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Thread: Bluegrass for the elderly

  1. #51
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    I'm surprised it took 50 posts to get back the "What is" discussion, I think I will go make coffee and maybe clean the garage? I will sit out on that one, there are plenty of threads bashing about on that subject.
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  3. #52

    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    I think one bad thing about bluegrass culture, among so many good things, is it has the tendency, for some people, to foreclose interest in other great types of hillbilly music because they "ain't bluegrass." The old guard--Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Osbornes, Jim and Jesse, Jimmy Martin, Stanleys--were trying to be successful country and western/hillbilly singers. They weren't trying to win bluegrass awards. Bluegrass is a part of a much larger picture, one snapshot in time of hillbilly music. Too many BG fans have absorbed Bill Monroe's press kit into their way of thinking. I'm very grateful for Ralph Rinzler, et. al, because otherwise Monroe might have faded into oblivion, but seeing bluegrass as its own distinct genre has a downside.

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  5. #53
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Good point in the post above. At some of the "bluegrass jams" I have attended in my western NY area, the older musicians don't draw a hard line between bluegrass and old-style country -- Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff stuff. They sing these songs with bluegrass instrumentation, no electric instruments or drums, but without any "that's not bluegrass!" reaction from fellow jammers or listeners.

    They tended to view Monroe and other early bluegrass artists as a sub-set of country music in general. IMHO it was the 1960's effort to put bluegrass into the "folk music" category, partially to take advantage of folk music's popularity among non-Southern, younger listeners, that made many people see bluegrass as a largely distinct separate genre from Nashville-style country music. The fact that country was at the time trying to reach a more "pop" audience with the "country-politan" sound -- orchestral strings, choral backup singing, crooner-style vocals -- made the distinction between country and bluegrass even stronger.

    You could make the case that Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff were closer akin, than Monroe and, say, Bela Fleck or David Grisman, who played what they called "bluegrass" for years, but with a much more eclectic -- and "non-country" -- vibe. Looking at bluegrass as a sub-genre of overall country music may be a more useful perspective, than seeing it as sui generis.
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  6. #54

    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    I just wonder what Tito Puente or Xavier Cugat might think of this interpretation.
    They might love it. On the other hand they might say "Eso no es no parte de nada".?.
    "I play BG so that's what I can talk intelligently about." A line I loved and pirated from Mandoplumb

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  8. #55
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    An argument (subject) that will never be settled as long as we live is "What is Bluegrass?" I know it when I hear it and that is what matters to me, I also like other kinds of music and do play songs by Eddy Arnold and Webb Peirce, those were the Old country music that has long gone by the wayside and if we don`t wake up bluegrass will be down there with country....I really liked it when on the radio it was termed "Hillbilly Music" and you could hear a mixture of country and bluegrass on the same station by a "GOOD" disc jockey....Tom Cat Reeder and Ray Davis are gone now and no one to take up the slack...

    I am plus one with what Ivan said, I guess Myself, Ivan and Tim will just have to keep real bluegrass alive, anyone else want to join the fold?

    Willie

  9. #56
    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    The guys in "Great Lakes Grass" stand "High on a Mountain top" with you and Ivan! Slipping in some newer songs but, maintaining the sound is still fine with me, it's all about the sound and, "feel" for me, not always so much the subject matter. I was impressed when the "Virginia Squires" did The Rolling Stones "Honky Tonk Woman" even though they changed woman to women but, that's small potatoes.
    Nashville Bluegrass Band did a cover of Jim Ringer's "Waiting for the Hard Times to go" they left out one line in the chorus which didn't sit too well with me but, it "sounded right". I was lucky enough to have known Jim a little and, I think he would be happy to have heard such a fine example of his song. Strictly Bluegrass? Maybe not but, certainly in the right church, just a different pew.
    Timothy F. Lewis
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  10. #57
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    I think that maybe i could carry my argument on to a further point - the ''is it Bluegrass without a banjo ?''. Take any full Bluegrass band ie. banjo/mandolin/guitar/fiddle & bass & in the middle of your chosen Bluegrass 'song' - remove the banjo player.(believe me,i'd like to have done that a few times when the guy hogs it !!). Is what you hear still 'Bluegrass' ??.

