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Bluegrass extremes

GUEST,ghost 23 May 03 - 05:41 PM
GUEST,Midchuck, downstairs 23 May 03 - 06:35 PM
GUEST 23 May 03 - 06:41 PM
Mark Clark 23 May 03 - 07:01 PM
Art Thieme 24 May 03 - 12:05 AM
GUEST,ghost 24 May 03 - 12:06 AM
GUEST,Gern 24 May 03 - 10:36 AM
Steve Latimer 24 May 03 - 11:10 AM
wysiwyg 24 May 03 - 11:32 AM
GUEST 24 May 03 - 11:51 AM
Frankham 24 May 03 - 11:56 AM
GUEST,Whistle Stop 27 May 03 - 10:36 AM
Mooh 27 May 03 - 01:11 PM
Les from Hull 27 May 03 - 01:50 PM
GUEST,Russ 27 May 03 - 02:52 PM
Frankham 27 May 03 - 02:57 PM
Tiger 27 May 03 - 03:28 PM
GUEST,Martin Gibson 27 May 03 - 03:58 PM
GUEST,Songster Bob 27 May 03 - 05:05 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 27 May 03 - 07:31 PM
Art Thieme 27 May 03 - 08:02 PM
GUEST 27 May 03 - 08:17 PM
Les from Hull 28 May 03 - 06:26 PM
Midchuck 28 May 03 - 10:13 PM
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Subject: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,ghost
Date: 23 May 03 - 05:41 PM

I just had a brief discussion with someone about a local bluegrass jam. He was one of the founding members of the jam and has a very emotional attachment to the music. He's a bass player. If it were up to him, if you didn't qualify either via your instrumentation or stylistic approach you would not be welcome to the jam that he has been supporting. His advice, just go off and start your own event. Of course others at the event do not adopt his strict policy and it's a constant angst for him to even have to listen to those who do not perform within his strict definition of bluegrass. I was questioning this definition and that set him off. In an extemely agitated state he threw the keys of the grange hall, where the event takes place, at me, effectively announcing his refusal to help in this regard with the event if I couldn't see things his way.

Knowing something about the early days of the father of this idiom I challenged him to define what his definition of bluegrass was. He wasn't interested in any kind of head to head discussion on the topic. He simply stated that his only interest was in bluegrass music. He didn't want to hear folk music, or blues music, or swing music, or old timey, or fiddle tunes, or anything else at the event.

Correct me if I'm wrong here folks, but didn't Bill get influenced by an awful lot of what was going on around him at the time he first began playing. Certainly those influences were what helped to create bluegrass.

I was told by a friend of his that they thought bluegrass was a dying art form and that only a few in the area were of like mind. How can they keep this dying art form alive if their attitude about others trying to join in is, "Be bluegrass or get out"? Not everyone is going to immediately be able to solo leads from the get go, or be able to play bluegrass bass, fingerpick banjo, mandolin, fiddle, or Dobro. Even Bill himself didn't create bluewgrass in a day. He further illuminated that their jam has been beset by other styles of music in the past like rock and roll and that they went so far as to post a sign that stated only bluegrass should be played.

It occurred to me that Bill probably did not start out with the notion to create such a rabid point of view about this music. The idea that this bass player could allow the creation of a few notes on various instrument(s) upset him so much is strange to me. I feel like he's lost the whole point to playing and entertaining with music. I guess my point of view is just more tolerant than his.

I have some covers of Bill doing gospel music. How can this attitude of exclusivity by his devotees jive with that particular religious point of view?

It just seems to me like there should be a more open attitude about it all but this fellow does not seem to think so. Does that make his ideology more of a club or cult association with the music? If it's a club then by all means keep away any of those who don't meet your standards. Maybe the word jam is where the grey area lies. Jam seems to imply a mixture of elements. It is a "bluegrass" jam but what is bluegrass?

I don't mean for this conversation to get too high and lonesome. Just the facts please. What is a good working definition of the style?

Thanks all, ghost


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,Midchuck, downstairs
Date: 23 May 03 - 06:35 PM


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST
Date: 23 May 03 - 06:41 PM

Well, we know for a start that:

You Can Not Play the Bluegrass Music Without the Five String Banjo.

