Origins of the tradition enriched music we all know as bluegrass was carried over in the early 1600’s by several immigrants from Ireland. Bluegrass music is a stellar combination of dance music and ballads that has spawned from various countries such as Scotland, England and even African-American blues and gospel. One thing that most probably don’t know is that African slaves were the ones who had designed the banjo, which as we all know is an integral part of the bluegrass sound. Let’s get the guitar picks strumming and discover more about this American musical phenomenon.
It was as far back as the Jamestown settlers who passed on the word of bluegrass throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, the Carolinas and also the Virginias. The songs were compositions about the day-to-day existence they had experienced within the new land. Because the vast majority of those people had made their lives in the rural areas, the music was then inspired by the hills and the farms and what they had called that particular type of music was country music and mountain music. With the onset of the phonograph and the radio in the early stages of the 1900’s, this vintage music was taken out of the Southern Mountains and dropped directly into the U.S.
Country Music Gets a New Touch
A crucial element of bluegrass came later on with great singing, which had been vital to country music. It was the inspiring voices of the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and even duet teams like the Monroe Brothers who have contributed a great deal to the cause of enhancing the traditional style of country music.
The Monroe Brothers became one of the most well-known bluegrass figures throughout the 20’s and 30’s and when they disbanded, they both took on different projects which had eventually become notable. It was Bill’s band that pushed the envelope of standard country music and creatively incorporated a predominantly busy style of bluegrass which utilized acoustic instruments and showcased vocal harmonies that were nothing short of a distinction. Monroe had taken all of the best elements of the original bluegrass music and the old string bands of yesteryear. Monroe had tried out various blendings of different styles but he eventually settled on the fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin and the bass to create the perfect concept sound of bluegrass.
The bluegrass that we all love today goes as far back as 1939 or so when Monroe put his musical team together but many experts think that the signature bluegrass sound originated in 1945. Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt had been apart of Monroe’s band and when they had departed, they decided to create their own band whom they labeled “The Foggy Mountain Boys.” They developed their own take on bluegrass by using the Dobro and the resophonic guitar. The dobro, slowly but surely had made it’s way into the bluegrass sound and it is still very much brought into the mix when applicable.
Later on, in the late 40’s on up, it had been Scruggs and Flatt who became a driving force that brought the down-home bluegrass feel to American television audiences. They also began to fill major venus and that was one of the major key elements that gave bluegrass a little mainstream touch. Earl Scruggs was the brainchild behind a bluegrass instrumental that soared to amazing heights in popularity. The song was titled, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, which was then used in the 1969 Warren Beatty blockbuster “Bonnie and Clyde”. Later that year Scruggs got his three sons and their guitar picks together and formed the band “Earl Scruggs Review”, who found immense popularity almost immediately. 1969 also found Lester Flatt forming his very own band also called “The Nashville Grass”, who found acclaim too, all the way until his death in 1979.
A New Identity
The recording industry had amped itself up with various technologies, plus indoor and outdoor venues started filling up with bluegrass fans all over the nation. These were the components that really took bluegrass into the mainstream. Bluegrass has now become a pastime that the entire world now enjoys. That classic style birthed in 1945 has become the one that we have fallen in love with and the one that we hold up in high esteem. When these forefathers took their guitar picks and began to jam that incorporated all of these different styles, they made such a valued new face of music that gave generations of people a new identity. Bluegrass has inspired so many different styles of music including Rock n Roll and for that, all of us are forever grateful.