Elvis Presley chose one of his songs,
"Blue Moon of Kentucky," for his first single.
A young Jerry Garcia traveled cross-country
to audition for his band. Johnny Cash, Buddy
Holly, and even Frank Sinatra were fans.
Considering the range of stars and styles
that claim him as an influence, no single
artist has had as broad an impact on
American popular music as Bill Monroe.
Born in 1911 in rural Kentucky, Monroe melded the fiddle
tunes, ballads, and blues of his youth into the "high lonesome"
sound known today as bluegrass, making him perhaps the only
performer to create an entire musical genre. His distinctive
bluegrass style profoundly influenced country, early rock 'n' roll,
and the folk revival of the 1960s. A Grand Ole Opry star for
more than sixty years, Monroe was a searing mandolinist who
redefined the instrument, a haunting high-range vocalist, and a
god-like figure to generations of admirers who became
famous in their own right.
When Monroe died in 1996, he was universally acclaimed as
"the Father of Bluegrass," but the personal life of this taciturn
figure remained largely unknown. His childhood feelings of
isolation and abandonment - "lonesomeness" he called it -
fueled his reckless womanizing in adulthood and inspired his
most powerful compositions. From his professional
breakthrough in the Monroe Brothers duet act to his bitter
rivalry with former sidemen Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs to his
final days as a revered elder statesman of bluegrass, Monroe's
career was filled with trials and triumphs. Now, veteran
bluegrass journalist Richard D. Smith has interviewed a
multitude of Monroe's surviving friends, lovers, colleagues, and
contemporaries to create a three-dimensional portrait of this
brilliant, complex, and contradictory man. Compellingly
narrated and thoroughly researched, Can't You Hear Me Callin'
is the definitive biography of a true giant of American music.
Richard D. Smith is a journalist whose work has appeared
in a number of national publications, including the New York Times,
Bloomberg magazine, and the Journal of Country Music. The author of
Bluegrass: An Informal Guide, he is also a reviewer for Bluegrass
Unlimited magazine and plays mandolin and guitar. He lives in Rocky Hill,