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Thread: The great guitar break that wasn't!

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    Registered User Christine Robins's Avatar
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    Default The great guitar break that wasn't!

    I'm fascinated by this performance of Monroe & the Boys. Poor Peter Rowen--they don't give him a break! But the banjo player takes 3 breaks, literally shoving Rowen aside. You can see the frustration and pain on Peter's face.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYTv...pzF0w0&index=9

    Anybody know what happened? They all look pretty grim, except for the fiddler grinning near the beginning.

    Was Bill trying to punish Peter for something? Or did he just like to let the boys fight it out? Was Rowen pushed out like this on other performances? Did Monroe do this to other players?

    I've been reading the the new Ewing bio, and haven't seen anything to explain this behavior.

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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Bill did not generally, if ever, feature lead guitar work in the Blue Grass Boys. Pete is leaning into the microphone simply to accent the "Flatt run" at the end of phrases. This was a common practice in those days, and it is more noticeable with the band using a single microphone. If you watch old film of Flatt and Scruggs, you can see that Lester Flatt often made a big deal out of lifting his guitar up to the microphone to play that run.

    In those days, lead guitar was very unusual in bluegrass music as a whole. The only players I can think of who routinely played lead guitar back then were George Shuffler with the Stanley Brothers, and Clarence White with the Kentucky Colonels. Also, from time to time, Don Reno and Earl Scruggs would set their banjos aside and pick up a guitar. Don could get around very well with a flat pick, but Earl always played Travis style or Carter style.

    Also, although Peter Rowan is a great rhythm guitarist, lead work was never his strong point. I don't believe that he ever could have pulled off a break on the Blue Grass Breakdown.
    Last edited by rcc56; Dec-21-2018 at 1:46am.

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    With all due respect to Peter Rowan (whom i've seen & met a few times over here),he's not a Tony Rice style 'lead' Bluegrass guitar player - leastways not when i've seen him. My band opened for Bill & 'The Boys' at Manchester UK's main Folk club in 1966. Peter Rowan was part of the band, & as i remember he didn't play any real break as per Tony Rice / David Grier etc. I just realised that i'm saying pretty much what rcc56 said above. So - no,PR isn't getting pushed out for any reason.

    Chistine - I just finished the book a day ago,what was your verdict on it ?. It's pretty much a 'warts 'n all' Bio.,but in my opinion,all the better for it,
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    Registered User bradlaird's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Leaning in to play a lick is not an attempt to get a break. This stuff should not be viewed in the modern context where guitar solos are the norm. There are few guitar solos in Monroe’s music (Del at Mechanics Hall is typical of what passed for a solo.) and you may be imagining something that wasn’t there. If that scene was from 2010... you might be correct.

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    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    It's simple choreography Christine. Bluegrass Breakdown is a banjo-centric tune. And as already said, the players are just working the mic. Since you mentioned guitar breaks. IMO the most killer guitar break to Bluegrass Breakdown is this one by the great Cody Kilby. Although a little hard to hear on this video the recorded version just flies.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-gBbALMdpU

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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Play more, watch considering when the footage was shot.
    Think of time BEFORE Tony Rice. Learn some history, understand where the music came from to see where it’s going.
    Sorry, same old saw.
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    Registered User Christine Robins's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Thanks to everyone for educating me about the history of bluegrass guitar breaks.

    Rowen still looks awfully pained and frustrated in this particular performance. Maybe he was just having a bad day.

    Ivan--
    The Ewing book is fascinating, though I often feel overwhelmed by all the detail--every Boy, every gig, every recording described. I was hoping for more on the evolution of Monroe's playing. But Cantwell's Bluegrass Breakdown does a pretty good job of that.

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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by rcc56 View Post
    Also, although Peter Rowan is a great rhythm guitarist, lead work was never his strong point. I don't believe that he ever could have pulled off a break on the Blue Grass Breakdown.
    Ive always wondered how good guys like him or Del McCoury sound taking a lead. I mean, im sure theyre at least somewhat decent, theyve had a guitar in their hand and been playing in this genre for how long?
    "When you learn an old time fiddle tune, you make a friend for life"

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    Registered User doc holiday's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Peter Rowan has come a long way and is a great performer. When I look at that clip, there's young Northeastern kid singing & playing guitar with Mr Bill Monroe. Those are mighty big shoes to fill, following the likes of Lester Flatt & Jimmy Martin. Serious business, compared to playing with Muleskinner a some 8 years later when he was centre stage.

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Hi Christine - I rather felt the same at times when reading the book - lots to absorb. I agree,it would be interesting to understand Bill Monroe's mandolin style evolution,but i suppose his early recordings with brother Charlie are the closest that we'll ever get.

    This is the way that he sounded back then - 1936 recording of ''New River Train'' :- https://youtu.be/NyWMFjly24o I suppose that he just built on that style over the years. Here's 'True Life Blues' recorded in 1945 & you can hear a change in style - ''Proto-Bill Monroe'' :- https://youtu.be/3uiyjhPb4Lo,
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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Another thing to consider, in that particular clip there is no bass player. That leaves a lot on the guitar players shoulders to keep it together.
    Timothy F. Lewis
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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by Christine Robins View Post
    I'm fascinated by this performance of Monroe & the Boys. Poor Peter Rowen--they don't give him a break! ... You can see the frustration and pain on Peter's face.

