What’s not to love about Bluegrass? With its traditions that go right back to Anglo-Celtic music that was taken to America by the European settlers, centuries earlier, to the acoustic sounds, harmonies, down home values, and a solid dash of old style religion to top it all off.
Bluegrass at its best is beguiling music. This is music from the Appalachian Mountains, the back roads of America, places where time is an abstract concept. And while the traditions of Bluegrass stretch back centuries, it is very much alive and well and flourishing today…thanks in no small part to the folks at Rounder records who have long championed Bluegrass.
Bill Monroe, and rightly so, eared the moniker, ‘Father of Bluegrass’. Starting out in the 1930s he and his band, The Blue Grass Boys made a string of fabulous records that, as the name implies, combine country music and the Blues. In the rural south, as Sam Phillips once said, “Blacks and Whites grew up farming, living on, and eating, the same dirt.” It was inevitable that the music merged into something so totally unique and yet it also has a strong tinge of pop music… Bluegrass is all about great tunes.
It was Monroe who made the “high, lonesome” vocal sound all his own, and it is something that generations of Bluegrass performers have played upon ever since. And where the old-style Appalachian music was loose, with string bands playing in a ‘ragged’ style, Bluegrass made the music sound tight, sophisticated and streamlined, while never losing its sense of where it came from.
The Carter Family where part of the older traditional style music, but some of their tunes have a very definite Bluegrass feel to them and the idea of close harmony singing, often with family members has long been a part of Bluegrass tradition – including Bill Monroe and his brother, Charlie, The Delmore Brothers and The Blue Sky Boys, along with many more.
The use of banjos and fiddles, along with guitars, helped to create the distinctive sound of bluegrass and duos such as, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers, did so much to popularize the music. In the 1950s there was Jim and Jesse McReynolds, The Osborne Brothers and Mac Wiseman who were all very popular; mainstream country artists such as Hank Williams, and later The Statler Brothers and Dolly Parton were all anxious to tip their hats to Bluegrass
In the 1960s, The Byrds embraced country music and inevitable fell under the spell of Bluegrass. Chris Hillman left the Byrds and formed the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons, while others including, The Dillards, The Country Gentlemen and The Kentucky Colonels did much to introduce a new younger audience to Bluegrass.
Later still a new kind of Bluegrass emerged, dubbed ‘New Grass’ artists such as, David Grisman, The New Grass Revival and J.D. Crowe and The New South spearheaded yet more advances with the music..
By the 1980s and 1990s The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Alison Krauss, and The Seldom Scene were picking up the baton. Today there’s Steve Martin and Edie Brickell and Bela Fleck are playing great Bluegrass, along with Della Mae and The Earls of Leicester that have all been helped, in part, by the revival of interest in Bluegrass and old style country music, by the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou.
We have highlighted just some of the great names in Bluegrass, and if you want to hear more then check out our playlist which is full of fabulous, uplifting, as well as down right honest, music. Bluegrass, what’s not to love…and here’s the proof.
It really is OK to like Bluegrass (in fact we’re think you’ll love it).