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The Anniversary !

The man who was the biggest influence on my Musical life, the great Bill Monroe, died on September the 9th in 1996, and co-incandescently, was born in the same Month, and that was on September the 14th in 1911. In his 80+ years, Monroe, almost singlehandly formed/created/developed the Music we now call Bluegrass. He recorded over a hundred Albums, wrote Songs and Tunes which are still played today, and passed well over 500 players and singers through his Band, the Bluegrass Boys, named for his home State of Kentucky.

I was first introduced to the Music of Bill Monroe in 1959, when I was fifteen, by Fran O'Donnell, a neighbour in Kenilworth Park in Dublin, who had returned from school in England with a huge collection of Country Music of all genres, including the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams and Bill Monroe. Fran's Brother, [ the late ] Al O'Donnel, had also been at school in England, and had been exposed to Music in the Folk Clubs there, and he had also returned to Dublin, armed with an array of exotic stringed instruments, including Guitars, a Bnjo and a Mandolin. It was this heady mix of great Country Music on Vinyl, and these wonderful instruments that set me firmly on the path to destruction, [Joking ! ] that I still follow today, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to these two Brothers ,,,,

That first exposure to Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys had a hair-raising, and life-changing effect on the young Toner. I was, at that time, listening mainly to the Pop/Rock Music of the day, as was available on Radio Luxembourg, and I was soaking up the sounds of Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Lonnie Donegan, but Monroe turned my head, and made me realise that the Music he was playing and composing was rooted deeply in tradition, and formed the bedrock on which most popular Music was based, and so, I was besotted with the 'roots' aspect of everything I heard, and that's one of the reasons I am still so comfortable playing these instruments, Guitar, Banjo and Mandolin, and writing and playing Songs with Traditional roots and values. My Radio Show, ROOTS FREEWAY, feels so natural to me, it's just like being at home playing that same stuff for friends ...

It's all thanks to Bill Monroe, and these days, with the internet and the google machine, it is now so much easier to find what used to be obscure, there's no excuse not to look up this great Music ! Say Niall sent ya .............

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