When we define the word bluegrass, it literally means a type of turf like grass that is bluish-green in color and was introduced in America long back. Nonetheless, it is also a famous music genre in America that was created by Bill Monroe, an unknown name for most people.
In fact, Bill Monroe is also known as the father of bluegrass music. The genre, bluegrass music, gets its name from Bill Monroe and his bluegrass boys who were Monroe’s second band. However, a crucial fact about bluegrass music is not known to people; the roots of bluegrass music are Scottish and Irish music.
Bluegrass music is so famous all around the world today but, very few people know about how it was created and how it flourished into the type of music that we all love to listen to nowadays. Bluegrass music has a long but fascinating history. There are certain things about this genre of music that might be really surprising.
I will throw light on a few things that you must know about this prevalent genre of music that is loved by people all around the world. Let us travel and explore the world of bluegrass music.
1. The Origin and The Bluegrass Boys
William Smith Monroe was an American singer and songwriter who gave rise to one of the unique genres of music, the bluegrass music. The year 1945 holds a great significance for the development of this genre because Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt were added to the fantastic band of bluegrass boys that had derived its name from the name of Monroe’s hometown.
Scruggs was known for playing a guitar style rhythm that would keep the audiences engaged, and Flatt used his skills of playing Banjo in such innovative ways that people could not stop listening to the music they created.
In 1946 and 1947, the participants of the band recorded around 28 songs, which included some legendary compositions like molly and tenbrooks, the wicked path of sin, My rose of old Kentucky, Little cabin home on the hill, and one of the most remembered songs and Monroe’s most famous creation, Blue moon of Kentucky.
Somewhere between this time, two more people added to the band, namely, Chubby Wise and Cedric Rainwater. The bluegrass boys recorded several memorable songs, and their music was so distinctive that it gave birth to a unique genre of music that we all call bluegrass music.
2. Bluegrass, Country, and Folk Music
The difference between bluegrass music, country music, and folk music is vast, but the surprising part is that they are interrelated. Bluegrass music is one of the subcategories of country music, and country music is one of the subcategories of folk music.
Folk music means a specific style of music that is native to a particular country or region. Some examples of folk music can be Indian folk, Irish folk, and African folk music. The folk musicians generally have different instruments than country musicians.
People generally prefer listening to bluegrass music and folk music more than country music. If we look very closely, the difference between these three types of music is vast, but, when we do not know much about them, they all seem to be the same. It is essential to understand the thin line of difference between country music, folk music, and bluegrass music.
3. Surprising Instrumentation in the Early Times
Bluegrass music generally involves the usage of string instruments and a banjo. However, during the early times, Monroe experimented a lot with bluegrass music and added people who would play some strange organs.
Later, in the early 60s, the world of bluegrass music saw some changes because there was an appearance of electric guitars and drums, evident through the bluegrass records. Before this time, the usage of guitars and drums in bluegrass music was unnecessary and a compromise in the purity of music.
Thanks to Bill Monroe’s experimentations, people later got to know that guitars and drums, when used occasionally in some parts of a song, sound excellent. Gradually, this new concept was being accepted widely by people who enjoyed listening to bluegrass music.
Bill Monroe was a man who loved innovation and experimentations. This is evident in the creation of bluegrass music and further in the evolution of bluegrass music.
4. Influence on Rock Music
Some of you will be surprised and shocked to know that bluegrass music has influenced rock music to a vast extent. I would say that rock music has its roots in bluegrass music. Monroe’s famous song, Blue Moon of Kentucky, was created with some unique beats and upbeats, and this is where rock music can be found in bluegrass music.
Bluegrass music was such a flourishing genre of music that it gave opportunities to several mainstream country stars, namely, Mac Wiseman (former Ralph Stanley sideman), Marty Stuart, ex-mandolinist- Lester Flatt, Kenny Chesney, Ricky Skaggs, and Keith Whitley.
5. My last days on Earth – Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe was a truly amazing man who gave us such a fantastic genre of music. In the year 1981, when Monroe was 70, he was battling a dreadful disease called colon cancer. His future was very uncertain, and he did not know how many days he had in his life, and that is when he decided to be alive in our hearts even after he dies.
His mental state at that point in time are reflected in a remarkable instrumental called ‘The last days of my life.’ This emotional instrumentation got a lot of fame from all the fans of bluegrass boys and bluegrass music.
The audio of this song was full of stringed instrumentation, vocal choruses, and some mind soothing sound effects. Bill Monroe later survived because he recovered fully. His fans were happy for him. However, this happiness was short-lived as Bill Monroe suffered a stroke in 1996.
