PDA

View Full Version : 'Danger' of genius?



lukmanohnz
Mar-17-2018, 9:06am
Ran across this article today:

http://nodepression.com/article/danger-genius-bill-monroe-and-tony-rice

A couple thoughts -

1) I am not sure I understand what the author means by 'danger' of genius. Maybe other more astute readers can figure that out and comment.

2) As deeply as I admire Tony Rice and appreciate his huge impact on the art form, I am not certain I can agree with this statement: "Before Rice, the guitar was primarily a rhythm instrument." The article acknowledges that Tony built on the foundations laid by Clarence White and Doc Watson, but I guess I'd have credited one of those two players (leaning toward Doc) as the innovator who's playing I identify as the inflection point between guitar as rhythm instrument and lead instrument.

3) The author states, "I've long maintained that many bluegrass fans who think of theselves as being traditionalists were never fans of Monroe or the Stanley Brothers. They were, in fact, fans of the Bluegrass Album Band and the Johnson Mountain Boys." I don't think of myself as a traditionalist, so I guess I'm off the hook on this one. My entry into bluegrass was through Old and In The Way. From there, I slowly branched outward, forward and back until I now have a fairly wide-ranging collection of bluegrass recordings that encompass all these artists and so many others. I love and appreciate each of them for their musicianship and their music.

MikeZito
Mar-17-2018, 9:22am
I think I might understand where the author is coming from . . . what he is warning against is the 'danger' of playing ONLY what the 'geniuses' play, and not straying from what they have done.

This whole article could have made a good Cafe' post, if it was edited as such:

The poet T.S. Eliot said that the new needs the old; no artist exists in a vacuum. But that doesn't mean that the old can, or should, restrict the new. It shouldn't keep it from evolving . . . Instant rejection, as in "That ain't bluegrass," can only doom both the new music and that which came before it to a lingering death.

All that Rice needed was to stop asking whether what he was playing was “bluegrass” and merely play the music he found within himself.

. . . Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and all the others . . . set forever the template by which we'll define all bluegrass music . . . creating a platform from which more great music can continue to spring.

Mandoplumb
Mar-17-2018, 10:47am
The article was one mans opinion, not gospel. While to a certain extent I agree with what he is saying he misses the point of my argument. If I could make a personal transport machine ( PTM ) with no wheels that took off straight up and traveled about twenty feet from the ground I would not call it an automobile, it's structure and means of use would be so different that calling it an automobile would confuse the issue. However I have no objection to calling a 2012 Ford an automobile even though it doesn't exactly look and perform like the Model T that Henry made. The basics are the same they both ride on wheels, they have an engine that provides the power, they have a steering wheel, they both will probably give you trouble from time to time. The 2012 is today's automobile it has advanced and changed within the "guidelines" of the automobile, the PTM is radically different to the point that if it was called an automobile, and as the years go by, that was all one knew as an automobile we would have no concept of a Model T. The Bluegrass Album Band, the Johnson Mountain Boys, and a few other modern bands are the 2012 Fords, the Bluegrass Boys, the Foggy Mountain Boys, etc are the Model T's., most modern so called bluegrass bands are the PTM's. The PTM would have it's place in transportation just as the modern bands have their place in music, but to us "car nuts" we don't want you calling this new PTM an automobile. There is a good reason not to confuse bluegrass with what ever you call this new "acoustic" music. For years I have played in a bluegrass gospel band, I don't know of the times someone has come to the record table and made the comment " I don't like bluegrass music but I like what you do". They have heard what is called BG, that does not have the drive, that is much less simplistic, that is busier and they think they don't like it. They heard trad. BG not because they went looking for it for they were convinced they didn't like it, but because they heard it in their church. I'm sure the there are some that prefer the modern to the trad. but why has the genius of Bill Monroe become dangerous to his music when so many people still prefer it to the modern. Isn't there room for both and shouldn't they be named separately to avoid confusion? How far can any music move from it's roots and still be called the same?

Mark Gunter
Mar-17-2018, 10:59am
He could have expressed himself more clearly I think, he's saying "the danger of genius" and he reveals that what he means is a human tendency that he found expressed in another book - he quotes it, "in an effort to maintain, memorialize, and institutionalize the genius of a time, the impact of innovation dies off and becomes merely a copy of a once-great idea."

