Who Was NOT Bluegrass First?

This Contest is Closed
The winner is Andy Bing


Who Was NOT Bluegrass First?

A number of very famous musicians started out in bluegrass! Yes! It’s often said that bluegrass is the best training ground for “greater things” in other types of popular music. You learn your instrument of course, but also harmony singing, band dynamics, arranging, “roots”, etc.

Who of the following was not bluegrass before they hit it BIG in another style of music?

A. Ricky Skaggs

B. Keith Whitley

C. Vince Gill

D. Chris Stapleton

E. Alison Krauss

F. Jerry Garcia

G. Patty Loveless


Additional Bowden Comments

The correct answer is Patty Loveless. She started out as a club rock ‘n’ roller around her Kentucky home. She then found more success as a country singer, and got drawn into some bluegrass singing due to Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Ralph Stanley etc. whom she got to know at the Grand Ole Opry. But no doubt she had listened to bluegrass as a kid growing up in Kentucky. I saw her country band once at the Dutchess County Fair around 1990, and even though she was all over Country Top 40 radio, her live show and band rocked out pretty hard.

Skaggs’ and Whitley’s first work in the music business was bluegrass, imitating the Stanley Brothers. One night Ralph’s band was quite late to a club show in the area and the promoter put Ricky and Keith on stage to hold the crowd. Ralph walked in late and couldn’t believe he was hearing such good renderings of songs he used to sing with his late brother. He hired them both while still in high school, and full time when they got done school. Both went through other bluegrass bands until they got solo record deals in Nashville, and both had hits and became country stars.

Vince Gill started out in a little bluegrass band around his Oklahoma home territory. He was on a few regional bluegrass LPs before he ended up in the country-rock Pure Prairie League and got invited to Nashville as a solo star. He plays excellent bluegrass guitar and mandolin, and of course sings bluegrass harmony as natural as a bird. He’s been the President of the Country Music Association, I believe. He plays on a bunch of bluegrass recordings over the past several years as either a sideman, harmony singer, or “guest star”. Vince loves his bluegrass. Especially playing with the Del McCoury Band. He tells audiences he is the 3rd McCoury Brother — Vinnie McCoury!

Chris Stapleton who is one of the HUGE country music stars of the moment, is a Kentucky boy who got started in the bluegrass band The Steeldrivers. Of course, his super bluesy voice was a sign that he would likely not be constrained to the bluegrass business. And he hasn’t been. He’s now a solo country rocker. He sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

Alison Krauss was an Illinois fiddling phenom are a young teen. As soon as she added singing and playing mandolin to her skill set, she was a natural for bluegrass, and was signed to record deals by about age 15. She has been very open to other types of music, and has had savvy management. She is currently the #1 or #2 female holder of Grammies. This year she is touring with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin — their second project together. But her bluegrass band Union Station is NOT broken up.

Jerry Garcia started off as a hopeful west coast bluegrasser. He told his friend David Grisman he wanted to try out for Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys on his banjo, at a festival in the mid 1960s. David arranged the audition, but Jerry lost his nerve and never showed up. Good thing. While Jerry might have made tens of dollars as a Blue Grass Boy, things turned out best for him with the Grateful Dead.

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.

5 Responses

  • NOTE: Not suggesting they don’t belong in bluegrass NOW or bluegrass history, only that they didn’t START OUT in bluegrass.

    • Keith Whitley, he repeatedly stated in interviews that he was country first until he got together with picky Ricky.

  • My guess is Jerry Garcia. I have not discussed this in advance with Dick. This is the first time I’ve entered this contest. I’ll take this opportunity to point out that the possible answers contain two F’s —- Jerry Garcia and Patty Loveless!

    • Thanks for catching your husband’s mistake…and mine for not proofreading carefully. It’s fixed now and the answers go from A-G.

  • I will guess G Patty Loveless, who so far as I know started out in country music rather than bluegrass. Before the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia was a bluegrass banjo player who spent part of 1964 following Bill Monroe around. The others in the list were all well known as bluegrass musicians first.

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