That establishes one essential parameter.

Peter


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Mark Clark
Date: 23 May 03 - 07:01 PM

We've spent a lot of time on this question and there are several threads covering it. One thread that you might want to read before we really wade into this one is The Genealogy of Bluegrass. We actually got to the point of proposing definitions and enhancing them without calling each other names. <g> You took the time to comment in detail so I'm guessing you're actually interested. Read the thread I linked, search for others with "bluegrass definition" or terms like that and come on back. This subject usually generates a rousing discussion between knowledgable participants.

Asside from the definitions, it helps to understand that one thing bluegrass is not is a big singalong. Regardless of the origin of the tune being played or one's definition of bluegrass or the skill level of the players, you really want just one of each participating instrument and just one of each vocal part if you hope to create a sound that fits some (any) definition of bluegrass. It may be that sort of thing that your friend objects to rather than the genre from which a particular tune originally came.

      - Mark


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Art Thieme
Date: 24 May 03 - 12:05 AM

I do suspect that he started this venue in order to hear and play the music in the classic form---the music he likes. You, by seeming to water it down with your wider fefinitions of things he holds dear, are changing the exhibits he wishes to keep at HIS museum. He DOES have a right to do this his way--if he indeed owns and/or runs this session. That's just the way Ewan MacColl did it in London for many years-----until he got so he didn't have the strength to fight those intent on bringing in the new.

Once again, this is about TIME and generational issues and differences in values and musical tastes---. It's a losing battle for him---this fight with time. You just give it some TIME----and your points of view will most likely prevail later on.

In the meantime, he's gonna put up one hell of a good fight. It's his cause. I hope you both manage to live through it. ;-)

Time, it is a killin' thing,
Dreams fade like the blossoms,
And if you want your finger bit,
Just stick it at a possum.

Take it easy, but take it ! (You will anyway.)

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,ghost
Date: 24 May 03 - 12:06 AM

Okay, I've waded through most of that thread. I like the detail and references by those who chose to post them.

My point in posting was that I was shocked that I would be so summarily dismissed by this bass player who by all accounts has heard much more of the genre than I but stands behind his instrument playing very few of the notes that any of his fellow bluegrass companions must learn to play in any given song. He is the rhythm that binds. He is an adequate player of average ability, strong within his sphere of knowledge of simple bluegrass music, but isn't willing to learn or stretch much beyond those limitations musically. As I said he's only interested in bluegrass.

When I read the posts from the previous thread I see a much broader view of what the music is about but I guess that's just me. It seems to include a whole vast array of things that I enjoy musically. I'm not a bluegrass style soloist, and I don't flat pick, so having none of the available techniques at my command it places me in an awkward position and I don't therefore easily fit into the bluegrass mold. It's something I've tried to work toward this past year or so. I've enjoyed working with bluegrass style soloists backing me and my music.

It seems he is only able to see his narrow definition and that doesn't include even the possibility of our mixture no matter how close the roots of bluegrass are tied to my particular musical leanings. This exclusionary attitude doesn't seem to align with the more gospel aspects of what bluegrassers like to sing. I wonder how he would have felt if when he first began to explore playing bluegrass someone pitched a similar attitude at him about his ability on bass. This attitude seems to be that if you don't have it, don't bother trying to get it, go away.

Again, it's very sad to me that he has adopted such a narrow view of music and playing.

Thanks for the link Mark


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,Gern
Date: 24 May 03 - 10:36 AM

Having been around bluegrass music for many years, I have found a lot to appreciate in it. Yet it often seems to me to be a haven for cultural reactionaries who are especially defensive about their music. There are more rules and more pressure toward conformity than in any other genre I can think of. One hears "That ain't bluegrass" proclaimed with an assurance not imitated by followers of blues, reggae or military marches. 'Purists' treat their art form like an endangered species, perhaps not realizing that it developed in flux from other musical styles and influences. Once that evolution process began, it became pointless and impossible to suspend it. Maybe this is part of the legacy of Bill Monroe, a one-time revolutionary who later exerted too much effort confining his craft and disparaging the explorations of others. There have been tirades on this subject here at Mudcat, and efforts to include/exclude performers like Nickel Creek and others who dare to appear on stage without 5-string banjos. This bass player has the right to play the music he chooses, but why be so strident about sharing styles? Maybe we should stop defining and rationalizing, and just play.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Steve Latimer
Date: 24 May 03 - 11:10 AM

Last year's Bluegrass song of the year was Del McCoury's version of "52 Vincent Black Lightning", a Richard Thompson Folk/Rock song. Your Bass player probably wouldn't have liked it because it wasn't done by Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs or the Stanleys. It sure sounded good to me and I would say that although it pushed the limits of Bluegrass, it was a Bluegrass song.

