Bill Monroe is known as the Father of Bluegrass because he influenced every bluegrass musician who came after him.
But even Monroe had his influences, and perhaps none greater than James Pendleton Vandiver. Vandiver was Monroe’s uncle, a fiddler who kept things lively at the square dances around their hometown of Rosine, Ky. A young Monroe would often back up his Uncle Pen on mandolin.
Vandiver died in 1932, after Monroe had left Kentucky to work with his brothers in the oil refineries of Indiana. Monroe’s musical career took off during the 1930s, and he wrote the song in honor of the uncle who taught him his musical chops, but didn’t live long enough to see his success.
Ricky Skaggs took “Uncle Pen” to No. 1 on the country charts in 1984, and it has become the go-to number for him and Kentucky Thunder whenever they need to bring the house down.
“Uncle Pen” is almost always played at a fast tempo, so be ready for some quick chord changes at the end of each couplet. And don’t forget—as soon as you hit the name “Pen” on the third line of each chorus, the music stops and it’s just vocals. Ideally, some tight harmony until the end of the chorus, followed by the fattest G-run you can manage.
“Uncle Pen” lyrics and chords
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