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How Bill Monroe learned “Gospel Plow” - Blair Babcock

This past summer my wife, Mud, our daughter, Sierrah and I took a trip to St John’s, NL with some of our close friends. The vacation was wonderful on many levels – one of which the musical journey on which we embarked. We had the opportunity to meet with renowned music historians and play bluegrass with some of the best musicians in the province.

One gentlemen we had the great pleasure of meeting was Dr Peter Narvaez – a retired professor of Folklore at Memorial University in St John’s, author and well established blues musician. (Yes, I know, you’re thinking well blues ain’t bluegrass……..but this story does come around.) Peter plays in band there called the Rowdy Blues ( Our family was staying with John and Caroline Clarke while in St John’s – both well established musicians in there own right. John plays dobro in the Rowdy Blues and Caroline sits in on mandolin periodically (if she can find time away from her bluegrass band “The Rosalines”). One night while we were there, John and Caroline hosted a Rowdy Blues practice. This is where we first had the opportunity to meet Peter. At one point in the night, John said, “You know Peter taught Bill Monroe how to play “Gospel Plow””, to which Peter responded with something like, “Yeah, my only claim to fame in Bluegrass”. Being very curious, I asked Peter to elaborate to which he went on to tell me the story. An incredible one for sure! But the story at that point was simply a tale told and lost in time.

The next day the Rowdy Blues were playing a noon-hour concert at the St John’s Harbour. We all went down to watch. After the concert I asked Peter is he would mind re-telling the story so I could videotape it. I think my exact words were, “Peter, would you mind retelling the story so I can videotape it. Otherwise, no one back home is going to believe me.” Peter being the gracious person he is, obliged my request and now here is the story, in full, for you to hear as well.

If you own the Nashville Grass album from the ’90s that has Gospel Plow on it check out the liner notes. Where it says Bill learned this from a young hippy at Bean Blossom they are referring to Peter as the “young hippy”. If you’re interested in learning more about Peter just google “Peter Narvaez” – you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find and what he’s done! More next month on meeting former “Blue Grass Boy” and renowned bluegrass historian Neil V. Rosenberg.

Click here for a video of the interview.

Jamming Etiquette

  1. Keep in tune. If you don't have a tuner ask another club member to borrow theirs.
  2. Typically the person who picks the song will lead the song. They will signal who takes a break through eye contact or verbally. Otherwise try and take a break where you can but allow others to share in the breaks too.
  3. Try not to drown out the lead singer. Holding back on the volume helps the singer be heard without them having to strain their voice.
  4. Try to work with the other instruments so that everyone is heard and that your playing compliments theirs.
  5. If you are unsure of a song, step back and play along quietly. This way you can learn the song without distracting from it by playing wrong chords etc. Some jams are more advanced than others. It's ok to challenge your abilities but be mindful of how you fit into the jam.
  6. Watch your timing. Listen closely for the bass and guitar for your timing. If you can't hear them you're playing too loud!
  7. If there is already someone in a jam that is playing the same instrument as yourself, either try playing along at a distance quietly, or find another jam to play in. You could also approach the other player and ask to step in after awhile.
  8. If you know the lyrics of a song then try singing harmony. If you're unsure of your voice start by singing quietly until your comfortable with singing along louder. Harmony vocals are very important to Bluegrass music!
  9. If you know a song that you think others would enjoy, or be able to play along with, then please share it. Just be sure to let others pick songs as well.
  10. Most important have fun! Don't be discouraged if someone reminds you about one of these rules while jamming. If we all follow these simple guidelines then everyone will benefit from a better organized jam.

Newsletter Archive

Each month members receive a club newsletter. After two months a newsletter becomes available for general download from our archive. Feel free to have a look at our archived newsletters for the past year. If you'd like to recieve a current newsletter each month then all you have to do is become a member.