Pete's Bluegrass Weblog Archive

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Subjects: bluegrass, old time music, and vaguely related items.

July 11, 2006

From a discussion re. early bluegrass in Southern California:

Randy is right in his post re. the division
of Southern and Northern California
bluegrass music scenes. I arrived in So.
Cal. some 30 years before Randy (I was five
back then - hey! that's 60 years ago!),
and have a couple of things to add.

Monroe did indeed play Southern California
as early as the mid 1950s, but back then
it was in country music clubs (such as The
Palimino) at at race tracks, etc. His
audience in those days were what is usually
described as "blue collar workers",
including skilled carpenters, mechanics,
and oil workers, many of whom moved out
this way from KY, TN, etc. around the time
of WW II. As far as Monroe was concerned,
he was first considered a country music artist
from the time he appeared on the 'Opry in
1939. I think his addition of Sally-Ann Forrester
on accordian was an attempt to draw from the
western music crowd, which enjoyed the music
of Pee-Wee King, Gene Autrey, etc., who used
the instrument. Autrey got his start as a Jimmie
Rodgers imitator, but hit it big in the movies
and radio with his "Melody Ranch".

The folk boom hit in the late 50s, and by the early 60s, some BG bands began to take advantage of the new "folk" terminology. F&S recorded "Folk Songs Of Our
Land", a little later, Monroe did "Little Maggie", etc.

5-6 years later, when the folk boom began
happening, the college crowd became
interested in bluegrass as well. This is
when the folk clubs became a factor, The
Ash Grove was probably the most
influential, but there was also the Ice
House in Pasadena and the Troubador on the
Sunset Strip, among many others. It was at
the Ash Grove that I got a chance to meet
Monroe and talk with him (in between
innings of ball games he would watch on the
12-inch TV in the dressing room), and where
he insisted on giving me pointers on
mandolin - me struggling to press down the
strings on his Gibson, which were close of
half an inch off the fretboard at the 12th

Speaking of TV, Southern California also
was the center of the TV production /
broadcasting industry, and it's role in the
disemination of bluegrass music has yet to
be fully explored. For example, there was
the "colorful" character called Cal
Worthington, a very successful car dealer
who hosted a show called "Cal's Corral"
which featured music by Don Parmely's group
"The Golden State Boys". I believe the Ky.
Colonels also played for Cal (right,
Roland?). He was also one of the first to
use bluegrass as background music for
commericals with his "dog spot".

And six years after that ('71) I founded
the Bluebird Cafe in Santa Barbara, more or
less patterned on the Ash Grove, to give
local musicians a chance to hear as much
music as I could import. That's where the
Cache Valley Drifters, among others, formed
their band.

For an article I wrote on the Ash Grove and
it's music scene, click HERE.

July 7, 2006

The bluegrass instruments, and their origins.

Fiddle & upright bass: Both in the viol family, with European ancestors dating back to the Middle Ages; most likely brough to Europe by traders from Asia - where you can find ancestors of most instruments. The design was perfected in N. Italy in the 17th Century.

Banjo: Most say they were brought from Africa via the slave trade. Well folks - guess what? They didn't have carry-on baggage facilities on most slave ships. So let's say the _people_ who knew about banjo-like instruments were brought here (not exactly willingly), and not finding any banjo stores about, decided to make their own. The first ones were copies of African instruments, right down to the gourd bowl over which an animal skin (remember, this is BP "Before Plastic") was stretched. Someone mentioned they didn't grow gourds here (I suspect he is a city feller), so they used bent wood. Well, there are plenty of examples of early American banjos with *gourd* bowls. Seeds, in fact, were brought from Africa. Ask Mr. Clark Buehling or Mike Seeger about them - fine
gourd banjos are still being made today.

Mandolin: Middle Eastern to Greece to Italy to Portugal -- all from countries bounding or nearby the Mediterranean. Guess what? These guys sailed ships
as well as picked.

Guitar: there are various instruments from the Middle East with guitar-like elements. One in Persia is even named the "Tar", but it commonly has a gourd belly like the banjer. Again, travelers from the Middle East
brought instruments into Middle Ages Europe, as well as the Moorish invasion which got as far as Spain (Ta Dah!), sometimes mentioned as the source of the guitar. In Turkey, Egypt, Syria (well, and all of Arabia as it was commonly known) one finds the Oud, a wooden, bowl-backed instrument with a spruce top. Now the word "Oud" in Arabic means "wood" (even sounds like it, so we probably borrowed it), and indeed, it has a very woody sound. French travelers to the region brought them back to Europe and called them "Le Oud" (the Oud), which is
shortened to "L'Oud", which became lute.

