cost everyone but Bill a job, so to supplement their income Bill his brothers
Charlie and Birch, and their girlfriends formed a band and were soon
hired to be part of the WLS National Barn Dance Program.
When Birch was hired back into Sinclair, he dropped out of the band,
Charlie and Bill worked together and began recording in 1936 under
the Bluebird Label for RCA Victor. In 1938 the brothers decided to
follow their own careers and Charlie kept the RCA contract and started
his own band 'The Kentucky Pardners'.
Bill moved to Arkansas, working for radio station KARK. He formed a band called the Kentuckians, but
wasn't satisfied with them, so he moved to Atlanta and formed a new band
the first group he would call "The Bluegrass Boys". Bills band first
appeared on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1939 where he performed
his New Muleskinner Blues.|
Although firmly established as a top rate string band, many feel the
defining moment for Bill Monroes Bluegrass creation occured in late
1944, with the addition of banjoist Earl Scruggs. Earl playing in the new
three fingered style ( often called Scruggs style today) gave a new
hard driving addition to Bill Monroes Band there was no other band like it.
This was a new music. The same year 1944 Bill rehired guitar player and singer Lester Flatt to his band as well. Many say
that 45 to 47 were the greatest formulative years for this new 'Bluegrass Music"
What Is Bluegrass?
Bluegrass music has been described as "Folk Music in Overdrive".
Its standard musical instrumental components are a marriage of mandolin from Italy,
banjo from Africa, fiddle (violin) and upright bass from the Arab rebec
the guitar from Spain, the dobro from Czechoslovakia. Much of the music
is akin to English, Irish, Scottish origins, from the descendants of many English, Irish, Scottish, immigrants
from the Appalachia area of the United States.
Bluegrass is a simple but complex music, simple in melody, complex
in its presentation. Passionate powerful, allowing
its musicians to improvise and each solo on the melody "taking a break"
as its called much like jazz or folk musicians do.
The singers of bluegrass use strong harmonies, and solid chord structures,
that both illuminate and compliment the accompanying instrumentation.
Often fast paced and laced with intricate weavings of voicings and instruments.
Its lyrical content can consist of many differant things from gospel, traditional, country, contemporary, and sometimes
Named Bluegrass by Bill Monroe when trying to describe
this new sound, after his homestate in Kentucky the Bluegrass State.
Bill Monroes list of Banjoists reveals he used alot of them, many of them
went on to distinguish themselves in their own careers.
Dave "Stringbean" Akeman (42-45)Clawhammer style (though his main job was to supply comedy)
Jim Andrews (45 - tenor banjo)
Earl Scruggs (45-47) introducing 3 finger style to the world
Don Reno (48-49) Incredibly inventive. He was actually Bills first choice before Scruggs
but he entered into the tail end of the war from 44 to 46.
Rudy Lyle (49-51, 53-54) - "He was powerful." - B. Monroe
James (Gar) Bowers (51)
Sonny Osborne (52)
Jim Smoak (52-53, 54) later authored one of the few banjo books with
both tablature and standard music notation
Hubert Davis (54)
Jackie Phelps (54?) - Two finger banjo player
Noah Crase (54, 56)
Joe Stuart (55,57,64)
Don Stover (57)
Eddie Adcock (about 57-58) Like Reno a master of single string picking techinique
Joe Drumright (58,59,64)
Robert Lee Pennington (58,59)
Ted Lundy (late 50's ?)
Harold Streeter (late 50's?)
Curtis McPeake (60-61)
Tony Ellis (61-62)
Lonnie Hoppers (62)
David Deese (62)
Del McCoury (62-63, 64) Has one of the top bluegrass bands today
Bill Keith (63) another banjo pioneer, introduced melodic/chromatic/fiddle style to the mainstream Bluegrass world. From Boston at the time, almost certainly Monroe's first non southern banjo player.
Bobby Diamond (63-64?)
Steve Arkin (64) A second exponent of melodic style, although in his own writings he claims to have not been as adept as Bill Keith.
Sandy Rothman (64) Later went on to work with Jerry Garcia
Bill Gokey (64, maybe other times) - A lefty, plays right handed. Another Northerner, from Ogdensburg-upon-St. Lawrence, NY.
Don Lineberger (65) - Left handed.
Lamar Grier (65-67)
Butch Robins (67, 77-81)
Vic Jordan (67-68)
Rual Holt Yarbrough (69-70)
Bobby Thompson (70) One of the most inovative.
Earl Snead (71)
Jack Hicks (72-74)
Ben Pedigo (73)
James (Jim) Moratto (summer 73-74)
Dwight Dillman (74)
Bob Black (74-76)
Bill Holden (76-77)
Butch Robins (77-81, see also 67)
Blake Williams (81-91)
Dana Cupp (91-96)
We will be taking a look at several of these banjoists later in this sojourney.
In the mid 40s with the addition of Flatt and Scruggs, Bills Bluegrass Boys,
began touring with Opry road shows, and doing weekly network radio
shows on WSM . This exposure made him a household name in much
of America. War time restrictions kept him from recording, but
in 1946 when the restrictions were lifted he recorded several songs.
Kentucky Waltz reached number three and then Footprints in the
Snow reached number 5 in the US country charts. He also recorded
Blue Moon of Kentucky at this time which later would become a signature piece.
Other Bluegrass bands inspired by Monroes sucess began to spring up.
The Stanley Brothers began about 1946, then
in 1948 Flatt and Scruggs left Monroes band and
began their own Foggy Mountain Boys Band. In 1951 Bill purchased
some property at Bean Blossum, Brown County Indiana and established
a park where bluegrass was promoted.
From the late 40s a new
interest in folk music began that carried well into the early 70s sparked
by the civil rights movement in the south and the war in Vietnam.
In 1963 Bill Monroe gave a concert at the University of Chicago Folk Festival and created
great interest in the students, and soon was busily connected
with bluegrass festivals.
He began his own yearly Bluegrass festival in Bean Blossum in 65.
Its still held yearly even today. In 69
he was made an honorary Kentucky Colonel and in 1970 was elected
to the Country Music Hall Of Fame. He was also inducted into the Songwriters
Hall of Fame and he gained more successes and
accalades throughout his lifetime. He passed away September 9, 1996.