Bluegrass Boys 1958-59
Left to Right: Bill Monroe, Bobby Hicks, Bessie Lee,
Gordon Terry, Jack Cook, Buddy Pennington.
Photo by unknown
Bobby Hicks Talks About
The Early Years with Bill Monroe: Part 1
A extended interview with Bobby Hicks
conducted by Jim Moss 3-21-08.
permission to reprint this is granted by owner, each part must presented
in its entirety with the "by line" and URL "www.candlewater.com"
Jim Moss: You recorded on what would become Bill Monroe's first instrumental album.
Now did those come out on 78 rpm records first?
Bobby Hicks: You know, I don't remember exactly, but that recording time was right
in the time that they were changing over from 78's to 45's. You remember the 45's with
the big holes?
Jim Moss: Sure, I have some here... with Bill Monroe.
Bobby Hicks: Well these were on either 78's or they were on 45's but I am not
Jim Moss: But they did come out as singles first and not as a compilation.
Bobby Hicks: Yeah.
Jim Moss: When did you start playing?
Bobby Hicks: I started playing fiddle when I was nine years old, but I was playing
guitar and mandolin and messing around with the banjo before that. So I don't know
what year I started messing with everything. I was younger than nine years old because
I started playing fiddle then.
Jim Moss: Did your family play music?
Bobby Hicks: Everybody in my family played a little bit of something, except my dad he didn't
play nothing. And he is the one who gave me my first fiddle.
Jim Moss: So your main instrument was the fiddle, however, I have seen video from
the 1950s that shows you playing banjo in the Monroe band as well as fiddle.
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, I use to play banjo for him when somebody would quit and
until he hired somebody else.
Jim Moss: You actually got hired originally to play the bass right?
Bobby Hicks: No.
Jim Moss: No?
Bobby Hicks: No, I did not work for him then. I was just playing bass for him
for two weeks that Carlton Haney, you know Carlton Haney? Carlton Haney had
booked him for two weeks around my home when I lived in Greensboro North Carolina.
And uh, Bill was coming to town but he didn't have a bass player. And so Carlton came
to my house and asked me if I'd play bass with Bill for two weeks. I said sure I'd go
out and do it for two weeks, but I wasn't working for Bill at the time. I was just helping
him out for a couple of weeks.
And on the last night. The last day of those two weeks was Burlington North Carolina...
and uh. He asked me if I wanted to go to Nashville and play fiddle for him. Cause he would
let me play one fiddle thing, you know... he knew I was a fiddle player. So he let me play
one fiddle tune on every show. And on the last night he asked me if I wanted to go to
Nashville with him.
He didn't have to ask me but once. (laughs)
Jim Moss: And you left at that point or?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, I got in the car with him and went to Nashville.
My home was about 20 miles away from the place in Burlington. And I called my
mom and dad... and they packed me a bag and brought it to me. I got right in
the car with him and went to Nashville.
Jim Moss: And you were how old at this time?
Bobby Hicks: I had just turned twenty one.
Jim Moss: Did you have a job you had to leave? or...
Bobby Hicks: Nooo...
Jim Moss: Well, when you are 21 I guess that is easy to do, just pick up
and go... at that age...
Bobby Hicks: Yeah...
Jim Moss: Well that sounds exciting. So you went to Nashville. He didn't have
a fiddler at the time then?
Bobby Hicks: Well, Gordon Terry was working with him and Red Taylor was working
with him. And Gordon Terry had been drafted into the army. And he had already
taken his physical and passed it. So he knew he had to leave when he got back to town.
Red Taylor had already turned in his notice to quit when he got back to town. So that left
him without a fiddle player. So I guess that's why he asked me to go back to Nashville
Jim Moss: Sure, sure... Good choice.
Bobby Hicks: I was just in the right place at the right time.
Jim Moss: So you leave and go to Nashville. Where do you stay?
Bobby Hicks: There was a little hotel there. I believe it was called the Clarkston.
It was right beside of the radio station where the Grand Ole Opry was broadcast.
