[Harp-L] BLUEgrass

This exchange between mysellf and David Naiditch  was accidentally offlist, but I thought it might be worth reposting:

I bite my tongue on this subject usually.
Just stop calling it 'Bluegrass'. 
Bluegrass is just a stylised version of old time Appalachian string
band music, as you all well know. 
It is defined by the smoother rhythm, particularly the three finger
roll on the banjo as opposed to the clunkier clawhammer style. The
persistent inclusion of the bass is important too, I think (there are a few
people out there who might be able to describe the identifying features beter
than I perhaps)
'Blugrass' is a style of American string band music defined,
particularly the lineup, and harmonica ain't included.
I like Bluegrass, and I like harp; but I don't think it works in a
standard Bluegrass lineup. 
Yes, McCoy did a pretty good job with Watson, Flatt and Scruggs - was
there a fiddle in there? I forget. Generally, it's a case of
'tits-on-a-bull', particularly if there's a fiddle in there. And
anyhow, a harp simply cannot  replace a fiddle, particularly on traditional
fiddle tunes.
You cannot play a tune like, say, Gray Eagle, with the dynamism  of a
Some tunes work, but most just don't, and even when the playing is
good, it usually just sounds 'clever' (or, as Joyce > Blugrass has become a folk museum relic anyhow. In 'the day', forties
and fifties, it was alive and developing, like all American music allways has. Now it is ossified, like retro Rockabilly, Chicago blues and 40s/50s style R'n'B bands that cater fro the swing dance craze.
The fiddle tunes probably work best on the chrom, but it takes the music
in an entirely different direction.
On the diatonic, it often sounds like just too much hard work, like
'Flight of the Bumble Bee' played on tuba.
Was it the Boiled Buzzards? I think, that were/are an old timey string
band that features harp instead of a fiddle; a step in the right
Check out the antecedents: Humphrey Bate's Possum Hunters; Herman
Crook's string band.
The bloke who recently posted some stuff on chrom with a Bluegrass
lineup is a lovely player, and I enoyed it very much.
I don't think, however, that instument goes well in a BG lineup; I'd
rather hear the same tunes done with, say, piano, guitar and bass.
With rare exceptions the BG crowd dislike harp, so you'd better get
used to it. Try creating yor own style, and:
"Stop Calling It Blue-bloody-grass"!!
Note that the harp lends itself much more to Irish music; it's to do
with the rhythm, for one, and the whole feel of the music. I'd be
interested in what Brendan Power has to say on this subject, but being
a career harpist, he may be better off keeping shtum.
Glad I got that off my chest!

David Naiditch <davidnaiditch@xxxxxxxxxxx> 21/01/11 2:27 PM >>>
Hi Rick,

Think you intended to send this to the Harp-L thread, or did you really
want to respond to me offline?  This is far too good not to send to
Harp-L.  Finally somebody who really knows what they are talking about. 
I'm the "bloke who recently posted some stuff on chrom with a Bluegrass
lineup."  I've got no delusions that what I'm doing will ever really
catch on, but I'm encouraged by the many invitations I get to attend
bluegrass jams and play on stage.  I was given an extremely warm
welcome, for instance, at the recent 48-hour Bakersfield bluegrass jam
mostly attended by SWBA and CBA folks.  Was often told I'm the only
harmonica player they really welcome and want to play with.  And if
playing chrom in bluegrass is odd, my favorite music to play is gypsy
jazz and country swing!

--David Naiditch

David Naiditch <davidnaiditch@xxxxxxxxxxx> 21/01/11 1:02 PM >>>

On Jan 21, 2011, at 2:28 AM, Rick Dempster wrote:

Dangit! Yes, David, I did mean to CC it to harp-l. I thnk your chrom
harp stuff is great. I'm also now pleased to hear that the BG dudes over
your way are willing to have you on board; generally, at least over
here, in Australia, they are not wanted. I think the playing of trad
American rural music on the harp is fine, but I think the music itself
needs to be open to change, and I mean change from the string players
themselves (and, by the way, I don't necessarily mean playing John
Coltrane tunes on the banjo like Tony Trischka et al - not there's
anything wrong with that, if that's what you want to do I guess)
I would like to hear your chrom style in a setting more like the Texas
compeition fiddle style, with sock-chord guitar, piano and bass; a
little slower than BG, and more 'decorative', sylistically. I lke the
'parlour' style of some of the old string bands, where I think harp
would do well. Also, I notice some fiddle tunes lend themselves to harp
far better than others; particularly the 'hornpipe' style, and tunes
like Arkansas Traveller, rather than the more black-sounding tunes like
Sally Johnson, which seem to me to be less Anglo-Celt, and more Afro.
Probably talking some crap here; need to think a bit more about it.
There was an old Australian diatonic harp player back in the 20s & 30s (
P.C. 'Percy' Spouse) who played stuff like 'Fishers Hornpipe', in 1st
Pos. natch.
I only have it on vinyl, but if I can get around to making an mp3, I'll
send it to you. He was an absolute bloody gem.
I messed with fiddle tunes for a long time on the diatonic, and a bit on
the chrom (do you know 'Witch of the Wave'?)
But it seems like a lot of hard work, at least on the chrom, and sounds
so darned easy on the fiddle.
Thanks for being so open minded about my loud mouth! 
David Naiditch <davidnaiditch@xxxxxxxxxxx> 21/01/11 2:27 PM >>>

David Naiditch <davidnaiditch@xxxxxxxxxxx> 21/01/11 2:27 PM >>>

I forgot you're from the land of vegemite. Do you ever run into Tony Eyers?

Never heard "Witch of the Wave."  

Just to be clear, like in Australia, bluegrass harmonica players are as welcome at bluegrass festivals as the mosquitoes that come out to feast.   When I attend festivals where folks don't know me, I need be aggressive and not get passed over as folks take breaks.  But after proving myself, I almost always become "one of the boys."

Feel free to forward our exchange to Harp-L.

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