Bill Monroe was a prolific composer of both songs and tunes, especially later in his life when he was rumored to have written nearly a tune a day. With no way to possibly record this many tunes, he often tried to get other musicians to record them. Bill pitched one of these tunes, “Ozark Rag,” to nearly every guitarist he met. Bill can be seen trying to get legendary guitarist Redd Volkaert interested in the Ozark Rag by playing it on Redd’s pink paisley telecaster in a video that makes the rounds on social media every few years.
The tune was finally recorded in 1987 by a young guitarist from Alabama named Glenda Faye. Faye was a member of Porter Wagoner’s “all-girl” band called the Right Combination. Faye was an excellent, clean-playing flatpicking guitarist and Porter agreed to produce an album for her. The album band consisted of Vassar Clements (fiddle), Jesse McReynolds (mandolin), Bobby Thompson (banjo), Roy Huskey Jr. (bass), and Nancy Givens (snare). Bill Monroe sat in on mandolin for the songs “Down Yonder” and “Ozark Rag.” Flatpickin’ Favorites (FF 432) was released by Flying Fish in 1987 and was recently re-released by Rounder, making it currently available on Spotify and YouTube.
Like many of Bill’s tunes the origins of this one are uncertain. Whether this is another old tune that Bill slightly misremembered (there is a not-particularly-similar tune called “Ozark Rag” recorded by the East Texas Serenaders in 1930) or a tune that he happened to write on the guitar while on tour in Missouri is hard to say. But considering the number of times I’ve doubted Monroe’s writing and have subsequently been proven wrong, I’m inclined to believe he wrote it.
“Ozark Rag” has been recorded a few more times since then, including by Gary Brewer in 1994 for Copper Creek Records during another session on which Bill himself sat in. There is also a video of Bill playing “Ozark Rag” onstage with an acoustic guitar was recently uploaded to YouTube. And Mike Bub can be seen playing bass at the party with the pink telecaster, and he talks about the event and tells some other great Monroe stories on an episode of Otis Gibbs’ Thanks for Giving a Damn podcast.
Here’s a video I took many months ago near the mule driven carousel at the (very cool) Ozark Folk Center during the bluegrass festival in Mountain View, Arkansas. I know it’s been a few months since I’ve contributed anything to this blog and I thank you for your patience. I recently moved to Nashville and have been doing things like buying a bed and figuring out how to pay my electric bill.
Learn Monroe-Style Mandolin with Mike Compton on Peghead Nation!
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