    How could you say it's NOT ?. But - is the 'sound' the 'sound of Bluegrass' ?. For me,it's not. The 'sound' of a Bluegrass band has to include the banjo. However,saying even that has required a change of my own ideas as to what constitutes ''Bluegrass''. There's the genre ie. the song / instrumental & there's the sound. So for me - Bluegrass can still retain it's identity as Bluegrass without a banjo,but without it,it looses it's essential flavour,a bit like ice cream with no flavouring that could still be called ice cream - but would you want it ?,
    Ivan

    PS - The one thing that shines out above all things in these discussions - is the passion that we still have for Bluegrass Music. If we weren't so passionate about it - would we even bother ??.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Willie can put me in the group keeping BG real grass as long as the lyrics don't all have to contain reference to a cabin. Don't get me wrong I love all Monroes and F&S songs about cabins and know the lyrics to most, sing them often but while BG roots are firmly planted in the Appalachian mountains the soul of BG is the drive, I didn't say speed. Country Gentlemen, Jimmy Martian, Flatt & Scruggs as well as others drove the music right thru you whether fast or slow. That is the part of BG that makes it BG in my opinion and I'll die saying that there is a lot of good music (most of it acoustic) but it ain't Grass if it don't drive. And Ivan, while it's not impossible to have that drive without a banjo one sure makes it easier, I think that's why we all make jokes about banjos. We know we really need them an to a certain extent we resent that.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    A banjo and those high lonesome vocals. No high and lonesome, no BG.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Another quotable quote:

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I think that's why we all make jokes about banjos. We know we really need them an to a certain extent we resent that.
    You probably think I'm pulling your leg Mandoplumb, but I assure you I'm not. Lately, you've been the Mark Twain of this forum!
    "I play BG so that's what I can talk intelligently about." A line I loved and pirated from Mandoplumb

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    It's because banjos are funny! Some banjo players are pretty funny too!
    And I agree 100% about "DRIVE" it's not speed, it's force, it's attack, it has absolutely nothing to do with speed!
    Timothy F. Lewis
    "If brains was lard, that boy couldn't grease a very big skillet" J.D. Clampett

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    Registered User Rex Hart's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    This is getting fun! Blue Railroad Train off of Tony Rice's Manzanita album has no banjo but yet more drive than most songs I hear today with banjo

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    I find that some of the good bluegrass players do change over to other forms of music because it is their sole way of making a living and they usually have a booking agent that digs up gigs for them so they play what the audience wants to hear and sometimes they do this without all of the normal bluegrass instruments and then when they get booked on these jobs a lot of people think what they are playing is bluegrass. that is what I also have seen at the last three "Bluegrass festivals" that I have attended, on one I left after three hours, 50 dollars shot to hell...One band had a fellow sitting on a wooden box and beating on it to keep time with the music.UGH I guess next will be a tambourine or a triangle like in the TV commercial...Maybe the older people would like that though come to think of it...

    Willie

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    From mandoplumb - "....while it's not impossible to have that drive without a banjo...".It certainly isn't. I went to see Doyle Lawson & Quicksliver when they played over here back in 1988. My favourite banjo player,Scott Vestal was with him at the time,so there definitely wasn't any lack of drive. However,on one song Doyle kicked off on mandolin at such a lick,that the audience simply gasped - & he kept it going throughout the song. That was 'mandolin drive' at it's most awesome !!!.

    The banjo does add 'drive'' to a band,but so can a fiddle or a mandolin -IMHO. It's not so much the 'drive' as the 'sound' that makes me say that the banjo is a 100% requirement in Bluegrass if you want to 'sound' like a Bluegrass band.