Blues is so closely tied to Bluegrass. As an example, I have heard Sittin' On Top of The World as a ripping Bluegrass song and slow Blues. I wonder if your friend would dismiss a slower version if the song played with Bluegrass instruments.

I tend to be a bit of a purist, The Stanleys, Flatt & Scruggs, Monroe et al., but it doesn't stop me from listening to Del McCoury, Rhonda Vincent etc.


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Subject: Fundies & Iconoclasts
From: wysiwyg
Date: 24 May 03 - 11:32 AM

Bluegrass, as a specific area, aside....

I think every community, diverse or single-interest, needs its extremes, and that we ought to tolerate and appreciate them instead of reacting as if they have victimized us (not saying you did).

Extremes come at both ends of a spectrum. The closer we are, ourselves, to one end, the more obvious the other end will tend to be (to us), and the less we will be able to "see" our own extremism. We will feel right, and we will feel "they" are wrong. :~) (Don't we all?) (I'm using the generic "we" in this.)

There are various theories supporting the following opinion, but I'm offering it because I've learned it from living it and working on my own stuff, from all parts of the spectrum, in one fashion or another.

At one extreme in any pursuit will be the fundies-- people who consider themselves righteously purist, and who feel called to save what they love from contamination, and/or save people from exposure to what they consider an adulteration of the Real Deal they cherish so much. They are uncomfortable with the world they find themselves in, most of the time, because under that fundie upbringing is the basic social desire all humans are wired with, so they seldom stay isolated from what is different from themselves. Their value judgements are based on, "How pure (valid) it this experience or person?" They don't get very good role models in how to get along, either, since they prefer to hang with other purists, so they tend to need some slack and some good humor.

At the other end of the spectrum are the iconoclasts-- always seeking the cutting edge, however people feel about it, for the sake of newness and maybe their own creative glory. They dismiss the purists. Their value judgements are based on, "How new/creative (valid) it this experience or person?" They are a little better at getting along, because their desire to learn from the old (so they can innovate from there) is pretty strong. And they are perfectly happy to run off and leave the purists alone once they have learend what they can-- they don't stick around to irritate, because they prefer to be with other iconoclasts. :~)

In the middle are a vast number of people, most of whom can get along with the extremes pretty well most of the time by being relaxed about the extremism, and not worrying about it or trying to change them. This, I think, is because their hallmark is curiosity, self-confidence, and a desire to learn from other people and share whatever gifts can be shared.

One of the really great things about being human is, we get to pick where we want to fall in that spectrum, and how we want to relate to the other people and the positions they take.

So... however you would like it to be-- what can you do, just on your own side here, to create what you want?

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST
Date: 24 May 03 - 11:51 AM

Is it possible that he only wants to play bluegrass music because he thinks that's all he is able to play ? That he might get left behind ?


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Frankham
Date: 24 May 03 - 11:56 AM

Hi Guest Ghost,

A little history is in order here. This "tude" is not confined to bluegrass but has been part of folk music scene, jazz, blues and any other kind of music you can think of. There was a time in folk music where some academic types would call you on the carpet if you didn't play the Carter Family style exactly like it was on the record. The traditional jazz scene is rife with this garbage. Some say jazz had to be just played by black people. Others said if it wasn't done before 1930's or so, it isn't trad jazz. Others said, such as the late Leonard Feather alleged, if it ain't be-bop or modern, it's crap.

