OA Rock Cesario Column June 05, 2009
Traditional, progressive bluegrass are totally different animals
What’s in a name? Are any of the bluegrass festivals really bluegrass?
Bluegrass is defined this way by allmusic.com: “Bluegrass music grew out of traditional string band music that formed the roots of country music. ... the genre was named after the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe’s backing band, the Blue Grass Boys. Traditional bluegrass is typically based around acoustic stringed instruments, such as mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, and upright bass, with or without vocals.”
Traditional bluegrass artists include Monroe, Ralph Stanley, the Country Gentleman, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs and Jimmy Martin. Flatt & Scruggs were the house band for “The Beverly Hilbillies” television show.
Progressive bluegrass is defined as “traditional bluegrass with elements of country, rock, jazz and blues and folk added to the mix” according to allmusic.com.
Artists from that genre include the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dave Grisman, New Grass Revival, Nickel Creek, Allison Krauss, Chris Hillman and, most importantly, the Dillards, which was the house band for television’s “The Andy Griffith Show” and, in my opinion, the architects of the progressive bluegrass movement.
Traditional bluegrass is a very rigid and demanding form of music. Its artists and fans did not like progressive bluegrass when it started in the 1960s, and they still are not real fond of it.
I appreciate traditional bluegrass music, but it is not my favorite genre. However, I think bluegrass musicians are some of the finest musicians in the world.
They are usually up on stage with no electrified instrument to hide behind (as in rock ’n’ roll).
If they make a mistake, it is obvious because of the nature of the music.
I listened to the last two Del McCoury releases, and I am convinced there is no one alive who can play traditional bluegrass like Del and his band.
I do not listen to a lot of traditional bluegrass, but I sure appreciate the musicianship. I know it is very difficult to be really good at it.
Many years ago local band J.T. and the Big Dogs decided to enter a bluegrass contest at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the band worked hard at it for at least a year in preparation for the event.
The contest was for a chance to play on the festival’s main stage, and I don’t think they made the first cut. The band that won had been trying for years.
I clearly remember Doug Simons, Pete Langford and Guy Stephens telling me how much of an eye-opener it was for them to see and be part of the competition.
Progressive bluegrass music would be more my cup of tea.
I have been a big fan of the Dillards, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Hillman for years. I think the “Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark” with Doug Dillard, Gene Clark, Hillman, Bernie Leadon and Al Perkins is one of the best progressive bluegrass/country rock recordings ever made.
So many “country-rock” bands from the 1970s were the results of the progressive bluegrass movement of the early ’60s.
Bands such as Poco, Pure Prairie League, Byrds, Beau Brummels, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, Amazing Rhythm Aces, the Band, the Eagles and CSNY all were a natural progression from the early progressive bluegrass movement.