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Issue: September 1994

Handpicked by Bill Monroe

Gary Brewer, bluegrass bandleader of the Kentucky Ramblers and organizer of the Strictly Bluegrass Festival, offered this story recently about an incident that occurred while he was on tour with Bill Monroe last winter.

"We were out in Branson, Mo., at the Roy Clark Theater. I found myself in the dressing room with just me and Bill Monroe. I was preparing my guitar before the show and he asked me if he could play it. He noticed that it was old, like his mandolin. I play a 1941 Martin herringbone.

"So he heard the sound of that guitar and wanted to play on it, said he had written two instrumental pieces for the guitar. He played these pieces for me, and I pursued on to learning them. For an hour, hour and a half, he sat backstage there and showed me these tunes with intricate detail. They were hard to learn, but not too hard to play. I was intrigued by what was happening. Bill Monroe's hands are so smooth when they move; it was a little bit hard to learn. Finally, he gave me a high-five, and I knew that I had it. Now, I didn't notice this because they came in behind me, but all the Branson press and the theater staff came in, unbeknownst to me. I was too overwhelmed that he was doing these tunes with me. Then he asked if I would like to record those songs.

"I said I sure would.

"Then he asked me if I would like to record those songs with him.

I said I sure would.

Then he said, 'Would y'all buy a copy of the album if this boy's on there?' Then everybody in the room clapped."

Brewer hasn't had the opportunity to record the two songs with Big Mon yet, due to conflicting schedules and Monroe's broken hip and recent bouts of illness. But just the affirmation of Brewer's playing was thrill enough, the young musician said.

Brewer will be performing the two solo guitar pieces -- titled "The Old Kentucky Blues" and "The Ozark Rag" -- at the Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Sept. 8 through 10. See the calendar for details.

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