22 October 2021

Butch Waller, Bill Monroe, and 'The little beggarman' (update)

The BIB editor writes:

The latest 'California report' in Dave Berry's ongoing series on Bluegrass Today is subtitled 'Butch Waller on High Country and Bill Monroe'. Butch Waller (left) is of course the leader of High Country, the premier hardcore California bluegrass band that took part in the first Athy bluegrass festival in 1991, returning by popular demand in 1993, and then again fifteen years later; in the photo, Butch is shown on stage at Athy in 2008.

Berry's feature is a major interview, covering the full range of Butch's career from his schooldays onwards, the people he's played with (including the full list of past and present members of High Country), the bands he's been in besides High Country, his instruments, his influences, what makes a band last fifty years, and much more. Any bluegrass enthusiast should benefit from reading it. Bill Monroe is foremost among the influences on Butch and his playing and singing, and this interview would be well worth reading just for what Butch has to say about him. Five videos are included. One point is relevant to Ireland - Butch remembers:

My dad played the harmonica and loved to sing. 'Buffalo gals' and 'She’ll be comin’ around the mountain' were familiar songs. He also could sing all the words to the fiddle tune 'Little beggar man' — I don’t know where he learned it, but he studied law in Virginia and his family was from Kentucky.

Is it beyond possibility that Butch's father may have learned the words from the singing of Sarah Makem and Tommy Makem of Co. Armagh on the 1956 Tradition LP The lark in the morning? Wikipedia calls this 'the first album-length recording of Irish music to be recorded in Ireland'.

Update 24 Oct.: Last year Chris Henry interviewed Butch about Monroe-style mandolin, with an emphasis on less-familiar tunes. You can watch the forty-minute interview on YouTube.
The BIB mentioned on 13 September that forthcoming books on Bill Monroe would include bassist Mark Hembree's On the bus with Bill Monroe: my five-year ride with the Father of Blue Grass, scheduled to be published by the University of Illinois Press in April 2022 at $19.95 in paperback and $14.95 as an e-book. For more on the book and its author, see Richard Thompson's feature on Bluegrass Today two days ago.

© Richard Hawkins

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