September 2011

Classifieds – September 2011


GUITAR LICK CARDS: from standard to stellar, 81 licks are isolated on playing cards. Line them up with the same chord progression as your favorite song and voilá!, it’s a new arrangement! Rearrange the licks for endless variations. They’re inspiring! Available for mandolin and banjo, too. $11.50 ppd., per set. Andrew Cushing, 6079 McKinley Pkwy., Hamburg, NY 14075.

BANJOTEACHER.COM: Ross Nickerson books, CDs, and DVDs. Banjo instruction for beginners, intermediates, and advanced banjo students. Banjos for sale, special accessories, workshops, and free stuff.

MUSICIANS MAKING LESSONS FOR MUSICIANS. Learn Dobro from Doug Cox, Ivan Rosenberg, and Orville Johnson; Banjo from Jake Schepps and Ross Nickerson; Bass from Tammy Fassaert and Scott White; Bluegrass harmony singing from Jenny Lester, and much more at Over forty lessons to choose from. Order direct and save from


DOBROS, MANDOLINS, BANJOS, GUITARS, VIOLINS, AUTOHARPS, DULCIMERS, ETC. Old & new. Great prices/selections. All inquiries promptly answered in person. Deal with the people who care. Harry & Jeanie West, 116 East Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-883-0033, e-mail:, or

OME BANJOS: Outstanding selection of original, American made, vintage quality banjos. Bluegrass, old-time, Irish, and jazz styles. Models ranging from zen simplicity to elegant opulance. Free color catalogue. E-mail:,, 303-449-0041.

BILL’S MUSIC SHOP & PICKIN’ PARLOR. Bluegrass headquarters in South Carolina. Weber, Deering, Washburn, Blueridge, and other brands. New and used. Strings and all accessories. Dulcimers, autoharps. If we don’t have it, we can get it. 710 Meeting St., W. Columbia, SC 29169, 803-796-6477, e-mail:,

VISITING NORTH CAROLINA? Stop by and check out our large selection of old, new, vintage stringed instruments, accessories, etc. Reasonable prices. Friendly service. Harry & Jeanie West, 116 East Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-883-0033, e-mail:, or

NICK LLOYD BASSES in Cincinnati builds, repairs, and sells upright basses. Quality work, honest service, and prompt turnaround time. Shipping available. 513-681-1863 or

RESOPHONIC GUITARS handcrafted in the Ozarks. Best sound or your money back. Contact,, 870-283-5512.

WANT TO BUY: OPEN-BACK BANJOS. Prefer five-string, will consider all others. Bob Smakula, Smakula Fretted Instruments, P.O. Box 882, Elkins, WV 26241, 304-636-6710, e-mail:

ALL TYPES OF BANJOS: New, used, vintage. Bought, sold, traded. Parts, accessories, repairs. Bedford Banjo Shop, 106 S. Richard St., Bedford, Pa., 814-623-2187, e-mail:,

UPRIGHT BASS, $195. Violin, Fender guitar, banjo, flute, clarinet, trumpet, $79 each; saxophone, $195; viola with flame-maple back, $195; mandolin, $99. 516-377-7907.

C.F. MARTIN GUITARS, GIBSON, DEERING, JBOVIER, KENTUCKY, DOBRO™, GOLDTONE, WASHBURN, also other well known brands. Free friendly advice, prompt personal reply. Harry & Jeanie West, 116 East Broad St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-883-0033,, or

WWW.BANJOSELITE.COM: Liquidation of very fine collection.

THE ADAMS HANDMADE MANDOLINS. Great sound and volume. A-style, $1,200. F-style, $1,500. Units now available. Satisfaction guaranteed. Call 407-656-2462, e-mail:

JBOVIER CUSTOM SHOP: F-5 mandolins, E-mandos, pre-owned & vintage mando-family instruments.

BEST IN THE WEST: Large and dynamic selection of new, used, and vintage guitars, banjos, mandolins, Dobros™, ukes, etc. Featuring fine instruments for the player and the collector. We ship worldwide. Intermountain Guitar and Banjo, 712 E. 100 S., Salt Lake City, UT 84102, 801-322-4682, e-mail:,

RATLIFF MANDOLINS: Building the finest handmade mandolins for over 25 years. Visit us on the web at

WANTED: PREWAR MARTIN D-18 & D-28s and pre-1940 Gibson F-5 mandolins. Larry Cadle, 606-248-7898.

JASPER RESONATOR GUITARS. Free brochure. Visit our website @, 8979 W. Starwood Ln., Greenwood, LA 71033, 318-464-0695.

BOURGEOIS GEORGIA DREADNOUGHT. Premium Adirondack/mahogany. 1930 voicing. Excellent recording/performance w/Calton case, $2,800. 336-813-0205.

1966 DOBRO GUITAR, MINT CONDITION. Picture sent upon request. $1,950 with case. Call 207-445-2223.

1951 MARTIN D-28. Original finish, great condition. Played by the Geer Sisters on the Midwestern Hayride show in the ’50s (National TV/radio show based in Cincinnati). Lovingly kept by Mary Fran Darwin (Jo Ann’s daughter). $12,400 with case. Contact:


“IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO TUNE A BANJO” bumper stickers, $3. Order online at


MITCHEL’S PLATEMATE IS RECOMMENDED and used by the oldest guitar maker in the world. Mitchel’s Platemate is also sold in many music stores nationwide and highly recommended by some of the best acoustic guitarists. Mitchel’s Platemate can be ordered online at or by phone: 330-898-7438.

EUPHONON CO. STRINGS: Bulk major manufacturer strings at fantastic savings. Phosphor Bronze guitar $27.50/dozen sets. 80/20 guitar, $25.50/dozen sets. Shipping $6 up to 2 dozen sets. Electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer available. 1-888-517-4678, P.O. Box 100U, Orford, NH 03777,


COUNTRY/BLUEGRASS LPs AND 45s. 16,000+ titles. Free catalogs. Buckaroo Records, P.O. Box 12408, Portland, OR 97212, Cash paid for collections.


STRING KING, SINCE 1989: FULL SERVICE REPAIRS, handmade guitars. Gibson Level A shop. Martin experienced. or 330-798-1055.

TAYLOR GUITAR AND MARTIN GUITAR WARRANTY REPAIR CENTER: Factory-trained and certified guitar repair specialists. All warranty and non-warranty repair work performed. Appalachian Bluegrass Shoppe, 643 Frederick Rd., Catonsville, MD 21228, 800-845-8456, e-mail: Serving the music community since 1960.

