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Thread: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monroe?

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    Default Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monroe?

    Was there any sort of tradition or history of mandolin playing in American, Brittish, or Celtic folk music prior to Bill Monroe and bluegrass?

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Yes, very much so. The mandolin was used in Old Time stringband music in the 20's and 30's and beyond. It was also popular with jugband and blues musicians in the same time period. There is a lot of good recorded material out there once you start digging.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Doc Roberts for one example........


    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    Yes, very much so. The mandolin was used in Old Time stringband music in the 20's and 30's and beyond. It was also popular with jugband and blues musicians in the same time period. There is a lot of good recorded material out there once you start digging.
    Mandolin was also a folk instrument before this time. Rich Del Grosso explains in Mandolin Blues, pp.6-7, that mandolins were brought to the USA by Italians in the 1850's, and were first manufactured there in the 1890's by Lyon & Healy. Mandolins were popular before WWI though their use declined after. "But mandolins remained strong in the rural areas popular with the string- and jug-band performers. It was hard to find a fiddler that didn't double on mandolin. And in the hands of black performers, the mandolin provided a new voice for the blues" (7).

    Except in ethnic pockets, I was not aware of mandolins being popular folk instruments in Canada before the bluegrass era, but my mother, who was born in Prince Edward Island in 1921, said that there were mandolins around during her youth. Furthermore, I recently came across a reference to an Acadian folk musician who played mandolin in the 1930's or 40's. I'm not sure of the source -- Mandolin Cafe? The more I learn about folk music, the more I realize that it tends to be played on whatever instruments are available, such as mandolins, which were relatively inexpensive and sold through department store mail-order catalogues. As well, as DelGrosso suggests, mandolin is a good second instrument for anyone who plays fiddle, but wants a different sound, and vice versa.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Heck, Bill Monroe himself played folk mandolin before he started the Blue Grass Boys! Just listen to his recordings with his brother Charlie.

    Just for the record, bluegrass is not "traditional folk" music. Nobody sat out on the back porch and played bluegrass for the neighbors until decades after Monroe et al. developed the style as a subgenre of commercial country music.
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Right! That's what I'm trying to uncover. I think sometimes a mandolin at a traditionalist old-time session is looked at as not belonging--being a bluegrass instrument. Sometimes I sort of feel like that myself. I was hoping to be convinced that the mandolin has been part of the folk tradition at some level before Bluegrass.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    It's certainly an important instrument in African-American string band music. White old-time string bands like the Skillet Lickers used it, but less frequently.
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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    If you bring a mandolin to an old-time session, don't play it like a bluegrass mandolin. No chop chords in old-time!
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by abalter View Post
    ... sometimes a mandolin at a traditionalist old-time session is looked at as not belonging--being a bluegrass instrument.
    Keep in mind that, with a few notable exceptions, a "bluegrass" mandolin is an F-5 mandolin. But in the early '20s, Lloyd Loar did NOT set out to design the F-5 as a bluegrass instrument - there'd be no bluegrass for several more decades. He DID set out, and largely failed, to design the F-5 as a classical instrument. Of course, THAT fact probably won't help endear it to the old-timey set but, hey, why let the truth get in the way!
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    [QUOTE=abalter;1737833]Right! That's what I'm trying to uncover. I think sometimes a mandolin at a traditionalist old-time session is looked at as not belonging--being a bluegrass instrument. /QUOTE]

    I think what you are seeing is perhaps a fear that you are going to bluegrass all over their old time session. Its a prejudice for sure, but not unfounded. Its not that you are not welcome, but that, for better or worse, they need to see that you can avoid chopping and refrain from taking or expecting an improvised break, and that you at least try to play the tune.
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    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Nearly all the early photos in the Burns' documentary have a mandolin - mostly oval holes.

    The rule is, I think - if it's not bluegrass, no chop. I understand there were occasional choppers in early music, but they were a bit different to Monroe...
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    For anyone that says an F5 mando doesn’t belong in old time, point them to Caleb Klauder and the Fog Horn Stringband or Mike Compton’s playing with John Hartford.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    The Fiddlin' Powers Family first recorded in 1924 with Orpha Powers on mandolin. The young lady had some chops on the mandolin.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    [QUOTE=JeffD;1737848]
    Quote Originally Posted by abalter View Post
    Right! That's what I'm trying to uncover. I think sometimes a mandolin at a traditionalist old-time session is looked at as not belonging--being a bluegrass instrument. /QUOTE]

    I think what you are seeing is perhaps a fear that you are going to bluegrass all over their old time session. Its a prejudice for sure, but not unfounded. Its not that you are not welcome, but that, for better or worse, they need to see that you can avoid chopping and refrain from taking or expecting an improvised break, and that you at least try to play the tune.
    https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/e...awing-the-Line

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by abalter View Post
    Right! That's what I'm trying to uncover. I think sometimes a mandolin at a traditionalist old-time session is looked at as not belonging--being a bluegrass instrument. Sometimes I sort of feel like that myself. I was hoping to be convinced that the mandolin has been part of the folk tradition at some level before Bluegrass.
    I think the responses above are clear that it was around in the old days - at least sometimes.

