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Monroe Mondays: “Call of the Shepherd”

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The least popular tune of the batch.

by Tristan Scroggins
October 19, 2017

“Call of the Shepherd” is a rarely heard Monroe tune mostly associated with Kenny Baker’s recording from his 1984 album Highlights (County 785), which features Allen Shelton on banjo, Roy Husky Jr. on bass, Jesse McReynolds on mandolin, and either Joe Stuart or Charlie Collins on guitar. This is the easiest to find version of the tune, though an earlier recording of Kenny with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys exists. On July 4, 1982, the Blue Grass Boys (then Wayne Lewis on guitar, Blake Williams on banjo, Kenny Baker with Buddy Spicher on fiddle, and Mark Hembree on bass) played a show at Cathedral Caverns near Huntsville, Alabama, that was recorded by MCA. These recordings were unavailable to the public until they were included on the Bear Family Records set My Last Days on Earth – Bluegrass, 1981-1994 (BCD 16637 DK), which was released on February 26, 2007.


There's also a private recording of Monroe playing the tune that can be heard here. The other unidentified musicians in the session are unfamiliar with the tune and interpret the Bb note as part of a I chord rather than the usual IV chord.


Monroe said he wrote this tune at the same time as “Ashland Breakdown” and “Tallahassee,” while he was in Ashland, Kentucky. Bill would frequently name tunes after towns where he put on a festival. In 1970, Monroe presented his first Kentucky Bluegrass Festival at Rockdale Park, Shopes Creek near Ashland. Later that year, he recorded “Tallahassee” so it's possible that he wrote “Call of the Shepherd” sometime early in 1970. While these two tunes would go on to enjoy considerable popularity, “Call of the Shepherd” remains largely unheard and unplayed.

Jim Moss claims to have learned the tune from Kenny Baker at Bean Blossom in the early 1970s and that he played it differently than the way it was played on Highlights. Perhaps this is another instance of the tune changing based on Monroe’s memory. Jim says he recorded the tune the “original” way on his album The Sleeping Lady.


I got my friend Jesse to let me into the sheep pen at Alexander Farms during the Pickin’ in the Pasture festival in Lodi, New York. The sheep were not thrilled. This version is based mostly on Kenny Baker’s interpretation as well as an attempt to mimic Jesse McReynold’s multitracked mandolin solo.

Learn Monroe-Style Mandolin with Mike Compton
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Richard Thompson. "I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #353 - Bluegrass Today."Bluegrass Today. 18 Sept. 2011. Web. 10 Sept. 2017.


Richard Thompson. "I’m Going Back To Old Kentucky #277 - Bluegrass Today." Bluegrass Today. 4 Jul. 2011. Web. 10 Sept. 2017.


"Pinch me!-Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe [Archive] - Mandolin Cafe Forum." n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2017.


Rosenberg, Neil V., and Charles K. Wolfe. The Music of Bill Monroe. (164) Urbana, Ill.: U of Illinois, 2007. Print.

Category: commentary

Comments and Discussion

Posted by Mike Compton on
FYI, the "other musicians" on the informal recording are Norman and Nancy Blake, James Bryan and Larry Sledge.
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Oct 27, 2020
The mandolin master plays a great version of the Jerome Kern classic with his trio, live at the Marshall Mandolin Summit.

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