Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Blue Moon of Kentucky"

"Blue Moon of Kentucky" is a waltz written in 1946 by bluegrass musician Bill Monroe and recorded by his band, The Blue Grass Boys. The song has since been recorded by Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Ronnie Hawkins, Rory Gallagher, LeAnn Rimes, Paul McCartney, Boxcar Willie, Ray Charles, Jerry Reed and others. This song was part of the Beatles' live repertoire from 1957-1961.

Bill Monroe

Bill Monroe wrote the song in 1946, recording it for Columbia Records on September 16. It was released in early 1947. At the time, the Bluegrass Boys included vocalist and guitarist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs, who would later later form their own bluegrass band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Both Flatt and Scruggs performed on the recording, although Bill Monroe supplied the vocals on this song.

The song, described as a "bluegress waltz", had become a nationwide hit by 1947 and also became enormously popular with other bluegrass, country, and early rockabilly acts. Although the song was revered by the Grand Ole' Opry and others, Carl Perkins played an uptempo version of this song in his early live performances.


The search for another song to release along with "That's All Right Mama" at Sun Records in July of 1954 lead to "Blue Moon of Kentucky" via Bill Black. "We all of us knew we needed something," according to Scotty Moore, and things seemed hopeless after a while. "Bill is the one who came up with "Blue Moon of Kentucky."...We're taking a little break and he starts beating on the bass and singing "Blue Moon of Kentucky," mocking Bill Monroe, singing the high falsetto voice. Elvis joins in with him, starts playing and singing along with him," as did Moore himself. Elvis Presley Scotty and Bill, with the encouragement of Sam Phillips, transformed Monroe's slow waltz (3/4 time) into an upbeat, blues-flavored tune in 4/4 time.

After an early rendition of the song, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips exclaimed, "BOY, that's fine, that's fine. That's a POP song now!" Presley responded, "That sounds like Carl Perkins!" As with all of the Presley records issued by Sun, the artists were listed as "ELVIS PRESLEY SCOTTY and BILL."

The same night that Dewey Phillips first played the flip side of this first release of Presley's music on WHBQ, "That's All Right," Sleepy Eye John at WHHM loosed "Blue Moon of Kentucky." Bob Neal of WMPS played the record too. The pop jockeys, entranced by something new, began slipping "That's All Right" and "Blue Moon" in among the more sophisticated glucose and bedlam of Teresa Brewer, Nat Cole and Tony Bennett.

The record was played on Juke Box Jury. "Blue Moon" had been written and first recorded some years earlier by a famous, Grand Ole Opry entertainer, Bill Munroe of Kentucky. Tennessee Ernie Ford, on the Juke Box Jury that night, drawled: "If ole Bill Munroe hears this, he'll just take his li'l ole country band and head back for the hills." Monroe himself, far from being offended, sent Elvis a note of thanks. After Elvis brought it out, six other companies made it with their stars. Billboard gave Elvis' first record an 85 score, very high, on both sides. Over a 15 week period, only one other record in the same category had an equal rating, and that was by the established star, Webb Pierce. A year later Sam Phillips still hadn't figured out which was the big side. "That's All Right" was in the R&B idiom of negro field jazz, "Blue Moon" more in the country field, but there was a curious blending of the two different musics in both.

With Presley's version of Monroe's song consistently rated higher, both sides began to chart across the South.

Fellow Sun Records artist Charlie Feathers has often claimed that he came up with the arrangement of the song used by Presley.

Other information

Ralph Stanley and Carter Stanley recorded a version of the song using Presley's 4/4 arrangement of the song but bluegrass instrumentation, neatly bridging the stylistic gap between Monroe's and Presley's approaches. Bill Monroe subsequently rerecorded and performed the song using a mixture of the two styles, starting the song in its original 3/4 arrangement, then launching into an uptempo 4/4 rendition. Subsequently the song has been recorded and performed by numerous other musicians.

"Blue Moon of Kentucky" is the official bluegrass song of Kentucky. In 2002, Monroe's version was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry.

In the 1960s, the song was covered by instrumental pop band The Tornados; it was one of the few songs that the band ever recorded which employed vocals. Another cover version was released by the Kentucky Headhunters on their 1993 album Rave On!!.

A splendid version, although rather nervous, was recorded in 1994 by the late Rory Gallagher during the Montreux Jazz Festival, as a part of a medley. This version was released 9 years later in the Wheels Within' Wheels album, in 2003.

In 1995, the remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr performed an impromptu 4/4 version of the song that was eventually released on the Bonus DVD of The Beatles Anthology video release. McCartney had earlier performed and released the song in 1991 as part of his appearance on MTV Unplugged.

In 2002, "Blue Moon of Kentucky" appeared on King of the Hill (Season 6, Episode 9: The Bluegrass is Always Greener)

In 2003, CMT ranked "Blue Moon of Kentucky" #11 on its 100 Greatest Songs in Country Music.

In 2000, John Fogerty recorded a version of this tune on Ricky Skaggs and Friends' "Big Mon" tribute album to Monroe. This version begins with a few seconds of the original recording.

In January 2008, late-night talk show host Conan O'Brien led the house band, Max Weinberg and The Max Weinberg 7 in a rendition of the song on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.

Released: 1947
Genre: Bluegrass
Label: Columbia Records
Writer(s): Bill Monroe


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