There is a reactionary tinge to some members of the bluegrass community maybe in contrast to the left-wing influences of the folk revival. Lots of rebel flags pop up at bluegrass concerts. Here's the deal. Most of the people who play music with "tudes" are amateurs and this is a double-edged sword. On one hand they don't have to do stuff to their music to make it sell. (They have day jobs). On the other hand, they don't take into consideration what the needs of their audience are. If they were pros, the audience would let them know.

I think what is required is a healthy respect for the music that you play which entails studying it at some length but keeping an open mind that there are many forms of music that are valuable.

When the Weavers were working in night clubs and venues across the country prior to their blacklist, Pete Seeger's mission was to widen the audience for the recognition of American folk music. I think he successfully did this without being a cultural part of the traditions that he presented. They couldn't be "reactionary" to make that work.

When I traveled South to collect folk music and share with others, I didn't come across any of the "tudes" that I've seen lately at bluegrass events. All of the rural people that I picked guitar or banjo with were pleased to hear all kinds of influences and at the same time were happy that I was interested in their music and it's cultural background. This "precious" attitude that you describe has been in all kinds of music and serves not much except to salve the egos of those who carry this baggage. The music remains what it is.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,Whistle Stop
Date: 27 May 03 - 10:36 AM

Just wanted to salute Susan and Frank Hamilton (among others) for some very insightful commentary. I don't hang around here much any more, but just popped in for a visit, and I'm glad I did.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Mooh
Date: 27 May 03 - 01:11 PM

It saddens me to hear this but I'm not surprised at it, it occurs in our beloved "celtic" music realm and elsewhere too.

Bias takes the form of mere taste to prejudice and bigotry, where we find ourselves in that spectrum is part of life's adventure. Meet intolerance with tolerance as my father would have counselled me, reiterating the words of his father before him. You see, the art of understanding and tolerance is older than the art of music. At some point bluegrass (an upstart music form compared to what I was raised on) was new and fresh and unknown and fighting for recognition.

Traditional bluegrass is not sacrosanct. It seems to me your bass player would make more hay by showcasing his presentaion of the form within an existing jam than by being exclusive, and he would likely reach a wider audience, make more converts, influence more tastes, and gain greater respect.

Bluegrass fundamentalists (like the celtic police) are hard for the general player and listener to appreciate when they'e so doctrinaire. There is a place for preservation, and thank goodness for tune collectors and historians, but music is not static. Music evolves. Music is derivative. It is therefore prudent to acknowledge bluegrass in its past, present, and future forms.

Many of what we commonly call "classical" composers were not accepted in their own day, or at least at the introduction of their style, but today we don't necessarily pay heed to those distinctions. Maybe it's not that much different for bluegrass.

Not yet old and in the way...Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Les from Hull
Date: 27 May 03 - 01:50 PM

Firstly I must confess that I play lots of kinds of music of several instruments, and I've only been to one bluegrass session in my life.

We're all entitled to our opinions about music. Personally, I think that anyone who limits themselves is the loser, but it's their choice. But a bass player depends on other people to play - it seems to be counter-productive to chase away other musicians.

So here's a possible solution. How about getting him to define his terms exactly and then arranging to have twice as many sessions, divided equally into 'strictly bluegrass' sessions and 'mainly bluegrass' sessions. He could define exactly what he wants in the strictly bluegrass sessions and let people have a little flyer about it so that anybody participating would know. After a while you would have a good idea of the feelings of others - people often vote with their feet.

I wonder what he make of the Sensitive New Age Cowpersons, an Australian bluegrass band who play bluegrass versions of absolutely everything - including Abba, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the BeeGees?

And my only bluegrass session. As it was in the UK perhaps we're not so purist. I only had my melodeon with my so I 'invented' bluegrass melodeon and was quite surprised to be nodded at to do breaks!

Hope you get things sorted.
Les


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 27 May 03 - 02:52 PM

ghost,

"This exclusionary attitude doesn't seem to align with the more gospel aspects of what bluegrassers like to sing."

Your friend is NOT inconsistent.

As a former teacher of religion, I would say that Christianity in general and southern forms of Christianity in partcular are NOT inclusionary. Christianity is the most exclusionary religion the world has yet produced.

DISCLAIMER: The preceding claim is NOT a value judgment. The preceding claim might be totally inaccurate with reference to your Christianity or the Christianity of any member of this forum. The claim was meant only to be the broadest sort of generalization.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Frankham
Date: 27 May 03 - 02:57 PM

The SNAC! I love it! Where can I find their recordings?

