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Celebrating the Big Mon

By Jon Weisberger, September 2000

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One of the more surprising contributions comes from pop/rock singer Joan Osborne, who duets with Skaggs on one of Monroe's starkest tales of romantic loss, "On The Old Kentucky Shore."

Skaggs recounts the way it came about: "I guess it was four years ago, right after Mr. Monroe passed away, that my partner Stan Strickland and I were at the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame show, and we happened to be sitting at Joan's manager's table. We were all sitting there together, and Stan and I were talking about this album, making notes and all that kind of stuff, and her manager just overheard us. He said, 'well, I represent Joan Osborne and I know Joan loves bluegrass, she's a big fan of Bill Monroe's, and keep her in mind if you do this thing.'"

"So, we sent an invitation to her, and she called back and said 'I really want to do it,' so it was just a matter of working out timing. To me, she sounds like a Hazel Dickens or Jean Ritchie, just an old mountain woman sound. It doesn't sound like she's from Louisville, Kentucky, it sounds like she's from Elkhorn City or Whitesburg or somewhere like that - I mean, she's really got that mountain thing. And boy, she tracked with me, we sound like brother and sister singing. It was really awesome, and it just blew my wife Sharon away when I brought a rough mix home. She said 'I just can't believe that, you guys just met today?' It was pretty amazing."

Indeed, that phrase could serve as a motto for "Big Mon" as a whole.

"Bill Monroe was a real hard-headed, stubborn man," recalls Buck White of the Whites, who first met him in 1957. "Nice fellow, but you didn't aggravate him. There's no telling how many people he influenced over the years."

And while that's doubtless true, a listen to the breadth of artists and styles on "Big Mon" will give anyone, old Monroe fan or new, a small idea of how many it must be.

" I'm really hoping that people will see Bill Monroe in a totally different light on this record," Skaggs says, "that it won't just be his version of 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' or his version of 'Close By' or his version of 'Used To Be', that people will really listen to it for the performances and for the artistic part of it. And I hope they'll feel that this was a man we really missed this first go around, that he really should be appreciated as one of the first singer-songwriter-musicians to come to Nashville."

Photo of Bill Monroe and Ricky Skaggs (right) by Morello/Ghergia

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