• Bill Monroe's Spiritual Daughter - Lauren Price Hews to Tradition

    Lauren Price
    Photo credit: John Flavell

    Somewhere in a corner of heaven, in a humble spot that recalls the crisp morning air of Rosine, Kentucky, Bill Monroe sits smiling. He's looking down on Lauren Price, knowing his legacy is not only safe, but still alive and kicking.

    The mandolin is in flux at the moment, with many young players bucking — sometimes gently, sometimes not — against what came before, basing their styles on a post-Newgrass world and finding inspiration from rule breakers like Chris Thile and Sierra Hull.

    Price is not one of them. At age 24, she may belong to the future, but she has one eye and a solid right hand turned distinctly towards the past.

    She is a hardcore student of Bill Monroe, and, as it turns out more and more these days, a teacher of him, too.

    Michael EckAbout the author: Roots scholar and multi-instrumentalist Michael Eck is a respected songwriter; a nationally exhibited painter; and an award-winning cultural critic and freelance writer. He is also a member of Ramblin Jug Stompers, Lost Radio Rounders, Berkshire Ramblers and Good Things.

    Price Sisters in Concert

    Clifton Opera House, Clifton, Ohio, April 13, 2019 playing "Bluegrass Breakdown." Video credit: Rhonda Price. L-R: Lincoln Hensley on banjo, Bobby Osborne Jr. on bass, Lauren Price on mandolin, Leanna Price on fiddle, Matthew Parsons on guitar.



    A Sardis, Ohio native, Price — who plays with her identical twin sister Leanna in a combo called, naturally, The Price Sisters — now lives in the Bluegrass state herself, perhaps to make sure Monroe's music comes up right between her toes.

    The siblings, who began lessons at age 9, grew up in a house filled with music, particularly classics from Jimmie Rodgers, Johnny Cash and the Carter Family. Their parents recognized early not only the twins' talents (Leanna plays fiddle), but their perseverance as well. Following a high school career filled with a succession of bigger halls and better paying gigs, Lauren and Leanna ended up at Morehead State University's Kentucky Center for Traditional Music.

    As part of their schooling, they took Monroe's music to China and back, literally, with a 2015 trip creating an interesting cultural crosstalk between nations.

    While still at home, Price — who is married to fellow hot picker Scott Napier — studied Monroe's licks religiously, not only slowing down individual tracks, breaks and turnarounds, but also, years later, taking to YouTube to suss out fingerings and pick attack.

    Upstairs, in the gauzy blue, Monroe evidently turned his gaze, figuring 'if she's stealing my stuff, whatever works.'

    Lauren as an instructor at the 2016 Monroe Mandolin Camp. L-R: Mark Royal, Adam Tanner, Mike Compton, David Davis, Lauren Price, Dr. Richard (Richie) Brown. Photo credit: Mississippi Chris Sharp.

    Price relates to Big Mon in more ways than one. She is naturally reserved, even introverted, and finds, she feels, her best voice through her instrument; even allowing Leanna to take most of the vocal leads.

    She has the focus famous to those who don't speak much, and she can explicate virtually every element of the Monroe style. She walks it, you understand.

    Through her efforts she has made strong ties with other keepers of the faith like mentor Mike Compton, friend Ronnie McCoury and legend Bobby Osborne.

    In 2016, Price, her trusty Buckeye in hand, sat on the other side of the chair as an instructor at Compton's Monroe Mandolin Camp for the first time, passing down what she'd largely taught herself to others. It was, she smiles, a good feeling, and teaching has become an important element in her own mandolin regimen.

    Napier, a 1939 Gibson F5 player, who, by way over 20 years of roadwork with Larry Sparks, Dale Ann Bradley, Marty Raybon, and Lost and Found, has a higher profile than Price, is, she says, an ally, rather than a competitor.

    "Scott's a very expressive player and he's not afraid to do anything that he wants to. That's been a very positive influence on my playing, even if we don't always take the same direction with things."

    What do you love about Bill Monroe?

    His music is really just powerful to me. I know that's a cliché, because it's something that Bill would say — 'this is powerful' — but it's true. I relate to it in terms of the emotion that he put into writing it. I think Bill's music is very relatable to people because it's derived out of experience, it's true. It's more than just writing a song just because you want to write a song, or because you're bored or something.


