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A celebration of Bluegrass Music
Bluegrass Tools of the Trade
Bluegrass Music - Music from the Backwoods
Bluegrass. Mountain music. Hillbillies. To some, this is manna from above; to others, a noise best left unheard. I belong to the former group, as I love this genre of music. I am an eclectic, and I enjoy many forms and styles of music (Sorry folks, but Hip Hop and Rap are not music to me, so are not included in my favorites), and have grown to love many of them over the years. I grew up listening to Country and Western, and was fortunate indeed to be allowed to attend, and work selling programs, many concerts in the 60's and 70's. Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner, Tex Ritter - I was actually making money while listening to their music! I was even fortunate enough to spend an evening with Loretta's husband Mooney while she was singing. Another night, I was allowed to sit with Marty Robbins for almost two hours, talking and listening to him laugh and sing while the roadies packed up his gear. I also was honored to be at Dollie Parton's first show with Porter Wagoner, while the lady she replaced, Norma Jean, sat in the front row, glaring at her all night! But my favorite music probably has to be Bluegrass. Can't say where I first heard it; my parent's can't stand it, so I know it wasn't them. But I found it, and love it to this day. Whether it be Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, The Darlin's, or Flatt and Scruggs, my toe gets to tappin' and my face a smilin'. It's good music. So, here are a few of my favorites from down through the years. Hope you enjoy them half as much as I am while writing this hub.
It wouldn't be right to start with any other artist. Bill Monroe is looked upon as the Father of Bluegrass. His Bluegrass Boys gave a name to a music that had been around for generations, but only in small, local areas. Bill brought it to the forefront, and America fell in love. So, here you go: Blue Moon of Kentucky, one of the greatest Bluegrass songs there ever was.
Blue Moon of Kentucky
The Osborne Brothers
The Osborne Brothers came along in a turbulent time, the late 60's. Free love, drugs, and Vietnam were in the forefront of the news. But somehow, Rocky Top climbed a mountain and became an unforgettable song to many. I absolutely cannot keep my toes still during this song. I know all the words, and have been caught on more than one occasion singing at a high volume while stopped at a stop light. Embarrassing, I know. So get yer toe a'movin', cus here ya go!
Flatt and Scruggs
Lester and Earl did a lot to further Bluegrass to the mainstream public. Live shows, concerts, television, they did it all. You probably know one of their best, and don't even know you know it! "Come and listen to a story 'bout a man names Jed, Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed". See, I told you. In addition to their music, they were a regular fixture on The Beverly Hillbillies for a time. In addition, their "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" was featured prominently in the film Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. But "Rollin' in my Sweet Baby's Arms" is my favorite of theirs. Three other guys and I comprised a quartet in our college days, and our church group went to Branson one year to see The Sheperd of the Hills play. At one point, the cast invited the crowd down onto the ground for a hoedown. They danced and sang, and then broke into Rollin'. Our quartet got to singing, and they quit singing, and we ended up singing the whole song! After it was over, everybody was applauding while we were trying to figure out why we had done that! But it was a blast! So, David, Bill, and Steve, remember this? Enjoy.
Rollin' in my Sweet Baby's Arms
The Darlings from Andy Griffith
The Darlings were a fictional family from the old Andy Griffith Show. In reality, they were The Dillards, from Branson, Missouri. As far as I know, they were still performing up until the last couple of years. Flat out great pickers, and the facial expressions on the show just left me laughing time and again. Denver Pyle played Briscoe Darling, the patriarch of the family. Couple of the best sayings were "Just jump in where you can and hang on.", "Oh, Pa, that'n makes me cry!", and "You got time to breathe, ya got time fer music". Great artists and memories. This video includes Ernest T. Bass as well. "Now ya wanna hear me sing eatin' goober peas!" What characters!
They influenced such greats as The Eagles, The Byrds and even Elton John. They even joined Elton on his first American tour in 1972.
Songs of the Darlings
There may be more accomplished performers, but Grandpa was one of my favorites. I was first introduced to him on Hee Haw, and his style of playing, known as clawhammer, became fixed in my mind forever. His personality, pure enjoyment of playing, and his exuberance showed all just how fun Bluegrass could be.
Ricky is a lot of things, but first and foremost, he's a bluegrass picker. He took Bluegrass to another level with "Uncle Pen", and taught folks in the 80's that Bluegrass was still alive and kicking. In case you're wondering, the chorus goes "Late in the evening, 'bout sundown; high on a hill up above the town; Uncle Pen'd play the fiddle Lord how it'd ring, you could hear it talk you could hear it sing."
New Grass Revival
These boys began in the early 70's and several cast changes later, they had arrived. Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, John Cowan and Pat Flynn combined on "Can't Stop Now" and made this a power bluegrass song of rare magnitude. Great picking on the guitar, banjo, bass and mandolin combined with a monstrous performance on voice by Sam Bush to create a great song. They had other hits, including "Callin' Baton Rouge" before Garth Brooks sang it. Listen to this song a couple of times, and just try to hold Bush's final note. I dare you!
Can't Stop Now
A lot of people know Eric, but really don't know him. His major hit song was in the movie Deliverance. Now you know him! Fantastic picker! "Dueling Banjos" was previously known as "Mocking Banjos" and was performed by Flatt and Scruggs, but Eric's version took it to heights never before known. This was the first song I learned on the guitar, and later taught to my daughter. I can't play a lick, but I can play this one (at least, part of it). She can play all of it now.
Yes, Steve Martin!!! He is a banjo picker par excellance! I know, I know, I said Bluegrass, but he is, kinda! He can play a mean banjo, and joins with Earl Scruggs here to do a great rendition of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". I guess I just like to let others know that some people you wouldn't believe love bluegrass music.
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
The best Bluegrass voice you never heard of. Or at least, you never knew you have heard of. A Grammy award winning artist who won for his song, "I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow" brought Bluegrass into the 21st century. As good as this song is (and it is great, isn't it), I love his song "Carry Me Across The Mountain" even more. Pure Bluegrass at its best. He plays with Alison Krauss in her Union Station group, and shares the stage with her equally. Great voice, and a really understated guitarist, Dan is leading the way into this century for other Bluegrass artists.
I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow
And speaking of Alison Kraus, here she is doing a Carter Family classic, Wildwood Flower. If you have never listened to this song, it is about as as pure Bluegrass as you might ever hear. Mother Maybell does a great version of this song, but Alison's clear voice takes it to another level completely.
And speaking of Mother Maybelle Carter, here she is with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band from the album of the same name. This is one of the most celebrated albums of its time, and one of my personal favorites. Featuring the greats from bluegrass and country alongside "them dirty boys". This clip is a mini documentary with snippits of the song. Search it out for yourself if you want; it's worth the trip.
This last song can't be called Bluegrass, but I do anyway. It's not an old song,although many people thought, myself included, that it was a hundred years old. It's not. It was written in 1982 by Jay Ungar. Serving as a farewell waltz at the annual Ashoken Fiddle and Dance Camps near Ashoken Reservoir in New York, it evokes a timeless quality, a sweetness that takes me back to the very best Bluegrass there is. Simple melody, played effortlessly, taking my mind to a high mountain pasture where the worries of the world fall away. This song also served as a theme in the PBS Miniseries The Civil War. I first heard it in, of all places, my daughter's violin concert played by the school's Strolling Strings group. My wife and I fell in love with it instantly. It was also played by Maev of Celtic Women. Allow the worries to fall far behind you; close your eyes and submit to its soft sounds of peace.