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Memories of the 1983 Tanyards Sessions by Jim Moss 7-24-2002 & 2-1-2005:
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Learning "Tanyards" From Bill Monroe

I was the first to record Tanyards, however, Monroe changed it between the time that he first taught me the tune and when I was about to record it. I had to relearn almost half of the tune to get his approval, which included his on tape introduction on my CD. Jesse played mandolin on it. Bill wanted to play on it and use an alias, but he was afraid that he might get the new management at his record company upset.

In 1976 I was standing next to Monroe at the June Bean Blossom festival. It was after the shows probably
about 11:00 pm. I had noticed that the Bluegrass Boys were avoiding Bill. Bill had been driving around the campgrounds in his tan station wagon, looking for the band members. The band members would hide out in an attempt to get some personal time, which probably included a little partying.

At one point, Bill had taken his mandolin out and was listening for Kenny Baker in the distance. He walked back to the far end of the campgrounds past the clearing where the power lines were and was aware of the band ducking out. It was about midnight and I had my fiddle there. Frustrated, Monroe told me to take the fiddle out, saying "lets see what you can do" with a couple of new tunes he had written.

So of course we started out with his standards and then he said "I want you the hear something".
He played for me "new" Monroe tunes that had his signature sound and feel, but I had never heard them
before. I was blown away by the idea that there were more Monroe tunes. This was definitely very cool.
I played these with him and took a break on each one. In fact, each tune we played about 20 times
over and over until I had learned the number. I remember we were under a tree and there was a small audience that had gathered, maybe 6 people or so... who slowly wandered off to bed as the evening wore on.

By now it was about 2 am and the park was still alive with pickers off in the distance. Bill said “if you learn these tunes the way I want them played, I would be proud if you were to record them.” I told him that the band I was in had a rule that prohibited band members from recording their own albums, but that I could record them after I left the band. Bill said, "I would like that". I told him, that "some people might not like it if, I and not you, recorded these tunes. They might think I did them wrong".  Bill said "You use these numbers on your record and play the recording for me. If I approve of the way you played the
number I will record an endorsement. No one will question the recording after that."

So, when I was ready to record some of these, maybe 8 tunes, I went to see him. By then it was 1978 or
1979 and he had now written Tanyards and Reelfoot Reel as well as another three that had no names as of yet. He wanted me to record Tanyards and Reelfoot first. It was conveyed to me that he had approached his record company about recording more instrumentals and they felt he had too many new tunes to really record them all. Members of his band told me that he was writing a new tune every week or so.

Bill insisted that I record these two as well as the others, eventually. Some of the tunes that he had original taught me, I believe he had forgotten. A couple of them appear on my CDs, but are not attributed to him as I never had an opportunity to get his approval on them. I won't tell anyone which they are, but a real Monroe fan will know by the sound.

To understand the feeling that Monroe had spoken about for one particular tune, it was implied that I should try to feel the loneliness of a country grave site at night when everything was quiet. This was the feeling he wanted, and put, in this one tune. I think he had been at a grave yard and it had inspired him to write this number. So, after returning to California, I hiked up to this abandoned graveyard high up on a mountain a few miles from the main road that passed between where I grew up and the ocean. It was summer and warm. This place was totally isolated from humanity. The graveyard over-looked a river bend
and the moon, for part of the night, provided a very beautify but eerie view. Then it became totally dark with the setting of the moon. Wearing only cut-offs I sat there, on a stone grave plate, sometimes with my eyes closed, in the dark, until just before dawn.  I tried to feel the loneliness of those buried there... the isolation...  I heard and felt lot of things that night, things I will never forget.  I just remember feeling like I was not really welcome there, but that I was being allowed to be there. Feelings of extreme complexity
modulating the absolute simplicity of death.

Bill later recorded his promised introduction, but only after changing Tanyards. So, there I was in the studio having to record a new version of Tanyards two hours after relearning it. There was lots of confusion going on. First, there was the way I had learned the tune originally, from recording made of Monroe playing it to me. Then there was the new way that Bill had just shown, thinking that he had not changed the tune. On top of that, there was how Baker thought I should record the tune. I knew I had to try to play it the way Bill wanted it or I would not get the endorsement.  So I toughed it out. My album Tanyards came out in 1981 using liner notes and was updated for CD in 1998 with Bills actual words. The recording of Tanyards is Jesse McReynolds' interpretation of the tune.