There is another genre of music known as blues. Blues is also a well-known genre of music and might seem similar to bluegrass music. However, some people cannot distinguish between blues and bluegrass music. There is a list of some fundamental differences which will make it easier for you to understand how different these two genres of music are.
- Blues has its roots in Africa, whereas bluegrass music is somewhat derived from Scottish and Irish music. Moreover, the formation of these two types of music has a remarkable difference. Bluegrass music was the result of immigration and the mixing up of instruments. On the other hand, blues was a direct result of slaves and gospels.
- Bluegrass music was formed due to Bill Monroe, whereas blues was created unexpectedly by musicians in the deep South in the early 1900s.
- Both types of music have their styles and can be differentiated technically based on themes and vocals.
However, it is also true that there are a lot of similarities from both the genres like after their origin; they spread far and wide and became very famous, the church greatly influences both the styles, and the many of the songs are related to love and hard times.
The genre of bluegrass music has given us some of the most memorable songs of all time. Now that you know about the history and some amazing facts about this great genre of music, you must also learn about some of the best pieces of bluegrass music, their marvelous stories, and the bands that created them with a lot of hard work, skills, and usage of the correct type of instruments.
Kentucky Waltz by Bill Monroe
“We were waltzing that night in Kentucky
Beneath the beautiful harvest moon
And I was the boy that was lucky
But it all ended too soon.”
These were the first few lines of this beautiful song released in 1946 and was sung and written by the legendary singer and songwriter, Bill Monroe. It was not only one of the most impressive pieces of bluegrass music but also Monroe’s most famous release. Perhaps the song got so much of fame because of the story that Bill Monroe is trying to narrate with the help of his song.
This song was later recorded by Eddy Arnold in the year 1951 and turned out to be the number one on some of the best-selling charts. It was even recorded by Rosemary Clooney and became one of the most famous versions of the song.
Clooney’s version was on the twenty-fourth number on the cashbox pop chart. Several other people have sung this song in their own style and received a lot of love from the audience, not only in America but also worldwide.
Later on, a few folk singers, including Bob Davenport, also recorded their own versions of the song, which was a cover of Kentucky Waltz and appeared in his album Pal of My Cradle days, which was a hit in the year 1973.
Midnight Train by Delmore Brothers
The Delmore Brothers were country musicians and were famous in their time. The Delmore Brothers, along with some other brother bands like the Monroe Brothers, Louvin Brothers, blue sky boys, the McGee brothers, and the Stanley brothers, had a significant impact on the history of country music.
They created an exceptionally unique piece of bluegrass music [ one of the categories of country music] called Midnight Train. This song seems to be about someone who is finding a close one who has been lost somewhere but, unfortunately, has to return via a midnight train.
The song is short but is incredibly impactful due to the setting of the song. The singer mentions in the song about how a train will take him back on a rainy day. The setting of the song seems to be perfect for a sad love story, and probably that, along with the music composition, is the reason that it has had such a big impact on people who love music.
Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Earl Scruggs
Foggy mountain breakdown is a popular bluegrass instrumental that was written by Earl Scruggs. It was first recorded on the 11th of December in the year 1949. This piece of bluegrass music was recorded by bluegrass artists Flatt and Scruggs and a well-known band called The Foggy Mountain Boys.
This song is said to have a different place in the world of bluegrass music because this was probably the first song that established banjo as a star instrument in this genre of music. The recording features Earl Scruggs playing a five-string banjo.
Scruggs had talked several times about how he went to his uncle’s place when he was just four years old and hearing a blind banjo picker called Mack Woolbright. Probably, Earl Scruggs has some emotional connection with the stringed banjo and wanted to use it in his creations.
This song is said to have introduced American bluegrass to the world. Foggy Mountain Breakdown became so popular that it was used as background music in the movie Bonnie and Clyde, especially in the scenes where there was a lot of chasing. It has also been used in many other television programs, mostly in scenes with a rural setting.
Foggy mountain breakdown was only a song for some people and was the background music played during chasing scenes for others. Nonetheless, it can be said that this song has a remarkable story and uncountable memories that Earl Scruggs has cherished throughout his life, and these short stories behind our favorite songs must always be remembered.
There is a time by Dillards
The Dillards was a bluegrass band of American origin, and they are popular due to their appearance in Andy Griffith Show as The Darlings. Even though the Dillards were a well-established band of their time, they chose to play the Darlings in the Andy Griffith show and popularise bluegrass music and make it a more recognized form of music. It is said that the Americans who did not know much about this genre or the ones who had never heard bluegrass music got interested in it after watching this show.