There is that tendency, but there is always the other tendency of innovation, and the two are often in tension.

His article reveals that he is enamored with Tony, and there's nothing wrong with that, I am too, I love Tony's playing. It's out of this world. I don't think Tony is the dividing line between rhythm guitar and lead guitar in bluegrass, though. I think you have to credit a few others as a group of guitarists for achieving that. The way I see it, based on what little I know of it, is that Clarence, Doc and Dan Crary were the trinity that inspired guys like Tony to push the guitar forward in bluegrass, and as the real pioneers of using guitar for fiddle tunes they deserve the most credit. Tony may outshine those guys in some ways with his virtuosity, but that doesn't change the history or diminish from their own pioneering contributions and master facility on the guitar..

Mandoplumb
Mar-17-2018, 11:17am
No body but nobody outshines Clarence White in my opinion. Also when we are talking bluegrass lead guitar don't forget Don Reno. Anyone heard his all guitar instrumental CD?

Mark Gunter
Mar-17-2018, 11:33am
+1 for Don Reno

Timbofood
Mar-17-2018, 3:17pm
Let’s not forget Kenny Bakers guitar albums with Josh Graves, my favorite of which is “Bucktime”! Talk about the music in them, that one has it in spades!

T.D.Nydn
Mar-17-2018, 4:48pm
The real genius of the guitar,and the person who pretty much invented solo flat picking was Django Reinhardt ..

William Smith
Mar-17-2018, 5:04pm
Yes Django, Clarence had a few of his licks for sure. I'm really happy Don Reno was mentioned he was fire on lead guitar before most, Joe Maphis was another.

CarlM
Mar-17-2018, 8:35pm
Electric amplification allowed lead guitar to happen. Without it the guitar gets buried in a bluegrass band. Even with amplification Rice dispensed with banjo most times.

Likewise for jazz. Acoustic guitar played rhythm or the band's were reconfigured without drums and very few, if any, horns. Dixieland bands used banjo, not guitar, to be heard. Nick Lucas, Django and guitarists of that era played in duos or small combos with fiddle if they played lead.

Doc only rarely performed bluegrass by his own statement. Even when he and Monroe performed it was a duo more like the Monroe Brothers. Doc was plugged in most of his career often with really quacky piezos. Doc credited Grady Martin and Hank Garland as models. Hank Snow was another early flatpicker.

The traditionalists who zealously guard the That's Not Bluegrass style attacked even Earl Scruggs when he dared to deviate from their boundaries. I remember a radio dj raving for almost 5 minutes about how personally offended he was by the Earl Scruggs Revue. Earl preferred to play music and have time with his sons.

Mark Gunter
Mar-17-2018, 9:24pm
I don't know whether that article author thinks Doc Watson was bluegrass or not - I doubt it. Nobody who knows anything about it would say that Doc Watson was a 'grasser. And Django dang sure wasn't a 'grasser, and nobody said he was.

The reason Doc's name comes up in these subjects is because Doc started playing fiddle tunes on the guitar in public performances in the early fifties - and Bill wasn't allowing or encouraging any such thing in 'grass. Maybe partly for the reason you stated.

Doc was playing electric guitar in a swing band when he began playing fiddle tunes! It was something pretty novel for the time. Clarence White began playing out in the fifties, and he began playing fiddle tunes on the guitar too. He became more interested in Bluegrass I think during the late fifties. All this has nothing to do with what Django was doing in jazz - except as he influenced playing styles. These guys were trying to translate Appalachian fiddle music leads to guitar.



Anyway, that's the way I understand what happened. I wasn't around back then, so I could be way off. If so, I'm sure someone will straighten me out.

CarlM
Mar-17-2018, 11:22pm
The article mostly is about Tony Rice and innovation in bluegrass. Django comes up because Tony, Doc and Clarence all have said that he influenced their playing significantly. Clarence started out playing pretty traditional bluegrass in their family band. The old Andy Griffith episodes with the Country Boys show that. The fiddle tunes and hot playing came next. It showed up fully on Apallachian Swing in the early 1960s. Tony got started out by Clarence when Tony was in the Rice family band.

