PDA

View Full Version : Column: What Does It Take to Grow a Genre?



Ted Lehmann
Jun-06-2018, 6:16am
This week my column in No Depression looks at qualities it takes to advance and last in bluegrass music while having significant impact. I use Dailey & Vincent, Special Consensus, and Sierra Hull as examples of bluegrassers who've shown musical imagination and evidenced courage in their musical journeys. I look forward to reading and responding to your comments. - Ted

http://nodepression.com/article/what-does-it-take-grow-genre

168284

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-07-2018, 1:15am
From Ted Lehman - "...to advance and last in bluegrass music..... '' Mostly an appreciative audience !. You can be as amazing as you possibly can be as a musician / composer etc.,but if the people that you're playing for don't like it - end of !!!.

Unfortunately,too many fine musicians leave their Bluegrass roots behind & play music that's fine 'for them',but it's music that simply doesn't appeal to as many people as they might imagine. However,it does beg the question - ''Would Chris Thile be as widely known & as appreciated as a superb mandolin player, if he'd just stuck with Bluegrass ? ''. Somehow,i think not - but would he have sold more records & be more popular with the Bluegrass folks if he had stuck with Bluegrass ? - i think maybe yes. A good example of you can't have it both ways (mostly !).

The question also needs to consider what people mean by ''Bluegrass music'' today. IMHO - it's vastly different than what it once was. Many bands still play the 'old songs / tunes',but they also play a lot more new songs / tunes of their own - as they should do.
May the good Lord forbid that we have to listen to an eternity of the old songs & nothing else. I for one would have kissed Bluegrass music goodbye a long while ago. Bands such as 'Blue Highway' can still play the old songs / tunes when they wish to,but most of their repertoir is all new & mainly written by them - they're the 'new' Bluegrass songs, & every bit as valid today as Bill Monroe's 'new' songs were back in 'his' day.

Then - we have bands such as 'The Infamous Stringdusters' & 'Greensky Bluegrass' - bands that i consider to be the modern ''Newgrassers''. They also appeal to a Bluegrass audience that wants to hear something 'different' - they are valid in their own right & don't necessarily have to 'conform' to strict Bluegrass rules.

The bottom line has to be - if folks like what band 'x' is playing,they'll stick with it,as long as band 'x' sticks with it as well. Folk don't really care for their favourite bands / musicians to suddenly change horses & ride off in all directions - as a certain Mr Robert Zimmerman found out ( i personally thought that his music was every bit as good ). People like stability,but unfortunately,some folk like it too much & can't handle any sort of 'change',even if the music itself is still top notch,
Ivan;)

Mark Wilson
Jun-07-2018, 6:07am
Good read. I definitely agree that musical imagination is #1. There is no shortage of new talent out there copying their favorite talent in some form and function. Doing it faster with more notes usually. The musical imagination required to create what wasn't there before you and make it into a force that changes musical landscapes is rare indeed.

JL277z
Jun-07-2018, 7:35am
... The musical imagination required to create what wasn't there before you and make it into a force that changes musical landscapes is rare indeed.

I would guess that, probably equally rare, is being able to find competent *and* trustworthy managers. Someone to do the marketing and bookkeeping and rustling up gigs and whatever else that manager-types do, without making a royal mess of things.

It's one thing to be a great musician, but there's the business angle to consider too.

Look what (IMO, could be wrong) bad management did to Elvis, they had him stuck doing those godawful movies for a while, when he would probably have rather been singing hymns or whatever. And then Vegas, which I've read he wasn't all that thrilled with either, but it was a job. Sure his managers made him famous, but it seems to have been at a pretty high personal cost.

tmsweeney
Jun-07-2018, 11:23am
Even Bluegrass has received the "functional music" vrs "non-functional music" label. For instance my band plays in Albany NY, not known as a "Hot Bluegrass Scene" by any stretch of the imagination, and while what we do is not "pure traditional" BG, we do call ourselves a "string band" and a "Bluegrass Band". For the most part audiences have been very receptive and supportive of our music (original,traditional and cover) So at the end of the night at a bar, we will (under protest) play "Wagon Wheel", not because we believe it is an expression of the music we love, but because the tip jar will be greener when we play WW. SO the playing of Wagon Wheel just departed "artistic expression" and entered - "give them what they want in exchange for money". Some extremely talented musicians can "write their own ticket" but even that is risky. I think it really comes down to support - including management, band members, and most of all - the audience. If your audience is drawn to the musician and not the music - then the artist has more flexibility, if it is the music that is of central interest ( think of tribute bands) then there is a clear expectation from the audience of what they expect in exchange for ticket or media sales.