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Tiger
Date: 27 May 03 - 03:28 PM

Seems to me like you ought to let this guy have his way - by himself! That way he can do PURE bluegrass, and have all the solos, too.

If anyone is that tightly-wound about FUN stuff, how must he be when things get serious?

He sounds like one of those solutions that fills a badly needed void.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,Martin Gibson
Date: 27 May 03 - 03:58 PM

I'm glad he's not at our jam which is mostly bluegrass but has room for anything acoustic. Even some of the diehard genuine old hillbillies who come don't give too much attitude.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST,Songster Bob
Date: 27 May 03 - 05:05 PM

I once read an examination of bluegrass music that had this schism in mind. The writer said that there were three strains of music under the rubric "bluegrass," and that certain people within each "style" were exclusionary to the extreme. Sounds like your jam-leader is one of them thar kind.

The stylistic groups, if I recall, were:

bluegrass -- Bill Monroe, and that's pretty much it (perhaps you can include alumnae of the Bluegrass Boys, if they don't stray too far from "how ol' Bill done it");
oldgrass -- Bill Monroe wannabes and traditional bands in his bands' image (Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Bros., Reno & Smiley, etc.); and
newgrass -- those who play music that didn't originate with Bill Monroe, but is played in the style of Monroe and oldgrass bands (Newgrass Revival, Country Gentlemen/Seldom Scene, etc.).

This tri-partite grouping is not so rigid as it used to be, simply because of the winnowing effect of old age and death on the first two groups.

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 27 May 03 - 07:31 PM

Susan, your remarkably insightful comments above just made up for all of your posts that have made me ask, "What in the hell is this woman talking about?" Congratulations! *BSEG*

But seriously, folks, I think that the devotees of musical icons are often more "purist" than the originals they are emulating. They want to believe that the masters' styles just popped fully grown from their heads like Athena from Zeus.

Just as an example, take Kenny Baker, Bill Monroe's long-time fiddler and a man often cited as an example of a "pure" bluegrass fiddler. Baker's fiddle style was greatly influenced by the hot swing of Stefan Grapelli and the Texas Swing of Bob Wills, two very non-bluegrass styles. I personally saw Baker at an after-hours jam at a bluegrass festival playing stuff on a guitar in open G tuning that was closer to Leo Kottke than Bill Monroe. Kenny Baker is no purist, but the folks who strive to imitate him definitely can be.

Bruce


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Art Thieme
Date: 27 May 03 - 08:02 PM

KENNY BAKER has made some wonderful duet recordings. Kenny on guitar---very subtle and beautifully complex fingerpicking. And Uncle Josh (BUCK GRAVES) on dobro.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: GUEST
Date: 27 May 03 - 08:17 PM

Guest who signed himself Peter:

Are you a member of bgrass-l?

Do you play the bass?

Have you often stated that same opinion on bgrass-l over the last several years?

Is your next question going to be, "What is bluegrass, anyway?"

Curious


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Les from Hull
Date: 28 May 03 - 06:26 PM

Frank - it depends where you are, so just send the name to Google and it should deliver you several sources including Music Scotland and Musica Obscura in the US. Both the CDs are great. Titles - 'This CD will change your life' and 'Strange on the range'.


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Subject: RE: Bluegrass extremes
From: Midchuck
Date: 28 May 03 - 10:13 PM

Guest who signed himself Peter:

Are you a member of bgrass-l?

Do you play the bass?

Have you often stated that same opinion on bgrass-l over the last several years?

Is your next question going to be, "What is bluegrass, anyway?"


Nahh, I ain't Bangs. Jammed with him once or twice, when my little girl was in Salt Lake doing her residency. I like to quote Tabscott's Criterion whenever a discussion like this starts, simply because it's so beautifully doctrinaire (did I spell that right?)

I dropped off Bgrass-l some years ago, got sick of the bickering. I still wear my AAFOUF hat with pride, though. I have a Mudcat patch sewed on it now. It's been on three cross-country trips so far.

Peter (who posted as Guest before because the other computer died and took his cooky with it).


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