The sense I get of the article is that although it is good to have a sense of roots and tradition, the kinds of negativity and narrow mindedness we hear expressed toward young people like Chris Thile would have cut the music off from geniuses like Tony Rice. That will kill it quicker and deader than playing different repertoire or accepting change.

Explorer
Mar-18-2018, 12:44am
I like that Scruggs is the one who invented the actual rhythm and drive of bluegrass. It was also interesting to see Monroe having success from someone else (Elvis) covering one of his songs, while Flatt and Scruggs had much more mainstream success performing their own music.

----

I thought "automobile" means something which moves on its own as its distinguishing characteristic, as opposed to having wheels like a horse-drawn carriage.

Regarding the idea that any music (whether jazz, bluegrass or rock, or any other sort) should remain in its initial form, and that all later developments should be given new names to protect the feelings of any aficionados of the first iteration, I don't know how one would enforce that. It's even harder when performers of the later iterations, and their fans, think that it is still the same style of music.

Most people recognize early and dixieland jazz, bebop and "cool" jazz as all being jazz. Even Kenny G manages to get in there. It's not realistic to claim some authority over who is either in or out....

Marty Jacobson
Mar-18-2018, 7:49am
The real genius of the guitar,and the person who pretty much invented solo flat picking was Django Reinhardt ..

Lonnie Johnson, Django, and Charlie Christian all contributed massively towards guitar as a solo/lead instrument. Before that, "rock stars" all played piano, clarinet (!), or sang, with some notable exceptions of course.

UsuallyPickin
Mar-18-2018, 9:27am
Bluegrass guitar yeah Watson White Rice and Blake. Jazz four decades before that guitar was a lead instrument in the hands of Lang and Reinhardt. We all play the same stuff meaning it's a language with different inflections and directions but it's a twelve tone scale..... repetition is a must and a trap truth . . . . However I am in no danger from genius.... Nope not a bit. R/

Mark Wilson
Mar-18-2018, 12:21pm
“ Instant rejection, as in "That ain't bluegrass," can only doom both the new music and that which came before it to a lingering death.”

I read his thoughts as: when musical genius comes, such as Bill and Tony, their legacy and style will fade in popularity and significance if it is only copied, or if new artists neglect to be influenced by it (ie listen to it) or listeners refuse to accept new forms of that style music by new artists

T.D.Nydn
Mar-18-2018, 6:04pm
No body but nobody outshines Clarence White in my opinion. Also when we are talking bluegrass lead guitar don't forget Don Reno. Anyone heard his all guitar instrumental CD?

I really have to hear this C.D.!....

T.D.Nydn
Mar-18-2018, 7:41pm
O.k ...it's called " the golden guitar of Don Reno",and it's on youtube,just type it in, this album kicks ass!,,especially since it was recorded in 1972,,I don't know where it's been hiding ,but if I heard this in 72 I would of freaked out,,,outstanding...

allenhopkins
Mar-20-2018, 3:44pm
Well, I agree with Lehmann on one point: there's a disturbing tendency among some music fans to say, "Well, I really appreciate all the changes and development in music that produced the style I love -- but that's gotta stop here! No more changes!"

What I think the article doesn't recognize is that there are/were "trad" bluegrass artists playing Monroe/Flatt & Scruggs/etc. era music right along, before, during and after bands like the Bluegrass Album Band and the Johnson Mountain Boys revived older styles. Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Larry Sparks, Del McCoury, the Goins Brothers -- they kept plugging away at '50's-style bluegrass even though the Bluegrass Alliance, New Grass Revival, Muleskinner band, Earl Scruggs Revue, and other "newgrass"-influenced groups appeared on the scene. And don't forget that Monroe, and Flatt's Nashville Grass, kept playing right through the "newgrass" development period.

As for the guitar being "primarily a rhythm instrument," remember the writer's talking about bluegrass, not jazz or other forms of flat-picking. There were lead guitars playing well before Clarence White: think about Scruggs's work on Foggy Mountain Boys gospel tunes, Bill Napier and George Shuffler with Stanley, and Don Reno, mentioned above. And if you stray from bluegrass to "trad" country, listen to Hank Snow and Lloyd "Cowboy" Copas. Yeah, they weren't like Rice, Watson, White, or Dan Crary, but they moved the acoustic steel string guitar to the front of the band.

