It’s Opry Time

Matt & George and their Pleasant Valley Boys

It's Opry Time!

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We think of “It’s Opry Time” as a unique recording in that, rather than a collection of new songs (or even old songs done in a new way), it’s basically a tribute recording. To that end, we purposely did not try to “clean up” our performances. In fact, the only “perfecting” we did was trying to make the songs as perfectly close to the originals (those by Bill Monroe’s seminal band with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs of the late 1940’s) as was reasonable under the circumstances … even to the point of including the mistakes present on the original recordings we used as models! In a way, this recording was a lesson to us (and perhaps to some listeners) in what the first, and thus most “traditional”, bluegrass music was like.

The liner notes to the CD start to describe what was behind this recording, but here we can go into more detail than the CD cover space allowed, and we can show related pictures and even play related videos!

So here we go, track by track!

CD Liner Notes


“Daring!” Someone said that what we’ve attempted with this recording is daring. After all, there has probably not been a studio release in the last four or five score that contains recordings capturing an entire five piece band playing and singing all at the same time, in the same room, into the same single microphone. Even most “live” recordings nowadays include overdubs, fixes, etc. It has come to be accepted, and even expected. Not so with this recording.

Of course, overdubbing, etc. was never done in the “olden days” of blue grass (back only 6 decades ago, when this music was originated). It wasn’t even possible. But what’s the connection?

Arising from our “Tuesday night wine party” gripe sessions about the increasing prevalence of untraditional bluegrass, we (George and Matt) inevitably decided to take it all the way and form a band that must be as traditional as possible. This of course, if taken to the extreme, must mean imitating as closely as possible Bill Monroe’s band with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (as well as Chubby Wise, Howard Watts, Birch Monroe and others) of the mid-late 1940s. Well, try to imitate them we did; heck, we even tried to copy their mistakes! So, every song you hear here is one that the blue grass band performed back in the day, whether on a commercial release, alternate take, or live bootleg. Some of the latter that we found are extremely rare and the quality is barely decipherable. And some were available only at inaccurate speeds due to faulty old technology, so we had speed them up or slow them down to the tempos at which they were actually performed. But all the tunes found on this recording were done by the band during the period; that is to say Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, between 1945-’48.

It’s been incredibly educational (not to mention really fun!) studying the original blue grass band. As it turns out, we learned an amazing amount about this music from our newfound, and sometimes relentless, dedication to the original blue grass band. It was surprisingly difficult, and refreshing, to unlearn what we thought were “traditional bluegrass” habits, and follow cultishly the lessons of the playing and singing of the band. For example: Bill didn’t chop much at all. Howard and Birch’s string bass parts walked more than they didn’t. Heck, it wasn’t even called “bluegrass music” yet! And the (surprisingly complex) trios, with their non-standard parts, were rare, although quartets (also different from current formulae) were fairly common. Nowadays it’s very unusual to have only the mandolin and fiddle trade solos, without including the banjo, or (God forbid) the guitar. But this is how the band often did it. Thanks, Bill and Boys, for these lessons. We will never forget them, and we hope everyone else never does either.

Luckily, we were able to find some nearby and willing co-conspirators. Jenny Lynn, with her authentic, and now-rare, thumbpick style, and Jim with his raw and natural “Chubby” style, were obvious choices. And although “Cousin” Mark came from a different musical world (punk, jazz and alt-country), this very background actually helped him avoid today’s oft-misguided “bluegrass” bass style.

As regards this compilation, we had near-fatal misgivings about releasing these recordings in the Compact Disc format. Of course there is the issue that nowadays most people buy (or “share”) online downloads rather than CDs. But in the case of the Pleasant Valley Boys, since we’ve tried as hard as possible to do things “the 1947 way”, we really would have preferred to put these recordings out two-at-a-time on 78 or 45 rpm records. We did, in-fact, release one such 78 rpm single previously, and seriously considered packaging a few of the new recordings up into an “album” of a dozen or so songs, just as they did back in the day. But alas, today’s reality just seems to require some type of digital release. So here ya go!

We really hope you appreciate it, with all its imperfection, as it was intended. Long live real bluegrass! Matt and George

Track List

  1. Introduction (Pleasant Valley Music Theme/Cumberland Gap) (0:51)

    Matt wrote the Pleasant Valley Music Theme with help from Jenny Lynn and his sons MacRae and Matthew while on a car trip somewhere. The idea was simply to make a theme for their retail business. The original version (heard when you go to has “DOT COM” yelled (by these four) where you hear “uh uh” and “yes sir” here. Obviously, there was no such thing as “.com” back in the day, so we subbed in the new “words”.

    The version of Cumberland Gap we used as a model is a bootleg live recording from 1947 that we got from a friend. It sounded at 170 bpm, but we think it got sped up along the way (probably recorded too slow), since it sounds in G# (but is normally played in G).

  2. Heavy Traffic Ahead (Monroe) (2:59)

    We released this one as part of an honest-to-goodness 78 rpm single. What you hear here is that same performance, minus the retro equalization. Our model was the first take of the first song the Monroe/Flatt/Scruggs band ever recorded in the studio. They weren’t warmed up yet, so it was slow, Bill forgot/repeated a verse, etc.

  3. Blue Grass Special (Monroe) (3:04)

    We incorporated parts of the original version from the pre-Lester & Earl period into the live bootleg model from our primary source, a bootleg entitled “Bluegrass Classics Radio Shows 1946-1948”.

  4. Blue Moon of Kentucky (Monroe) (3:11)

    Elvis recorded an up-tempo version in July of 1954 as the B-side of his first single. In response, Bill’s September, 1954 version included both waltz time and 2/4 timing. Our version, of course, mimics the original beautifully simple original waltz all the way through.

