In the end, the Sunday Silence CD project, much like the lives of Arthur
Hancock and Peter Rowan, is about destiny.
In 1965, when Hancock was a senior at Vanderbilt, he stopped by a Nashville
restaurant for dinner. What he got that evening was an epiphany that would
forever influence his love of music.
The sidemen from Bill Monroe's band broke into "Footprints in the Snow" and
when Arthur heard the richness of Rowan's high tenor he was moved in ways that
bordered on the spiritual. Hancock loved bluegrass--he thought he knew the work
of Bill Monroe--but as he listened to Rowan do "Dark Hollow" and "A Good Woman's
Love," he thought to himself, "I've never heard music as powerful as this before."
Peter Rowan was a Boston native who had attended Colgate University. Like
other key Monroe sidemen (the accomplished violinist Richard Greene and banjoist
Bill Keith), he was urban and educated, and utterly devoted to the musical sound
of Bill Monroe.
Years later Rowan would tell Rolling Stone that he could not be in
Monroe's presence without experiencing a sense of awečand fear. "If you really
wanted to tune into him, you faced that fire that was in him, and it would
burn," Rowan explained. "But it would also light your fire."
Arthur Hancock's reaction to the music was by no means unique. In truth,
these young musicians were translating Monroe's sound to new audiences that
would vastly expand the appreciation for this magnificent musical genre.
Hancock introduced himself to Rowan that evening and told him of his love
for the music. In the months that followed he often picked with Rowan, and
they became friends.
The two saw Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones on their first tour of the
states. They spent hours outside an African-American church in rural
Tennessee soaking up the musical sounds that were, in fact, a significant
source for Monroe's spirituals. They pondered what life held in store,
Arthur confiding to Rowan that he was uncertain as to what path to choose in
life, music or the family business of raising Thoroughbreds.
In time, Arthur graduated and moved to New York and an apprenticeship with
trainer Eddie Neloy at Belmont Park. He worked in close contact with many
great horses including Buckpasser, and while never relinquishing his love
for bluegrass music, he was acquiring the knowledge that would lead him to
the life of a horseman and breeder.
Rowan moved on to form Earth Opera with bluegrass musician turned jazzman
David Grisman. Later Rowan joined Richard Greene and the rock band Sea Train
and developed quite a following as a rock musician.
But his roots in bluegrass would not let go. In the early 1970's Rowan got together
with Grisman (mandolin) and the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia (banjo) to produce
"Old and In the Way" - arguably one of the four or five most influential albums in
the history of bluegrass. Without question, his "Walls of Time" which he authored
with Monroe is a classic which ranks with the most important bluegrass songs ever
written. He has had a distinguished career, recording numerous CDs. Many believe
that as a songwriter and performer his best is yet to come.
In the years which followed, Arthur Hancock likewise achieved success in his
field, developing a wonderful reputation for breeding top quality
Thoroughbred horses, but not through the course that had been preordained.
Arthur left the family farm, went out on his own, and founded Stone Farm.
The year was 1989 and two-year-old champion Easy Goer was regarded by most
as the second coming of Man O' War. He was regally bred, the result of
crossing the finest bloodstock in the world.
Arthur Hancock had a Kentucky Derby contender that year, but virtually no one
placed Sunday Silence in anything like the Easy Goer category in terms of breeding
and physical prowess. In a series of some of the most extraordinary races of the
century, Sunday Silence won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Breeders's
Cup - and became one of the most incredible Cinderella stories of our time. Later
he would be sold to Japan, and today he is the leading stallion in the world.
Sunday Silence was considered by Hancock as a gift from God. The horse
delivered Hancock from the bondage of debt, and at the same time entitled
him to take a seat alongside other respected members of the industry.
In the mid-1990's, Hancock noted that Rowan was playing a major bluegrass
festival not more than an hour from Stone Farm. That afternoon, Arthur took
his young son to the Rowan performance, finding seats just ten rows from the
In the midst of his first set, Rowan took note of the tall, serious gentleman
so intently following his performance. For the life of him, he could not
place that face. Then Arthur Hancock noted Peter Rowan nodding in
recognition of his friend of so many years ago.The next day Rowan visited Stone Farm.
He saw Hancock's Kentucky Derby trophies. The two men told stories from their
lives - and reveled in the success each had enjoyed.
Finally, Arthur Hancock told Rowan that for years he also had been writing
songs. He had done one in honor of Sunday Silence. Would Peter care to hear
it? He retrieved his guitar and began to play:
When all the dreams I dream do not come true|
And the friends I have turn out to be so few
When it seems the world is closing in on me
Sunday Silence soothes my soul and sets me free.
Rowan's response was as immediate as it was insistent, just as mine had been a
few years before when my friend Arthur Hancock first sang and played
Sunday Silence by phone as I sat in my office at Reader's Digest.
"Arthur, you've got to record this song and the others," Rowan said. A
broad smile crossed his face as his voice reflected the cadence of Bill
Monroe. "I'll hep ye!"
And help he did. Pete assembled a remarkable team of bluegrass musicians to
back Arthur on this CD. Sam Bush. Jerry Douglas. Stuart Duncan. Bryan
Sutton. Mark Fain. And the great banjoist J. D. Crowe with whom Arthur had
played many years ago.
This CD has everything to do with the bluegrass sound Arthur first heard in
that Nashville restaurant thirty-five years ago. Like Peter Rowan said as he
and Arthur first spoke about this project, "Bud, things go full circle in
life." This music is a reflection of the destiny that has blessed us all.
Kenneth Y. Tomlinson|
former editor-in-chief, Reader's Digest,
and director of The Voice of America.