A short interview with Bob Black,
conducted by Jim Moss 10-29-97:
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JM: You were telling me about a car?
BB: It was just me and Monroe. I was driving his
station wagon which was a
74 Pontiac Safari.. We pulled into a 76 truck stop down by Chattanooga. I pulled
up to park in the parking lot and they had these little parking stops made out of
concrete, that you pull your car up to ya know... where your front wheel sorta bumps
up against. We went in to eat. Then after we got done eating we came back out and
I got behind the wheel, Monroe was sitting there... there was nobody in front of me
and I forgot that parking thing was there... This Pontiac Safari had a huge engine in
it man.. you just barely touch the gas peddle and it would just leap forward.. So, I turned
it on and hit the gas and it lunged forward.. and it just bumped right up over that
parking thing and it hit just the middle of the car, just Whamm just really hard and I
just stopped.. and I didn't say a word.. and he didn't say a word and just looked
at me..ya know. Like I was out of my mind! I didn't know whether to back up or
go forward... So, I just decided that "well, I have already gone halfway over, I might
as well go forward." So, I gave it the gas and thumped over the back wheels over
that thing and we just took off. He never said one word to me... (laugh)
JM: How did you tryout for Monroe?
BB: He had an office close to music row in a house there...
JM: Is that the one where you, Dave Thompson, and I saw
Monroe at the time when we
tried to get Monroe to play his tunes on the Tanyards album...? That is where Baker took
me when I had to negotiate with Monroe to get the band I was in at the time, High Country,
a gig at Bean Blossom. That was something... haggling price with the Father of Bluegrass..
the guy who had fired every big biscuit in Bluegrass. That thought ran through my head too..
at the time... There was Jimmy Skinner sitting there with him... I bet they were just bored
and thought they would pluck a chicken... and I came along!
BB: No.. I think that was up north of town there. He
had one earlier... I guess it was on 16th
Avenue.. or Music Circle Drive or something... there's a lot of booking agencies down there
and they have their offices in these houses... there just houses that have been converted to
offices. ...And he had one of those. and ah... I just ah.. had made arrangements the day before..
to go down there.. and ah.. audition.
JM: I see...
BB: So, I went down there at the appointed time and
ah... I just walked into his office.
He was sitting there and he had a tape player playing a tape of some band, I don't know
who it was.. I think it was a live show at some festival somewhere... And he just asked
me to play something... and he wouldn't turn off that tape player!
JM: Is that right?
BB: Yeah, so.. I started playing... One of the tunes I
was playing was Shelby Rock, I had been
playing that lately. Its a Kenny Baker tune. Its off of one of his albums... Then I also played
a little bit of Kentucky Mandolin... in G minor. And he said "well, ok... we are leaving tonight".
BB: Yeah, tonight at 2 am or something... Im not
sure of the time, but it was like in
the weee hours of the morning... like 2.. 2 in the morning. To go over by Ashville, NC
which is about a six hour drive. Dwight Dillman was still playing banjo... and he was
on that trip too, so he had 2 banjo players. We played at Mark Pruit's festival at Black
Mountain, NC. I don't know if that festival is still going or not.
JM: So, how did you get recommended? Did Kenny recommend you?
BB: No.... Smokey McKinis recommended me.
BB: Yeah, I was impressed! The band I was in, in
Iowa City, called the Bluegrass Union...
had broken up and I went down to visit Smokey, who lived in St. Louis. He used to call up
Bill Monroe all the time and he would go out on trips with him... liked to hang around with
JM: Is he still alive?
BB: As far as I know, yeah. I haven't talked to him in quit a few years.
JM: Yeah, I remember he was at the Bean Blossom
festival at this jam with Baker just
sitting there... pretty talkative guy... I remember him sitting there playing fiddle with
Monroe a little bit later (then the jam on the download) at Peva's camp.
BB: Oh yeah.... You know I think I have a bit of that
tape. He had been wanting to
jam all weekend and nobody was around to jam with him... or something. So, Bill Monroe
came and jammed with him... and he just really boar down and played some really
hard tunes... I remember.... And I was trying to, I got involved in that jam and I was
actually trying to sneak out of it, because it was getting over my head..! He wouldn't
let me leave. He said, "Nope, you stay right here." (laughing)
JM: When did you start playing banjo?
BB: Oh, ah.. I started playing in about 65...
1965. So at the time of that jam I had been
playing nine years.
JM: How old were you when you picked up the banjo?
BB: ahhh, well lets see I was born in 49 so 65... I was 16.
JM: ..... so .. So, you just picked up to play in Ashville?
BB: Well, it was close to Ashville. It was
actually a town called Black Mountain, NC
and that's were the Black Mountain Rag comes from.
JM: Where you surprised to get the job that fast?
BB: Yeah! I was, but you know we use to go to
Bean Blossom a lot and we jammed
a lot..at Bean Blossom... the way Monroe was he acted like he didn't know me or never saw
me before in his life, but I am sure that he did, cause we use to go there and jam with
Smokey and stuff and he knew Smokey. So, he had already heard me playing before..
