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June 22

Why today? A Kentucky fiddler named Pendleton Vandiver, beloved maternal uncle of the future Father of Bluegrass Music, died on this date 78 years ago. Pen’s influence on his young nephew was so great that Bill Monroe later immortalized him in song.

About the record: Decca 9-46283, recorded Oct. 15, 1950, at the Castle Studio in downtown Nashville. Released Dec. 23, 1950. First LP appearance was on My Old Time Country Favorites, Decca 4327, released in August 1962.

Most bluegrass fans are familiar with the story of Uncle Pen, who took in young Bill Monroe after he was orphaned. Monroe credited Vandiver with the two elements he considered most vital to bluegrass music: the fiddle, and the timing. Here’s a newspaper article that addresses Monroe’s two prime mentors: Uncle Pen and black bluesman Arnold Schultz.

That’s Red Taylor providing the soulful fiddle, with Jimmy Martin’s hard-driving version of the signature bluegrass guitar run punctuating each chorus and Rudy Lyle’s banjo in a supporting role. Monroe, of course, handles mandolin duties and sings the verses, joining Martin and bass player Joel Price in a trio on the chorus. The song ends with a figure from an old Uncle Pen fiddle tune, “Jenny Lynn” — a tribute to 19th century songbird Jenny Lind — as it fades into silence.

You might be more familiar with Ricky Skaggs’ version of “Uncle Pen” from the 1980s, which amazingly topped the country charts despite its largely bluegrass arrangement. But it’s always good to go back to the source, in this case a fine example of the work of an American musical genius.

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