Jim Moss: Wasn't that a church?
Bobby Hicks: No, your talking about the Ryman Auditorium...
but it was broadcast through WSM radio station which... The studios was next door
where this hotel was that we use to stay in. Because when you come in and do the
Friday Night Frolic, is what they use to call it. It was not a Grand Ole Opry like they
have now. It was just a radio show at the radio station. They had a little room there
set up with chairs in it you know, for people to sit. Like a little studio.
And we would go in and do that on Friday nights. So therefore we would stay at
the hotel right beside of it. And then it was just, a few blocks down right down town
to the Ryman. (Friday Night Frolic is what they called the show created to serve as a preview
for the Saturday night institution, The Grand Ole Opry)
Jim Moss: What year was this?
Bobby Hicks: That was 1954 that I went to work for him.
Bluegrass Boys 1955
Monroe is appearing with a broken arm.
Bluegrass Boys 1955
Jim Moss: In 1954 he had just recorded Get Up John.
Bobby Hicks: Yes he had. I believe it was Don Haggard who played the fiddle on it.
Jim Moss: So this time is before Elvis then... When did he come out...
Bobby Hicks: We were at the Opry the night Elvis was there. It was in 1955 I believe.
Jim Moss: So in 1954 Monroe was booking pretty good... was staying pretty busy, right?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, we were working every night of the week, just about.
Jim Moss: Well that's staying busy.
Bobby Hicks: We would come in on the weekend to do the Opry and then back out.
And we wouldn't be back in until the Opry again.
Jim Moss: When you traveled with Monroe did you guys have the bus or a car or...
Bobby Hicks: We were... Everybody was traveling in Cadillac limousines back then.
That was before busses.
Jim Moss: And did you stay in hotels?
Bobby Hicks: When we could yeah. Sometimes we would go over night from one place
to the next and didn't have time to do nothing but drive right to the venue... and change clothes
and go to work. There's a lot of times we didn't even get a shower you know for a couple of days.
Jim Moss: Well if you have enough people stuck in the back of that Cadillac they'll hold you up.
Bobby Hicks: Well, there was Bill... and Bessie Mauldin was with him then. Them two rode
in the back seat and the other three of us rode in the front seat.
Jim Moss: So you drove then.
Bobby Hicks: Oh yeah. Bill always said I was his best driver ever. If he had to
get somewhere in a hurry he wanted me to drive. I was a pretty good driver back then.
Jim Moss: And for long hours too. It is tough to drive like that, what maybe 10 or 12 hours?
Bobby Hicks: Well, you would drive a while and if you got to feeling really tired like
you couldn't keep your eyes open, you'd wake up somebody else. Let them drive.
Everybody drove... except Bill and Bessie of course.
Jim Moss: So you really didn't need to work with anyone else at that time then.
Bobby Hicks: Well, I didn't have no time to work for anyone else. I was going all the time.
Jim Moss: Later, Monroe's band would slow down right? Not get as much work?
Bobby Hicks: Well he still had quite a bit.
Jim Moss: After Rock & Roll came in?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah. That slowed everybody down. All of country music and everything
slowed down. Cause that was the thing that was going right then.
Jim Moss: When you recorded with Monroe, how did that go? I heard stories from Baker
about the experiences back then. He said something about sometimes Monroe would not
let you know what you were going to record... before hand. (Baker was talking about the
Fisher's Hornpipe session where he had 15 minutes to come up with his B flat break.)
Was that in your experience at all?
Bobby Hicks: No.
Jim Moss: You always knew what you were going to record?
Bobby Hicks: Yes, yes. I always knew the tunes because we would rehearse them right
on the road anytime we had a few minutes. When we would get to a venue and get ready
to do our show, if we had a few minutes before show time we would run over some of
the new stuff. And uh... we had it down to where we just walked in the studio, recorded,
and walked out.
Jim Moss: Here is a question. You have recorded fiddle over many era's of recording
and the technology has really changed over the period of time that you have recorded.
In the early days how did you guys mic the band?