    Bill Monroe's "My Last Days on Earth," video taken by Terry Vaught in 2017 at an end of semester concert before Lauren's graduation from Morehead State University.

    You feel you relate to Monroe personally, as well as musically, yes?

    I've been more of a shy person over the years and more quiet in my expression. I want the music to say my piece. If I'm having a bad day or something, I don't want to complain about it, but I can find a way to relate that to people through my music, and that's what Monroe did. At the time, those guys in bluegrass played that music because they had to. It was their calling in life.

    You're really on top of his style. How did you learn it?

    I grew up learning music by ear, singing in harmony and things like that. Monroe's music, I consider myself to have learned by ear, too. I spent a lot of hours on the computer at home, and we didn't have internet — I didn't have internet until we went to college. But we had CDs of Monroe's music and I invested a lot of time sitting in front of the screen, slowing songs down in Windows Media Player, and just listening line by line. I guess people used to do that with record players, so that was kind of the modern equivalent of that.

    Within the last couple of years, I've discovered that there's a way to slow down YouTube, too, so that really helps. I never got to see Monroe live, or talk with him, or ask him questions, so I'm also very fortunate to have gotten to know and learn from some people, like Mike Compton and Bobby Osborne, who did.

    Performing as a mandolin trio with Scott Napier and Bobby Osborne, May 2019. Photo credit: Terry Vaught.

    What are, in your estimation, the key elements of the Monroe style?

    A lot of people discount Monroe style nowadays because they think it's kind of harsh and thrashy. Maybe that's an excuse for not wanting to learn about it further, because it's a lot more complicated than that.

    One of the most important — if not the most important — factors in Monroe style is that it's a different right hand from a lot of other mandolin styles. The power that you have within your right hand to change the punctuation of your notes is probably the most important and most common thing that people think of with Monroe.

    Bill grew up playing with (fiddler) Uncle Pen Vandiver and (bluesman) Arnold Shultz and going to dances in the country. Bill was a dancer himself, and I think a lot of his music was influenced by that dance rhythm, being able to move and groove to it. The right hand exemplifies those dance rhythms in place of a fiddle bow, because you can do those shuffle patterns with a pick.

    The left hand is just as important, because of your note choices. Sometimes, I think the notes that you don't play are just as important as the notes you do. Bill could play fast and he could play a lot of notes, and that's wonderful, but he also knew how to work within left hand fingering patterns that created certain identifiable licks within his style. That's something I teach as kind of a beginning element, a little goodie bag of Monroe licks; if you learn to throw those in at the end of your lines, that will train your mind to get more used to that style.

    Persistence is important, too, because from what I hear, Bill was a very determined and sometimes stern person — a personality trait that led, I think, to the music having the impact it did.

    Leanna and Lauren guesting on the Hank Williams tribute show in Charleston, West Virigina, January 2019. Photo credit: Jennifer Bauman.

    Is it fair to say that when Monroe played mandolin, it was with Pen's right hand and Shultz's left hand?

    That's a really interesting point, and I think, in large part, correct. There was all this music floating around that country people played at the time, and all of those styles went in to create what, for Bill, was so unique. The square dances that he played with Uncle Pen when he was growing up were probably happy memories for him, so that's in his music through the right hand. And then the note choices are more bluesy a lot of the time, from the left hand. I would say that came greatly from Arnold Shultz. I mean back around the turn of the century, there were mandolin players in the Deep South that were playing blues, but it still wasn't really like what Monroe created.

    Price Sisters in Concert

    "Paddy on the Turnpike" from The Price Sisters appearance at Floyd Country Store May 26, 2019. Video by Rhonda Price. L-R: Lincoln Hensley on banjo, Bobby Osborne Jr. on bass, Lauren Price on mandolin, Leanna Price on fiddle, Scott Napier on guitar.



    I think my strength is that I'm pretty determined when it comes to playing. I am a hard worker and a determined person with what I set my mind to do. I'm a good friend, I guess, musically speaking, because you have to be able to get along with people. Certainly if you're working in a band and you're around people a lot, they see you at your best and at your worst. Sometimes you just have to be a good person and be as kind to others as you can.

    For weaknesses, because I'm usually singing along with my sister, I don't think of playing backup as much as some other players do, or as much as a song needs on occasion. I prefer to play in between the lines rather than on top, but backup is an art to master in itself, and something I try to keep in mind to personally work on.