MikeZito
Jun-07-2018, 2:20pm
I believe it was the songwriter Leonard Cohen who once said:

'The advancement of art is simple - funding it is not.'

Timbofood
Jun-07-2018, 4:23pm
I think Ivan and I were separated at birth!

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-08-2018, 2:42am
Hi Tim - Over the years,me & many friends have talked about Bluegrass music & band playing,& about 'where' Bluegrass music might be in the future,because,as you folks in the US have had,we've also had our own crop of ''almost'' Bluegrass bands. As i've said before on here - i'm a 100% trad 'style' Bluegrasser - however,if another 'associated' music comes along & i like it,i'll listen to it. That's why bands such as the ''Stringdusters'' & ''Greensky'' appeal to me. Not only that,but their music offers me a way of advancing my own mandolin playing ''outside'' the trad. Bluegrass style.

Ultimately - the way i see it,is that if enough folks like it ,however it's presented in the future,it'll progress,& maybe as we saw to a great extent in the Folk music boom era,at some point in the future,we might see a return to 'the roots' of Bluegrass. I certainly can't see the ''original style'' of Bluegrass dying out any time soon - although the repertoir will be new songs / tunes.

Re. the business side of running a band,i don't know much about that at all - i sincerely wish i did !. Back when i had my band together,it was very simple.We got asked to play at a venue,discussed the fee,played & got paid. The one thing that we did,was to join the UK Musician's Union. This was to prevent what might loosely be termed 'exploitation' - being asked to play for ''so long'' & then being asked to play say,2 more sets for no extra cash,or,being asked to play after midnight,which at the time demanded a double fee. Of course the people booking us would be made aware of this,& we never had any trouble.

Even the logistics of running a band these days might be quite daunting. Hauling instruments & possible 'spares' around, & sound equipment,is a task in itself. Getting to venues is also one aspect of playing in a band that shouldn't be taken lightly either. It's not unknown for band members whom we seem to think of as being almost neighbours,to come from many miles away from each other. I did read at some point in the past,that that was one of the reasons that ''The Johnson Mt.Boys'' split.

There must be other aspects of playing in a full time band that we as onlookers don't see. Being away from one's family for 'x' no of days (weeks ?) whilst travelling around doesn't go down too well with lots of folks - ''I'm coming back,but i don't know when'' takes on a slightly different meaning. 'Family' is important. Neglect it & you could be in trouble.

All the above is outside the main thread of this topic - but it does relate to the effort required to ''Grow a genre'' & to keep it going,

Ivan;)

Timbofood
Jun-08-2018, 1:57pm
I will listen to anyone play, if I enjoy it, I will stay, if I don’t I can exercise my ultimate act of censorship and leave or change the station. I’ve known the guys in Greensky for a long time, we are not cut from the same bolt but, both still parts of the fabric of the music, they have a following, more power to them. I’ve shared the stage with them and that’s all well and good but, I don’t play the way they do. There’s a thread about an “amusing story” which is a good tale. Diversity is what makes us all passionate about what we do and how we do it. There’s lots of room, share.
Keeping a band going? I’ve played with the same guys for forty years and we are still friends, we used to gig two to six nights a week but, we were “Young and full of juice” now we only get together occasionally but, there’s usually a new tune to teach one another so, it’s still fresh. Being on the road? Nope, I like my bathroom and my bed!

Ted Lehmann
Jun-12-2018, 5:34pm
Sadly, as mostly a pretty marginal genre, most bluegrass artists cannot afford professional management, and many so-called managers don't manage very much. That leaves the water-carrying up to the band leader, or, sometimes, a family member who stays home to manage social media, bookings, and books. Finding a band member who's adept at social media or scheduling may be more important than having a great musician in place as a sideman. You're so right! Thanks for the comment.

Ted Lehmann
Jun-12-2018, 5:39pm
Even Bluegrass has received the "functional music" vrs "non-functional music" label. For instance my band plays in Albany NY, not known as a "Hot Bluegrass Scene" by any stretch of the imagination, and while what we do is not "pure traditional" BG, we do call ourselves a "string band" and a "Bluegrass Band". For the most part audiences have been very receptive and supportive of our music (original,traditional and cover) So at the end of the night at a bar, we will (under protest) play "Wagon Wheel", not because we believe it is an expression of the music we love, but because the tip jar will be greener when we play WW. SO the playing of Wagon Wheel just departed "artistic expression" and entered - "give them what they want in exchange for money". Some extremely talented musicians can "write their own ticket" but even that is risky. I think it really comes down to support - including management, band members, and most of all - the audience. If your audience is drawn to the musician and not the music - then the artist has more flexibility, if it is the music that is of central interest ( think of tribute bands) then there is a clear expectation from the audience of what they expect in exchange for ticket or media sales.

