Re: [Harp-L] Take this bluegrass elite

At 09:24 AM 1/10/2008, Ron wrote:
Charlie (McCoy) recorded with Earl Scruggs later and i doubt if Earl balked at it.

In the 1940's Flatt & Scruggs were of course vitally important in the development of what came to be known as Bluegrass - their years with Bill Monroe created the modern sound in the first place, after all. Until the late 50's acoustical string band music was simply one of the forms of Country Music, as far as the charts and radio were concerned. Bill Monroe himself made some of his worst records with an organ player and electric guitars in the early 50's.hyg

And when the Bluegrass moniker took off as the name of the genre many years later, Flatt & Scruggs were adamant that it never be applied to them commercially.

The fact that they added in Uncle Josh on dobro - a first - and later recorded with Charley McCoy are just two indications that they felt that they didn't feel any great responsibility to ossify what was then a very new form.

Bluegrass was essentially dead commercially by the early 60's when even Bill Monroe had to drop his band. Between the national emergence of Flatt & Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies, and Carlton Haney's invention of the bluegrass festival, the form re-emerged for a much, much larger audience. This enabled a conservative wing to develop, one that said The Form was set and that was that - and a wing that rejected this thinking. It's hard to imagine a more subjective arguement.

Earl Scruggs, second most important innovator of The Form was very much in the camp that said Music Must Grow and Change. Still is.

The greatest result of these opposing ideas is that they both survive, even today. The music HAS grown and changed, beautifully, but one group of players clings to the old form and makes incredible music, too.

When I hung out at the Station Inn in Nashville in the mid 70's, the place was run by conservatives who STILL invited me up to play a set with them every night on harp. Even in the very conservative audience, people just enjoyed the procedings - I entertained them while I was learning what I could learn by sitting in. Even Monroe was very nice to me when he sat in.

So if more than 30 years later an orthodoxy has really hardened on the subject of harmonica playing with bluegrass bands, I say let them play the same licks over and over, on the same tunes. (There's always been the rumor of a thing called The Book that contains all the allowable songs and the licks that must be in them. Marty Stuart's dad Joe was said to have a copy.)

I love the idea that this orthodoxy exists, and think it is highly proper. It reminds me of Japanese ink painting, where the actual compositions were developed centuries earlier and painters spent their entire careers making the same painting over and over, some with genius. It's just another way to make art.

I do not want to play with anyone who doesn't want to play with me. That orthodoxy rolls along and is a whole lot more rigid than it used to be. Those players could not care less if DeFord Bailey played with Bill Monroe. He also carried an accordion player until Flatt and Scruggs came on board. To them, the only history that means anything is the kind they tell themselves. If anyone is dying to play with such people, too bad, they don't want to play with you. I took my dolly and dishes and went home. (Actually, I was never dying to break into that world, I was a guest and I learned alot from those players.)

I also realize that this discussion is not about wanting to play with those cats. It's a discussion that mainly concerns what is and is not bluegrass - again, what could be more subjective. But I would argue that the genre really was named for a very tightly defined form of music back in the late 50's or even later.

It is with great satisfaction, however, that I notice that the term loosened up in spite of all that, that most of what is called Bluegrass today is just modern acoustic music that has been highly influenced by string band music that was fresh 50 years ago.

Heck, on one of my own tunes, Baby I'm All Like Wow, I've adapted Scruggs picking to the guitar --- and then played a harmonica solo over it. Take THAT, Bluegrass Elite!


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