I'm not quite sure what earns the "genius" label; just that you have to be a very accomplished musician? IMHO the "genius" of Bill Monroe wasn't that he was a virtuoso mandolin player; it was that he developed a distinct genre of music -- bluegrass -- by combining a number of pre-existing stylistic influences, and recognizing and combining the musicians needed to realize his concept. If it hadn't been Scruggs in the Blue Grass Boys, it would have been Reno -- that's established -- and if it hadn't been Chubby Wise, Monroe would have found another fiddler that played the way he wanted. It's like Benny Goodman finding Charlie Christian and Lionel Hampton, Bob Wills coming up with Tommy Duncan, Eldon Shamblin and Leon McAuliffe, or Muddy Waters hiring Otis Spann and Little Walter. However these musicians ended up together, it was the vision and leadership of the bandleaders that produced their unique distinctive styles.

So, I don't know if Tony Rice is a "genius,' or even really when you apply that label to someone who's a top musician. Maybe I'd be more likely to award the title to David Grisman, who put together a group that defined a "new acoustic" style -- in which Rice, as well as others starred. When you can't think of a style without thinking of a particular leader -- Monroe and bluegrass, Wills and Western swing, Reinhardt and "gypsy jazz," Armstrong and New Orleans jazz, Dylan and "folk rock," etc. -- then you may have a defensible definition of "genius."

Timbofood
Mar-21-2018, 8:49am
Very nicely put Allen!
I can add nothing to that analysis!

Willie Poole
Mar-21-2018, 10:38am
I`d like to add Eddie Adcock, Marty Stuart, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs....

If you like lead guitar playing where you can`t hear any melody than I guess Tony Rice is your man...I would walk a mile in knee deep mud to hear Tony sing (when he could) but not just to hear him play a lot of notes that didn`t resemble the melody at all...

Willie

tiltman
Mar-21-2018, 3:09pm
Most people recognize early and dixieland jazz, bebop and "cool" jazz as all being jazz....

I completely disagree with this statement. There are LOTS of people out there who say "I don't like Jazz" but when you play swing or big band...they say "oh, but I like that".
Jazz is so diverse that saying you don't like Jazz is like saying you don't like music!

And that is what, I believe, many traditionalists are trying to protect Bluegrass against. If you call hippie-grass, jam-grass, dead-grass, new-grass, new acoustic music, and every other iteration all Bluegrass - then the term Bluegrass becomes meaningless.

If you go to the trouble of inventing a new kind of music (and I'm fine with that...I'll listen or I won't) - don't stop there. Invent a name for it too!
(Bill did)

Kirk

Rex Hart
Mar-21-2018, 4:41pm
I have followed a couple of these threads on here about what is or isn't Bluegrass. I have no problem with those who only like their Bluegrass the way Bill or the Stanley Brothers did it. I am a big fan also, but this is exactly the reason that most festivals I go to are only attended by people who are of retirement age. You very rarely see any younger people in attendance. All I care about is if the music moves me. I like music that is well played. I leave it to others to label what is or isn't acceptable. And when you talk about drive or lack thereof, Tony Rice's rhythm has instant built in drive. If you want to deaden bluegrass, get a week rhythm player. Rant ended, carry on :)

Explorer
Mar-21-2018, 10:45pm
I completely disagree with this statement. There are LOTS of people out there who say "I don't like Jazz" but when you play swing or big band...they say "oh, but I like that".
Jazz is so diverse that saying you don't like Jazz is like saying you don't like music!

And that is what, I believe, many traditionalists are trying to protect Bluegrass against. If you call hippie-grass, jam-grass, dead-grass, new-grass, new acoustic music, and every other iteration all Bluegrass - then the term Bluegrass becomes meaningless.

So...

Some people claim jazz is only one narrow style, but jazz is diverse, and you even list various styles.

Some people claim bluegrass is only one narrow style, and bluegrass is *not* diverse, even though you list various styles.

