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' instrumentation.

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 push it?

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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