Re: [Harp-L] History of Bluegrass Harmonica
*<quote> So what do you call 'Bluegrass' then? *Music. :-)
I'm sorry, Rick. All I can do is smile. I know your pain, and it isn't
limited to bluegrass. You have to look beyond it and find the folks who
aren't that way. Quite frankly, I have been lectured more than once by
old-time players, who are very particular about what is and isn't
"old-time" "stringband" music. Bluegrass certainly has plenty of "those"
folks, but so does classical, blues, jazz, old-time, etc. Do your best to
find some musicians that you can enjoy and enjoy them, in whatever music
genres you wish to play.
When you get all caught up in the 'definitions', then you will find that
you 'cannot see the forest for all of the trees". Bill Monroe is the
Father of Bluegrass. He played waltzes. He played ballads. He played
breakdowns. He played tunes that were also found in jazz and blues and
country. He put his name on rewritten versions of songs that were written
long before he was born and they became bluegrass, sometimes by not
changing them much at all. He played gospel. He sang accapella. He did
instrumentals. He did whatever it took to keep the public coming in and
paying for the privilege. Bill Monroe was a businessman who made playing
music his business. As a result, he was innovative until he found what he
was after, then he continued to innovate with little tweaks here and there
to make it even better. All of the older music can be found in the
"proto-bluegrass" era, sometimes not very different from when Bill played
it as bluegrass. Not all stringbands played in unison, so even that idea
was not strictly Bill's. But he was the man who made it shine and pushed
hard to make it work, even after his musicians had left and he had to start
all over again, and again. Had he not, then someone else would have been
naming the music -- perhaps Flatt and Scruggs.
Bluegrass is a lot of things and it has a lot of sounds and a preferred
instrumentation. It is finally up to the listener as to what they want to
call it. Quite frankly, I have seen people hear a bluegrass band and like
them so much that they hired them for an event, only to fire them shortly
later, once they found out that the music being played was called
bluegrass. They that had enjoyed the music could not rectify what they had
heard with what they thought bluegrass was -- that out-of-tune, whiny,
hillbilly stereotype that was attached to the music ever so long ago. If
such definitions really meant something, then there would be clear cut
lines, and there aren't any, making it possible for a bluegrass band to be
hired for sounding great and fired an hour later because of someone's
belief in a stereotype.
The bluegrass icons we revere (Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, etc.) gave a
character to the music that we seek to present today. We think it is all
in the music, but it is really in the musician. What is most often
forgotten is how they got there. Their experimentation and innovation and
fun and love of music, etc., was as much a part of the music they played as
they were -- because it is who they were. If not for their desire to
present their music well, to please paying audiences, and to be successful
in their musical lives, they would not have tried what they tried or done
what they had done and some things would not be as they are today. Flatt
and Scruggs gave us the dobro in the hands of Uncle Josh. It was an
experiment that worked and built its own place in the music and the world.
They simply fiddled with the sound and found something that worked. That
is why "Blue Moon of Kentucky" starts in 3/4 and revs up to 4/4 -- because
Bill had a hit with the waltz -- Elvis had a bigger one with it in 4/4 --
and Bill could see that there was room for improvement and devised an
arrangement that has become a showpiece. He wanted a piece of the action,
so he applied his wares to earn himself a piece.
So, with regards to definitions: Is Gershwin classical or jazz? Is Sousa
classical or just military music? Is Ricky Skaggs bluegrass or country?
If Montovani plays the Beatles, is it rock? If Jim and Jesse play the
Beatles, is it rock? Did you know that Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot are
bluegrass songwriters? Ultimately, it is still up to the listener to
define the music as he receives it -- as something he likes or doesn't
like. The genres were initally created to make it possible to market music
-- to shop music toward an audience that would be interested in purchasing
it, and to make it possible for that audience to feel confident that they
are buying music they like.
In the end, though, it is all just music.
On Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 3:43 PM, Rick Dempster <rick.dempster@xxxxxxxxxxx>wrote:
> So what do you call 'Bluegrass' then? I'm one of the 'instrumental lineup
> definition' people. Gwen Foster, De Ford Bailey,Jimmie Riddle etc. etc.
> have nothing to do with 'Bluegrass' in my book. Seems 'Bluegrass' has come
> to mean just any kind of southern string band music.
