Mudcat Café message #3113285 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #73111   Message #3113285
Posted By: JohnInKansas
14-Mar-11 - 12:09 AM
Thread Name: Is bluegrass an attitude?
Subject: RE: Is bluegrass an attitude?
"Attitude" being a euphemism for "delusional mental-psychotic deviance" the answer is YES.

A useful explanation for the origins of bluegrass is first that it originated as "radio music."

Most other groups in the era when Monroe and his group appeared were bands put together to play at public appearances who just happened to be called in to play on the radio.

While Monroe had done some of that, the group that first became known as "bluegrass" was created to do radio, and "incidentally" made a few dance/concert appearances.

In a public performance, there is a benefit to some "stage action," but on the radio it's not necessary, so the robot-like "just stand there and play" was evolved partly because nothing more was needed, but also because less activity made it less likely that someone would knock over a microphone or kick a hole in a monitor speaker.

Relieved of the need to "perform" the Monroe syle required a "hook" to hold the audience, and the "hard driving style" was what they found. The members of the group were selected for their "virtuoso abilities" at playing fast and somewhat complex "melodies."

With the exception of vocals, bluegrass harmonization is virtually nonexistent, and nearly all the popular vocals are "sacred music" with typically simple chord structure that's easily faked. With the audio equipment of the time, complex chords and subtle harmony - especially played fast - simply didn't "present well."

In bluegrass instrumental pieces, one person stepped forward to the microphone and "did his thing" while the remainder of the group backed - mostly with very simple chords and/or the infamous mandolin "chops." When that person finished, he stepped back, and someone else stepped up and did a similar "solo." The "accompaniment" was mostly (apparently) just enough to keep the other players awake, a key characteristic of "original bluegrass" being that it is absolutely forbidden that anyone other than the soloist "do anything interesting" while the one at the mic is performing.

It was necessary that each solo be "technically impressive" but a whole piece was essentially a string of back-to-back solo performances.

While this "style" still works for performances for a dedicated "bluegrass audience, it's obvious that when the performers are seen as well as heard the group that evolves a little more active "stage presence" is likely to move ahead of the pack - and that has, of course, occured in obviously visible ways.

The sound that Monroe - and others - evolved to "sell best on the radio" is still enjoyable; but one must be careful about what elements of the style are retained, and what new elements are added, for the different venues that are now more common. For one thing, with better recording equipment now, even the "pure radio" version is less impressive than it was in its origins (except of course for the virtuoso solos) so the current thing is not quite the same as the "original," when done for us today.

At what point it becomes something "other than bluegrass" can be debated until ....; but it's great that many of us still honor the original.

(And even Bill Monroe said "everybody [who imitates us?] plays everything too fast.")