VIOLIN BOWS REHAIRED ($30) and repaired. Handmade bows for sale. Violins bought, sold, repaired. Tom Owen, P.O. Box 413, 301 S. Byrd, Coalgate, OK 74538, 580-927-9939, e-mail:

New Releases – September 2011

Focal Press 978-0-240-52235-7 (book)

Focal Press 978-0-240-81501-7 (book)

Thunderbolt Records TB-1961 (compact disc)

Blue Circle Records BCR-031 (compact disc)

Compass Records 745642 (compact disc)

Mighty Cord Records, No Number (compact disc)

Rural Rhythm Records RUR-1083 (compact disc)

Rebel Records REB-CD-1842 (compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

Salisbury St. Recordings SSR1978 (compact disc)

Homespun DVDKAU-MN21 (DVD)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

Moon Surf Records, No Number (compact disc)

Rural Rhythm RUR-1077 (compact disc)

Mountain Fever Records MFR110701 (compact disc)

Pinecastle Records PRC 1176 (compact disc)

Mel Bay MB20485BCD (book)

Oscar Tharpe Pub., No Number (compact disc)

Oscar Tharpe Pub., No Number (compact disc)

Oscar Tharpe Pub., No Number (compact disc)

Oscar Tharpe Pub., No Number (compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

TKPIV Pub., TKPIV0002 (compact disc)

TKPIV Pub., TKPIV0003 (compact disc)

Nell Robinson Music NRM-102 (compact disc)

Skaggs Family 6989010112 (compact disc)

Gat3 Records, No Number (compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

No Label, No Number (compact disc)

Upper Mgmt. Music UM002 (compact disc)

Ghostmeat Records GMO58 (compact disc)

Rebel Records REB-CD-1844 (compact disc)

Additional Releases – September 2011

Mountain Fever Records MFR110415.

Ashlee Blankenship honed her singing talents while performing with the East Coast Gospel group, Statement. She now has stepped out on her own and is joined on the project by her band Blades Of Blue, which includes Travis Greer on bass, Joshua Underwood on banjo, Dustin Pyrtle on guitar, and Caleb Courtner on mandolin. The project was produced by Sammy Shelor who also contributed guitar and banjo on a number of cuts. Also guesting are Tim Crouch on fiddle and cello, and Mike Sharp on resonator guitar. This 12-song collection takes tunes from a variety of sources including “Hooked On A Feeling,” the old BJ Thomas hit. Ashlee herself contributes “You Gotta Live It” and there are two from writer Marvin Clark, “I’ll Be There” and “Give More Than I Take.” This whole band has the instrumental chops that confirm that a new generation of musicians has a lot to contribute to this music. Looks like the future holds a lot of promise for Ashlee and the Blades. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380,

Clover Prod. CD 2010A.

While at first taken aback by the title, I found this project, subtitled new versions of old favorites, to be a really nice collection of old gospel songs performed in a simple, laid-back approach that made for easy listening. Larry Nixon plays fingerpicking style, while David Blevins plays flatpicking style and Steven Gage contributes the bass. The two guitar styles complement each other very well and the instrumentation is rounded out by guest Steve Dilling on mandolin. The 15-song selection is loosely based on the 1926 Baptist hymnal; however folks familiar with these tunes will realize that the songs are really non-denominational and can be found in a variety of churches. Many are in the public domain and are easily recognizable, such as “Come To The Garden,” “Just A Closer Walk,” “Life’s Railway To Heaven,” “How Great Thou Art,” “What A Friend,” “Old Time Religion,” and the perennial favorite “Amazing Grace.” This is the fifth project from Nixon, Blevins, and Gage, and folks will find it a nice addition to their gospel collection. (Clover Prod., 4412 DeWees Ct., Raleigh, NC 27612,

No Label, No Number.

This is a really nice project of original material from this young banjo player. Whitener has written all of the songs and he is accompanied on the collection by Chris Eldridge on guitar, Melody Allegra Berger on fiddle, and Max Johnson on bass. Other folks adding their input to the set are Chris Rubeco (guitar), Odetta Harman (fiddle), Perry Allen (guitar), and Brian Barth (bass). The instrumentals bounce between sounding ’grassy and jazzy, and Whitener shows he can play on tunes such as “Same Old Thing,” “Three Musketteers,” “Shooting Star,” “Lightning Bug,” “Done For The Day,” and “Chicken.” A vocal highlight is “Hole In The Floor Of The Plane,” sort of a quirky alternate view of rapture. “Here To Live” is a simple, pretty tune about just living, and “Banjo Pickin Man” is sort of autobiographical. Whitener was a member of the Sparrows band and some of their performances can be found on-line. (Dan Whitener, 247-1 E. Camp Rd., Germantown, NY 12566)

Blue Moon Records, No Number.

Dixie Ridge is a band from the Appomattox area of Virginia lead by husband and wife, Adam and Amanda Clifton. Other members of the band are Zach Marsh (banjo), Vernon Maupin (guitar), and Tom Echols (mandolin). Adam Clifton plays bass in the group. The group is quite competent instrumentally, augmented by guests Rob Ickes on resonator guitar and Andy Leftwich on fiddle. Other guests include Russell Easter, Jr., Jared Easter, and Jimmy Edwards. Five of the tunes on this ten-song collection were penned by the Cliftons, including the single instrumental, “Dixie Ridge Ramble.” The others include “The Heart I Once Had,” “You’re The One,” “I’m Rollin’,” and “Just Once More.” Folks will recognize “My Favorite Memory” and the gospel “They’re Holding Up The Ladder.” Overall this is a pleasant project that will find favor with their fans. (Dixie Ridge, 353 Phelps Branch Rd., Appomattox, VA 24522.)

Limehouse Music LHM-016.

Strong instrumentation, good vocals and harmonies, and original material have made this group from Sweden one of the most popular bands in Europe. They also have had several successful trips to the U.S., where they have been warmly received. The project is their fourth release and was more than a year in production because they wanted a “more mature and thorough sound.” The current band consists of Kennoth Kjellgren (banjo), Jonas Kjellgren (mandolin), Kajsa Westin (bass), Ivor Ottley (fiddle), Nicke Widen (resonator guitar), and Magnus Sundstrom (guitar). All the songs on this project are original with Jonas as the primary composer of both music and lyrics. The music runs the gamut from straight bluegrass to jazz to the dark side of “Silver And Gold.” The title cut is a slow instrumental that lets everyone shine. There is a variety of moods here from “Give It Up And Give In,” “Us Against The World,” “That Idiot Wind,” “Crawl Back,” to “Talking To A Barman.”

Downhill continues to draw in fans from both sides of the pond. (

Whiskey Chicks Record WC2010.

From Longmont, Colo., this all-female bluegrass unit has combined original material with some country and Americana to produce a pleasant and enjoyable CD. The band consists of Kerry Claxton on mandolin and guitar, Marni Pickens on bass, Nancy Steinberger on fiddle and banjo, and Adrienne Yauk on guitar, resonator guitar, and banjo. Besides their own compositions, the group includes songs from writers Gillian Welch (“Witchita”), Malcolm Pulley (“In The Gravel Yard”), Dennis Linde (“Calling Baton Rouge”), Dolly Parton (“Jolene”), and Bill Staines (“The Roseville Fair”). The original tunes come from members of the band, each contributing one or two cuts including “Headwind” (Steinberger), “What Shall I Do” (Yauk), “Ghost Of Angelina” (Claxton), and “Mama Pajama” (Claxton). The band is very good instrumentally, their vocal harmonies are tight, and the production quality is good. A good effort for GiddyUp Kitty. (

Outlet Records 148-1.

