Who Was That Guy? Easy Trivia for August 4, 2023

This Contest is Closed
The winners are Mike Foley and Andy Bing

click photo to enlarge


Who was the 5-string banjo player in the original 1939 founding edition of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys?

A. Earl Scruggs

B. Don Reno

C. Stringbean

D. Bijou Andrews

E. Wade Mainer

F. None of the above


Additional Bowden Comments

Well, a couple of winners and an “almost right”. The original Blue Grass Boys of 1939, and original Blue Grass music had NO BANJO. Monroe was well aware of banjo playing in the country string bands of course, but he hadn’t absorbed it (or built it into) his personal expression of music, which he said was Blue Grass. “Anything I do, it couldn’t be nothin’ but Blue Grass”, meaning “anything I do, is IS Blue Grass”.

Stringbean was indeed the first Blue Grass Boy who played 5 string banjo. He also did comedy and he played on Bill’s wartime baseball team (playing the local team in each town where they did a show). However, String joined Bill in 1942-43. He played 2 finger style or clawhammer style.

Scruggs didn’t meet Bill until almost Christmas of 1945, and of course that changed EVERYTHING! Don Reno had played for Monroe around 1943 as sort of an audition, and although Bill wanted to hire him, Don went in the Army and on to service with Merrill’s Marauders in China. Reno took Earl’s place in the BGBs in 1948. Monroe called both Earl’s and Don’s playing “like Snuffy Jenkins”, who was already well established on Carolinas radio and theater circuits.

Bijou Andrews was a comedian and harmonica player with the Blue Grass Boys in 1943-44, and he appears in a band photo where a TENOR banjo is pictured among the Blue Grass Boys’ instruments. However, it appears Bijou didn’t actually play banjo.

Wade Mainer was performing and recording on 5 string banjo in the 1930s, sort of a contemporary of Snuffy Jenkins. However Wade was a member of Mainers’ Mountaineers, a direct competitor to Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, at least in the Carolinas. Mainers Mountaineers never got on the Opry though, they weren’t “that” serious a competitor. Historically however, Mainers Mountaineers has their supporters as the originators of “bluegrass” music. Of course, THEY never called it bluegrass, and the group kind of fell apart in a short time and they never maintained their success of the 1930s. Most importantly, I feel, Wade Mainer never took a banjo break on any record in the 1930s — he played in unison with his brother’s fiddling — which is “old time” style music, not bluegrass style. In any case Wade never played with Bill Monroe. Wade played 2 finger style.

Monroe called the 5 string banjo “the fifth child”, because it was the 5th and last instrument to be melded into Monroe’s personal expression of music, “blue grass” that is. Monroe always felt that he had given the banjo a real chance to amount to something by bringing it into blue grass! Pete Wernick quotes Monroe as saying “Molly & Tenbrooks really gave the banjo a chance to do something!”. Much later he added “the banjo did a lot of good for Molly & Tenbrooks too…”

Remember Monroe’s exposure to hot string band music took place in Chicago at the WLS Barn Dance, where the hot jazzy string band was The Prairie Ramblers, which was fiddle driven, and had no banjo. The WLS Barn Dance banjo star was Scotty Wiseman who used banjo to accompany his singing with his wife Lulu Belle.

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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