member, The Blue Grass Boys): I know the gentleman's name that started the name bluegrass music, and it wasn't Bill.
SCHWEIZER: Who was that?
Mr. McPEAKE: Oh...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. McPEAKE: I don't want to start a controversy. But it happened in the '60s when it was branded bluegrass music.
SCHWEIZER: Do you think that Bill was the father of bluegrass?
Mr. McPEAKE: Well, in a sense. Not totally, I don't think.
SCHWEIZER: We won't solve that mystery today, but all the same, Monroe is responsible for linking the musicians gathered at this Blue Grass Boys reunion together to film a documentary about their boss. It'll be released next year for the centennial of Monroe's birth.
About 75 Blue Grass Boys are still living. Many aren't well enough to travel, but others, like Guy Stevenson, are still playing music.
Mr. STEVENSON: You know, one of these days we're going to run out of Blue Grass Boys because there's never going to be any more, and we're slowly disappearing, you know?
(Soundbite of laughter)
SCHWEIZER: But some Blue Grass Boys think there's still life left in the band. There's talk of a possible tribute tour next year in celebration of Monroe's centennial.
For NPR News, I'm Micah Schweizer in Owensboro, Kentucky.
BLOCK: And if you like Bill Monroe's music, you may also want to tune into nprmusic.org tonight. We will be streaming live coverage of the Americana Music Awards.
(Soundbite of song, "Blue Moon of Kentucky")
Mr. MONROE: (Singing) ...shining bright. And they whispered from on high: New love has said goodbye. Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining. Shine on the one that's gone and said goodbye.
BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.