Roger Handy is best known for his work with the early Lost & Found and, after laying off music for a spell, he started playing again with Southern Depot with friends Harold East (resonator guitar), Roger Martin (mandolin), Charlie Robertson (bass), and newest member Richard Greer (banjo). This also provided an opportunity for his bandmates to showcase their original material such as Martin’s “I Wish I Didn’t Love Her, But I Do” and “If Only You Knew,” and Robertson’s “That Little Golden Heart.” The collection also includes “If Today Was The Last Day” from former bandmate Alan Mills, Paul Craft’s “Raised By The Railroad Line,” and “Remembrance Of You” by Pete Roberts (Kuykendall). The collection ends with a beautiful instrumental rendition of “The Rose” with Harold East on solo resonator guitar. Handy’s smooth and resonant voice is showcased throughout this project. It’s good to see him back in the music. (Outlet Recordings, 7377 Six Mile Post Rd., Rocky Mount, VA 24151.)

Back Studio Records BSR-002.

The Tuttles are a California-based family band led by Jack Tuttle and siblings Molly, Sullivan, and Michael. On this project, they are joined by friend A.J. Lee. The lead and harmony vocals are about evenly shared between A.J. and Molly with Jack providing male vocals. While fully mature voices are still on the horizon, their harmony blend is pleasing. The Tuttle’s primary force is their quite accomplished instrumental capabilities. The line-up is Molly on banjo and guitar, A.J. on mandolin, Michael on mandolin, Sullivan on guitar, and their father, Jack, on bass and fiddle. The instrumental arrangements are solid around the vocals. A highlight is Michael’s blazing mandolin performance on “El Cumbanchero.” The music mix is quite varied with selections from Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, Kim Fox, Gillian Welch, and Becky Buller. There is even room for a couple of originals like the instrumental “Gypsy Palo Alto,” and Molly’s “It’s A Long Road.” The Tuttles are regulars on the West Coast bluegrass scene, but we should all be seeing more from them in the future. (Gryphon, 211 Lambert Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94306,

No Label, No Number.

The Triple L Band is the Miller family hailing from the area around Portales, N.M. The triple “Ls” are brothers Levi, Landon, and Lance Miller, along with Len and Amy. This all-gospel collection offers a variety of lesser-known material that may be unfamiliar to most listeners, but may soon become more popular. This is another family unit that has really worked on their vocals, harmonies, and instrumental prowess. The song arrangements are tight and uplifting. The group shines on such tunes as the a cappella “Walking In The Spirit” and “Gonna Move On Up The Mountain.” Other selections include “Turn Your Back,” “One Day I’ll Fly,” and the familiar “This World Is Not My Home,” and “When I Wake To Sleep No More.” The Miller family has Landon on banjo, Lance on guitar, Levi on mandolin, Len on resonator guitar, and Amy on bass. Listeners will enjoy this project of refreshing tunes in the gospel genre from this band from the Southwest. (Triple L Band, P.O. Box 883, Portales, NM 88130,

Torch Records TR 135.

Dave Wilburn and the Kirk Brothers are from Woodbridge, Va., and have produced a 12-song collection of tunes from the Delmore Brothers’ (Alton and Rabon) songbook. The Delmores were a popular duo during the 1930s and 1940s, and many of their songs have become part of the bluegrass repertoire. On this project, 89-year-old Dave Wilburn sings most of the lead with Luke Brown adding the harmony. Wilburn plays guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and bass. Brown plays guitar, mandolin, and banjo. The Kirk Brothers are Larry (bass) and James (guitar, mandolin, bass). This simple, sparsely-produce CD has an old-time homey feel, without flash, and gives the listener the impression of the group just sitting around someone’s porch or living room. Fans of the Delmores may want this in their collection as may fans of Mr. Wilburn and the Kirk Brothers. (Torch Records, 2902 Alliance Ln., Woodbridge, VA 22193.)

No Label, No Number. Originally recorded 1975.

It’s rare to see footage from early bluegrass festivals that is professionally produced, so after reading that this DVD contained footage from 1975 from a contest festival at the South Street Seaport in New York City, I was afraid I was going to have to endure somebody’s amateur home recording. Instead, I was treated to an hour of a professionally produced documentary, one that contains valuable music history.

The producer, Fred Styles, filmed this as a labor of love in 1975 and this 35th anniversary release came about because he found the original can of film and had it painstakingly restored to digital—another labor of love. It’s well worth checking out for its musical and historical value, and the scenes of an early bluegrass band contest in NYC are interesting for just how well bluegrass had already established itself in the Big Apple. It’s also a little eerie to see the Twin Towers in the background.

The film features brief commentary from renowned fiddler Tracy Schwartz and a scene with banjoist Lamar Grier playing “Salt Creek.” The rest of the film includes a few jams and stage bands and some interviews, but unfortunately, we don’t have names along with the faces. Still, it’s fun to see 1975 again and feel some of that early energy when festivals were still uncommon and everybody was excited about getting together and learning from each other. And there’s plenty of 1975-style hair. A nicely done DVD package with accompanying photos. CVS (Fred Styles, 364 Walnut St. SW, Roanoke, VA 24016.)

Mel Bay 22208DVD.

On this well-done instructional video, Hunter Robertson lays out the groundwork for learning old-time banjo—not just clawhammer style, but also two- and three-finger styles. The main thrust of this DVD is to present right- and left-hand techniques, tunings grounded in the fundamentals that build an informed style.

Robertson gives a brief description of each tune, then plays the tune. Next, he breaks the tune down with a verbal description of what he is doing. Then the tune is played slowed so that you can easily follow the right- and left-hand finger positions. Finally, it’s played at a medium tempo for you to practice along. Split-screens showing the two hands are used throughout. There are visual guides to help you keep on track. He teaches ten tunes played in the clawhammer-style in this fashion.

There is a wonderful section on right-hand techniques where Robertson takes a good amount of time to explain the techniques and demonstrate them, following the same procedure he uses for the ten clawhammer tunes. The tunes are credited to his source and he attempts to catch the essence of that performance. He does not lavishly copy the source, but he does successfully present a rendition that is honest and accurate. The complexity of the tunes will take an intermediate to advanced ability to pull off. If you have mastered the right-hand techniques addressed in that section, it will make it much easier to tackle the tunes.

There is an in-depth section that covers several factors for mastering these styles. Robertson discusses thumb lead versus index lead in the two-finger style and does a nice job of demonstrating the old time three-finger approach. He demonstrates the piece “in the style” of a source and not necessarily a note-for-note representation of anyone’s style. The split screen reveals how both hands interact. He also slows these pieces down, as well. He does a nice job of breaking down Dock Boggs’ “Danville Girl” and “Sugar Baby” to demonstrate the essence of Dock’s style. The other extra is a performance of “Raleigh & Spencer” that can also be viewed on YouTube. Robertson’s guttural vocals and forceful banjo playing make for an impressive performance.

Robertson uses black-coated strings on his banjo so the viewer has no problem seeing which strings he is hitting. The accompanying .PDF provides a good deal of information on these tunes. There is a list of a lot of resources that can currently be found on the Internet. This DVD stands among the best out there for learning more about the old-time banjo styles. RCB (Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Dr., Pacific, MO 63069,


Alison Krauss + Union Station – Paper Airplane

Alison Krauss + Union Station - Paper Airplane - Bluegrass UnlimitedALISON KRAUSS + UNION STATION
Rounder Records

Alison Krauss + Union Station fans have been waiting since 2004 for a new release from this stellar outfit. The interim has seen members Dan Tyminski, Ron Block, Barry Bales, and Jerry Douglas pursuing independent projects, but Paper Airplane finds the five of them back in their old form, showcasing Alison’s whispery soprano on eight cuts and Dan’s strident baritone on three.