    I've seen many Bluegrass musicians over here in the UK over time,some of whom were playing solo ie. Peter Rowan,whom i've seen a few times, also Laurie Lewis & Tom Rozum,who came over without a band. Was what they played Bluegrass because they had no banjo player ??. I'd have to say yes,but it would have sounded far better & more 'like' Bluegrass with a banjo - IMHO (again). I accepted what they played for what it was - good music,played & sung well,but it didn't 'sound' like Bluegrass to me,
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    I have to admit I’m definitely one who needs a banjo if I’m to call it Bluegrass, otherwise it’s another style of stringband music. I probably listen to less new Bluegrass bands than old recordings, and listen to more OldTime and other new forms of stringband music than Bluegrass. Doing old stuff for new is hard to sell if you aren’t doing it better than it’s already been done. I mean I’m not so fussy about the flashy picking but it’s hard to better some of those vocal harmonies.
    I tend to look on these “Is it Bluegrass?” diversions as a bit of a nuisance intrusion into what are often pretty good premises for a thread & they can spoil the lines of discussion that were developing prior to the intrusion of the old chestnut that’s been rolled around plenty of times before.

    As to the original premise; it seems a bit like the world of ‘classical’ music (including all the ‘what is’ and ‘actually that’s not really’ discussions and the cooption the name of a later development as an overarching genre title ) where there are plenty of people who like or hate it, care don’t care about it etc. It’s another niche in the music world where people can learn to develop their musicianship and technical abilities. Unlike baroque music it hasn’t yet been eclipsed by subsequent developments and thanks to our recordings and literature we have very good technical resources to fall back on if the live music scene ever falters or transmogrifies into something else as happened with the Classical and Romantic movements.

    How much does it matter if it is music listened to by mainly older people or where younger people start there and branch out?
    I know many people are like me where they heard and liked it in their youth, but never really followed up on it until much later. Then, because there was a healthy, welcoming and civil local picking scene, backed up by some great camps and festivals, it was one of the most accessible ways for me to develop quickly as a mandolinist. It didn’t feel nearly as intimidating or fuddy-duddy as many other situations, but coming from a background with a large chunk of classical playing that wouldn’t have bothered me too much. What was important was being able to turn up and join in while being pretty rubbish for a while.
    What mattered was that there were people there week in week out getting together to enjoy playing BG & OT, supporting those singing & playing with back up, harmonies etc in one another’s company. Basically they were trying to make each other sound as good as possible, going off to learn newly introduced tunes so the next time it was even better. Many of them get together as bands to really pursue things down a particular line like BG or OT Jug-band etc, but when they get together to jam it’s more flexible as long as it’s in the right ballpark. If people want a more constrained structure then they can form a new jam & see if enough likeminded people turn up.

    Is that kind of close support, inter-dependent, location based community structure something widely valued by younger people? While there are some (many when you look nationally here in the UK) I’m kind of glad it’s not a huge thing. Youth is meant for striking out, leaving home & striving for independence, however illusory it may be. It seems important to us be able to strive for the new while we invent our own life story. As long as there are enough of us “keeping on keeping on going” then there’s a welcoming place & connection for those independent folks to come back to.

    So I wouldn’t worry too much about the grey hair & no hair around the circle; as long as we’re turning up there’ll be an older someone new turning up to fill the chairs as they fall empty. There’ll also be a set of younger folk attracted to that. The only thing that’ll stop them is if they’re not made welcome.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Hart View Post
    This is getting fun! Blue Railroad Train off of Tony Rice's Manzanita album has no banjo but yet more drive than most songs I hear today with banjo
    Love Sam's solo on this.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    My favorite quote about my old band:

    "…I guess you could consider them a Bluegrass band… they are going to do a lot of real neat songs in the Bluegrass style…"

    Randy Bailey
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    "All right, and welcome back to Bluegrass Sunday Morning here on WWWW FM, that was the great old Bluegrass classic 'Nuages' by Django Reinhardt and the Seine River Valley Boys ..."


    Hey D.R. started out playing banjo-guitar, that makes his music totally bluegrass, n'est-ce pas?

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Go take a look at Don Greiser's Marty Stuart post, no banjo, still BG sez I even with the snare drum!
    Timothy F. Lewis
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    There are plenty of bluegrass songs without a banjo.

    There are very very few bluegrass bands without a banjo player...

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    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post
    Good point in the post above. At some of the "bluegrass jams" I have attended in my western NY area, the older musicians don't draw a hard line between bluegrass and old-style country -- Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff stuff. They sing these songs with bluegrass instrumentation, no electric instruments or drums, but without any "that's not bluegrass!" reaction from fellow jammers or listeners.

