First Fiddler of Bluegrass was From Alleghany

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys

The Bluegrass Boys in 1939, left to right: Art Wooten, Bill Monroe, Cleo Davis and Amos Garen.

Ever listen to Bluegrass Music? Well did you know that the father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe hired an Alleghany County boy when he got started back in 1939? And did you know that young man was named Arthur Wooten?

Years ago, T.J. Worthington told me- as he might well have told you- about Fiddlin’ Art Wooten. T.J. posted a very interesting blog post about Art at his site, Waterfall Road. In it he talked about how Mr. Wooten played alongside the greats: The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys; Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys and Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys.

Art Wooten is credited with helping to create some big hits. But you might not realize just how big.

One of the first hits from Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys- and arguably one of the biggest hits ever in the history of country music– was the Orange Blossom Special. Written by Ervin T. Rouse in 1938, it was recorded by Monroe and his band on October 2, 1941 in Atlanta, Georgia.

With Bill Monroe  on vocals and mandolin, Pete Pyle- vocals and guitar, Cousin Wilbur- vocals and bass and Art Wooten singing lead and playing the fiddle.

Listen carefully till the end when Art says, “Yeah Bill, where you gonna get off this train at?”
Bill says, “Yonder ’bout Atlanta, Georgia. Boy where’s you gwine?”
Art says, “I’m goin’ up ’bout Nashville, Tennessee. Where you goin’ Cousin Wilbur?”
Wilbur says, “I’m goin’ to Birmingham, Alabamy!”
Art: “What for?”
Wilbur: “Ain’t no ham like Birmingham!”
Art says, “Pete, Where you gonna get off at?”
Pete says, “Oh, I’m Memphis-bound, boys”

It could be argued that every version since has been a variation of that original session.

In a 1974 interview with country music historian Tom Wolfe, Bill Monroe said:

“Of course, Art Wooten was the first fiddler with me, from Sparta, North Carolina, and I found him in Asheville, got him in my group, come to Nashville. Art was a wonderful old-time fiddler, and he played numbers like the Mule Skinner Blues or Back Up and Push or Orange Blossom Special. The old-time fiddle numbers, he was hard to beat, man.”

 

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