Dudley Connell told me an interesting story about two concerts in the D.C. area which occurred fairly recently. At one, Jim Morrison refused to play any of his hits, playing only songs from his latest release. The performance was not greeted with huge enthusiasm. In the other concert, Paul McCartney opened his show with a half hour of music from his new release, the gave 90 minutes of Beatles hits and older McCartney. The concert was wildly popular. Dudley's argument was that balance between new and unfamiliar material and well-loved classic releases keeps fans and forwards the artist's music. Thanks for your input. - Ted

Timbofood
Jun-12-2018, 5:44pm
One sidebar for my band.
You have to “Want it” badly enough to really have the courage to leave kith and kin (or bed and bath) behind and in today’s marketplace, the necessity to maintain a web presence. My banjo players mother mentioned that several years ago but, I have minimal interest in being a webmaster, I have enough on my plate (well, I did then) without adding the time to design and maintain a website.
There is so much more to just keeping on playing music and being a “working band” which goes undetected by most of the listening public.
I can only imagine the hundreds of hours that the team must spend keeping this site under the benefit of talented people.
As to the comment about playing Wagon Wheel as the way to be paid for playing music?
If that’s the only brush with musical prostitution you’ve had, you’re very lucky.

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-13-2018, 2:44am
Ted - Even with well know artists,any 'new release' takes time to become assimilated by the artist's followers - during that time,they decide whether they like it or not. Getting up on stage to perform all 'new' songs,unfamiliar to the audience,is a tad risky (IMHO).
There again,we have the problem so nicely put by the late Ricky Nelson in his song ''Garden Party'',where he bemoans his audience only wanting the 'old songs' - ''If memories are all i sing - i'd rather drive a truck''.

I attended the UK's Ironbridge Bluegrass Festival back in 1993,when Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum were headlining. Their CD ''True Stories'' had just been released. They did sing a couple of songs from the new CD,but most of their music was the stuff that we all knew & they went down a bomb !!. Their very last song on the Sunday evening concert,was ''Who will watch the home place'' from the new release,& there wasn't a dry eye in the house when they'd finished !!. Talk about leaving an audience wanting more - they cracked it !!. I've often wondered how many copies of that CD they sold in the UK alone - it wasn't their only UK gig that year.

IMHO - Give the audience what they know & love - usually the old songs / tunes,& work in a few new ones alongside - at least that's the way i'd do it,
Ivan;)


PS - If 'Wagon wheel'' had been around when i had my band together - we'd have played it !!. If folk like it & you're getting paid to please them - play it !!!. I wish i had a £/$ for every time we played 'Duellin' Banjos' & 'The Beverly Hillbillies' sig.tune,purely because the audience wanted to hear them,i'd invite you all over at my exense to play my collection of LLoyd Loar mandolins.

Some thing you just gotta do !!.:(

Timbofood
Jun-13-2018, 10:56am
That’s a fact Ivan! A buck for “Fox on the run”, FMB, Beverly Hillbillies, Rocky Top, I have a Loar and a Halsey or two!
We were all young and full of it back then, “Get Paid to play music!?” Sure! We were all underpaid but, it was fun, funner, funnest ever!

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-13-2018, 11:07pm
Tim - Me & my band had an absolute whale of a time playing. I keep saying ''my band'' - it wasn't. The 3 original members got together to form a band & accumulated a bass fiddle player a month or so afterwards - in truth, it was ''our band''. We were getting paid to do something that we totally loved & it was only via a stupid misunderstanding that we folded - a story for another time maybe ?,:(
Ivan;)

PS - One other Bluegrass tune that folks knew over here via Bonnie & Clyde,& always asked for - was ''Foggy Mt.Breakdown'',we played it at every gig we did because we loved it.