    I often think, in terms of open old time jams, that there is not a natural fit for mandolin. You start with a fiddle, and that is awesome. Add a banjo, and you have a great combination of rhythm and melody. Then a guitar player comes along, and you get the chords played fully in a way the fiddle can't, and it become extra luscious. And everybody gets more happy when the bass joins in with that strong low-end beat. Now you come along with your mandolin, and what is missing that the mandolin can fill? The melody range overlaps the fiddle, and if the fiddle is not well intonated, makes the mandolin sound out of tune. Chords are already there with a guitar, the guitar and bass together have the rhythm and beats one, two, three and four filled up. Banjo takes care of any syncopated boppity-boppity, so what's left?

    Not this is a problem, say, with friends, or giant jams where everything goes, or when some of the other instruments are not present. Or even a problem, just something I think about in the way that I think about not playing chop chords in an oldtime jam.

    I think I see a lot more mandolins at old time festivals than when I started going four or five years ago. Anyone agree?

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    I can imagine a mandolin providing counter melody to the fiddle or perhaps arpeggios. BUT that is from my "modern ear" perspective, I've never done must OT Folk.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Bill's earliest recordings seem to be about 1937, so most of the folk music local people would play in their own areas before then would not have been documented much and probably never recorded.

    I realise that your question is probably mainly directed at American cafe members, but I have come across or heard of at least three banjo/mandolins in the Easter Ross area of the North of Scotland - one of which I now own.
    I used to know an old man who led a dance band and he was a banjo/mandolin player. I was also told that a farmer near where I live (who I never met) used to play the mandolin. This would have been probably around the 1940s I should think.

    These people would almost certainly have not been familiar with Monroe's music. I suspect their music would have been a mix of Scottish music and the popular songs of the day.
    David A. Gordon

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by abalter View Post
    Was there any sort of tradition or history of mandolin playing in American, Brittish, or Celtic folk music prior to Bill Monroe and bluegrass?
    I've read the whole thread.

    My one question back - and it has been touched upon - what about the Italians that brought their invention, the mandolin, to America and played Italian folk traditional music on it before even the boom of mandolin orchestras, American folk mandolin, etc.?

    Plus there was a lot of mention of mandolins in New Orleans between 1880-1910 or so, as being used in "string bands", which in that context meant indoor groups w/o brass.

    There are a number of folk mandolin traditions in America.

    http://www.offbeat.com/articles/new-...f-the-century/

    "There were three main types of ensemble performing around New Orleans from the 1880s to 1917: brass bands (for funerals), society orchestras and string bands. Being smaller and in demand in more diverse settings, the string ensembles had more flexibility and were expected to entertain with up-to-date songs and dancing music.

    ...

    The string bands that performed at Anderson’s Annex potentially had some of the most important traits of the new music that would come to be called jazz: a swinging rhythm built on the bass’ harmonic foundation; sophisticated soloists mixing virtuoso technical ability; Eurocentric harmonies and forms (and probably a Latin lilt to boot), with syncopated rhythms (giving an element of surprise); personal expression; and individual and collective improvisation, within the repetitive forms of up-to- date pop songs, including blues."




    TWO bowlbacks! In the only city in America with a Sicilian majority in its Italian community - which is now one of the largest ethnic groups in New Orleans.

    from a pre-Katrina WIKI:

    "New Orleans has a historical Italian-American population. As of 2004 those identifying as of Italian descent were the largest ethnic group of Europeans in the New Orleans Metropolitan Area, numbering around 250,000"

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    I would think there would have been a lot of Italian folk mandolin music being played in New York City before Bill Monroe’s time. I wonder how much of it has been documented.

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    Default Re: Was the mandolin played in traditional folk before Bill Monro

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    I've read the whole thread.

    My one question back - and it has been touched upon - what about the Italians that brought their invention, the mandolin, to America and played Italian folk traditional music on it before even the boom of mandolin orchestras, American folk mandolin, etc.?

    Plus there was a lot of mention of mandolins in New Orleans between 1880-1910 or so, as being used in "string bands", which in that context meant indoor groups w/o brass.

    There are a number of folk mandolin traditions in America...

    http://www.offbeat.com/articles/new-...f-the-century/
    Thanks for the interesting comments and article, David. In your country and mine, we often use the terms "folk" and "traditional" to refer to music which belonged to (often rural) elements within the mainstream culture, and forget that other ethnic groups and subcultures also had their own traditional music. Often when cultures meet, music is heard and shared. Music of one group may well influence neighbours (listen to the mandolin and fiddle player, Howard Armstrong discuss who's music he learned, in the film "Louie Bluie"). I think most of us are aware that "white" music of the American south (and now all over the US) is greatly influenced by Afro-American musical styles, and vice versa. Similarly Cape Breton "Scottish" music has been strongly affected by the musical traditions of Irish and French neighbours, as well as by many fiddling styles encountered as Cape Bretoners travelled throughout Canada and the US for work. A great many polkas from Germany and eastern Europe (e.g., "Beer Barrel Polka") have made their way into the wider North American folk repertoire, as have Italian and other European folksongs ("Funiculi, Funicula"). There's been a movement in my adult life (called "EthnoFusion" in 1980's Toronto) in which members of various ethnic group get together and combine the sounds of their musical traditions and instruments to create something new. As you suggest, it's not right to ignore American Italian music in a discussion of folk tradition.
    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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