    They tended to view Monroe and other early bluegrass artists as a sub-set of country music in general. IMHO it was the 1960's effort to put bluegrass into the "folk music" category, partially to take advantage of folk music's popularity among non-Southern, younger listeners, that made many people see bluegrass as a largely distinct separate genre from Nashville-style country music. The fact that country was at the time trying to reach a more "pop" audience with the "country-politan" sound -- orchestral strings, choral backup singing, crooner-style vocals -- made the distinction between country and bluegrass even stronger.

    You could make the case that Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff were closer akin, than Monroe and, say, Bela Fleck or David Grisman, who played what they called "bluegrass" for years, but with a much more eclectic -- and "non-country" -- vibe. Looking at bluegrass as a sub-genre of overall country music may be a more useful perspective, than seeing it as sui generis.

    I belive we are about the same generation (I was born in 1944); this is almost exactly the way I experienced the whole matter, although in another country. A couple of years ago I wrote an article for a small publication devoted to American folk music. I later translated that article to English. Here's a quote:

    "When jam culture in the US (as related to me) defines Oldtime by negating certain traits in
    Bluegrass it therefore often becomes an excuse for amateurism and rigid purism. There were other
    trends in string band music that could easily have been brought to the same level of professionalism.
    I would really like to see Bluegrass as just part of
    contemporary American string band music. No kind of music thrives on isolation.

    Bluegrass has certainly had its share of definition quarrels. When citybillies like Mike Seeger and Ralph Rinzler became aware of its folk roots, drawing the line against commercial
    country music - "the Nashville treacle" to quote Seeger - became important,
    marginalizing the Bluegrass-Oldtime dichotomy.
    The darlings of the citybillies were the Stanley Brothers, the first prominent Bluegrass group
    to tour Europe, typically as part of a folk music package.

    The Country Gentlemen, based in the DC area, seemed to divide the folkniks.
    Seeger produced them for Folkways records, Rinzler purely hated them. I believe the
    Gentlemen simply
    saw Bluegrass as an art form. They were equally capable of handling traditional songs from the archives of the Library of Congress as material by contemporary artists like Bob Dylan and Tom Rush,
    not to mention show and pop tunes like Heartaches and (The World is Waiting for the) Sunrise.
    Typically, their name derived (at least indirectly) from a tune by Chet Atkins, a very unprejudiced and ecelectic musician.

    By the 70's Bluegrass appeared to have painted itself into a corner of stylistic expectations, to the extent that any step out was a step into something else - already existing. Frankly, most of the "experimentation"
    was driven by survival rather than curiosity. When the commercial potential of these changes had been exhausted, and the situation for Bluegrass had brightened, many artists went back to their roots."

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Lehmann View Post
    There's so much in this interesting thread to unpack, I'm not quite sure to know where to start. Much of my response will seem like a repeat of material I've long been writing on my blog and in No Depression. Bluegrass, like all musical formats and genres, has and will continue to evolve. The questing spirit of young innovators clashes with the desire to hear familiar material from decade to decade. The roots of bluegrass are clear and well-established. It's even given a birth-date, December 8, 1946, when Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys at the Grand Ole Opry. However, the world surrounding this iconic moment has changed and so, inevitably, has the music.

    That would be almost three months after their recording debut for Columbia. The Opry debut was in late 1945.

    The exact birth date of BG is open to argument, if at all meaningful. Earl Scruggs and Don Reno played in other bands before joining Monroe. Scruggs liked to say that the Morris Brothers was the first Bluegrass band. And Monroe, of course, claimed that BG began with the first Victor Session in Atlanta 1940, or his Opry debut in 1939. To him, what distinguished BG from most contemporary string band music was the groove. I would say that BG, as a genre, began about the time Flatt and Scruggs left the Blue Grass Boys. Monroe is considered the "father" because F&S, Reno&Smiley, the Stanley Brothers, and others, took off from this edition of the BG Boys, but there really is no genre before others introduce their own twist on the original concept.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    I don’t see how you could call Stanley Brothers citybillies. Have you ever listened to Carter, folks from the big cities can’t even understand him he’s so country. I’ll agree a lot of what they sang was old country or Old Time but was done with a pretty good drive, if you want to say it wasn’t BG I disagree but can see where you are coming from but they would have to be hillbilly.