    As an instrumentalist, I don't consider myself to be able to play as many notes as fast or as clean as some other players that I admire. I guess that's where practice comes in.

    Price Sisters Newest Release

    A Heart Never Knows was released 2018 generating an exciting buzz within the traditional music community for presenting their own unique interpretation of the ancient tones set forth by Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys.

    The Price Sisters - A Heart Never Knows

    You play with a nice straight picking arm.

    Yes. I think for Monroe style, a lot of it comes with your posture and the way that you hold your hands and things like that, the way you hold your pick. I tell my students that, for me anyway, the goal is to make a parallel line from your elbow to the headstock of the mandolin. Make that parallel with the floor, too, as straight of a line up the neck as you can. You want to have as little of a competing angle with your body and the instrument as possible, which then makes it easier on yourself. There's less tension and it's just more comfortable. At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable, otherwise you won't be able to play for very long at all.

    I don't claim to be an expert on any of this, but I certainly want to be someday, because I want to teach other people and, hopefully, have the same influence on them that my heroes did on me.



    Do you ever get "lost" in Monroe's style?

    Over the last couple of years I've really started to try and put more of myself into my playing, just trying to let it be and have more fun with it and see what happens. Maybe I'm trying to have less of a focus on it having to be this one specific way — that I always have to play it perfect and I can't mess it up or everything's ruined. If you allow yourself to just let go of some of that inner mental conflict, it allows you to be more relaxed and free to just play.

    Can you pick — I mean choose — one favorite Monroe tune?

    Probably "Blue Grass Breakdown." That's the first instrumental of his that I really sat down and tried to learn.

    With Dave and Mark Freeman of Rebel Records at IBMA 2018. The Price Sisters signed on Rebel.

    Monroe famously said that he played with whatever pick was in his pocket, tell us about your current choice.

    For a long time I just used a 1.14 Dunlop Ultex teardrop, on the side. About two years ago, I got a tortoise shell pick off of a friend of mine and it's more of the rounded triangle shape. I picked it up and started using it and I haven't stopped since. It's not real heavy and it's not real thick, but it doesn't have any flex either, so that's what I like right now and for the foreseeable future.

    Gear

    Price plays a 2011 Buckeye F-style built to Loar specs, with GHS Silk and Bronze strings. She and her sister Leanna share an Ear Trumpet Labs Louise microphone for live work.

    Additional Information


    Other Recordings from The Price Sisters



    Scott Napier and Lauren Price Napier wedding, September 2, 2018. Photo credit: Bourbon and Brides KY Wedding Photography.

    Interest in music at an early age. Photo by mom Rhonda Price. Lauren (left) and Leanna (right) at home watching their father Tim Price play guitar.
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Bernie Daniel's Avatar
      Bernie Daniel -
      Thanks for that! Excellent article on a fine mandolin player and individual!
    1. Jeff Hildreth's Avatar
      Jeff Hildreth -
      Wonderful player, excellent article. I applaud her use of a fully fretted instrument.
    1. Scotter's Avatar
      Scotter -
      Michael,

      Thanks for the great article. I really appreciate the VIMEO and YouTube links. I've never been much of a bluegrasser and only recently became aware of her when she was one of two people to reply to an Instagram request for contact information for Pete Hart who builds Buckeye Mandolins. I've since watched many a video of The Price Sisters to hear how that Buckeye Mandolin of hers sounds. She plays it better than I ever will but I now really look forward to the Buckeye mandolin that Pete is sending my way. Her playing is really inspiring and I look forward to hearing more from The Price Sisters.
    1. Timbofood's Avatar
      Timbofood -
      Nicely done, good interview!
    1. addamr's Avatar
      addamr -
      I enjoyed the interview. I ran up on there you tube videos a few years ago, and have enjoyed them. The Price Sister have some good videos out there. Really like her picking also.
    1. ccravens's Avatar
      ccravens -
      Great read!

      Awesome talent!
    1. bjewell's Avatar
      bjewell -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Hildreth View Post
      Wonderful player, excellent article. I applaud her use of a fully fretted instrument.
      I play a fully fretted Sterling C. Bon ton roulete!
    1. giannisgrass's Avatar
      giannisgrass -
      Great interview...a duet album with Scott would be great!