September 10 Trivia Question

This Contest is Closed
The winner is Mike Foley


Who said, “The biggest job in bluegrass is keeping out what don’t belong in it.”

A. Jimmy Martin
B. Lester Flatt
C. Bob Dylan
D. Doyle Lawson
E. Bill Monroe
F. Carlton Haney
G. Del McCoury
H. Roy Acuff
I. Steve Martin

The answer is E, Bill Monroe. (In a radio interview in Montreal in 1966).

Additional Bowden Comments

The correct answer is of course, E, Bill Monroe. He made this comment in a radio interview in Montreal in 1966. This may have been the earliest expression of the always-raging “what is bluegrass anyway?” question. For Bill, it was fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass and 5 string banjo and THAT’S ALL.

By 1966 the Dobro had weaseled its way into bluegrass to stay, with Buck Graves leading the charge as a Foggy Mountain Boy and for a few months one of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mt. Boys. A number of lesser lights in bluegrass were recording with Dobro, with the Country Gentlemen and Kentucky Colonels being the best remembered. By the 1970s and 80s the Dobro was widespread, and the “debate” had re-focused on the electric bass, and other electrified instruments as with the Osborne Brothers. By the 1980s Newgrass Revival had established the electrified sound for good. I suppose Monroe would shudder at today’s widespread use of electrified “acoustic” instruments and ear monitors.

Other interlopers that haven’t yet taken root include the autoharp, drums, the “bluegrass cello”, bowed bass fiddle, and piano a la Bluegrass Grammy-winning Bruce Hornsby (hopefully they too will pass). Also the slap-rhythm guitar, penny whistle, accordion, Irish tenor banjo, and the horrifying bodhran. Another interloper to bluegrass that DID take hold with a vim is the “lead flat-pick guitar” which is now more common than the fiddle. Thank you Clarence White, Dan Crary and Tony Rice.

One could also form a debate around the growing “complexity” of bluegrass performance and song arrangement. For instance, use of minor chords! The III-Chord. Playing rock ‘n’ roll on bluegrass instruments. Overly impassioned cabaret or Broadway musical solo vocal style.

Of course, when Monroe spoke about “bluegrass”, he meant his OWN, PERSONAL musical expression, “blue grass” as two words. He wasn’t referring to the world of all the bluegrass genre as it existed in 1966.

To traditionalists”, bluegrass is absolutely fine “as is” with the original five Blue Grass Boys’ instruments and a pure strain should be protected, honored and welcomed if not worshipped. To progressives, almost anything goes if it represents musical talent, and let the market decide what succeeds.

The exact same argument rages in the jazz world. Traditional vs progressive. There is no right answer. There is only your preference.

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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