I guess it may be time to tell a story about the great Bill Monroe. I was lucky to be around him frequently during my tenure at Gibson. Mostly I saw him at the Opry but there were many Bluegrass festivals that I would run into him at or I’d see him when he came into Gibson. Every once in a while I would meet him at his office in Goodletsville to return or pick up his mandolin for set up. On a handful of occasions I was lucky enough to deliver the mandolin to Bill at his Ranch.
Bill’s cabin was small. There were always barnyard animals prancing around. Dogs and cats filled in the spaces between the chickens and other critters. It was a fun place to visit and always reminded me of going to my grandparents farm when I was younger in Valley Falls, Kansas.
One sunny day I went to the ranch with Doug Hutchins for a photo shoot. We were to take pictures for a Gibson Bill Monroe poster. Doug was Gibson’s man on the street for the east coast Bluegrass circuit. He taught school during the year and in the summers made all the big festivals. He also fit in as many as he could during the school year. Doug was a former Bluegrass Boy and knew Bill well. He was a joy to be around and he mentioned more than once that he thought he was partially hired to keep track of myself and Greg Rich.
Doug brought a photographer along for the photo shoot but unfortunately the man’s name escapes me. We all got to Bill’s cabin and at first glance there was no sign of Bill. The powder blue Cadillac was there, so we knew he was around. It was peaceful there out in the wooded country that surrounded Bill’s property. The hounds that laid around couldn’t care less that we were there. We called out for Bill several times. We stuck our head inside the front room, there was no Bill. We kept calling. Doug went around toward the back side of the house. We wondered where the old man was. The house only had maybe 3 rooms on the main floor and an attic loft nestled in the peak of the roof.
Moments later I heard Doug’s voice, “ Jim, he’s back here sure enough.”
The picture man and I ran around to the back side of the cabin. Doug was running up some rickety stairs that met up with a small deck just outside a back door located on the outside wall that you would enter or exit the attic room. The door was open and the sight I saw was a seven foot couch at a 60 degree angle with the Father of Bluegrass music under it.
Doug said, “Bill, what are ya doin’?”
Bill was huffin’ and puffin’. “I’m a gettin’ rid a this ol’ thing. I been tryin’ for an hour to get it out this door.”
Doug made it to the top of the deck and noted. “Bill, I don’t think you’ll get that couch around that corner, it’s kinda tight!”
Bill snapped back. “Boy I got it up here on my back, I know I can get it down.”
Bill was sweating profusely as it was a hot muggy summers day there in Tennessee.
“Jim, get up here.” Doug demanded.
The photographer and I got up the stairs as fast as we could. Doug had already relieved Bill of most of the weight of the couch. Moments later we had the couch back inside the attic room. Bill then went on to chew our ass out. He though he almost had the sofa to a point where he could have made the turn. Believe me it is not something I would ever want to go through again, that’s getting an ass chewin’ from Bill. Doug began to reason with him. Doug and Bill had been good friends for twenty years or more.
Bill finally settled down. Doug asked him for a screw driver. Five minutes later Bill showed up with a tool box. We took off the door. While Bill watched with a sly grin, the three of us took over twenty minutes to get the couch down the back stairs. Bill was proud of the achievement and he wiped the sweat off his brow. Doug’s a pretty good size man himself but since I might weigh in at 155 lbs. wringin’ wet. It was not an easy task.
After a pot of coffee, Doug suggested that Bill change into a suit for the picture session. He made off to the bedroom and minutes later he returned in a dark blue suit and his trade mark hat. While Bill was changing we sat in the front room. I found myself looking at the fire place. My eyes gazed on the poker.
I couldn’t help myself, “Doug, ya think that’s the poker?”
I think he was lookin’ at it too. He softly spoke, “sure nough’.”
I’d seen it the other times I was at the cabin. Bills front room wasn’t that big and the fireplace was it’s main feature. Many of you may recall that a fireplace poker was responsible for the damage to Bill’s two Loar mandolins, well I guess the story was a woman’s hand was behind it.
It was hard to get Bill focused on the idea of taking pictures. He carried his prize possession that Charlie Derrington restored. If a cat or dog sauntered by Bill would give it attention. I believe we did the shoot on the west side of the cabin and Bill gave me a tour of a garden spot that was maybe twenty feet long. At first I didn’t notice, but Bill pointed out that the garden plot was in the shape of an F-5 mandolin. After further inspection the rocks that he had outlined the bed with did look remarkably like the silhouette of an F-5. He told me he spent days working on the shape years ago to get it just right.
Then there were the flies and mosquitos. Every frame of every picture taken that afternoon had bugs in it. They were thick. We were all swatin’. Bill did his best. If any of you still have that poster from the late 1980’s, look on Bills shirt on the cuff below the coat sleeve and you may notice a small mosquito.
All afternoon I was wearing a pare of yellow sunglasses that I had glued rhinestones on. Bill made fun of them a few times during the day and at one point asked if he could try them on. He was amused by our laughter. He then wanted pictures taken with the sunglasses on. There were several taken. I am sure if any of you out there know Doug he could show you some fine pictures of Bill with yellow rhinestone glasses on. Bill seemed to like them so much, I gave them to him. He appeared honored by the gesture. I had worn those shades for a couple of years to trade shows and festivals. I didn’t think I needed them any longer. Bill looked thirty years younger. He had that same look as if a pretty lady had just entered the room. Come to think of it when ever Bill was around Charlie Derrington, he had that same look of joy. I will never forget that look.
Jim Triggs 2/14/2009