    ...

    Anybody know what happened? They all look pretty grim, except for the fiddler grinning near the beginning.

    ...
    First of all, its Peter Rowan.

    Then, you canīt see "the frustration and pain". It may be your perception but that is highly subjective.

    If you try to keep up with tempos like the Bluegrass Breakdown a certain amount of tension may be felt. Have you tried to play along? Did you check how you look like?

    I am known to push to high tempos at times. I am also known to look stern when I do.

    As it had been noted earlier, back in the day guitar players didnīt do a solo. That came with a stage setup where each instrument had a microphone. Even with that guitar breaks often went under in the mix. The guitar is a difficult instrument to present in a bluegrass setting.
    Olaf

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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    I disagree that multiple mics enabled the guitar break. Don Reno took guitar breaks on The Top of the Morning show with one mic overhead. Scruggs used guitar breaks on most gospel songs playing into two mics on their tv show. George Shuffler played lead guitar with Stanleys using one mic. One mic should work better than multiple because every one else has to back off to let the lead instrument in so no one can have their banjo or fiddle eating another mic. The guitar became a lead instrument because of Reno, Scruggs, Shuffler, And Clarence White, long before Tony Rice.

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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    Another thing to consider, in that particular clip there is no bass player. That leaves a lot on the guitar players shoulders to keep it together.
    The bass player is James Monroe, and he's clearly visible in the beginning. But the bass is very poorly recorded

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    Registered User grassrootphilosopher's Avatar
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandoplumb View Post
    I disagree that multiple mics enabled the guitar break. Don Reno took guitar breaks on The Top of the Morning show with one mic overhead. Scruggs used guitar breaks on most gospel songs playing into two mics on their tv show. George Shuffler played lead guitar with Stanleys using one mic. One mic should work better than multiple because every one else has to back off to let the lead instrument in so no one can have their banjo or fiddle eating another mic. The guitar became a lead instrument because of Reno, Scruggs, Shuffler, And Clarence White, long before Tony Rice.
    In an ideal environment a one mic setup is no problem. Did we have a one mic environment in the early days with tiny speaker systems, bar crowds etc.? Everyone who has played guitar in a bluegrass band knows how difficult it is to keep up the band sound while trying to come through on the pa system with your guitar break.

    Donīt get me wrong. I was the first in Germany to play bluegrass with a one mic setup (1997). There were some czech bands that were experimenting with one mic setups at the same time. I have not seen it in any other European country. Back then it was The Del McCoury Band and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver as nationally knwon bands and other quirky bands like The Sawtooth Mountain Boys that did it. In a live setting you had terrible difficulties to sound good as a band not to mention having the guitar come through.

    While I always liked the mandolin the reason that I am currently known rather as a mandolin player than a guitar picker is that "in the old days" I could make myself heard better playing the mandolin.

    The role of the guitar in a bluegrass band is still that of a rythm slave. You have to have a highly disciplined band to develop a band sound that does not drop off when the guitar takes a break. Try it in a jam session and you may have some rather frurstrating experiences. It helps to have a "banjo slaying guitar". Most of the time the guitar takes a back seat to other instruments.

    The single mic setup has facilitated getting a band sound across in more problematic environments easier. That includes the guitar.

    Listen to Tony Rice in the Bluegrass Alliance:


    or in this all star band:


    I rest my case.

    Doc Watson, Don Reno, George Shuffler, Clarence White and Tony Rice are the ones that I learned the most from. I donīt say it canīt be done.
    Olaf

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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by Christine Robins View Post
    Rowen still looks awfully pained and frustrated in this particular performance. Maybe he was just having a bad day.
    He was; every day.
    He was doing his hitch playing guitar and singing lead for WSM.
    But Amsterdam was always good for grieving
    And London never fails to leave me blue
    And Paris never was my kinda town
    So I walked around with the Ft. Worth Blues

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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    The bass player is James Monroe, and he's clearly visible in the beginning. But the bass is very poorly recorded
    Well, Clearly, I wasn’t looking very closely, sheesh!
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    Quote Originally Posted by Timbofood View Post
    Another thing to consider, in that particular clip there is no bass player. That leaves a lot on the guitar players shoulders to keep it together.
    James Monroe is there but, as usual, the bass player gets no respect. As soon as the tune starts the camera zooms in on the other four as if the bass is just not that important.
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    Default Re: The great guitar break that wasn't!

    From Larry above - "....as if the bass is just not that important. " Larry - It always seems to me that the Bass is ''never important'' - until it stops !!. Only then can you hear how 'empty' the sound stage really is. At festivals,i've been in more jamming situation than i could count - banjo / mandolin / guitar & sometimes a fiddle - then !!. Somebody with a bass fiddle comes over,joins in, & then the whole sound fills out - amazing !!,
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