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Thread: Was Bill Monroe The First?

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    Registered User JAK's Avatar
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    Default Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Was Bill Monroe the first bluegrass player to own a Gibson F5 Lloyd Loar signed mandolin and bring it into his playing? Or were there other players before him that used one, and Bill got the idea from them? Did Bill know what he had when he bought his Gibson F5 in the barbershop regarding sound, quality, etc.? I know players used a Loar signed F5 in mandolin orchestras, but was Bill the first to introduce it to the world of bluegrass, or were there other bluegrass playing a Loar F5 before him?
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    I'm not positive but I think maybe Dave Appolon owned one.

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    I believe he got that instrument prior to Earl and Lester joining the band, so there was no bluegrass prior to that.
    Play it like you mean it.

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I believe he got that instrument prior to Earl and Lester joining the band, so there was no bluegrass prior to that.
    I’d agree with that. Didn’t he buy it about 1934?

    The F5 was a bit of s flop I believe so I guess (and will no doubt be corrected if I’m wrong) that most professional players (Dave Apollon as a notable exception) either didn’t play one or moved it on quickly fir other instruments.
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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Also, monroe knew what he had. He found it in a barber shop and paid 150 for it. Big money then. He then held onto it for 60 years. And refused to adjust the neck fir fear f ruining the tone
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Bill Monroe saw his 'Loar' hanging up in the window of a Florida barber shop. I haven't read anything to suggest that he knew anything about 'Loars' as a superior Gibson model. I suspect that like many of us would do,he saw it,liked it & went in to try it out. It turned out that he liked it 'a lot',& bought it. He certainly hadn't been on any 'quest' to find a 'Loar' - it was his (& our) good fortune that brought them together. At that time,a LLoyd Loar mandolin was simply a 'superior' grade one,judged tonally. It was only after BM began to play his own 'Loar' to the public after Bluegrass had taken off,that 'wannabe' Bluegrass mandolin players began to notice the quality of tone of BM's 'Loar',& thus the aquisition of a 'Loar' mandolin became a must for many players - as it is today,
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Thanks Ivan. You expressed what I wanted to but didn’t - he found it and recognised it as a great instrument just by playing it.
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    No bluegrass player could have played an F5 before Monroe. He was the first bluegrass mandolin player. The F5 was made 20+ years before bluegrass, I'm sure some one else had played them but not in BG music.

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    This seems to be a funny thread.

    Was BM the first bluegrass musician to play an F-5 mandolin? Yes, because he was the first bluegrass musician, as he invented it.

    Was Dave Appolon a bluegrass musician (post #2)? Dig youtube and see the kind of bluegrass DA has played.

    Did BM buy the iconic Lloyd Loar F-5 around 1934? If you give or take ten years... The general consensus is that BM bought the F-5 in either 1942 or 1945. Around 1934 BM worked on radio shows in his early career. The first recordings were made around 1936. That time BM probably played the F-7.

    Did other musician at that time play an F-5? I believe that in Bill´s competitor band, namely Charlie Monroe´s Kentucky Pardners, the notable mandolin picker Lester Flatt played a (30 ies) F-5.
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Quote Originally Posted by JAK View Post
    Was Bill Monroe the first bluegrass player to own a Gibson F5 Lloyd Loar signed mandolin and bring it into his playing?...
    Bill Monroe invented Bluegrass. There were no other Bluegrass players before him. The answer is yes, Bill Monroe was the first Bluegrass player to own a Gibson F5 Lloyd Loar signed mandolin.

    If Monroe had played a Lyon and Healy mandolin we'd be talking about them.

    Other players obviously played Loar signed mandolins but may or may not have assigned any special note to who signed the label in the instrument or when it was built.

    Olaf and Mandoplumb beat me to it.
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I believe he got that instrument prior to Earl and Lester joining the band, so there was no bluegrass prior to that.
    According to Smith's bio, Monroe bought the F5 in 1943. Most people would date the beginning of Bluegrass as a genre to Dec 1945, when Earl Scruggs joined the band. But both Scruggs and Don Reno played in other bands before Monroe, so Scruggs liked to say that Bluegrass started with the Morris Brothers.

    Monroe, on the other hand, claimed that BG started in 1939 with the first edition of the BG Boys, specifically with Mule Skinner Blues on which he played the guitar, supposedly to establish the Bluegrass beat. My guess is that on his first two recorded solo numbers as a singer (the other being Doghouse Blues) he just felt more comfortable backing himself on the guitar.