As always, Alison has carefully chosen material by some wonderful songwriters. The title track (by Krauss favorite Robert Lee Castleman) opens the disc, building from a quiet fingerpicked guitar to an easy medium groove. It’s followed by one of the strongest cuts on the album, Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children.” The opening guitar riff exactly echoes Rowan’s original recording before Ron Block’s strong rolling banjo backup takes over and propels the song along, pushing against Dan’s forceful interpretation of the heartbreaking yet fiendishly catchy lyrics.

Another standout is “My Love Follows You Where You Go,” the most bluegrassy cut to feature Alison’s lead vocal. Its memorable last line, Watching you walk away slow, will stick in your brain and roll around for a while. Richard Thompson’s “Dimming Of The Day” is slow, gentle, simply arranged with just guitar and resonator guitar, and shows off the delicate interpretive stylings for which Alison is most famous. The album wraps up with a thematically appropriate song. “My Opening Farewell” tells of a woman torn about going away, and the sad and hopeful words leave future possibilities open: There’s a train everyday, leaving either way.

If any Alison Krauss devotees were worried that she would take the band in a different direction after working with Robert Plant, they can lay their trepidations to rest. Although this album is full of new material, all the familiar AKUS elements are here and it sounds like two years, rather than seven, since we last heard from them.

If you buy the Paper Airplane deluxe version (available exclusively at Target stores) you get three extra new cuts, as well as three previously released live tracks. The energy on those live cuts overshadows the rest of the album a bit and I’m sure that many new (post-Robert Plant-collaboration) fans, upon hearing those, will want to buy the album they are pulled from (titled Live). (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, CAH

Brandon Adams – Hardest Kind Of Memories

Brandon Adams - Hardest Kind Of Memories - Bluegrass UnlimitedBRANDON ADAMS
No Label

From the opening flurry of flatpicked notes kicking off this album’s initial track, a nimble instrumental called “Roberts Ride,” one can tell that this up-and-coming Kentucky singer, songwriter, and guitarist is a devotee of Tony Rice, but one who won’t leave the harder edges more associated with his home State behind. “Docks Of Sutters Bay,” with its breezy maritime feel punctuated by incisive guitar and resonator guitar runs, reinforces Adams’ affinity for the Rice style and signals that the rest of this 11-track, 40-minute project deserves a close listen.

Adams wrote nine of those eleven tracks with upbeat numbers “Sweat Of Your Brow” and “Up Where The Cold Wind Blows,” showcasing not only those promising writing skills, but a smooth voice with just a bit of a bourbon bite at the back of it. “Hardest Kind Of Memories” is the best all-around track here; don’t be surprised if it lands Adams a record deal or ends up being recorded by a more established act looking for a hit.

Guest artists include Don Rigsby (mandolin, tenor vocal), Randy Kohrs (resonator guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo), Robert Maynard (bass), Jay Weaver (bass), Bo Isaacs (tenor vocal), Jessie Cobb (mandolin), Rudy Roar (mandolin), Jessy Wells (fiddle, guitar) and Luke Bulla (fiddle). No individual track credits are listed, but the picking is fine throughout and careful listeners can pick out their favorite musicians. (Brandon Adams, 31 Freedom Tabernacle Rd., Webbville, KY 41180.) AKH

Ian Walsh and Kevin Buckley – Keeping It Reel

Ian Walsh and Kevin Buckley - Keeping It Reel - Bluegrass UnlimitedIAN WALSH AND KEVIN BUCKLEY
Mountain Rose Records
No Number

Much is made of the many connections between bluegrass and Irish music. Tim O’Brien did an excellent job of blending the dual traditions on his concept album The Crossing, and The Transatlantic Sessions recordings were a creative meeting ground between talented musicians from both sides of the water.

Midwestern fiddler/mandolinist Ian Walsh and guitarist/singer Kevin Buckley play their bluegrass much more green than blue. Truth be told, this is much more an album of Irish music than a bluegrass, or even newgrass, CD. Notwithstanding, it’s a fine one, with an interesting collection of tunes and songs augmented by bodhran and uilleann pipes. But readers of this magazine might not even take note of this release, but for the inclusion of a cover of Tony Rice’s “Manzanita,” a recasting of the old-time song “Say Darlin’ Say” in a Celtic context, and the pairing of “Done Gone” with the French Canadian “Reel Beatrice.”

It’s all well-played and well-sung, and a nice opportunity for those less familiar with Irish music (and even a spot of Venezuelan, via the increasingly popular waltz “La Partita”) to explore unfamiliar waters. (Mountain Rose Records, 227 Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63119, HK

Iron Horse – Horse And Pen

Iron Horse - Horse And Pen - Bluegrass UnlimitedIRON HORSE
B-Sharp Records

Formed in Muscle Shoals, Ala., in 2000, this quartet has produced bluegrass tribute albums to Metallica, Led Zeppelin, and Ozzy Osbourne, among other rock acts, but their focus with Horse And Pen is on self-penned material. The ten-song, thirty-five minute results are well-planned and well-executed.

Vance Henry (guitar), Ricky Rogers, (bass), and Tony Robertson (mandolin) share lead and backing vocal duties, while talented banjoist Anthony Richardson contributes baritone and bass harmonies. Their picking is seldom flashy, but all the breaks and instrumental interplay are tasteful and fresh, supporting an interesting batch of songs with vocal arrangements that, again, aren’t spectacular, but extremely nicely done.

“Look At Me” is a gentle, slow number with some of those fine vocals and perfect backup picking from Anthony Richardson, while “My Daddy’s Life” is a mid-tempo train song with relaxed, inventive banjo patterns. “Mary’s Not In Kansas” and “Just A Dream Away” are two more of the smoother numbers, but the band proves they can kick it up a notch with the likes of “Letter To You,” “You’ll Live On,” and the quite catchy “I Don’t Wanna Think.”

“Oh Moses” provides a little gospel flavor with some soulful lead and harmony vocals and some swampy resonator guitar, proving that when Iron Horse comes rolling down the track, they’ll be bringing a load of inventive and varied music. (Vance Henry, 6190 City Rd. 34, Killen, AL 35645, AKH

James Reams and the Barnstormers – One Foot In The Honky Tonk

James Reams and the Barnstormers - One Foot In The Honky Tonk - Bluegrass UnlimitedJAMES REAMS AND THE BARNSTORMERS
Mountain Redbird Music

When the playing and the singing and the songwriting are working just right on James Reams and the Barnstormers’ third release, the album works as well, and the effect is quite a pleasure. That happens on about half the CD’s 15 tracks.
Reams and his band—longtime collaborator Mark Ferrell on mandolin and fiddle, Doug Nicholson on banjo, and Nick Sullivan on bass (plus guests Kenny Kosek on fiddle and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin)—do best on the slower honky-tonk tunes and the instrumentals. The exception is the opening title track, which clips along at a nice rip and is sharp throughout.
Exception aside, there is much to like in the slower, bluesier songs such as “Almost Hear The Blues,” “In The Corner At The Table By The Jukebox,” and “King Of The Blues.” The first of that list is of particular note. Written by country great Stonewall Jackson, it’s everything a good country song should be, and the performance is excellent. “In The Corner…” by James Hand is almost as good. Then there are the four instrumentals including two band originals. Here, the top cut is a cover of “Florida Blues.” First made famous by Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, this version has a very different feel, and it’s good to hear Mark Ferrell putting a personal stamp on a classic.
As for what makes the remaining songs average, the biggest culprits are phrasing and word construction or both. Songs that are phrased oddly or that jam too many syllables into a measure, such as “Cornbread, Molasses and Sassafras Tea,” are instantly distracting. Some are more distracting than others, but distracting nonetheless. Fortunately, the better half redeems the album. (Mountain Redbird Music, 10045 Royal Oak Rd., Unit 35, Sun City, AZ 85351, BW