Jim Moss, 2-1-2005

The Tanyards LP Recording Sessions

 “Tanyards” was my first solo project.  It was recorded in 1983 in a private studio somewhere outside of Nashville, TN.  When Dave Thompson and I first got to the studio, Jim & Jesse’s banjo player Mike Scott, was finishing up his album.  The “Tanyards” sessions were back to back with Kenny Baker’s “Highlights” sessions.  We had the studio from 2:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 at night.  At 10:00 Kenny began working on his album. That lasted until 8:00 am the next morning.  We did this for a week. 

This turned out to be a great opportunity to see how the old pros recorded together.  Observing how they used the mics and how they worked together provided the foundation for how I record now.   After we had finished each day, Dave and I would hang around to watch the “old guys” do it.   It was great!  Kenny had Joe Stuart and Charlie Collins on guitar at the same time.  As I looked across the studio on the right Joe was playing bass runs exclusively.  Then a few feet to the right of Joe was Charlie who was strumming chords, with no runs.  In the middle of the room was Kenny with the RCA 77-DX ribbon mic, sitting on a tall stool.   To my left was Bob Black in the same chair that he used while recording my album.  Jesse had been sitting on a riser to one side of the room so that we could hear his count offs, but when Bobby Osborne came in to record his part on Kenny’s album, he moved his chair off of the riser closer to the guitar players.  The experience was awesome.  Roy Huskey Jr. was playing his bass sitting down. 

We came into town a few days early to work on the tunes.  One thing Bob and I felt we should do, was play “Tanyards” and “Real Foot Reel” for Bill Monroe.  It was Bill who suggested that I record the tunes on my fiddle album.  He had told me that his record company would let him record only a few of the tunes he wrote.  During the 1970’s, Bill showed me about 10 tunes that he suggested I record.  Some I have only heard once when Bill played them for me.  Kenny once said that Bill would write a new tune every few days.   One thing that happened had to do with the tune “Tanyards”.  Bill had played it for me out in California and again at his farm and that is how I learned it, however, when Bob and I went to his offices he played it differently.  So there I was eyeball to eyeball with Bill and he had changed the tune.   We quickly learned the changes to get his approval.  Bob Black asked him to come over to the studio to record the mandolin part, we thought he had him convinced, but he said that a new guy at his record company would not approve of it.  So he told Bob “you take care of him”, meaning me, and we were off.  Bill did say that if I recorded the tunes the way he wanted them recorded, that he would make an endorsement to be used on the album.   After the album was completed, Bill listened to the recordings of his tunes and kept his promise. 

During the mornings of the sessions, Bob Black, Dave Thompson and I would go to Baker’s farm to rehearse the tunes we would record that afternoon.  Bob Black is a genius. He can learn a tune perfectly in minutes.  Bob learned to play banjo in a town of fiddlers.  This led to his developing a style that allowed him to play fiddle tunes note for note, something that up to that time in the early 70’s, had not been done with such accuracy.  Bob really created that very “fiddle” style of banjo playing. 

Kenny really acted as the producer for both albums, making many of the critical arrangements with the studio and in getting Jesse for both projects.  I had spent many winters at Kenny’s, learning the finer points of playing the fiddle, to then have him mentor me through my first fiddle album was terrific.  I didn’t say easy, I said terrific.  He was very supportive at every step and I am forever in his debt, but there is no fooling Baker.  We even got to see him play the banjo.  The song “Tune For Andy” from “Highlights”, was about a panda bear that played the banjo in a cartoon he saw years before.  This is what you hear Bob playing at the beginning of that tune. 