    Monroe's exact motives for buying the F5 will never be known, but he probably became attached to it for its superior punch and volume. The main advantage of the F5 over the F7 is that the longer neck forces a better (higher) placement of the bridge.

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Just a clarification on the above-mentioned Dave Apollon — who was decidedly not a bluegrass mandolinist.

    According to this article, "It is interesting to note that throughout his career, Dave used the Gibson F-5 mandolin exclusively, owning several."

    I've seen a lot of the available film clips of Apollon playing, and he's wielding an F-5 in most of them. (There are a few exceptions.)

    I suspect that Apollon was the kind of player that LLoyd Loar and team had in mind when they designed the F-5 originally. Loar was a classical musician himself (my grandmother remembered seeing him playing viola in concerts in Kalamazoo when she was a young woman), and was looking to build a mandolin that had the same concert-hall-filling properties of a good Cremona violin. More about that here.

    There's no doubt about Bill Monroe's F-5 being an incredible instrument. But Monroe was pretty incredible on that F-7, too, and I have no doubt that whatever he played when he hit his stride with the Blue Grass Boys would have become the iconic standard for the idiom.
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Kotapish View Post

    I suspect that Apollon was the kind of player that LLoyd Loar and team had in mind when they designed the F-5 originally. Loar was a classical musician himself
    Thank you Paul!



    There was no Bluegrass music when the Loar designed Gibson mandolins were first made.

    Apollon was in New York by 1919. The Loar/Gibson mandolins were first made after 1922.

    And a reminder:

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...923-Loar-73009

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Just for fun looked this up in an inflation calculator

    Adjusted for inflation, $150.00 in 1943 is equal to $2,188.08 in 2018.
    Annual inflation over this period was 3.64%

    Bill got his Loar for less than the price of a Northfield today. Pretty savy

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    While we're on the subject, the man talking the mandolin in person. This has been on the site in various places since at least 2010. Guessing some of you haven't heard it.


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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    In the new Bill Monroe book by Tom Ewing,on page 125,it tells of BM finding his Loar mandolin in Florida in Jan.1945. In Feb.1945,BM & his 'Boys' travelled to Chicago to record on Tues.Feb.13. ''Rocky Road Blues'' was one of the first tunes to be recorded using his new mandolin. I remember the month of BM buying his Loar - 14th Jan.1945 was when i was born.

    I don't know if this will work,but i looked up the 'relative $ value' of a Loar in 1923, $250 US (when BMs was made), to the $ value today :- http://www.in2013dollars.com/1923-do...018?amount=250.

    I don't know what US wages were like back in 1923,but here's a table of some wages back then :-
    https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/title/...?start_page=71 It might give one an idea regarding just how long you'd have to work to afford a Gibson F5 in those days - dependent on your 'earning power',
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    If we are talking Bluegrass Mandolin, as opposed to Bluegrass Music, I would suggest that Bill was not only it's first practitioner, but that he was doing it well before 1945.
    His brother Charlie's guitar playing was straight up bluegrass guitar, down to the details, driving and prodding on Bill's ferocious mandolin playing. They were doing it well before Feb. 17, 1936, in Charlotte NC, where they first recorded on the Bluebird Label.
    I also find it hard to believe that Bill played his Gibson F7 like that and was oblivious to the Gibson Master Models.
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Film clips and photos of Apollon from the late '20s/early '30s show him with Lyon & Healy instruments. He did play a series of F5 instruments later in his career, some but not all of them Loars. Not exactly sure when he switched.

    This sure sounds like oval-hole tone and probably a Lyon & Healy to me.

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    It's true that Bill Monroe was playing in the style that ''would eventually become'' Bluegrass well before 1940,but it wasn't 'named' Bluegrass at that time,in fact Bill & Charlie were simply 2 more 'Old Timey' pickers back then - with a 'difference' maybe,but no more than that.

