Bluegrass Pioneer Passes Away

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• October 22, 2012

Connie Gately

Bluegrass headliner Connie Gately was laid to rest in Hermitage Memorial Gardens over the weekend.

The lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of Connie & Babe and The Backwoods Boys died on Monday, October 15. He was 83 years old. The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has identified Gately as a “bluegrass pioneer” and selected him for its oral-history program.

Born in St. Louis in 1929, he grew up in Middle Tennessee. Gately attended university at Lipscomb, Memphis State and Peabody, earning a masters degree while playing college baseball.

He formed The Backwoods Boys with guitarist/singer Babe Lofton (1929-1993) around 1952, when it debuted on disc on the Nashville independent label Republic Records. The core of the group also included banjo player Joe Drumright.

Gately and Drumwright served a brief stint as members of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys band in the late 1950s, but maintained their membership in Connie & Babe as well. Gately’s group recorded extensively for Starday Records in the late 1950s.

All of the Backwoods Boys also had careers outside of music. Writer Walt Saunders has speculated that this might be a reason why the group was able to survive for more than 40 years. Gately was in management at Aladdin Industries in Nashville for more than three decades.

Following a long hiatus from the studio, Connie & Babe and The Backwoods Boys resumed recording in 1992. Rounder Records issued the group’s comeback CD, Down the Road to Home, in 1995.

Among the band’s noteworthy performances were “Toil, Tears and Trouble,” “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” “Lonely Years,” “How Will the Flowers Bloom,” “Roll On Blues” and “Grave on the Rolling Hillside.” All of these were composed by Gately. His “Home Is Where the Heart Is” was later recorded by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman.

Gately’s son Fred Gately and Drumwright’s son Jody Drumwright have reportedly continued the group as Sons of the Backwoods.

Connie Gately is survived by his wife Bernita, son Fred and daughters Connie and Carol, as well as grandchildren, great grandchildren, step-children and step-grandchildren. Services at the Hermitage Funeral Home and the burial were held on Saturday, October 20.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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