Re: [Harp-L] Bill Monroe and the Dirt Band
At 07:21 PM 1/10/2008, Dennis wrote:
Bill was also asked to asked to join, but turned down the offer, saying
something like, "Not traditional enough."
Could the reason for this statement was because one of The Dirt Band
members, Jeff Hannah was playing harmonica?
First of all, for all its star power, Circle would not have been called a
Bluegrass collection by the purists back then. No way. Not that the
Bluegrass musicians who participated weren't delighted with the career
opportunities it opened up.
I think by that point Monroe was protecting his legacy. There was a time in
the early 60's when he may well have doubted there was a legacy in the
first place. He was a professional musician and businessman who had at one
time carried an entire show on the road including comedians and novelty
acts. Now, in his late 40's he was reduced to playing as a single and
making very short money. When Ralph Rinzler revived his career I think
they realized that the smart positioning was "Inventor Of Bluegrass," and
Bluegrass really meant 5 piece stringband with what was now 'traditional'
Alot of the early Bluegrass guys were somewhat PO'd at him for taking all
the credit. I seem to remember an interview with Sonny Osborne back then
where he was crediting all kinds of elements to people other than Big Mon.
I don't think anyone would have taken his central role in the creation of
this music away from him. But he had begun to take himself extremely
seriously by the late 60's and by the time of the Dirt Band recording
anything but the standard 5 piece bluegrass band was not traditional
enough. He said during that time that the only instrument that was not
absolutely essential to the lineup of a bluegrass band was the banjo. That
raised alot of eyebrows.
In any case, ANYTHING can become a tradition down South. I have heard guys
say "I drive a pickup truck because my daddy drove one," and gotten the
distinct impression that he thought his forebears drove pickup trucks all
the way back to Adam and Eve.
Trying to analyze a genius like Monroe lands you in a hall of mirrors. He
did, after all, put synth on one of his final recordings. Like I say, he
was extremely kind to me when I played with him, gave me solo space and a
kind look. I think I played with him twice. I was expecting a fascist
Pope and instead he was a pleasant, stiff, country man who presented a
somewhat kindly front. He knew he was regarded with awe in his world, why
So my guess is that he didn't want to be lumped in with the other very
legitimate stars of Bluegrass on the Dirt Band record - kings don't hang
that way. At a Bluegrass festival, sure, but not on a record by what he
must have regarded as a johnny-come-lately rock band.
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