Once the instruments got here, we went through what we are still recovering from, The Industrial Revolution. In olden times, each instrument was unique. Now they are mass produced to patterns followed by computerized routers. All the early version of the instruments
mentioned either did not have frets, or had moveable ones. This to accomodate the much more flexible musical scales of the time. Frets, metal parts, etc. were added and the instruemnts were "refined" to the condition they're in now. Another important and hardly-mentioned factor:
strings. Early strings were aniumal gut or twine (beeswaxed). The invention of steel strings was enormously important to our modern instruments.

June 26, 2006

Yesterday, Peter and the Very Lonesome Boys spent some time in Calabasas, California at the California Traditional Music Society's Solstice Festival. Lots of nice people there, with several stages for music, dance, along with secluded spots under the oaks for music workshops. Peter, David West, and Mike Nadolson gave an introduction to country guitar styles. Mike is a hot flatpicker, while David uses a thumbpick with (and without) fingerpicks to attain his fantastic, melodic runs. Peter has long been a fan of Maybelle Carter's guitar style, which seems a transition to the guitar for country people who started on a banjo.

One problem, it was close to 100 degrees - the stage was in the sun, and someone had thoughtfully wrapped plastic around three sides (except where it faced the crowd), thus converting it into a natural greenhouse - probably 10-15 degrees hotter than outside. Had to pour a bottle of ice water over my head as soon as I got offstage. The good side: I must have lost 10 pounds during the set with the Very Lonesome Boys. I was invited to run off with a belly dance troup, but the rest of the band chaperoned me away from the lovely temptation... <sigh>    Naval engagement
click to enlarge...

June 11, 2006

I'm not the most consistant, regular blogger, but I'd rather be pickin' than writing...

Speaking of that, we had a great show last night at the S.Y. Grange to celebrate our escape from the space aliens. Tom Lee brought along a "band virtualizer" machine, which helped us rematerialze out of the ether, while David West played a reworked "Follow The Leader", which we renamed "Take Me To Your Leader".

S.Y. Grange Show June 10, 2006
Peter & The VLB (click to enlarge)

Thanks to all our fans who showed up en mass to help celebrate. It was a great evening. Watch our show listings for further adventures.

February 10, 2006

From Paul Wells, MTSU, Murfreesboro:


It is with great sadness that I let everyone know that we lost Charles Wolfe last night. As you all know he had been in poor health for a long time. I paste in below the message that John McDaniel, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts here at MTSU, sent around about Charles. His accomplishments are well-known to all members of TFS and folklorists in general, so I will make no attempt to re-cap them here. He was an institution in and of himself.

All the best,
Paul Wells

With sadness I wish to inform you that we lost Charles Wolfe tonight. Charles passed away at MTMC at approximately 9:00 pm, after an extended battle with diabetes and attendant complications, with his wife, Mary Dean, and his daughters Stacey and Cindy and Cindy's husband Mark at his side. Charles was a gentle giant, a prolific scholar and beloved colleague whose presence in the English Department and in the University gave new and unique meaning to the term "professor." Certainly with his prolific productivity, including nineteen scholarly
books (with others still in the offing) and hundreds of articles on music, folklore, and popular culture, Charles could have gone to any institution in the land. But his feet were deep in the Tennessee soil.

He was Missouri born and bred--and Blue Raider to the core, having joined MTSU in 1970, where he remained until his retirement just this past year. Though nationally and internationally known for his accomplishments, Charles never ventured far from heart and home, from
family and friends. Unpretentious, dedicated, mentor to countless students and friend to all who knew him, Charles has left an indelible imprint. He will be missed by those who did not know him personally, and even so much more by those who did. Further details about arrangements will be forthcoming soon.

John McDaniel,

February 3, 2006

Louise Scruggs dies at 78.
Louise Scruggs — the wife of banjo innovator Earl Scruggs andd considered among the most influential business people in country music history — died Thursday afternoon at Baptist Hospital in Nashville.

We've just received word that Louise Scruggs, wife of banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs, has passed away yesterday. Here's a note from Marty Stuart, written a while ago, nominating her tot he IBMA's Hall of Honor.

In 1996 I was elected to be a member of the Board of the Country Music Hall of Fame Nominating Committee. Some of my hopes and goals were to see the likes of Buck Owens, Ray Price, Roger Miller, the Louvin Brothers, Johnny Horton and the Stanley Brothers inducted into the Hall of Fame during my tenure. Some of my dreams came true. I also learned the reality that some of the most deserving people are often overlooked and will continue to be because they have no one to plead their case.

