Did Bill Monroe Write “Uncle Pen?”

Did Bill Monroe Write Uncle Pen?

Did Bill Monroe Write “Uncle Pen?”

If  you drop the names of Bluegrass players and singers in a group of typical Bluegrass fans, it is going to set off an immediate debate over when, what festival, and which band line up cut a particular track or performed a piece live.  The reality is Bluegrass bands shift over time, and have since Bill Monroe brought his music to public notice in the 1930s.

One of the great Bluegrass debates covers Bill Monroe’s song, “Uncle Pen.”  People claim that Monroe did not write the song, or its music.  And, depending on who is telling the story, any number of guitarists and fiddle players claim to have written the song.

Most recently, it seems that Red Taylor and Jimmy Martin are gaining fame as the folks who wrote “Uncle Pen.”  However, in connecting with old time Bluegrass musicians (different than old time musicians), and now largely out of print Bluegrass music journals and newspapers,  it becomes clear that Taylor, Martin and Monroe were all part of the Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in 1949.  Taylor and Martin joined the Bluegrass Boys sometime in 1948.

The key to the authorship of “Uncle Pen” is an interview with Rudy Lyle, a Bluegrass Boy banjoist, who was riding in the car with Monroe, Taylor and Martin that indicates Monroe wrote “Uncle Pen”  (Bluegrass Unlimited, April 1985).  What corroborates the story is the fact that, during this car trip to Maryland, the rack holding the bands entire supply of musical instruments blew off the roof, damaging some instruments, and not others.  This is a story corroborated in Bill Monroe’s and Jimmy Martin’s biographies.

As the instrument nightmare is well corroborated, and the placement of Taylor and Martin, as well as Lyle in a car, not a modern tour bus, Taylor and Martin may have helped develop the music for “Uncle Pen.”  But its autobiographical lyrics show that Monroe is, regardless what anyone says, the author of “Uncle Pen.”

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