John Hartford, Tony Rice & Vassar Clements – Hartford, Rice, Clements

John Hartford, Tony Rice & Vassar Clements - Hartford, Rice, Clements - Bluegrass UnlimitedJOHN HARTFORD, TONY RICE & VASSAR CLEMENTS
Small Dog Barking
No Number

It’s commonplace for recordings to appear posthumously. Some artists left hours of recorded music behind. These gentleman worked and played together on and off for decades. They ran in the same circles, they blew off steam playing for the fun of it. We are lucky here.

This is great bluegrass by one of the major iconoclastic bluegrassers and some good friends. To say this is a joint effort is to touch the essence of these recordings. On “Sweet Sunny South,” we hear John’s heartfelt reading with Tony playing guitar for himself more so than for the expectant audience. Vassar throws in some licks that work, but also stretch the sound. John sings “My Baby’s Gone” with Vassar’s fine harmony. Tony and John hit the harmonies just right on “If I Should Wander Back Tonight,” getting that 7th interval that marked some of the best of Flatt & Scruggs’ duet harmonies.

Perhaps Ralph Stanley acquired the rights to “Bound To Ride” from Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, but that doesn’t matter when you hear John’s low banjo roll through the song at the speed of light. Also defying physics, they fly through “Long Journey Home” with some of the fastest fiddling Vassar may have ever recorded. What great double-stops he throws off early on that cut, while Roy Huskey, Jr., rips off a bass break that almost pulls the strings from the bass. While much of the material is public domain, there are some little recorded gems like Benny Martin’s “Wings Of A Song.” “Poor Ellen Smith” walks along more like an old-time rendition than bluegrass, until Vassar has his say. Roy’s bass is an integral to the sound of this piece as any other instrument.

Recorded in John’s basement facing a rock wall with two mics on a digital VHS system, this nearly lost gem of a recording is not to be missed. Tony Rice and Mark Howard, who plays some very nice mandolin throughout the project, are the only two surviving members of this jam. Mark must count himself fortunate for being in the right place at the right time. We can listen and remember hearing these folks together or apart and know that we are richer for having done so. This recording allows us to hear John play straight-ahead bluegrass with Tony Rice and Vassar Clements being their ever-creative selves. To miss this recording is to miss real music made by masters who were just being themselves and playing for the simple joy of it. (John Hartford Music, P.O. Box 680488, Franklin, TN 37068, RCB

Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger – Fly Down Little Bird

Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger - Fly Down Little Bird - Bluegrass UnlimitedMIKE SEEGER AND PEGGY SEEGER
Appleseed Recordings
APR CD 1125

Recorded mostly in 2008, a year before Mike Seeger’s death, this album documents what must have been a wonderful few days for the brother and sister, recording in Mike’s home-studio, songs that they knew from childhood.

Mike and Peggy Seeger grew up in Silver Spring, Md. Their father, Charles Louis Seeger, and their mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, were active in collecting folk songs. There are 14 songs here gleaned from a repertoire they originally learned from their parents, John and Alan Lomax, and the Library Of Congress. It’s just the two of them playing and singing live, and the instruments are guitar, old-time banjo, fiddle, cello-banjo. There are three songs recorded at a private home in Boston (later in 2008) and one song, “Little Birdie,” recorded live at WAMC in Albany, N.Y.

Songs include “Old Bangum,” “Cindy,” “Little Willie’s My Darlin’,” “My Home’s Across The Blue Ridge Mountains,” and a wonderful tune called “Red River Jig,” a Canadian fiddle tune. Mike Seeger was not stuck in one part of the old-time, bluegrass, or folk scene. He took it all in and created music that is still alive and vibrant. And Peggy has that same wide interest in songs and songwriting, and that passion comes through on this recording.

This is well worth listening to for rare versions of old songs and for the wonderful brother/sister mix of Mike and Peggy. (Appleseed Recordings, P.O. Box 2593, West Chester, PA 19380, CVS

Scott Holstein – Cold Coal Town

Scott Holstein - Cold Coal Town - Bluegrass UnlimitedSCOTT HOLSTEIN
Coal Records, No Number

This is an outstanding recording in every way. With a rich baritone voice reminiscent of country singer Josh Turner and a talent for writing straight-to-the-gut lyrics wrapped up in strong melodies, Scott Holstein has hit one out of the park with Cold Coal Town. These great songs draw from life in coal country and build a consistent theme throughout the entire recording, resulting in a cohesive work that may very well stand with the likes of Jimmy Arnold’s Southern Soul or Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim.
Propelled by Holstein’s powerful vocals, Cold Coal Town is a trip through the highs and lows of Appalachian mountain life and the coal mining which has, throughout the history of the region, been both a blessing and a curse. Holstein’s well-crafted, compelling songs hit the themes believably, from the prisoner’s lament in “Walls Of Stone” and the civil war tale ‘Montani Semper Liberi” to “Roll Coal Roll” and the hard-driving “Boone County Blues.”
Although lacking the high part of the high-lonesome sound, Holstein evokes the sound and influence of the Stanley Brothers with two songs of particular note. “Clinch Mountain Hills” is as close to something Ralph and Carter might have done as any song that actually mentions the Stanleys. And the chilling a cappella dirge “Black Water” reflects back to the folk tradition, when true songs of tragedy and loss would pass news from community to community, much like the Stanleys’ songs did with “No Schoolbus In Heaven” and “The Flood.”
None of this is to suggest that Cold Coal Town is a depressing recording. It isn’t. It’s too refined and gutsy. It’s dark, but with driving instrumental work from a crackerjack supporting cast including Randy Kohrs, Scott Vestal, Aaron Ramsey, Clay Hess, and others, Cold Coal Town has an emotional impact that’s almost visual, as great music can do. Holstein has not only created a great recording, but also a fine work of art and a recording not to be missed. One of the best in a very long time. (Coal Records, 54 Gateway Cir., Mt. Juliet, TN 37122, AWIII

Terry Baucom – In A Groove

Terry Baucom - In A Groove - Bluegrass UnlimitedTERRY BAUCOM
John Boy & Billy/Dualtone

Terry Baucom has been playing bluegrass for a long time. He was a fiddler with the late Charlie Moore about thirty-plus years ago. He played banjo with Ricky Skaggs in Boone Creek and then proceeded to play in a long list of bands throughout the 1980s. He is found here burning it down on the five-string and singing with past collaborators.