I'm sure because he use to stand there listening to us jam. There at Bean Blossom...
JM: Was Monroe very personable, when you knew him like you did?
BB: Yeah... Well, ya know... Sometimes he
was and sometimes he wasn't cause he was
really strictly business.... and if he ever did pay you a complement, it was always sort of
obliquely. Like he might mention your name in a string of other names like... "banjo
players like JD Crow, Earl Scruggs, and Bob Black". He would say something like that,
and that's to let you know he thinks your really good. He wouldn't just come out and say
"I think your a real good banjo player" ...
JM: I have a video tape of you in that band that I made
at Bean Blossom in 1975 and you
look real nervous.
BB: Ha! ha! ... I was!
JM: I mean didn't you ever like, relax?
BB: NO! (laughing)
JM: Did Monroe have you work on the farm a lot?
BB: Some.. Yeah, I helped him build fences.
JM: Yeah... well.... How much fence can you build? really...
BB: (laughing) What I did was... I helped haul
fence posts, ...and I.... I helped him plant
some potatoes one time. I didn't do a lot of work on the farm... no. I helped him plant
some potatoes one time and he had this festival up in Beaver Dam Kentucky, that he was
getting going and I went and spent a few days out of a week helping to build fence there.
So, I did quite a bit of fence building, stretching wire and things like that.
JM: So... being in Monroe's band would normally....
BB: Ya know, I was glad... ya know at the time I didn't
particularly enjoy it, but I was glad
that I did it. Plus those fence building skills came in handy cause I live on a farm now and
I have had to do that very same thing, now. Ya know..so...
JM: It would seem... ya know.. some people might say,
to go out to his house and do
some work with him, initially, seem like it would be kind of a gas!.. because you get to
know the guy a little better.
BB: Oh yeah!
JM: But, I guess if you did it year in and year
out... you would start to feel
like ahh...(laughing) It could start to wear off.
BB: Well, you know, if you were working for him on a
long-term basis over a number of
years, all he is trying to do is to keep you busy and he pays you for working for him. He just
figured I needed the work!.. and I did. If I had my own place I was working on, and I was
playing for him on the side ya know, but I had an alternative job/source of income... then
he wouldn't have expected me to do the work on the farm... but he was just looking out for
my own best interests.
JM: Sure that's great... well, other then your fence
building skills, did you have some unique
experiences out there with him? ya know... stories that he would tell you or anything...?
BB: Ohh. I can't really say... cause we were just
working really hard and when we were
done we would be tired...
JM: I remember in 1973, at Bean Blossom, I got in there
and in the morning I was woken up
by none other then Jack Hicks (Monroe's current banjo player). Staring down at me... as I
lay in my sleeping bag, he was collecting money for the tickets.
BB: Ohh Yeah! Yeah, we had to do that too. (laughing) at Bean Blossom...
BB: And they wanted you to go around to all the
campsites in the morning cause that's
when they knew everyone would still be there. Still in their tents.. ha!..
JM: So that was all just part of working for Monroe..
JM: What was your experience the first time you went on the Opry?
BB: That was a good experience!
JM: Was that with Monroe?
BB: With Monroe, yeah... and I wish that I had a tape
of that.. cause we played Monroe's
Hornpipe. I don't know what else we played, but I do remember that was the first tune
I played on the Opry with Bill Monroe, was Monroe's Hornpipe.
JM: How long had you been in the band at that time?
BB: Not long..
JM: Couple of days?
BB: I suppose, I can't remember exactly.. you know we
played that festival and then as
far as I know it could have been that very next weekend, like the very next Friday night.
This was in the Fall, September I believe... of 74.. or 75.
JM: How long did you work for Monroe?
BB: Well, I worked for two years, almost exactly two
years. It was in September when
I joined him and it was in September two years later that I left. I must have joined in
1974 and left in 1976.
JM: So who do you remember from the first night of the Opry...
BB: I suppose seeing Roy Acuff and Howdy
Forester. There were a lot of people that
were really nice to me when I was down there, but Les Leveret the photographer, and
I met Allen O'brian down there the very first night that we left out for that Black
Mountain, NC job. I met him at the site where we were leaving from. He was really
nice to me too.
JM: Yeah, I remember meeting him in the late 70s when
we were playing down in
Bean Blossom. He was pretty funny.
BB: ... and Hazel Smith, she was a writer who had a
column in Country Music
Magazine.. no maybe she didn't have it just yet. She is Billy and Terry Smith's
mother... Terry Smith played with the Osborne Brothers. She was really nice
... end ...
|Other Bob Black links:|
Wakefield/Bob Black Fiddle Album
Studio Photos I
Studio Photos II
Freight & Salvage Show I
Freight & Salvage Show II
Mpeg mp3 Audio File Page
Bob Black Interview I
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