Bobby Hicks: Well it was one mic and everybody played around it. And there was no
over-dubbing of any kind. Everything we did was just like a live recording.
Jim Moss: And it would take you maybe three or four takes? You know there are those
releases of the Monroe out takes.
Bobby Hicks: Sometimes we would do it in once. We had played it enough out on
the road that we had it put together pretty well. Sometimes we would put it down in one cut.
Jim Moss: And you would usually use one of the RCA mics?
Bobby Hicks: You know uh... I guess it was RCA mics, I don't even know. Back then
I had no idea what kind of mics did what. I just knew it was a microphone. If you could
play in it and you could hear it over on the other end over there somewhere then it was
Jim Moss: Yeah! Ok!
Bobby Hicks: And I know hardly much more than that right now about microphones. I just
know when one sounds good in the studio when I record.
Jim Moss: Yes, now when you record... over the years the technology has changed quite a bit.
To get a good sound on your fiddle, the sound you like, have you developed certain relationships
to the microphone like how far away or...
Bobby Hicks: The people in the studio... uh most of the time... will set the mic according to
your instrument where you are playing at, where it should pick up at the best point. And if it
is not what they want when you play in it then they will come in and move the mic a little bit.
Jim Moss: Uh huh, and you have done a lot of session work for bands. Ricky Skaggs for
example, and do you ever have input in those projects or...
Bobby Hicks: ...Skaggs... always knew... exactly what he wanted, you know. Whether it was
right or wrong, it was Skaggs and that was what he wanted. He has always been a picky bossy
man, you know. (laughs) But for the longest time... I cut everyone of his number one records.
And since I have been away from his band he has not had a number one record.
Jim Moss: There you go. That will tell you something.
Bobby Hicks: But anyway, before I quit his band...
Like five years before I quit his band, he started to tell me what to play. Up to that point
I played what came off the top of my head and it fit the song. And it must have been
pretty good because I cut all of his number one records.
Jim Moss: Well, I would assume that... of course.
Bobby Hicks: What was coming off the top of my head was pretty good stuff, but
he got to where he wasn't happy with what I was doing... for some reason, I don't know.
Jim Moss: Really!
Bobby Hicks: Yeah... and he went out and hired some little young guy.
Jim Moss: Yeah, one would think that with all that experience, you and Baker, that
you have had a lot of time to think about the music and that one would want to leverage that.
You can learn a lot from recordings, learn to imitate, but you, Chubby Wise, Kenny Baker... are
innovators. One would want to leverage that.
Bobby Hicks: Well thank you.
Jim Moss: When I recorded Tanyards with Jesse McReynolds, Kenny Baker and Bob Black,
I noticed the way that Jesse and Kenny related. It was like watching 2 big gunfighters.
It was interesting to watch these guys working around each other. They just had a different
old school way of relating to each other. It was much different than the way younger
musicians I have been around have acted, both Bluegrass and Rock. It was like there were
these unwritten rules in place. Even if asked a question these guys would pretty much stay quiet.
In your case, playing with Monroe was a learning experience and you were employed by
Bill to play his music, but just for a second, if we can talk about when you did sessions
on other people's albums... When you would go into a session, for someone else, what was
your general philosophy as far as how you would act?
A lot of young musicians could learn from this.
Bobby Hicks: Well, I never had any particular thing to say. I would just find out
what we're going to cut and what key it is in. ...and uh... If it was something I never
heard before, I would run through it a time or two and we would cut it.
I never had any particular way to talk to anybody. I just said what needed to
be said, you know and let it go at that.
Jim Moss: Sure, just good manners and that...
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, yeah.
Jim Moss: You did sessions with other people besides Ricky right?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, I recorded with Jim Reeves.
Jim Moss: There you go. When he called you in what did he say, he is not a fiddler right?
Bobby Hicks: No, but he had a fiddle player and he wanted twin fiddles when he called
me to play harmony fiddle. And uh... When I got in the studio Big Red Hayes if you ever heard
of him. He's the one that wrote "Satisfied Mind" for Porter Wagoner. He was Jim Reeves'
fiddle player at that time. When we got in the studio he just told me what we was going to do
and wanted me to play harmony to what he was playing. So we went through it and we
put it on the... put it on the record.