This release is about the singer as well as the banjo picker. We hear Baucom in trios with Jamie Dailey and Lou Reid on “Do You Wrong Kind Of Girl” and then on “Nothing Like The Scorn Of A Lover” with Russell Moore and Buddy Melton. Terry joins his wife, Cindy Baucom, and Paul Williams for a nice reading of “Stepping Stones.” We get to hear the original Quicksilver Quartet, Doyle Lawson, Jimmy Haley, Lou Reid, and Terry Baucom sing “My Eyes Shall Be On Canaan’s Land.” While you might expect a lot of instrumentals, there is just one, the title cut. We get lots of great singing from a long list of some of the best contemporary vocalists working today including the Gibson Brothers, Ronnie Bowman, Chris Stapleton, John Cowan, Adam Steffey, and all of the others previously mentioned above.

Baucom has surrounded himself with past bandmates to create a fresh new sound that is rich, highly listenable, and forward looking. If you have followed him in the past, don’t miss this recording. The material is strong and the performances are all top notch. This is very good contemporary bluegrass. (John Boy and Billy Inc., P.O. Box 876, Burlington, NC 27216, RCB

The Brombies – From The Piney Hills (Of Hollywood)

The Brombies - From The Piney Hills (Of Hollywood) - Bluegrass UnlimitedTHE BROMBIES

From the piney hills of Hollywood, Cal., come the Brombies, the name being a variant of the term for Australian wild horses (“brumbies”). The Brombies are made up of the husband and wife team of George and Jo Ellen Doering, Bill Bryson, and Patrick Sauber. This project is a collection of original material from both the Doerings and Bryson, nicely arranged and delivered in a solid bluegrass style, giving each member of the group a chance to be out front. The vocal harmonies are tight and blend into almost one voice. There is lots of good material here for those who desire to add new songs to their repertoire. Give the Brombies a listen. You’ll enjoy what you hear. ( BF

The Byron Berline Band – Runaway

The Byron Berline Band - Runaway - Bluegrass UnlimtedTHE BYRON BERLINE BAND
Doublestop Music
No Number

Byron Berline built a good bit of his reputation playing in and among the California bluegrass and country rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s. Those bands had an affinity for bright, pop-influenced melodies and backing. They also didn’t shy away from covering rock tunes, nor from using drums.

All of that and more makes up the major part of the sound of this project. It was recorded in Oklahoma, but it may as well have been California circa 1973—drums, cymbals, and all. You can hear it right from the opening Berline fiddle instrumental “Up And Down The River,” which has the wonderful feel of “Keep On Pushin’” from the Country Gazette era. This leads right to a string of rock-tune covers, including “Never Ending Love,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Memphis,” a slightly “up” version of “Wild Horses,” “Last Train To Clarksville,” the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full Of Soul,” and the Beatles’ “Run For Your Life.” They also cover two traditional songs, “Dark Hollow” and “Farther Along.”

At times, Berline and his band (Greg Burgess on fiddle and guitar, Jim Fish on guitar, John Hickman on banjo, Richard Sharp on bass, and Steve Short on tasteful drums) weave in touches of the Country Gazette, the Kentucky Colonels (with Fish hinting at Roland White’s lead vocals), and the Dillards (on “Dark Hollow”).

The few songs that break from the California sound reflect Berline’s Oklahoma background with a nod toward western swing. Those tracks include “Oklahoma Hills,” a lovely version of “Yearning,” and a Berline original, “Cherokee.” All three leave you wanting more of that style. (Double Stop Music, 121 E. Oklahoma, Guthrie OK 73044, BW

The Del McCoury Band & The Preservation Hall Jazz Band – American Legacies

 The Del McCoury Band and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band - American Legacies - Bluegrass UnlimitedTHE DEL MCCOURY BAND & THE PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND
McCoury Music/Preservation Hall Recordings

Two of the most respected music forms, bluegrass and jazz, find a common ground from their roots that dig deep into the music culture of the American South in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

And who better to reach the crossroads of musical influences and vocabularies than the revered Del McCoury Band? They joined the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the studio and recorded what one of the jazz band’s players called “Mardi-grass.”

The CD kicks off with the feel-good “The Boys In Town.” “Boy what a great backup band for a singer,” Del McCoury said. “When you hear that behind you, it really gets you enthused about singing.” That’s apparent in songs like “50/50 Chance” and Bing Crosby’s “One Has My Name,” which McCoury admits would have been hard to sing in any other context. Rob McCoury and the Hall’s Carl LeBlanc shine on “Banjo Frisco.” Bill Monroe’s “Millenberg Joy” (originally New Orleans favorite “Milneburg Joys”), Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya,” and the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away” get a new dimension.

Some of the runs heard by the jazz band horns sound familiar to what is heard by stringed instruments in bluegrass. “Like the trumpet player, he’ll play a run and I’ll think, ‘Man, I’ve heard fiddle players in bluegrass do the same thing exactly,’” McCoury said. Frankly, bluegrass purists may not like this album, but music lovers who enjoy experimentation will be thrilled with the two genres’ union. It’s a marriage that works beautifully. (McCoury Music, P.O. Box 128437, Nashville, TN 37212, BC

Tony Holt & The Wildwood Valley Boys – Lost Highways & Treasured Memories

Tony Holt & The Wildwood Valley Boys - Lost Highways & Treasured Memories - Bluegrass UnlimitedTONY HOLT & THE WILDWOOD VALLEY BOYS
Old Heritage Records
OHR 1001

Tony Holt sings and Aubrey Holt writes, and all is right with the latest Wildwood Valley Boys CD. Of the fourteen songs on this recording, Aubrey wrote seven of them; songs of lost pride, lost love, a trucker’s life, of memories, and of longing. His “Cherokee Shame” is a look at a man’s life interrupted by alcohol and jail and what that interruption does to his family’s heritage. “Board That Train And Ride,” a chugging burner, makes plain the desire to shake the dirt from your shoes when you hear that whistle blow, while “Each Memory Is A Treasure,” “Only In My Dream,” and “Headin’ Home” explore different aspects of the “good times.” Tom Holt’s “If I Had My Way” is another good memory song.

Once in the hands of Tony Holt, Aubrey’s songs (and indeed all the songs on this recording) take on a vibrancy and emotional quality that is hard to surpass. Just how fine a singer he has become can be heard on his cover of “Lost Highway.” Delivered in a smooth, even baritone, Tony gives the song a wistfulness not found on the Hank Williams classic, which is more pleading. Moreover, were it not for Hank’s version, Tony’s would be in serious contention for the honor.

Joining Tony are Aubrey on harmony, bassist Tom Patrick, mandolinist Brad Lambert, and guests: banjoist Jeff Murray, resonator guitarist Matt Despain, and fiddler Michael Cleveland. Together they create a solid body of sound, particularly strong on “Board That Train…,” “Each Memory…,” and on Aubrey’s slow, country lament, “Just Another Souvenir.” Their good work together equally applies to the seven covers that round out this recording. Of those, the fast and flowing opener “Get A Little Dirt On Your Hands,” Jimmie Skinner’s “A Born Ramblin’ Man,” and Buck Owens’ “I Know That You Know (That I Love You)” stand out. All in all, a fine recording. (Old Heritage Records, P.O. Box 983, Goodlettsville, TN 37070,

The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built

The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built - Bluegrass UnlimitedTHE STARDAY STORY: THE HOUSE THAT COUNTRY MUSIC BUILT

Univ. Press of Miss., 9781604738308. Hardback, b&w photos, record listing, bibliography, index, 265 pp. (Univ. Press of Miss., 3825 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211,

If you are a long-time bluegrass fan, chances are your record shelves are populated with Starday albums—the vinyl kind. The Stanley Brothers, Carl Story, the Lewis Family, Bill Clifton, early Country Gentlemen, the Stoneman Family, and Alex and Ola Belle Reed all recorded for Starday Records. The label not only launched the careers of George Jones, Roger Miller, and Dottie West, it also revived the careers of Cowboy Copas, Red Sovine, and Moon Mullican and provided a home for older acts such as Stringbean, Clyde Moody, the Blue Sky Boys, and Wayne Raney.