I'm not sure I understand how personal interpretation is weighed differently in those two cases.

Timbofood
Mar-22-2018, 5:14am
And the “Genius danger” has spiraled into yet another “ That isn’t Bluegrass” soapbox!
Instead of regurgitating the same complaints, why don’t we all just go out and show folks what IS Bluegrass and teach!
I’m not the most adoring fan of some of the current crop of pickers but if WE dont show the youth what made us start, we can’t expect the traditional sound to be maintained! It’s going to change, my style has changed, not one of us plays the way we did the first year into our journey.
Must we continue berating the evolution of the music? Genius does not die, geniuses die. Innovation, creativity, artistry is always there! Whether it becomes an accepted, lauded, and mainstream attraction is something else entirely.
Apparently Allen, I lied. I did have something to express!

ManjoMan
Mar-22-2018, 5:55am
Could it be that the reason that some people don't like what Tony Rice or Chris Thile or Noam Pikelny are doing and saying "that ain't bluegrass" is because they are jealous that they can't play like those guys? Or, maybe they just don't understand where they are coming from? I'm sure that Bela Fleck gets a lot of grief from some of the old-timers for the way he plays banjo. If you were to interview any of the guys from "Newgrass Revival" I think you would find that they more than respect what Monroe, the Stanleys, Don Reno/Red Smiley and others before them and they pay homage to them by being themselves and playing what is inside of them. What they feel and hear. While I don't always understand what Chris Thile is doing on the mandolin, I do think that he has done wonders in getting younger people interested in the mandolin (along with Sam Bush). I always feel inspired to try and play better when I hear what they are playing. Something fresh and new. You don't have to agree with what Tony or any of the others do or you don't even have to like it, but let's not tear somebody down just because they do something different.

Now, back to the OP. Yes, there were other guitar players before Tony that did play lead in bluegrass. I am glad that someone mention the work of Bill Napier. While his style was completely different than what Tony (or Clarence) did, he was still innovative and it fit well with the music that the Stanley's were playing.

jaycat
Mar-22-2018, 7:40am
To me, "genius" is pretty rarified territory. Who would I consider a genius? Someone who invents their own genre of music, like Bill Monroe or Thelonious Monk. Someone who can sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and come up with Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands or I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Someone who, as Art Pepper claimed, never had a lesson or had to practice. As talented as a Clarence White was, I would classify him as "extremely accomplished," rather than "genius."

Mark Gunter
Mar-22-2018, 6:16pm
To me, "genius" is pretty rarified territory. Who would I consider a genius? Someone who invents their own genre of music, like Bill Monroe or Thelonious Monk. Someone who can sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and come up with Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands or I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry. Someone who, as Art Pepper claimed, never had a lesson or had to practice. As talented as a Clarence White was, I would classify him as "extremely accomplished," rather than "genius."

And from Allen: "I'm not quite sure what earns the "genius" label; just that you have to be a very accomplished musician? ... So, I don't know if Tony Rice is a "genius,' or even really when you apply that label to someone who's a top musician. Maybe I'd be more likely to award the title to David Grisman, who put together a group that defined a 'new acoustic' style"

I figured it might be good to look at the definitions based on word usage by the authorities (standards) in those fields. It's a tough question when you consider it, usage only gives broad guidelines. Respecting musicians, here are some relevant entries.

From the google dictionary I suppose:
noun
noun: genius; plural noun: geniuses


1.
exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
"she was a teacher of genius"


synonyms:
brilliance, intelligence, intellect, ability, cleverness, brains, erudition, wisdom, fine mind; Moreartistry, flair
"the world knew of his genius"



talent, gift, flair, aptitude, facility, knack, bent, ability, expertise, capacity, faculty;
strength, forte, brilliance, skill, artistry
"she has a genius for organization"








antonyms:
stupidity


2.
a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect.


From Oxford:
1. Exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.
2. A person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative, either generally or in some particular respect. ‘one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century’



From Merriam-Webster:
a. a single strongly marked capacity or aptitude
b. extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity

Mandoplumb
Mar-23-2018, 6:18am
To prevent overuse of the term genius, using these definitions we need to define or agree on the definition of extraordinary.