  5. True Life Blues (Pyle) (2:59)

    Live, now with Lester, Bill bumped this one up to the key of C from A, where he had recorded it earlier with guitarist Tex Willis.

  6. Shortnin’ Bread (traditional) (0:57)

    Our model comes from our friend’s rare live bootleg and features Earl at lightning speed. Bill, with his brother Charlie, introduced tempos like this in 1936 on songs that some initially assumed were mistakenly being played back on the wrong record player setting.

  7. Summertime Is Past And Gone (Monroe) (3:32)

    This one requires an unusually dexterous harmony part, half below the melody – half above. Our arrangement follows a live version, where Bill sings the bridges and someone forgot to go to the vocal bridge after the first fiddle break. We also, of course, referenced the studio versions from 1947 where Lester sings the bridges. It’s interesting to note that Howard did not stop playing when singing, as he did on “I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling”, despite having to sing an equally complex part-baritone/part-tenor, “rangy” vocal part.

  8. Little Joe (Carter) (2:10)

    All banjo, all the time! Bill made a point to have only the banjo solo on certain songs. Nowadays fiddlers and mandolinists don’t tolerate that kind of arrangement. But “nowadays” is not how the Pleasant Valley Boys roll! Our model is from the “Bluegrass Classics” bootleg. Bill sang this throughout this career, including back earlier with his brother, and usually included more verses (perhaps they’d used up their short Purina Opry timeslot?).

  9. Band Member Introductions (1:26)

    George scripted this portion, forcing a normally shy Mark to tell the joke, which we lifted from master bluegrass comedian/fiddler Paul Shelasky.

  10. I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling (Monroe) (3:08)

    The B-side of our 78. Bill had trouble making it through the lyrics on this one. “The band” only recorded this once . It took us a while to get “Cousin” Mark to stop playing in the choruses. Too weird!

  11. Dear Old Dixie (traditional) (3:10)

    Bill’s transient version of the tune with which Earl auditioned for the Blue Grass Boys. As opposed to the more sophisticated 1952 banjo version from the Foggy Mountain Boys, here Bill makes it into a mandolin number, and omits the III chord. It took us a while to figure out that these are the same tune. By the way, Mark is a HOSS!

  12. The Shining Path (Monroe) (2:49)

    Bill’s pride and joy was The Blue Grass Quartet. This kind of singing is unusually complex and difficult, even by today’s standards. Our model is a live version from “Bluegrass Classics”,, with slowdowns. Lester probably had a cold, as his voice broke in the second verse, and he coughs. “Baritone” and “bass” vocal roles were not yet established and you hear parts crossing throughout.

  13. The Weary Traveler (Carlisle/Gregory) (2:27)

    Although Bill didn’t record this one in the studio until 1975, the Stanley Brothers did in 1948. Back then they listened closely to Bill’s Opry performances, doing covers days or weeks later. In one case they recorded one before Bill did! There are several other similar songs out there you could google, such as by the Johnson Mountain Boys, Stanley Brothers, and Bill himself …

  14. Love Gone Cold (Bond) (2:24)

    Lester must have enjoyed singing this contemporary Johnny Bond hit, for there are a couple of different live versions available from his short tenure with Bill. But we can find no studio versions from this period. We had two bootleg live versions to refer to. The one from “Bluegrass Classics” , which sounds in Bb, is entitled “Love Grown Cold”. Other versions out there are, rather, “Love Gone Cold”, which seems to be correct. The other version , although sounding in Bb, was probably performed in A, judging from Bill’s solo style. A lot of people nowadays copy Red Allen’s version but, although excellent, it’s quite a bit different arrangement.

  15. Pleasant Valley Music Theme (Dudman) (1:04)

    The slightly extended version of the Pleasant Valley Music Theme we use to close out our show features one last taste of George Goodell’s fancy banjo.

  16. Dixie / Home Sweet Home (traditional) (1:44)

    T. Tyce Tennessee

    T. Tyce Tennessee MCs our recording.

    The “Goose Chase String Band” is, of course, the Pleasant Valley Boys posing as a house band. I’ve always felt that my dad has a good radio voice and I wanted to include him on something that comes out of my studio. I’m very proud of his work on this recording, and his monologue at the end especially captures his special, warm, easy going nature. That’s him doing the voiceover work on the original Theme, as well! Close listeners will note that a twin fiddle plays on “Home Sweet Home”, constituting the only exception to our “no overdubs” policy on this recording.


Pleasant Valley Boys Record

Matt & George and their Pleasant Valley Boys from left to right: “Fiddlin’” Jim Allison, George Goodell, Mark “Cousin Rainwater” Eagleton, Matt Dudman, Jennie Lynn Williams

Matt Dudman (mandolin and lead vocals), George Goodell (banjo and harmony vocals), Jenny Lynn (thumbpick guitar and harmony vocals), “Fiddlin’” Jim Allison (fiddle and harmony vocal on quartet), Mark “Cousin Rainwater” Eagleton (gut string bass). Lew “T. Tyce Tennessee” Dudman (announcer). Special thanks to Loran Kelley who stopped by while we were recording and added some “uh huhs” and “yessirs” on the Themes with T. Tyce.

Recorded live by the whole band, all at once, in the same room, into a single (1939 RCA-44BX) microphone, without overdubs, in glorious monaural sound, wittingly contrary to contemporary practice, like it or not.

Engineered and produced by Matt & George at Squirty Records Studios. Website by Mark Eagleton.

It’s Opry Time! © Copyright SR-018, © (p) 2011 Pleasant Valley Publishing