Bill Price

Back when he was in high school, Bill Price used to daydream about playing in a really good bluegrass band. Finally, he got a chance to play for hotshot bluegrass bandleader Jimmy Martin, who right away took an interest in the teen's firm rhythmic guitar style and charismatic presence when delivering one of the genre's typically sentimental songs. Following graduation from high school, Price wound up in what sounded like an excellent trio with Martin and the young J.D. Crowe on banjo, as well as a few other formations before striking out on his own, while Martin went on to his famous and progressive collaboration with the Osborne Brothers. At one point, they followed each other as members of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, Price coming in to replace Martin in 1954. Meanwhile, in a cluttered record store not too far away, Price and a banjo player friend named Bobby Simpson met another guitarist and bluegrass/country singer by the name of Carlos Brock and there was an immediate attraction, Price later recalling that his soon to be bandmate reminded him of Western lawman Matt Dillon. There was no problem launching the new lineup out of what was something of a bustling bluegrass scene in Cincinnati, many of the locals wandering down to wade through piles of new releases at aforementioned record shop of Jimmy Skinner, where pickers had he option of broadcasting from between the record racks.

The Country Pardners were thus born, and while the most powerful musical version of the band was with this original lineup of enthusiastic, talented players on the dawn of a new musical era, the name of the band would eventually be associated only with Price; while the other members became associated with mundane businesses such as insurance and finance companies, playing music part-time or not at all. In its initial reincarnation, the Country Pardners were seen as having so much potential that the group was signed to a contract with RCA records and set to produce with Chet Atkins. A publishing deal was offered by the firm of ever eager Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff. "Why Baby Why," by the then-totally unknown songwriter George Jones, was one of the first tunes pitched at the group as it prepared for its big Nashville sessions; and Price would later recall in an interview that had the group acted a bit faster, it might have scored the hit with the song that Webb Pierce and Red Sovine cashed in on. Unfortunately, the scent of this song was about the closest the Country Pardners got to a hit, although the four songs that were recorded by the group are superb examples of early bluegrass, and indeed have a rare amount of charm.

After a short hiatus, Price recovered from the sucker punch of rock & roll, enlisting new management and winding up with some Opry guest spots. His wife and he began a booking agency in the late '60s, and got a large boost from Bill Monroe when he became a client. Brother Charlie Monroe was also a cash cow muzzling at the bluegrass green for the Price agency in the '70s, by which time the couple was organizing several large-scale bluegrass festivals each year. Mister and missus Price also played music together as well, cutting several albums for Rural Rhythm. Price began appearing under the billing of Bill Price & the Country Pardners, reviving the name of his old group. Price once harbored a dream of reuniting all the old members for one of his bluegrass festivals; and was also offering "five dollars each no matter what shape" for any existing copies of old Country Pardners sides in the mid-'70s, when Rounder reissued some of the group's tracks as part of the label's excellent Early Days of Bluegrass series. He died at home in from liver cancer. Two of his children and his first wife Betty also died of the disease. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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