View Full Version : Picking with Bill Monroe in the hallway

Jan-21-2004, 12:01am
Here's a few paragraphs from the current SE Minnesota Bluegrass Association newsletter. I don't know the original source or the authenticity but it's an interesting perspective of The Boss.
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Many published accounts have described Bill Monroe as a rather difficult man, especially if you were working as a member of his band. Anyway, Suze Marshall suffered serious damage to her inner ear and equilibrium as a result of being in an airplane which suffered pressure loss.

Her injuries resulted in her not being able to move and necessitated experimental reconstructive surgery. A residual effect was she could not go above an altitude of 500 feet. During her recuperation, learning to play the mandolin was what gave her the incentive to go on. She has been instrumental in building a community for bluegrass through lessons, jams, workshops and concerts.

Suze in 1994 attended, as one of her first activities following her medical problems, the first year of Wintergrass in 1994. Because of her inability to ride an elevator, she happened to get the room next door to Bill Monroe. Suze was not able to sleep and did not want to disturb her friend sharing her room. She ended up in the hallway in her pajamas and was practicing a tune on her mandolin "Going Up Caney". Suze had no clue that Bill Monroe was next door. It was about 11:00 p.m. when the next door opened and standing there was Bill Monroe. He sat next to Suze and asked, "Would you mind if I sat here and played with you because, you know, I know that song." He shared the story of where the tune came from and it became apparent that it was one of his tunes. He indicated she played it just like him. He stated that he felt bluegrass was progressing to change and he did not like it. He stated that by putting all the modern chords in, it takes away all the blues notes that remind him of his mother. He said #"Every time you put new chords in there, you take away the blues sound, and my mother's harmony parts don't fit anymore."

Suze was surprised Bill was sitting in the hall with her but he indicated he was having difficulty getting to sleep, was tired of being on the road, and waking in the night and not knowing where he was. He eventually went and got his mandolin and showed Suze some licks. He then traded mandolins with her so she had the opportunity to play his. Bill's was a worn Gibson but it was the mandolin he loved.

Bill then talked about his mother and indicated he still missed her every day. She played the fiddle and although she was not particularly good, he loved to hear her play. She was the person who taught him the bluesy sound. Bill noted that he was disappointed that he got stuck with the mandolin but then proceeded to ask "Well, how do you think I did?" What a statement coming from one of the role models for mandolin playing. Bill told about being the youngest child in the family and not being able to see very well. He indicated he was teased a lot by kids. He stated that his mother made him strong and taught him to make the best of everything he had. This had served him well but he regretted never really appreciating her as much as he should have.

Bill talked about his Uncle Pen and DeFord Bailey, a blues harmonica player from whom he picked up some tunes and had even played backup for on occasion. During the course of their hallway visit Bill showed Suze how to play four-note chords without having to do those jumping around. #He also showed her how he played his chords. He said he basically just plays those three and then he plays double-stop or triple-stop versions of that and doesn't always play the full chord. He noted that he always plays heavy on the bass strings. Bill emphasized the importance of tracing a song back to where it came from and to find the real flavor, which often doesn't get duplicated. A more modern version of a song may sound good but the original feel gets lost.

Bill asked Suze where she had heard his music and she informed him that her grandfather had some of his old 78 records which was her main listening material. Suze explained that she did not have any of the new albums of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.

The one thing Suze did note was it was getting a little hard for Bill to get around. He seemed a bit unsteady. When walking the halls, he made sure he was seen walking by himself. Suze was touched when at the last concert of the weekend, Bill from the stage indicated he needed a dancing partner and pointed to Suze. It was as if the unsteadiness previously noted had suddenly disap-peared when the music began and his stature seemed to be straighter and stronger. Bill did a clogging type thing and said to Suze, '"Now you gotta be careful, I'm not as young as I used to be. I might throw you too hard. You be a little careful." It was an experience Suze has never forgotten.

The advice Suze has for others after her experience with Bill Monroe includes don't be in such a big hurry to play everything fast before you have the content down. Learn the song before playing it fast. Listen to old mu-sic and to new music. Listening to musicians is really important if you are going to be one. Study music and go back and see where it came from. Play with others as that is how you get better, but most of all have fun.

Jan-21-2004, 9:46am
Great post OTW!

Jan-21-2004, 9:58am
That is awesome, great way to wake up and read a story like that.

Coy Wylie
Jan-21-2004, 10:02am
Awesome post! Thanks for sharing.

Scotti Adams
Jan-21-2004, 10:13am
..I read that story in Bluegrass Unlimited..I liked it then and I like it now

Jan-21-2004, 10:27am
What a great story.

Jan-23-2004, 2:27pm
That is a great story. Suze is a wonderful person as well. She is from the Brass, Reed and Guitar shop in Vancouver, WA. She and others played at my Fathers funeral and then 7 years later she and I played at my Mothers. She is a good friend and a fine player to boot.

Mark Normand
Jan-25-2004, 8:36am
Great posts, thx!! Reminds me I need to slow down and learn the song first!
http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/coffee.gif

Jon Hall
Feb-01-2004, 8:41am
That's a great story. Thankls for sharing it.

Feb-04-2004, 10:40am
all I got to say is WOW.....and then <sigh>
awsome story.....