As this meticulously researched work reveals, Starday was one of the most important and innovative independent labels in country music history—with the largest bluegrass catalog in the world. Starday Recording and Publishing Company was co-founded in 1953 by Jack Starnes, Pappy Daily, and Don Pierce, and author Nathan Gibson was incredibly fortunate to have Pierce on board for the writing of this book. Not only did Pierce provide access to his friends in the business, his own vivid memories flesh out what could have become a dull and boring narrative.

Gibson traces the history of Starday from its beginnings in Texas, through its move to Nashville in 1957, its sale to the Lin Broadcasting Company (which also bought King Records) in 1970, and the subsequent sale of the Starday/King catalog to Gusto where it now resides as part of Moe Lytle’s IMG cooperation. The book pays tribute to Pierce, a “country music maverick” who “tirelessly promoted country music through its darkest hours.” A bold innovator, he opened up country music’s acceptance overseas, pioneered budget labels and country music record clubs, and was among the first to record and release full-length record albums. Last but not least, the book includes an almost-complete listing of Starday and Starday-related records from 1953 to 1970, a welcome addition to the world of music research.

There is an incredible amount of information here in these 170 pages of text, and occasionally the flow bogs down a bit. Wading through the minute details of Lefty Frizzell’s tribulations with Jack Starnes right off the bat was somewhat trying, but sticking it out proved to be extremely worthwhile. Not everyone will enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at what made an independent record company successful, but if you are interested in the business end of the music business, The Starday Story will provide a fascinating read. MHH

Features in our September 2011 Print Edition

Bill Monroe At One Hundred – What Is His Legacy?

By Richard D. Smith

Bill Monroe’s First Days On Earth

By Tom Ewing

The Complete Classic Blue Grass Boys Canon, 1945-1948
Twenty-Eight Songs Or Over A Hundred?

By Dick Bowden

The Monroe Genealogy

By Bob Carlin

Meeting Bill Monroe

By Jens Krüger

General Store
Obituary: Kenneth Clayton Baker
Notes & Queries
National Bluegrass Survey
Personal Appearance Calendar
Advertiser Index
Classified Ads

Bill Monroe at One Hundred – What is his legacy?

By Richard D. Smith

Bill Monroe - Bluegrass Unlimited

Bill Monroe

We venerate inventors and revel in tales of reinvention. The person who discovers or creates something unique gains our high respect. And the person who changes their destiny for the better earns our deep admiration. On rare occasions, someone achieves both. Bill Monroe was such a rare individual.

William Smith Monroe was born on September 13, 1911, on a farm just outside the town of Rosine in Ohio County, Kentucky. Internationally lauded as the Father Of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe’s centennial is a fitting time to look back at the man, his accomplishments, and what he has bequeathed to the world.

Bill Monroe is arguably the only person to create an entirely new genre of popular music. Now called bluegrass, it was largely named after his band, the Blue Grass Boys, which was named in turn to honor his birthplace, the Blue Grass State of Kentucky. And Monroe’s life is a classic American tale of personal reinvention: a shy, lonesome, often-shunned little cross-eyed boy who built himself up into a powerful, attractive, highly self-confident and supremely creative adult.

The appellation, Father Of Bluegrass, is fitting. There were many musicians who made vital early contributions to bluegrass, notably fiddlers like Howdy Forrester and Chubby Wise, with their rousing yet bluesy styles; and banjo players like Don Reno, who introduced Bill to the sound of North Carolina-style syncopated three-finger picking, and, of course, Earl Scruggs, who forever established the five-string banjo in bluegrass and American popular music with his sensational performances on Monroe recordings and Grand Ole Opry broadcasts from late 1945 to 1948. However, it was Bill Monroe who consciously organized elements of rural Southern and American popular musics into what became known as bluegrass, setting it to a surging, anticipating rhythmic beat of his own creation, heard powerfully on his first band hit, “Muleskinner Blues.”

Readers of Bluegrass Unlimited are thoroughly familiar with the treasure troves of Monroe songs and instrumentals that are the start for any bluegrass musician, from aspiring weekend picker to seasoned full-time professional. Like a basic college curriculum, this core repertoire forms the “school” of bluegrass. It is a significant part of Bill’s creative legacy to future music generations.

The Father Of Bluegrass was also an elder of country music. He was a pillar of the famed Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts and live concert shows, starting with his debut in 1939 and continuing until his last appearance on the Friday night Opry of March 15, 1996. He was also an uncle to rock’n’roll, beloved by the early cadre of “rockabillies” who grew up as country music fans. These notably included Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, and even Elvis Presley, who recorded a version of Bill’s “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” at his first commercial recording session. Later, major rock stars such as Levon Helm of The Band and Chris Hillman of The Byrds directly credited their decision to become professional musicians to their experience of hearing Bill Monroe. Even American music legend Frank Sinatra, upon meeting Bill at a White House reception in 1983, specifically mentioned tuning into Opry radio broadcasts as a youth in Hoboken, N.J., and being especially impressed with the singing of Monroe and Roy Acuff.

So, it is fitting that among Bill Monroe’s accomplishments is his unique achievement of being the only person elected into three major American popular music distinctions: the Country Music Hall Of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall Of Fame, and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

In the process of crafting his art, Bill Monroe forever redefined the mandolin in music. No longer was the little Mediterranean-derived instrument a quaint and delicate parlor entertainment or an occasional classical music diversion. Thanks largely to Monroe’s innovative playing, the mandolin became fully expressive; by turns brash or nuanced, joyous or mournful, whether playing lead solos, backups to vocals, or providing rhythm support to other instruments. It was not just Monroe’s rapid arpeggios that inspired other mandolinists. It was the total soulfulness of his playing.

Similarly, Bill’s vocalizations set trends for popular music. Bill had sung soaring tenor harmonies with older sibling Charlie in the Monroe Brothers duo act. When Bill and Charlie parted musical ways, he realized that his solo vocal strengths lay in upper registers. Pitching songs in higher keys not only best suited his voice; it added a special sharpness to bluegrass vocalizing. It’s likely that the success of Monroe’s “high lonesome sound” influenced numerous country and popular music performers eager to put an extra edge on their singing.

The basic bluegrass band synthesized by Monroe (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and bass, with the five-string banjo added later) is in many respects just as sonically profound as the classical music chamber quartet (first violin, second violin, viola, and cello) and the primal jazz combo (piano, bass, and drums, with saxophone and/or electric guitar sometimes added). Simply put, bluegrass band instruments just sound terrific together; beautifully blending their timbres and supporting the others’ solo and rhythm roles. In developing the basic bluegrass band, Bill Monroe created a musical ensemble whose synergies rival the best of European classical and American jazz music. This major creative accomplishment is a bedrock of the Bill Monroe legacy.