Sonny Deaton, owner of Upstairs Recording in Gallatin TN, engineered both sessions and virtually worked around the clock to do it.   I remember Sonny showing us a fiddle that was made by Gibson and it had a virzi inside of it.  Jesse doesn’t remember it, but I remember it was pretty different from everything I had seen.  On the “Tanyards” sessions we had Dave Thompson on guitar, Bob Black on banjo, Jesse McReynolds on mandolin, Roy Huskey Jr. on bass and a guest appearance by Kenny Baker on fiddle.   We cut all the tracks live, one right after the next, then for only a couple of tunes came back and added some breaks.  Jesse would count off the tunes and away we would go and recorded rhythm chomps with the band then added his lead breaks right after that by himself.  We recorded in one big room, which was the second floor of the engineer’s house.   This turned out to be a bit of a problem as there was not enough isolation of the standup bass to keep it out of the other mics.  This was not a big problem in the remix, but it did color the original mix. 

I was never happy with the original mix, which is what led to my becoming so involved in the recording process.  The mix was my doing, but I swore I would never produce a mix without “grind” and “thunk” again.  We recorded the album in a week and on the night before Dave and I had to catch our plane, I sat up with the engineer and mixed the album.   We mixed it in 5 hours, boxed up the tapes and caught the plane.  In 2002, after finishing the Sleeping Lady album, I remixed the “Tanyards” album with the appropriate “grind” and “thunk”.   I cannot put into words the sound of “grind” you will have to listen to the CD to hear that, but “thunk” is a rock and roll term that refers to the sound you get when you make a fist and strike your chest.  The sound you get is a “thunk” sound that exists in the mandolin and fiddle notes, but has to be brought out.  It is what helps to deliver punch in your recording.   Bill Monroe had “thunk” in his mandolin playing in the sound system at Bean Blossom.  A flathead banjo can have “thunk”.

To work on the old 1-inch 16-track tapes I had to bake them in my electric kitchen oven at 130F (with no more than 10 degrees plus or minus), for 8 hours, twice, to dry out the tapes.  Tapes from the 1980’s have a tendency to collect moisture.  When they do, they give off a gummy material, like wax, that sticks to the heads and prevents the tapes from playing.  George Horn of Fantasy Records who is an old friend suggested that I bake the tapes and how to go about it.  It worked.  Next I had to find someone who still had a tape machine with this very old format.  When I did, I transferred the tracks to digital tape and worked on them in that form back in my own studio.

The remix utilizes classic analog studio gear to get the robust sound that is the signature of my later recordings.  I also designed some vacuum tube gear that I now use to optimize the dark or wood sound of the mandolin, fiddle and even the flathead banjo.  This sound is the result of listening to, and talking with Bill Monroe at Bean Blossom and from watching Kenny over the years in a lot of places.  Monroe would push the mics at Bean Blossom to over drive the mics a bit to get a big deep wood tone through the sound system.   On the other hand, Kenny played so quietly into his RCA 77-DX on his tracks in both the “Tanyards” and his “Highlights” album that it took me years to figure out the common ground in the recordings. 

The versions of the tunes on the Tanyards CD that are traditional, I learned from Kenny Baker with the exception of “Chicken Reel” which Bill Monroe taught me. 

I cannot read or write tab, so just after we recorded the album I asked Bob to send me tab for the tunes on the LP.  The original LP didn’t have two tunes that appear on the CD.  These are “Tennessee Wagoner” and “Leather Britches”.  I am not sure why we left those off, but since they were not on the original LP they are not included in this tab book. 

Over the years I have received a number of CDs and tapes from bluegrass musicians who have recorded my tunes like “Old Blue Hen”.  It sure makes me feel good when I hear about them.  Be sure to visit our web site and don’t forget to say hello.

Jim Moss, 7-24-2002
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Monroe Letter to Jim Moss 1983

Other links with Bob Black:
Jim Moss/Frank Wakefield/Bob Black Fiddle Album
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Studio Photos II
Freight & Salvage Show I
Freight & Salvage Show II
Mpeg mp3 Audio File Page
Bob Black Interview II

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Take a look at the "Through The Winshield" Banjo Tab Book
Through The Windshield Banjo Tab Book

And the "Tanyards" Banjo Tab Book
Tanyards Banjo Tab Book 

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