The song,” There Is a Time” is another example of an excellent and celebrated piece of bluegrass music created by the Dillards. This song is very popular and revolves around how time keeps changing in the blink of an eye. The singer beautifully talks about seasonal changes, and these changes can metaphorically be seen as the changes that take place in a person continuously. The lyrics of the song and the beautiful composition are its central powers.
Uncle Pen by Bill Monroe
Another outstanding piece of bluegrass music recorded by the luminary Bill Monroe was ‘uncle pen.’ This song was recorded by various people in their styles, which created several versions of it. In 1956 it was recorded by Porter Wagoner in 1971 by Goose Creek Symphony in 1973 by Leon Russel, and Michael Nesmith of the Monkees recorded it in 1973 in his solo album called ‘Pretty much your standard ranch stash.’
Besides, it was also recorded by Ricky Skaggs in 1984, and his version of the song became number-one single on the country’s chart. This was an extremely remarkable achievement for a song cover. Another marvelous achievement for this song was that an improvisational-rock band performed Uncle Pen around 200 times in the band’s career of 30 years.
The song revolves around a man called uncle pen. Monroe had written and recorded this song as a tribute to his uncle Pendleton [pen], who raised him after his parents passed away. Monroe mentions that Uncle Pen was a fiddler. Hence, this song, too, has a story of Monroe’s heart that cannot be forgotten.
On the sunny side of the mountain by Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain boys
Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys were some of the most recognized bluegrass artists who made immense contributions to the field of bluegrass music. It is said that Jimmy Martin was the king of bluegrass music.
The song ‘On the sunny side of the mountain’ is a sad love song like most of the other bluegrass songs and talks about a man who misses his ‘darling’ and wants to know if she misses him too or not. This song was released in 1965 and became famous in no time.
I’ll meet you in the Church Sunday Morning by the Stanley brothers
Brothers Ralph Stanley and Carter Stanley created a duo popularly known as the Stanley brothers. These two brothers were terrific musicians, along with being exceptional songwriters.
“I’ll meet you in church Sunday morning” was one of their best-created pieces of bluegrass music. This song highlights how the people gather at the church, bow down in front of God, and pray. It describes how the church works and the different activities that take place in the church on Sunday. The singer in this song also brings to our notice the importance of prayers and that praying can eliminate our sins.
This song was released by the Stanley brothers in 1964 and is known to several people worldwide.
Mountain dew by Grandpa Jones
Louis Marshall Jones, officially known as Grandpa Jones, was a famous gospel musician and an American banjo player. The song good old mountain dew, also known as mountain dew, was one of his most famous songs.
The song is about moonshine and has two versions based on lyrics. The first version is from the year 1928, and the second one comes from the year 1935. This song is sometimes also referred to as a folk song.
The boys are back in town by Patty Loveless
Patty Loveless is an American country musician who has released 16 studio albums. She has also released 11 compilations and 52 singles. She started her career in the year 1985 when she signed a contract with MCA records and later flourished and became a famous artist.
One of her most notable releases is “The boys are back in town,” which was released in 1986. This song is known to be one of the best pieces of bluegrass music.
Ruby, are you mad? By the Osborne brothers
Sonny Osborne and Bobby Osborne formed a duo popularly known as Osborne brothers. This duo contributed to the world of bluegrass music by creating some of the magnificent pieces of bluegrass music. One such work is” Ruby, are you mad?”
This song was written by Mae carver, who was a lesser-known banjo player, and it is said that she hardly got any credits for the song that she had written. This is one of those bluegrass songs that talk about a man talking about a woman named Ruby and describing her.
It was released in the year 2008 by the Osborne brothers and is one of the famous pieces of bluegrass music.
Knowing about bluegrass music is one thing, but listening to it might be one of the best feelings anybody can ever get. These popular songs that belong to bluegrass music can be found on different music platforms.
Some of them can be found on YouTube music, Spotify, and the others can be found on well-known apps like Wynk Music. Listening to bluegrass music can be a mood-changing experience and can make you feel refreshed in no time.
Bluegrass music is a piece of art that needs a lot of talent and determination. This genre of music is famous because of some of the most diligent musicians who innovated their forms due to their ability and their brilliant minds.
Several bluegrass singers were never scared of experimenting with new things and were open to new options. These features of the phenomenal bluegrass musicians gave rise to innovations and helped bluegrass music evolve.
When we read about a new genre of music like this one, we must make sure to learn something from the attitude of the musicians who refuse to give up and complete what they have started. The history of bluegrass music also emphasizes on several other aspects like the importance of experimentation and innovation.
There is a lot more to this fantastic genre of music. Bluegrass music is much more than what is known to all of us, and most importantly, it is a feeling for the ones who love to listen to it.