Sunday, November 29, 2015

HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER

In the HBTN entry for “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” co-author David Cantwell prefaces his fine blow-by-blow essay with a recounting of the 1954 Sun session that produced Elvis Presley’s version of Bill Monroe’s 1947 Columbia single. “In the original 1946 recording of the song, Monroe asks a blue moon to shine on a woman who has cheated on him. . . . It’s quite clear . . . that he feels hopeless. . . . The record is a waltz, but Monroe sounds like he’ll never dance again.

“Presley, on the other hand, sounds like he can barely stand still long enough to finish the song. In their version, Elvis, Scotty, Bill, and Sam add a giddy and unforgettable opening . . . ‘Blue moon, blue moon, blue moon / keep-a-shinin’ bright. . . .’

A few weeks after Elvis’ version came out, Bill Monroe went to the Stanley Brothers and reportedly told Carter Stanley, “You better do that number tomorrow if you want to sell some records.” “[T]he next day . . . the Stanley Brothers cut a marvelous 4/4 recording of ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky,’ one that retains Presley’s repeated ‘Blue moon, blue moon, blue moon’ at the top and spotlights the boogie-woogie picking of Charlie Cline, one of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.

“Next it was Monroe’s turn. . . . [Recorded the weekend following the Stanley Brothers version] Monroe began the song once again as a waltz, but it wasn’t the same. . . . [T]urning on a thrillingly thin dime, the song floors it to 4/4 . . . [and Monroe] fires off a solo that starts to cry . . . then changes its mind, dances a step or two, and shouts, ‘Look what I can do!’”

As Sam Phillips remarked after Elvis’ successful take, “Hell, that’s different. That’s a pop song now, nearly ’bout.”


41.  Blue Moon of Kentucky • Bill Monroe & His Blue Grass Boys • 1946

42.  Blue Moon of Kentucky • Elvis Presley – Scotty & Bill • 1954

Blue Moon of Kentucky • The Stanley Brothers • 1954

40.  Blue Moon of Kentucky • Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys • 1954


Get ’em: Monroe 1946 - The Essential Bill Monroe; Elvis - Elvis at Sun; Stanleys - The Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys, 1953–58 & 1959; Monroe 1954 - Anthology 

Bill Monroe publicity photo (1940s): bgcollector.net


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