Timbofood
Jun-14-2018, 5:35am
I use the term the same way, “Great Lakes Grass” has had 5 bass players and two guitar players but, it’s been myself, Rock Bartley and Curly Holiday since the beginning in 1975. There have been “fill ins” due to other commitments from time to time but we have been friends and still play, eat, and enjoy each other’s company.
We got together for a John Wayne birthday party a couple of weeks ago. It was hotter than blazes, didn’t play any music but, had a swell time!

tmsweeney
Jun-14-2018, 4:25pm
Trust me, My band Blind Crow (http://www.blindcrowband.com), are thankful we can get paid to play music we love ( and some we tolerate), but all have day jobs, we still occasionally play for beer
We are on the local radio and at a few local bars and festivals, so I believe we are contributing to the "vernacular", and perhaps to the genre of "modern string band music".
It feels to me a little of what Hindemith intended with his Kammermusic, it was meant for accomplished "working" musicians not virtuoso performances. Bluegrass and Jazz have always been "the peoples music" but new performers operate at highly trained levels, so maturity is affecting BG and Modern string music. Professionalism in performance indicates marketability, so the question is for a genre to "mature" does it need to be marketable ?

Timbofood
Jun-14-2018, 6:33pm
Maturation of a genre!? I think it’s time for me to get some practice time in.

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-15-2018, 1:18am
IMO - Highly skilled / talented musicians will more often than not,seek to perform in more than 'one style'. Going back several years,i used to buy every Bela Fleck banjo LP / CD that i could lay my hands on,then,i witnessed Bela's conversion to a banjo player who played 'outside the Bluegrass box' -ie his ''Flecktones'' band & thence on into other fields. We've witnessed the same thing with mandolin players Chris Thile & Sierra Hull,& many 'new' players are kicking off their own playing along those lines. 'Bluegrass' isn't enough on it's own for those folk.

We must respect the fact that different folk like different forms of music played on the same instrument - if they didn't,then the mandolin would still be up to it's headstock in nothing but Classical / Italianate music. Through the years,folk have used whatever instruments were available, to perform music for themselves,even non-musical instruments were brought in to help,such as beer jugs / washboards. Banjos / mandolins / guitars / fiddles etc. would be used to perform simplistic styles of music at first,then,as the virtuosity of the musicians grew,maybe they too sought out music of a higher level. Such processes have given us some of the finest & most memorable musicians in Old Timey & Bluegrass music.

IMO (again) - it'll always be that way. Musicians will always seek music to play that satisfies their personal 'needs',not just to extend their musical skills,but for the enjoyment that the 'other styles' of music itself give. On a personal basis,that's why i enjoy the other styles of music performed by bands such as 'The Infamous Stringdusters' & 'Bluesky Bluegrass',to name but 2.

For me,the very fact that i can play music that's not 'strictly Bluegrass' on my mandolin is pretty exciting. I tried for a few years to try to become a decent Jazz guitar player,unfortunately,i wasn't even a decent guitar player in 'any style',let alone Jazz !. I discovered that for 'Jazz',you need to have a 'Jazzy mind',something else that i seem to lack. I put that down (maybe) to playing 'strict' Scruggs style banjo for so many years,holding close to the melody line. I have thought,that with my immense talent on mandolin :)) i might venture into Jazz once more - i'll see,but it is a 'style' that really appeals to me,
Ivan :grin: ;)

tmsweeney
Jun-15-2018, 4:03am
SO what we all seem to agree is " to grow a genre it generally needs to be infused with some contributions from other genres"
The Blues itself is born of African spirituals, European Christian music and general folk music.
Jazz is heavily influenced by the blues, traditional and classical music
Bluegrass is born of traditional European ( specifically Scotch Irish) and the blues
Rock of course is born of the blues with many infusions.
So modern Acoustic String Band music, isn't really a genre as much as a genre presentation form ?

Ivan Kelsall
Jun-19-2018, 2:32am
Quote - " So modern Acoustic String Band music, isn't really a genre as much as a genre presentation form ? ". I think that 'modern string band music' is anything that the musicians want it to be. I think that maybe i'd place the ' Infamous Stringdusters ' & 'Greensky Bluegrass' & similar bands in the 'new' Newgrass slot,& 'The Punch Bros.' in a slot for which i haven't yet thought of a name,but it's not so closely related to Bluegrass music as the other 2 bands (IMO). Personally,i find the PB's brand of 'acoustic music' pretty unlistenable - but that's my taste,other folks love it - just as it should be,as it was in the case of 'Newgrass Revival' when they came along.

As i said before - if you like it,listen - if you don't, don't !!. I wonder how many new bands are playing more or less 'trad' orientated Bluegrass,& how many are taking the PB route ??,
Ivan;)

Ted Lehmann
Jun-20-2018, 7:00am
Wow! Thanks so much for all you've written. I appreciate your effort and your commitment to keeping bluegrass on a growth path. Thanks. - Ted