It is well known in Nashville circles—but should be better known among the general public—that Bill Monroe played no small part in preserving the fiddle as a showcase country music instrument. Particularly during the 1960s and ’70s, the slick “Nashville Sound” featured the electric pedal steel guitar as lead instrument. In these days, the violin was frequently relegated to lush studio string sections. Meanwhile, Monroe stubbornly retained the primal, sinuous, and insinuating fiddle as the defining instrument of his bands. When country music slowly returned to its roots, country fiddling was still alive and well, thanks largely to bluegrass. Many of today’s top Nashville touring and recording session fiddlers cut their musical teeth on bluegrass, thus continuing the Monroe legacy well into the twenty-first century. (Bill’s powerful influence on fiddling makes the recent passing of his long-time fiddler and musical collaborator, the great Kenny Baker, especially poignant.)

Monroe was venerated by the influential “new country” movement of the 1980s. Stars such as Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, and Vince Gill enthusiastically acknowledged their artistic debts to Bill. Soon, other long-time Monroe fans, including Dolly Parton and Kathy Mattea, were encouraged to return to their mountain music roots and record bluegrass-flavored albums. None of this should have been surprising. In a landmark article in the February/March 1963 issue of the folk music magazine Sing Out!, Ralph Rinzler (the folklorist who, while later serving as Bill’s manager, helped revive his career) eloquently noted that Monroe’s artistic convictions, “imparted to other musicians and to audiences, [are] responsible for the endurance and significance of the traditional folk music strain in commercial country music.”

It’s important to understand that Bill and all of the first generation Monroes were persons of self-respecting dignity. Just because they were born on a farm in the Kentucky hill country did not make them hillbillies. Indeed, the Monroes valued education, even at grade-school levels and also during extracurricular sessions at the “singing schools” that taught the fundamentals of music. When Bill and elder brothers Birch and Charlie moved to the East Chicago area to find refinery work, they knew the value of dressing and behaving to impress. A high level of professional presentation helped them win entertainment jobs, first as exhibition square dancers and later as musicians. Charlie and Bill continued high standards of dress and deportment when they formed the path-breaking Monroe Brothers duo act. They maintained these standards when they separated to found, respectively, the Kentucky Pardners and the Blue Grass Boys bands.

This is another keystone of Bill Monroe’s legacy. His art was not a self-deprecating, barefooted, straw hat and overall-wearing hillbilly spectacle. Despite its humble folk and country roots, it was a dignified professional entertainment. Today, bluegrass is welcomed in the World’s most venerable concert halls. But among Bill Monroe’s greatest legacies may prove to be his enfranchisement of women in bluegrass and his mentoring of the music as an international art form.

Monroe’s relationship to women was complex. The evidence is that Bill was a women’s man, but in a positive sense of the phrase. Bill’s first deep exposure to music was through his mother, Malissa Vandiver Monroe. A multi-instrumentalist and singer, Malissa formed some of Bill’s earliest childhood memories when she sang during household chores or played the fiddle as a blissful break from her unending labors. Understood in this context, the arresting opening lines of Bill’s composition “Memories Of Mother And Dad” about the absence of these wonderful sounds after Malissa’s death are wrenchingly tragic: Mother left this world of sorrow/Our home was silent and so sad. (Later, after his father’s passing, Bill lived for a time with Malissa’s brother Pendleton Vandiver and backed him on guitar or mandolin when Pen played for square dances in the Rosine area. Happy memories of these years, of course, inspired the famous Monroe song “Uncle Pen.”)

Monroe loved many women, and these relationships inspired the most beautiful and, at times, the most searing of what he called his “true songs.” Indeed, another of Bill Monroe’s legacies is his role as a pioneering autobiographical singer/songwriter in American popular music. Composing from deeply personal experiences (“Along About Daybreak,” “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’,” “Letter From My Darlin’,” and “On And On,” to name only a few), Bill Monroe shaped bluegrass not as a mere updating of traditional ballads, dance tunes, and the blues, but as a contemporary art form capable of vibrant creative expression.

Monroe’s connections to women as individuals was further manifested by his strong encouragement of women as musicians. Alice Gerrard and the late Hazel Dickens recalled how Monroe once overheard an exchange between them and some male backup players. Their higher female voices were best suited to songs pitched in B-flat or other rarely-used keys. But the men complained that these keys were too difficult to play in. Hazel and Alice were willing to compromise, to play in A or G, keys that suited their hired bandmates, but not their natural voices. Upon hearing this, Bill forcefully interceded: “No, you shouldn’t do that. You make them play in whatever key you sing best. If they can’t play in that key, get rid of them. Get some other musicians.”

The incident reinforces Monroe’s creative commitment to having instruments serve the voice, not vice versa. But it also underscores his respect and support for these women’s artistic integrity. “He was the first guy who ever said that to us,” Hazel later recalled.

The seeds of bluegrass as a multicultural art form may have been sown in Monroe’s Kentucky youth when he was befriended by a local African-American railroad worker and blues guitarist named Arnold Schultz. Although also a good fiddler whom Bill backed at local dances, it was Schultz’s blues guitar stylings that captivated the young Monroe. Bill silently vowed to include some blues in his music. Today, the melding of the blues with traditional British Isles ballads and dance tunes gives bluegrass much of its special flavor.

Bill and his son James featured overseas bands at their Bean Blossom, Ind., music festivals in the early ’70s. Included were the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band from New Zealand and the Bluegrass 45 band from Japan who presented a rousing, occasionally humorous, and thoroughly entertaining set that was rewarded with a thunderous standing ovation. The following year, the Bluegrass Connection of France scored its own hit at Bean Blossom and other American festivals.

It is also telling that dedicated and talented pickers from the North—many from cities and frequently longhaired—received warm welcomes at the Monroe festival, despite being of strikingly different cultural and religious backgrounds from the Southern progenitors of bluegrass. The Monroe policy was open-doored, the symbolic welcome mat was out. Indeed, while on tour in New York and other northern cities in the early 1970s, Monroe would end shows by promoting his Bean Blossom festivals, then reinforce the invitation by ending with the classic country song “Y’All Come.” (The late Carlton Haney, arguably the father of the bluegrass festival movement, similarly featured women’s, Northern, and overseas bands at his trend-setting shows.)

Bill Monroe did not have a direct hand in founding the International Bluegrass Music Association (although he and James did attend an early organizational meeting). But his long-standing interest in talented overseas performers helped put the “International” in IBMA. In crafting bluegrass, Bill Monroe had acted regionally but, ultimately, had influenced globally.

Down through the years, Monroe endowed bluegrass with his characteristic strength, energy, drive, and dignity, and with what Ralph Rinzler called his “indomitable spirit.” Banjo great Sonny Osborne, who played and recorded with Monroe as a teenager, put it succinctly in a television documentary about Bill’s life: “You’ve never met anyone like him. And you never will again.” Well said, Mr. Osborne.

Bill Monroe was a giant and one of a kind. Now he is gone, having passed away on September 9, 1996, just four days before his 85th birthday. But fans of bluegrass and American popular music will forever have his art and his legacy to delight us, excite us, and inspire us, again and again and again.