The Bluegrass Grammy Travesty

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In 1989 the bluegrass community rejoiced when the Grammys announced they would finally include an award for a Bluegrass Grammy! Bluegrass had made it to big time recognition!

The Grammy people got it right thank goodness. The 1989 first Bluegrass Grammy went to – drum roll! — Bill Monroe!! For the LP named for the instrumental “Southern Flavor”. Everyone felt it made perfect sense for Monroe to win the first Grammy.

So the years have rolled along and lots of our favorites have won the Bluegrass Grammy since 1989. Molly Tuttle won the Grammy in 2023, Bela Fleck won in 2022.

But, sadly, one Bluegrass Grammy was ROUNDLY panned, at least by the bluegrass community. In plain language, bluegrassers were horrified at one year’s winner.

Who won the Travesty of a Bluegrass Grammy??

A. Bill Monroe, the second year, cause the Grammy people admitted they didn’t know of any other bluegrass records to nominate

B. James Taylor, for an obscure song that had the word “bluegrass” in it

C. Jethro Tull (the name sounded like Jethro Bodine on the Beverly Hillbillies…)

D. Dolly Parton for “9 to 5”, based on a melody by bluegrass fiddler Benny Martin

E. Pianist Bruce Hornsby and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for “The Valley Road”

F. Del McCoury, for singing Bill Monroe’s parts in the score of an unreleased movie about Monroe’s romance with Bessie Lee Mauldin


Additional Bowden Comments

Yup, it was E. When the Grammy was announced “most” traditional bluegrass fans said “Wha? Who is Bruce Hornsby?” The previous year he had a hit record out that mentioned a bluegrass band playing in a park, called “Mandolin Rain”. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was hardly mentioned in any of the disgusted discussion. Bruce is a piano picker. Since then, he’s made a couple of recordings with Ricky Skaggs’ bluegrass band Kentucky Thunder. But I think this Grammy really gave a kick in the pants to bluegrass record companies, artists and promoters, to get ORGANIZED to promote more authentic bluegrass recordings.

A would almost make sense, suggesting that the Grammy people didn’t really know any other bluegrass artists. But Monroe never won another Grammy.

B. Sweet Baby James might have mentioned the word “bluegrass” in a song, but I’m not aware of it. Of course, acoustic guitar players have very high respect for James huge talent on guitar.

C. Jethro Tull on Jethro Bodine’s coat tails? Really…

D. Now it is true that a court case brought by Benny Martin found that Dolly appropriated the melody of Benny’s “Me and My Fiddle” for the verses of “9 to 5”. I rather doubt it was intentional. When you compare the two songs, you can see how a judge could say they’re the same melody thogh.

F. It is true that several years ago a movie about the romance of Bill Monroe and Bessie Mauldin was getting started. The star playing Monroe was one of the Sarsgaard brothers, I believe. Del McCoury in fact sang the Bill Monroe parts for Sarsgaard to lip synch (shades of Dan Tyminski and George Clooney!). Ronnie McCoury provided the mandolin score. Mike Compton was chosen for the filming of his hands (as Monroe’s) on the mandolin. TV/movie star Ed Helms (The Office), who actually plays banjo very well (see: The Office) portrayed Earl Scruggs. Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother Where Art Thou) portrayed Lester Flatt. For whatever reason the movie was never finished. What I’d give to see it! No recordings were ever released; I haven’t so much as heard an audio tape from the score. I’m sure the movie would have had a sad ending though…

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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