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Monroe Mondays: “Scotland”

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Bill Monroe wrote this tune as a twin-fiddle homage to the sound of Highland bagpipes

by Tristan Scroggins
September 17, 2018

Bill Monroe’s bluegrass sound was an amalgamation of different American traditions and through his tune entitled “Scotland” he highlights both the Scottish fiddling traditions and blues traditions prevalent in the South. Monroe traced his paternal heritage to Scotland, with the name Monroe presumably a respelling of “Munro,” and he was known to speak fondly of the old tones of Scottish music. “Scotland” was written as a vehicle for twin fiddles to imitate the sound of Highland bagpipes.


Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys only ever played once in Scotland, as part of a tour organized by Bill Clifton and John Atkins. They played in Greyfriars Monastery in Uddingston outside of Glasgow on April 25th, 1975. Surprisingly, it doesn’t appear that they played “Scotland.” The photo to the left is from that show (taken by Alex Dunn).

“Scotland” was recorded, along with “Panhandle Country,” on April 8th, 1958, with Kenny Baker and Bobby Hicks on twin fiddles, Joe Drumright on banjo, Edd Mayfield (his last session with Monroe before passing away) on guitar, and Bessie Lee Mauldin on bass. This Decca Records session was produced by Harold Bradley in Nashville, Tennessee, and was released as a single (Decca 9 30739) on September 29 of the same year. It made the Billboard charts, reaching #27 – a first  for Bill since he had started recording for Columbia.

It was released on an LP for the first time in 1961, as part of a compilation called All Time Country and Western Volume 3 (DL 4134) and then again in 1965 as part of a Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys (spelled “Bluegrass” on the cover) compilation called Bluegrass Instrumentals (DL74601). However, the band had been playing “Scotland” in live shows since it was recorded as a single, as evidenced by this recording from New River Ranch in 1959.

For a chance to see this tune played with pipes, check out this star-studded video from the Transatlantic Sessions.

Here’s a video I took while on tour in Scotland in a small town outside of Dumfries where some of my paternal ancestry is traced. I attempt to imitate both Bill’s use of the A string as a drone and the fiddle variations in my interpretation. I found it to be more challenging than I expected.

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