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Monroe Mondays: “Blue Goose”

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An unusual fiddle tune from the bluegrass master.

by Tristan Scroggins
June 19, 2017

“Blue Goose” was recorded by and credited to Bill Monroe on the 1977 album Bill Monroe: Bluegrass Memories (MCA 2315). Despite what the album title might suggest, it consisted of mostly new material, including this tune, and features James Monroe and Wayne Lewis on guitar, Bill Holden on banjo, Randy Davis on bass and, interestingly, Buddy Spicher on fiddle. Kenny Baker was well established in the Blue Grass Boys at this point but had recently injured his hand and couldn't play in the session.

“The Blue Goose” is an old-time tune derivative of “Barlow Knife” that is most famously attributed to Buddy Thomas, who plays it on a Rounder recording called Kitty Puss: Old-Time Fiddle Music From Kentucky (Rounder 00322). While the tunes are different, they bear a suspicious resemblance to each other, particularly in the A part. Kitty Puss was released in 1973 (four years before Bluegrass Memories) so if they were the same tune, this would prove that it predated Bill’s recording. In this vein of thought, it’s conceivable that growing up in Kentucky, Bill might have heard “Blue Goose” played at square dances and misremembered the tune so severely as to have effectively written a new tune. Or perhaps he never heard this tune and just wrote a tune that coincidentally sounded like a tune with the same name.

To further complicate the issue, the page for the 1998 reissue of Kitty Puss lists Bill Monroe as the composer of “Blue Goose.” Are you confused yet?

It wasn’t uncommon for Monroe to try to write tunes that were as similar as possible to older tunes but that were still distinct and within his style, such as “Tall Timber” (“Katy Hill”) and “Roanoke” (“Turkey in the Straw”), but he would always rename them. Regardless of its theoretical origin, Monroe’s recording stands alone as a distinct melody.

Here's a video of me playing Monroe’s version of “Blue Goose” in Summerland, British Columbia, because Canada immediately makes me think of geese. A blue goose is actually just a different color morph of the snow goose, some of which do live in Canada and would pass through Kentucky while migrating.

 Works Cited

"Bill Monroe - Bluegrass Memories." Discogs. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2017.

"The Blue Goose." AllMusic. All Music, n.d. Web. 9 June 2017.

"Blue Goose." The Traditional Tune Archive. Andrew Kuntz, n.d. Web. 10 June 2017.

"Buddy Thomas - Kitty Puss." Discogs. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 June 2017.

Rosenberg, Neil V., and Charles K. Wolfe. The Music of Bill Monroe. Urbana, Ill.: U of Illinois, 2007. Print.

Thompson, Richard. "I'm Going Back To Old Kentucky #300." Bluegrass Today. Bluegrass Today, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 10 June 2017.

Also thanks to Justin Hiltner for his bird knowledge.


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