    As for BM being aware of the higher end Gibson models,why should he have been ?. Unless he'd come into contact with other players who owned one,or had seen adverts for them,BM was satisfied with the one that he had - the old saying ''Ignorance is bliss''.
    Much the same applies even today, regarding builders who eventually rise to the top. Steve Gilchrist (for example) was an 'unknown' for a while, until the quality of his mandolins became widely appreciated. Only then did the desire to own one - 'MAS' - hit a lot of players. In other words we can't know about all available mandolins all the time,
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Tom Ewing's new Bill Monroe biography is a great resource for these kind of questions. Including: his purchase date of the mandolin, the several dates of when his mandolin was worked on, (neck included), and many other things. While Ewing does not specifically address that Monroe knew about the F5 model, it seems to me that he may have well known about the F5 model. He was pretty well off at the time and did not seem ignorant of mandolins others played. Seems like he would have known. He had worked in urban Chicago in the 30's. And by 1945 lived in Nashville and had Performed in many places, so he wasn't just sitting at the farm reading the Sears catalog with a limited existence. However, maybe he didn't know, but he certainly knew after he got it that it was much different animal than the then current products Gibson put out.

    This sparks me go back to Ewings book and read that section again. What kind of mandolin did Lester Flatt play with Charlie Monroe?

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Quote from GTison :- " Seems like he would have known."That's certainly 'possible' - but nowhere have i read that he made any effort to locate one. Also,just how many mandolin players were around at that time, playing what we refer to as Old Timey music,& just how many would have had the cash to buy one ??. Not many (IMHO).

    Refering to the table that i linked to in post#16-the cost of a new Gibson F5 back in 1923 was the equivalent of $3,900 (approx.) today - the standard living wage for a worker averaged around $40 per week - that's nearly 98 weeks of work to afford the $3,900 for a new Gibson. Somehow i doubt very much if many 'Country' musicians at the time that Bill Monroe kicked off his career would have owned one.

    Of course,we'll never know absolutely IF BM knew about Lloyd Loar's Gibson mandolins at all,but judging by what i've read in all the books on BM that i own - all of them (except 'Boss Men')- there's no hint of him knowing about them. If he did,he kept it to himself.

    Quote #2 "...but he certainly knew after he got it that it was much different animal than the then current products Gibson put out." I'm sure that he realised that he had 'something special' - but i also wonder if he'd actually ever played any of the current Gibson production mandolins. My 'gut feeling',& judging by what i've read,BM was a guy very much focused on his music rather than the 'instrument' itself. Discovering his 'Loar',seems to have been purely coincidence. That he did discover it & play it as his 'premier instrument' for the whole of his playing career,has resulted in what might be rightly called - a Mandolin Revolution, which is still going on today,& which has resulted in this particular 'Treasure Trove' of all things mandolin - ''The Mandolin Cafe'' - how lucky can we realistically get (without the free handout of Lloyd Loar mandolins of course - LOL !!),
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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Bill Monroe first revolutionized how mandolin was used in the brother duet setting and then took his aggressive approach to the instrument into a larger band context and explored a lot of music within this context. He found musicians who could understand his vision and could manifest it as a sound that fulfilled his vision. There is a wealth of aural evidence that you should listen to going back into the 1930's where he and his brother, Charlie started out as the Monroe Brothers. They split up in the late 30's and Bill formed the first iteration of the Bluegrass Boys which included women at times. His band was a university for learning the music Bill heard in his head and the very best of these musicians moved that vision forward. In the 1970's Bill Monroe's music took a sudden inward look and he began to produce a whole new kind of mandolin tunes. Even with A&R men messing with his sound, he was able to keep his vision of a sound rooted in Anglo balladry, smoked with Afro blues and hyped up by jazz influences that added to the instrumental spark. Listen until you hear all of this, then come back and ask questions. If you want to play bluegrass Bill Monroe is the root from which all scions are drawn. All others follow his lead.

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    With Bluegrass it is simple: Monroe invented it. Now, Rock'N'Roll, well, not so cut and dried......

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Mando View Post
    With Bluegrass it is simple: Monroe invented it. Now, Rock'N'Roll, well, not so cut and dried......
    Well there a lot of those rock 'n roll elements in the 1940's bluegrass and Elvis did cover Blue Moon of Kentucky.
    This was some of the music that Monroe might have heard back in the day.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-9D_Y3B_3w

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    Default Re: Was Bill Monroe The First?

    Bill Monroe's song ''Rocky Road Blues'' has more than a hint of the later ''Rock Around The Clock'' recorded by Bill Haley,& 'Bluegrass Stomp' has a very 'Bluesy' feel to it. Bill Monroe's recordings show that he had many different influences in 'his' music - why not ?,
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