The original cut of "Am I Losing You" I cut with Jim Reeves.
Jim Moss: So the fiddle player would communicate to you what he wanted.
Bobby Hicks: Yeah. Yeah, he knew the style that Jim liked. He would tell me
what it should sound like.
Jim Moss: And when you got these gigs, like that one, how... was it because...
Well, what year was this?
Bobby Hicks: It was in the early 50's when I first went to Nashville there.
Jim Moss: For Monroe. So he would have seen you on the Opry and known
that you were doing a lot of harmony fiddle already and said we can use that on
our record. That is how he would connect with you?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah.
Jim Moss: That does bring up what you did with Monroe like on "Close By" and
a lot of those songs you were playing the higher part, right?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, I am playing all the harmony.
Jim Moss: What I would guess for a lot of fiddlers would be the harder part, right?
Bobby Hicks: Well it should be, yeah. Any harmony is harder to play than just
the lead line.
Jim Moss: Did you sing any?
Bobby Hicks: I sing bass with the quartets some, but that's all.
Jim Moss: Did you ever learn harmony from singing?
Bobby Hicks: No, harmony has always been just a natural thing for me. I don't know,
you know I can't understand why anybody else can't hear it. When they say, well I can't
hear that, where should I go? I just don't understand that cause I play two parts of harmony
with the fiddle all the time.
Jim Moss: That's right, if you play double stops or double strings.
Bobby Hicks: I just understand harmony, that's all. And I always have.
I haven't had a teacher of any kind.
Jim Moss: I would think that the hardest part would be the baritone.
Bobby Hicks: It probably would be.
Jim Moss: Because sometimes it can be bazaar filling in a bunch of holes
between the lead and tenor.
Bobby Hicks: uh huh. Yes, sometimes you have to switch parts in order to make it work.
Jim Moss: The harmony parts that you played on Roanoke, you recorded that right?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, me and Charlie Cline.
Jim Moss: There is a sound that you get with the... do both you play cords there?
Bobby Hicks: No, just single notes, the other part is what makes the cord.
Jim Moss: Well, there are some arrangements of that, that utilize 4 notes... two double stops.
Bobby Hicks: Yeah. I play a One, Three, Five and a Six.
Jim Moss: There you go the 6th. That has a uniquely 50's type of fiddle sound.
Bobby Hicks: Well that sound was never with Monroe because he didn't like them sixth cords. (laughs)
That was some stuff I picked up from Dale Potter.
Jim Moss: He was hot. He was a swing fiddler, right?
Bobby Hicks: Oh he was everything you need. He was first call fiddle in Nashville.
There was a lot of them there when he was doing session work, they would not
record if he wasn't in town. When he got back, then they would do their recording sessions.
Webb Pierce and Jimmy Dickens were two of them.
Jim Moss: Was he around before you?
Bobby Hicks: Yeah, he was there when I got there. He was there in 52 or 53 somewhere
along there. He is from Puxico, Missouri. And that's where he's buried.
Jim Moss: That twin fiddle sound with it's coarseness and edge was a trademark of
the 50's sound. It was very different from the original Monroe band of say the 1940s.
Bobby Hicks: Oh yeah. They only used one fiddle and one part. I guess it was just about
the time that I came along he started using twin fiddles. He was just using one single fiddle
for the longest time.
Jim Moss: Yeah, it seems that at that time there seems to be something going on.
You have the beginning of Rock & Roll, you have that edgy Bluegrass sound in the 50s...
and just seems like...
Bobby Hicks: When the Bill Hailey thing started out that was the beginning of Rock & Roll...
And if you listen to Bill Hailey's music at that time and then you listen to the Rocky Road Blues.
That's were he got it.
Jim Moss: Rocky Road Blues was first?
Bobby Hicks: Right.
----------------------------- To be continued
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