May 6, 2022 Trivia Question

This Contest is Closed
[sigh] There were no winners this week.


What was the very first bluegrass recording?

Let’s hear from those of you who haven’t won previously. Come on in, the water’s fine!!

  1. Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Flatt & Scruggs
  2. Feudin’ Banjos by Don Reno and Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith
  3. Molly & Tenbrooks by the Stanley Brothers (admittedly copying from Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys performances on the Grand Ol’ Opry)
  4. Sally Goodin by Eck Robertson
  5. Heavy Traffic Ahead by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys
  6. What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul by the Monroe Brothers
  7. White House Blues by Charlie Monroe and His Kentucky Partners
  8. Blue Moon of Kentucky by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys
  9. Muleskinner Blues by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys
  10. Blue Grass Special by Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys

Permissible answers are 5 or 9, depending on whether one defines “bluegrass” as requiring a banjo!

Additional Bowden Comments

First I want to thank those who sent in responses. I appreciate those who will take a chance and give Trivia a try.

The correct answer is: 5 or 9, depending on your (or Bill Monroe’s) defining moment of bluegrass.

9 is Muleskinner Blues, Bill’s audition number for the Grand Ole Opry in 1939, his first performance on the Opry (with 3 encores!) in 1939, and his first recording on RCA Victor in 1940. Bill dates what he called “blue grass music” from then, after he was free of his brother Charlie Monroe and on his own. Bill played GUITAR on the original recording of the Muleskinner, and Clyde Moody strummed the mandolin.

5 is Heavy Traffic Ahead, the first recording made by the band that included Lester Flatt and especially Earl Scruggs “with that fancy banjo”, in 1946 for Columbia in Chicago. This is probably the fans’ vote for first bluegrass recording, because it’s the format we’ve all come to know and love which includes Scruggs style banjo. It’s an original composition by Monroe, unlike the Muleskinner which covered Jimmy Rodgers’ earlier recording (over 10 years before!). Heavy Traffic features ALL the blue grass instruments in turn, unlike the fiddle-driven Muleskinner.

As for Sally Goodin by Eck Robertson, that record has its own fame as being the first “hillbilly” recording, made in 1922. Up to then, the only “folk” music (as opposed to composed orchestral or band pieces) had been Hawaiian music and the earliest blues numbers. Eck Robertson came east from Arizona with a fiddling buddy right into New York City where they had heard about these companies that would record musicians, demanded an audition and immediately made some records, including the DEFINING version of Sally Goodin. Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys with fiddler Byron Berline recorded a version of Sally Goodin about 1967 that closely followed Eck Robertson’s arrangement (it was THAT famous!). It’s not bluegrass or blue grass, because it’s a solo fiddle record. No band at all. It’s a powerful recording though. Listen to it on YouTube.

3 is Molly & Tenbrooks, which Bill Monroe recorded with Flatt & Scruggs in 1947. It’s a full bluegrass treatment with Earl on banjo and Chubby Wise of fiddle swapping breaks, and it’s in full blue grass or bluegrass hyperdrive, rhythmically. It’s an older “folk” song popularized by banjo frailing Cousin Emmy. Molly & Tenbrooks earns its own “first” because it was the first recording (by the Stanley Brothers in 1947 for Rich R Tone) that outright COPIED Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. The Stanleys learned it from listening to Monroe on the Opry on radio! Their record was released BEFORE Monroe’s own record. Which really pissed off Monroe! But historically, the Stanley’s record is often regarded as the record that establish the bluegrass genre by outright emulating Monroe (as MANY more bands did later).

Blue Moon of Kentucky was Monroe’s first “hit”. It was recorded AFTER Heavy Traffic Ahead, with the band that included Flatt & Scruggs. You can hear Earl playing simple back up on the record. The breaks are played by Monroe and Chubby Wise. Monroe recorded it again in the mid-1950s after Elvis Presley had a hit record with Blue Moon of KY on the flip side (with That’s All Right Mama). This made Monroe a ton of money as the author. He said the royalty checks from Elvis’ Sun recording were “powerful checks”. It was year and years and years before Monroe had a record that sold anything like Blue Moon of KY by either Elvis or himself. (Monroe’s highest charting record was in the later 1950s, “Gotta Travel On”.)

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden recently retired after a 45 year career in the paper industry, and moved from Connecticut to Big Indian NY (Ulster County) where he ekes out a precarious existence as a groundskeeper. Dick has been performing bluegrass music on banjo and guitar since 1966 in his home state of Maine, throughout New England, and internationally with The Case Brothers - Martin & Gibson. He has performed for HVBA with the Old Time Bluegrass Singers, and also sent in a squadron of Dick Bowden's Flying Circus. Most recently Dick has played Dobro (tm) with the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dick has written many articles for Bluegrass Unlimited, Bluegrass Today, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass magazine) and HVBA.

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