13 November 2013

Bill Monroe's 'Danny Boy' on RTÉ One

The BIB editor reports:

Viewers watching 'Danny Boy: the ballad that bewitched the world' on Monday night (11 Nov.) on RTÉ One TV could hear at one point the voice of the Father of Bluegrass singing the song, and at the same time see film footage of Roscoe Holcomb of Daisy, KY, playing a dance tune on banjo on his porch. The commentary suggested that this recording of the song illustrated the affinities between Ireland and hillbillies.

The idea that Bill Monroe should record 'Danny Boy' seems to have come from the Decca producer Owen Bradley. Pop recordings of the song by Conway Twitty and Andy Williams had already sold well, and Bradley apparently thought that Monroe's intense, high-tenor voice would be right for a country version. Bill Monroe and his band recorded 'Danny Boy' on 30 Nov. 1961, and it was first released in June 1962 on the LP Bluegrass ramble.

Although Rachel Liebling used it in the soundtrack of her film about Monroe, High lonesome, it remains something of an oddity among his recorded work and is not generally seen as part of bluegrass repertoire. It serves, however, as an example of how to use the discography in Neil V. Rosenberg and Charles K. Wolfe, The music of Bill Monroe (University of Illinois Press, 2007). The cover photo for this book (above left) was taken at the session at which 'Danny Boy' was recorded.

Update 14 Nov.: We are informed that no country singer appears to have recorded 'Danny Boy' in the period 1921-42.

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