> To me it's a bit like a lot of other styles from the past, like
> 'rockabilly' that have become stylistic folk museums,
> conservative as hell, and totally constricted.
> Oh yeah; Bill and Charlie Monroe's early recordings together ain't
> 'Bluegrass' in my book either.
> I was recently invited, no, employed, to play and give a workshop at a
> Bluegrass festival. Now there were some very good people there,
> and a had one nice jam session. Most of the players though were uptight as
> hell and showed me their backs as soon as the harp appeared.
> I might add that I can actually play fiddle tunes, and know a decent slab
> of the standard tunes of the Bluegrass repertoire, and knew them better
> than some of the string players there.
> The 'old timey' crowd, who have now been deliberately excluded from this
> festival (they tend to be a bit feral here, dope-smokers etc.)
> are much more open to the harp.
> I feel quite happy for the term 'Bluegrass' to be applied the the
> genre, and
> watch the whole thing ossify and sink to the bottom, while the rest of us,
> unimpeded by strangulating terminology, get on with the business of
> playing whatever we like, which is how 'Bluegrass' came about in the first
> But then I'm just a dumb Aussie so what would know about it? Hey, is
> 'Botany Bay' Bluegrass?
> On 15 December 2012 06:46, Cara Cooke <cyberharp@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> There is not a lot of difference as long as they are not playing in
>> the old-time string band tradition in unison. A lot of the mountain bands
>> became known as bluegrass in time. Sometimes, the band or
>> musicians themselves are the reason they may not be called bluegrass.
>> may not want to be called bluegrass. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were
>> once asked if the Foggy Mountain Boys were bluegrass and they said no --
>> only Bill Monroe's band can be called bluegrass. They played country
>> music. Later on, they were classified as bluegrass, despite their
>> -- if for no other reason than that country music was changing. Doc
>> never wanted to be called a bluegrass musician, but you would be hard put
>> to find bluegrassers who would refuse to include him in.
>> To some degree, since the sound of bluegrass comes from an ensemble, any
>> single musician or duet could not be considered bluegrass. Yet, if they
>> are playing the music, in the style, with the instrumentation, what else
>> you call it? Bluegrass shy a band?
>> The music comes from the same regions and the same people. Execution and
>> performance can be indicators.
>> On Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 11:29 AM, John Kerkhoven
>> > Okay, George Pegram & Walter Parham are not bluegrass, but mountain
>> > from North Carolina. My question is what's the relationship between
>> > bluegrass and mountain? Seems there's overlap there.
>> > Their album, Pickin' & Blowin', is from 1957.
>> > Here's a take:
>> > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AC0rP9ePDk
>> > Thanks,
>> > John
>> > > Depends on whether you include old-timey harmonica.
>> > >
>> > > For something close to bluegrass while being past old-timey, check out
>> > Jimmy Riddle with Roy Acuff in the 1940s.
>> > >
>> > > Dave Payne and Cara Cooke may have something to say on this subject.
>> > >
>> > > Winslow
>> > >
>> > >
>> > > Winslow Yerxa
>> > > Author, Harmonica For Dummies, ISBN 978-0-470-33729-5
>> > > Harmonica Basics For Dummies, ASIN B005KIYPFS
>> > > Blues Harmonica For Dummies, ISBN 978-1-1182-5269-7
>> > > Resident Harmonica Expert, bluesharmonica.com
>> > > Instructor, Jazzschool for Music Study and Performance
>> > >
>> > >
>> > > ________________________________
>> > > From: Glenn Weiser <banjoandguitar100@xxxxxxxxx>
>> > > To: "harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx" <harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx>
>> > > Sent: Friday, December 14, 2012 6:58 AM
>> > > Subject: [Harp-L] History of Bluegrass Harmonica
>> > >
>> > > Calling all harmonica scholars-
>> > >
>> > > As far as I know, the first recorded instance of the harmonica in
>> > bluegrass music is Charlie McCoy with Flatt and Scruggs in 1962. Is
>> > aware of any earlier examples? I have been in touch with the senior
>> > historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville and we are
>> > to piece this together. I will eventually do a Sing Out! column on this
>> > topic.
>> > >
>> > > Glenn Weiser
> Rick Dempster
> RMIT Libraries
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