Bobby Simpson

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Bluegrass music, pure at heart and as clean as the driven snow across the Appalachian trail, that is during the few times a year when it does snow. Reality check: there's pollution in the mountains around…
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Bluegrass music, pure at heart and as clean as the driven snow across the Appalachian trail, that is during the few times a year when it does snow. Reality check: there's pollution in the mountains around Asheville, and some bluegrass pickers get in legal trouble. The bail bondsman of choice in such a situation was, for a long time, banjo picker Bobby Simpson, a former member of the Country Pardners, an Ohio trio which was loved dearly up until the point when one of its member ran off with Uncle Sam and rock & roll music arrived in the form of Elvis Presley and his shaking hips. This situation caused some of the band's members to flee the music business, this banjoist among them. He wound up relocating to Mineral Spring, NC, a small superb of Charlotte that in ensuing years would be swallowed up by that city's expanding city limits like a bug in a Venus fly trap. That's where he started up the Stewart-Simpson bonding business, no doubt looking at the transition from rural to big city life as good for business; i.e., the more criminals, the more work for bondsmen. "I'll try not to let them put you in jail," was his greeting for former musical associates he ran into over the years, while a new generation of bluegrass enthusiasts discovered his superb banjo style when Rounder reissued the group's wonderful recording of "Another Old Dog in the Race" on the second volume of the label's The Early Days of Bluegrass series.

Simpson's days in the group began as a result of his relationship with Bill Price, another Ohio musician who had as a teenager been taken under the wing of bluegrass star Jimmy Martin. Price began playing with Simpson fresh after an association with J.D. Crowe, also no more than 16 years old at the time. These young bluegrass upstarts were part of a crowd that hung out at a record store run by Jimmy Skinner. The latter picker and businessman was also broadcasting live right out of this shop, making it easy for players to put together new units. Few were received with as much enthusiasm as the banjoist's new collaboration with Price and Carlos Brock, a former Bill Monroe, Red Allen, and Sonny Osborne collaborator whom they had met at Skinner's place. The combination of the two front men was superb, each having as much charisma as some of the most popular Western movie stars of the day, and the chisel-hard tone of Simpson's banjo playing gave the music the bracing freshness of an early spring tumble into the French Broad river. Simpson found the band was being chased by RCA Records, which offered a contract and the services of producer Chet Atkins. The publishing firm of Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff had a deal in the works as well.

While still warming up for the upcoming RCA sessions, the band was offered a new song by a new country songwriter. The song was "Why Baby Why," the songwriter George Jones. Unfortunately, the scent of this song was about the closest the Country Pardners got to a hit; since by the time they got together with producer Atkins to cut, he had the sad burden of informing the group that it had been beaten to the question by both Red Sovine and Webb Pierce, both of whom had versions of "Why Baby Why" ready to be released. Perhaps if the group had moved a little quicker, Simpson might have become as well known a banjo stylist as Earl Scruggs, and would never have had to go into bonding business. But perhaps Simpson did a greater service to the bluegrass genre by keeping some of its denizens out of the slammer.