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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Good points in the posts above, though I have a hard time understanding just what "contemporary American string band music" might be. Most of the old-timey performers I know don't necessarily reject bluegrass music; some have a foot in both camps, and there are bands that will play an old-time fiddle tune with clawhammer banjo, then shift to play a bluegrass vocal with finger-picked banjo, mandolin "chop," etc. One of the things that defines "contemporary American string band music" to me is a recognition, if not a total acceptance or incorporation, of a variety of styles and influences. A band like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, consciously and skillfully reaching into the long-neglected heritage of African-American string band music, can share the "contemporary American" stage with Crooked Still, Old Crow Medicine Show, Rhonda Vincent and the Horseflies.

    There are old-timey musicians, for sure, who just don't like bluegrass. They draw on the "dance band" heritage of American fiddle music -- extended length of tunes, de-emphasis of vocals and instrumental soloing, fairly strictly defined instrumental roles, social music rather than performance music. And there are surely many bluegrass fans -- perhaps more than bluegrass musicians -- who jealously defend what they consider to be the true canon of the genre, and express their discomfort with innovations that violate "purity." We frequently quote Bill Monroe's dismissive "no part of nothin'" comment on certain changes he didn't like, forgetting the experiments and innovations that marked Monroe's own musical career. In opposition, we could list the many musicians who've played bluegrass and other styles, from Marty Stuart, David Grisman, Tony Rice, Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Chris Hillman, Jerry Garcia...the roster would extend through dozens of more famous names, and doubtless many more of whom we're not aware.

    I do agree that some of the motivation for these musicians to expand outside of bluegrass -- or, alternatively, to expand what they called "bluegrass" beyond traditional definitions -- was survival, trying to make a living, playing music that had a broader appeal, both stylistically and geographically, than "trad" bluegrass. The Country Gentlemen, whom Ralph J cites, were to some extent a product of the "folk revival" of the late 1950's and early 1960's; they went after a college-based, "folk music" audience, rather than playing the rural schools and tent shows that Bill Monroe had played. And as a group with varied influences in their backgrounds -- John Duffey came from a family that sang opera -- they felt less need to stick to the Monroe template. But I do think that "curiosity," or rather comfort with experimentation, and more eclectic backgrounds -- outside the rural South -- played important roles.

    Bluegrass seems in little danger of going the way of, say, Dixieland jazz, which is definitely seen as "preserved nostalgia" rather than a vital, growing musical genre. There are quite a few young musicians playing bluegrass or bluegrass-influenced music, sometimes blended with rock, folk, old-timey, country and other styles. But, to bring the discussion back to the title of the thread, it is the audiences rather than the performers, that seem to want to be the arbiters of what's traditional, acceptable, and worthy of being called "bluegrass." Not entirely due to their age ("elderly"), but due to their immersal in the music over nearly 75 years, and their view of it as something unique and special -- under siege from the outside, the property of an in-group that alone truly understands and appreciates it.

    Bluegrass will survive its fans, I believe -- or rather, there'll be a large enough component of the genre (trying to avoid using the word "residue") to keep the "trad" audience at least interested and active, while continuing to add new audiences who enjoy the energy, virtuosity, and non-mainstream "vibe" of the music.
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    Default Re: Bluegrass for the elderly

    Some good points Allen,

    Last summer my band played for a Seniors Home and about 20 of the people that lived there came up to me after we took a break and said we love your music, we haven`t heard true bluegrass for a long time, most of them said that they always listened to WAMU every day when they played bluegrass and now that they don't they sure miss it...These seniors all seemed to be "city folks" and not from the country but no one can really tell....My dad always called the music "String music" because he grew up before the name "bluegrass" was invented, he owned a guitar and a banjo but couldn`t play a lick on either one, he did tear up a harmonica though...right, no strings on a harmonica....

    It did my heart good to know that those seniors enjoyed our music and that it could bring back some good memories for them...a lot of them sang along with some of the songs too.....

    Willie

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