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
(www.rowdyblues.com/peternarvaez.html). 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.