I've also watched the Bluegrass Hall of Honor Award with great interest. I know what a struggle it must be to include every deserving soul.

I believe that the golden days of the 20th century of bluegrass music are behind us. Although I am optimistic about the future of bluegrass, I think that it is one of America's most valid calling cards as an original American art form with an astounding array of veteran and new talent to keep it alive and well.

In my opinion, to this day the most successful group that we've ever had to represent bluegrass music throughout the world is Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. I truly believe talent is the first and foremost ingredient in the success of any act. However, great talent without proper management is no more than a band with good intentions. There is no doubt in my mind that the genius of Flatt and Scruggs would eventually have found its way into the hearts and minds of the general public. But without the vision, guidance management and direction of Louise Scruggs, Flatt and Scruggs would not have had the power, respect, leverage and profile they enjoy to this day in the world of music. Louise Scruggs was the force behind Flatt and Scruggs. She was to the business what Lester and Earl were to the music.

Mrs. Scruggs commanded the same level of respect at major record labels as Albert Grossman did for Bob Dylan or Joan Baez - or Bill Graham did for his roster of world class rock & roll bands he represented at the time. In the hey day of Flatt and Scruggs on Columbia Records in Nashville, the only other artist that was an equal was Johnny Cash. Louise Scruggs received the same respect for the Foggy Mountain Boys as Cash received. She dealt with Columbia's New York and Nashville's offices, the Hollywood community, a corporate sponsored television and radio show, as well as the day to day dealings of a touring schedule. It should be recognized that Nashville had very few valid managers during this era, and I can think of only one world class woman manager.

While bluegrass music continues to find its place of permanent prominence in this country and beyond, I support the fact that the benchmark for the years to come and the success of bluegrass bands in a global setting beyond the music itself is how its business is conducted. The business of bluegrass has always been one of its weakest links and in truth, perhaps it's held back the success of the art form. If every band on the circuit had a manager like Mrs. Scruggs, perhaps there would be more successful bluegrass music bands and events.

Therefore I nominate Louise Scruggs as a most valid candidate in any capacity of recognition that the IBMA has to offer. If there is anything I can do to help this nomination or induction along, please know that I am at your service.

With regards.
Marty Stuart

September 29, 2005

I traveled East earlier this month to Bowling Green, KY to attend the world's first Bluegrass Symposium, a gathering of scholars, researchers, record execs, and analysts involved with the bluegrass music since its inception some 60+ years ago. That "+" sign is important, since it displays some ambiguity about the exact year the "bluegrass" as a stye of music was born, and it is dealt with in a paper I gave there entitled "The Big Bang of Bluegrass - Applying Cosmology To An Understanding of Bluegrass Music". There were about 40 presenters and 150-200 participants

One very interesting pannel featured the original three founders of Rounder Records, who went into a little Rounder history as well as speaking about possible future bluegrass scenarios. You can click on this photo to see a larger version. The 3 rounders are flanked by another old friend, Saburo Watanabe, of Red Clay Records, Takarazuka, Japan, then Bill Knowlton, Marain Leighton-Levy, Ken Irwin, and myself.Symposium photoThe Bluegrass Symposium, Sept 8-11, 2005.

June 20, 2005

From Barney Brantingham's column in the June 18th edition of the S.B. News Press:

Not a real musician?: Peter Feldmann is a Santa Barbara tradition, playing traditional bluegrass music, fiddles and all. Been around a long time.

"Being a 'legend' has its limitations though," Peter told me. A few years ago, Peter said, he called the Old Spanish Days people and asked to have his group, "Peter Feldmann and his Very Lonesome Boys" booked.

"I tried to explain that the bluegrass, with its fiddles, banjos and guitars, might fit in with the Fiesta spirit at least as well as the heavy metal bands spouting forth nightly at De la Guerra Plaza. The person allowed that she might have a time slot available but then offered me a fee that was below one-fifth of what my bands usually get.

"When I remarked on the paucity of dinero, she matter-of-factly explained: 'Well, we save the good money for the real musicians that come up from L.A.' "

Peter, I think you boys would make a perfect fit at Fiesta's mercado at MacKenzie Park, a real family affair. Maybe the good folks at Fiesta will give you a listen and change their minds. The boys will be performing at the Grange Hall in Los Olivos tonight at 8. Songs will include hits from the Carter Family.

Thanks to all those who showed up at the Santa Ynez Grange Hall Saturday night. We missed Mike Nadolson, who had gotten a booking up in Tehatachapi for 30 days, making license plates for the state, but we dredged up some "new" old songs and tunes, which went fairly well with the atmosphere, and an even larger stage this time. The Grange Hall is turning into a regular show room!



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