A twisting tale of a Bill Monroe original he never personally recorded.
July 03, 2017
“The Tanyards” is a Bill Monroe tune that was never specifically recorded by Monroe himself. The version that is generally considered “standard” is from Butch Robins’ 1995 album Grounded Centered Focused (HHH-CD-108). Robins’ record featured an all-star cast that included Monroe himself, who played on a few other previously unrecorded Monroe tunes with Mike Compton overdubbing some of the parts that an aging Monroe could no longer play. Mike allegedly played on this entire track.
This tune had previously been recorded by Jim Moss for his first solo fiddle album, Tanyards (BB145), released in 1984 and featuring Bob Black on banjo, Dave Thompson on guitar, Roy Husky Jr. on bass, and Jesse McReynolds on mandolin, with Kenny Baker acting as special guest and producer.
Jim Moss met Bill Monroe at his festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana in the mid-1970s where Bill encouraged him to record a solo record, pressing him to record some of Bill’s original instrumental tunes he was afraid would never be recorded. Jim was concerned that people would be upset about him recording these unknown Monroe tunes incorrectly, so Bill agreed to review Jim’s recordings and then record an endorsement assuring fans of their quality and authenticity. That endorsement appears as part of the liner notes on the original LP.
When Jim was preparing to record a few years later, Bill had two new tunes he wanted Jim to record first, including “The Tanyards.” Jim worked up these new tunes and returned to Nashville to record in 1983. But, according to Jim, Bill had changed the melody of “The Tanyards” and did not approve of the way Jim had learned it.
Monroe was known in this era for constantly reworking his old tunes, but he was also allegedly writing a few tunes a week. He could not notate music and, according to Richard Smith, he was uncomfortable using tape recorders. In order to remember these tunes, Monroe would write his feelings and impressions of the place where he wrote the tune and reread those notes to jog his memory of what the tune sounded like. It is possible that he either changed the tune or misremembered the way he'd previously shown it to Jim. But Jim still needed the message of endorsement so he learned and recorded the “new” version.
Jim Moss theoretically still has a recording of Monroe's “original” version but at this point, Butch’s version and Mike Compton's personal recording of ”The Tanyards” have defined the tune as anyone would know it today.
Here's a video of me playing a version based on the Grounded Centered Focused recording (complete with rainbow) on the banks of the Missouri River in North Dakota in between sets at the Missouri River Bluegrass Festival. According to Monroe, the tune is named after “an old crossroads back up not too far from Rosine, Kentucky, where they used to tan bark and hide, you know, years and years ago.”
Bennett, Bud. “Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection - Butch Robins Part 2.” Appalachian Music and Culture. Wordpress, 15 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 June 2017.
Black, Bob. Come Hither to Go Yonder: Playing Bluegrass with Bill Monroe. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois, 2005. Print.
Grieser, Don. “Mike Compton.” Mandozine. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2017.
Moss, Jim. “Memories of the 1983 Tanyards Sessions.” Candlewater. Mossware, 1 Feb. 2005. Web. 21 June 2017. <http://candlewater.com/interviews/story008.html>.
Moss, Jim. “Memories of the 1983 Tanyards Sessions.” Mossware. Jim Moss, 24 July 2002. Web. 20 June 2017.
Robins, Butch. “Shop.” Butch Robins. Butch Robins, n.d. Web. 20 June 2017.
Rosenberg, Neil V., and Charles K. Wolfe. The Music of Bill Monroe. Urbana, Ill.: U of Illinois, 2007. Print.
Smith, Richard D. Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass. N.p.: Little, Brown and, 2000. Print.
“Thread: Tanyards.” Mandolin Cafe Forum. Mandolin Cafe, 1 Dec. 2002. Web. 20 June 2017.
Wdvrradio897. “JIM MOSS TANYARDS BLUEGRASS FIDDLE LP ORIG 1983 BLUEBERRY BB145 NM RARE!!” EBay. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2017.
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