Back in 1975 Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys did a tour of the UK which included a radio broadcast for the BBC. After introducing the Blue Grass Boys, Bill announced, "We're gonna call on Ralph Lewis for the first song here. It's entitled Roustabout."

It's not surprising that after that broadcast many UK bands started performing Roustabout, and it's been in the British jam session repertoire ever since. I believe the song was originally recorded by Flatt and Scruggs in one of their later sessions, and Bill Monroe never put it on to disc. Nevertheless, I think it was Bill's version which popularised Roustabout in the UK.

The Monroe broadcast version was in B, and Bill didn't take a mandolin break - in fact, somewhat unusually he didn't sing either, leaving his guitarist and lead singer Ralph Lewis to do the vocals solo throughout.

In Monroe's Revenge we do Roustabout in the key of A and we share out the breaks between banjo, guitar and mandolin, following the chord sequence of the chorus ("Well I make my home on the Mississippi, I'm a roustabout on a steamboat line ...."). This means starting the break on the subdominant (IV) chord of D in the key of A.

The break below contains a miscellany of licks which seem to work for me. In the tremolo section I play what is effectively a triplet tremolo: three notes for the price of two. The speed of the MusEdit MIDI playback of the tremolo section is way over the top! Just try and cram in as many notes as you can. It is worth cultivating a tremolo effect in faster numbers, which can add additional pizzazz to your playing. John Duffey used this device quite a lot.

The alternative final four bars end the break on a more bluesy flourish. I'm sure you'll find your own variations to Roustabout. When you start playing things differently it's a sign that your own creative processes are taking over!

Play Roustabout quite fast, e.g. half note = 132.


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