The winners are:
Additional Bowden Comments
Appreciate the comments. At IBMA I guess anything that you say is bluegrass IS bluegrass! (Ouch! Did I say that? I was just thinking it…)
The early bluegrass acts other than Monroe knew all about Roy Acuff’s band and performance. Earl Scruggs said when he was at the Opry with Monroe he felt Acuff’s band put on the best “show”, and he got a LOT of his banjo back-up ideas from Brother Oswald’s Dobro playing! Earl was also a budding baritone singer in those years, and Acuff had REAL good baritone singers in the Smoky Mountain Boys, always.
But of course Todd is right too … no banjo or mandolin, so it’s “not” bluegrass. Although Roy Acuff had a band a few years earlier WITH banjo and mandolin, and he rushed into the studio to beat Bill Monroe’s first recording of Muleskinner Blues to the market! It was pretty much a copy of Monroe’s performance, including the hot guitar kickoff. There are a few recordings in existence of Acuff’s band with full “bluegrass” instrumentation, and I’m personally willing to accept they were playing what WE would call bluegrass. (Monroe wouldn’t have, of course).
One thing I particularly like in this Acuff recording is the HOT bass playing playing of the GREAT Joe Zinkan. In the 1930s Joe had been playing bass fiddle in “big bands”, for instance Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. Joe was also a master rhythm guitarist. But all the old Nashville bass players said Joe was “the man” who brought the bass fiddle into country music in an important role. (Technically, Red Stewart and Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys were the first band on the Opry with a bass fiddle, but apparently it didn’t do much. Joe brought a showy mastery to the bass fiddle and POURED IT ON for years in several Acuff records. Joe later retired from the road and became THE bass player for the Nashville recording sidemen known as “The A Team”. You can see Joe in tons of YouTube videos of every Nashville act that went on tv.
Joe’s bass playing on Thank God is the bluegrassiest part of the record in my opinion. Bill Monroe’s first GREAT bass player — Howard Watts/Cedric Rainwater — obviously took not of what Joe Zinkan was doing and played much the same style on the records with Monroe, Lester and Earl. He left Monroe to join Lester and Earl when they formed their own band. He left THEM to go with Hank Williams!
But I’ve been told ALL the “showy” bass players in bluegrass were inspired by Joe Zinkan with Roy Acuff. Jake Tullock, John Palmer, Jerry McCoury and many more.
Joe Zinkan DID record on bass fiddle with Flatt & Scruggs (as a studio sideman) in the later 1950s.
So, “Thank God” by Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mt. Boys both “is and isn’t” bluegrass. Close enough for me!