Since I am introducing this topic, I suppose I should lead by example and answer my own question. My entre into bluegrass was probably just the reverse of most folks. My experience with others suggests that most devotees of bluegrass, after hearing and enjoying that music, decide to take up an instrument in order to be participants. That is, the music preceded the desire learn to play an instrument. It was the folk music revival of the early sixties that made me want to take up the guitar, and I was trying to learn to play fingerstyle.
That folk era was short-lived, and there wasn't much material available for self-instruction - few books and tape cassettes hadn't yet been developed. I was mostly learnining John Hurt and Elizabeth Cotton tunes and not demonstrating much skill at fingerpicking. That was a quieter style of playing and seemed more suited to solo performance. Eventually I elected to take some lessons for a time, and my instructor persuaded me to try playing with a pick. For exercises, he provided me with tablature for some fiddle tunes. That started me on the path to learning single-note leads as well as chordal rhythm accompaniment. I began acquiring recordings of those tunes and attending some live performances. In the early eighties I attended a few bluegrass festivals, and I was hooked. Then family and career intervened, and for a number of years, the guitar didn't come out of its case.
Now, in my retirement I am resuming my interest in playing the guitar as my chief recreational pursuit. I am intent on increasing my skill in flatpicking, and I am beginning to meet and jam locally with other players. I have been attending music camps for the last three years, and I have joined the California Bluegrass Association. I will be attending their Winter Retreat coming up later this month. I hope to be able to meet and make music with some of you in the future.
Good topic. For me it was a sound. Though I was raised mostly in Kentucky, bluegrass wasn't around much, escept on the radio and we didn't have one. I only saw a couple of people who had musical instruments and one was a fiddle, the other had an old home made banjo with a fox squirrel hide stretched over it. The music they played was what is called today, "Old Timey."
While I'm sure Old Timey was one of the progenitors to Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass," there wasn't a whole lot of music up in them hollers except folks, mostly women, singing very old songs that were handed down from generation to generation a-cappella. Bill Monroe, had I heard of him, would have been one of the rich folks.
I reckon the old feeling was still in me when we moved to another state, got an actual job, and I later in life heard Earl Scruggs playing the theme to The Beverly Hillbillies on TV. Well, I loved that sound. All of it hooked me: the voice, the fiddle, the words, but especially the banjo. The ringing punch of the last pinch at the end is in my mind today and is the benchmark for every banjo I pick up. I later met the bluegrass Cardinals and Don Parmaley who played on the series, but I believe it was Earl who picked the title song. I might have misspelled Don's name as I can't read his writing where he signed my banjo head (besides his autograph, I also have Sonny Osborne, John McEuen, Earl Scruggs, Blake Williams, Allan Shelton, Alan Munde, Pete Wernick, and Bill Monroe).
Anyway, back to it. Years later I was in a music store in Utah and took interest in the beginner's banjo hanging on the wall. I had been playing guitar for about 14 years - mostly R&R and country - and asked about it, recalling Earl's banjo sound. The owner asked the banjo teacher to show it to me (the teacher was from Ashville, NC and a student of Mark Pruett's). He played Foggy Mountain Breakdown on the banjo and I was hooked. A month later I had the banjo and began lessons.
From there - it was 1981 - I completely immersed myself in bluegrass, playing banjo and guitar. I have had the pleasure to meet many of the greats and I'd say that 95% of the fine folks I've met in bluegrass circles has been extremely good people who I am proud to know.
As Ty Piper pointed out to me one day in his banjo shop in Oklahoma (Imperial Banjo Company), Utah is not exactly a hot bed of bluegrass. That's true, but we have a small bluegrass community here and some fine musicians. One of them recently recorded with Steve Martin (the Crow album) and Tony Trischka and others. He's dynamite but we all remember him when he as just a "Pee Wee Picker."
The past few years I've branched out into blues and classical guitar, and I still make a few dollars on good ol' R&R, but bluegrass is my first love and we will never be separated.
Thanks for asking.
I'm 70 yrs. old. Born, raised, and lived there all my life (except when I was in the Army) in the Cumberland Mountains of Southwest Virginia and East TN.(Cumberland Gap Area). So there has been no introduction to the music in my case. I grew up along with the music from its roots to what it is now. Although Blue Grass Music is considered to be a product of KY its roots have a broad base in "mountain music". The music has changed over the years. In its early years it used the fiddle more and had a "high lonesome" sound. The fiddle has given way to the banoj as the dominate instrument.
I play guitar; most BG guitarists flat pick; I finger pick.
Since I am a retired Math and science teacher, I too have more time to pursue my interest in playing the guitar. However, I have a broad interest in the various generes of music.
Here's the story of my introduction.
I was a cub reporter for the Anderson Independent in Anderson, SC way back in 1973 when I got to interview Flatt & Scruggs for 30 minutes by myself on their tour bus before a concert. I have to admit, that in that era of Jefferson Airplane and Cream, etc., this kid fresh out of college didn't really appreciate that he was in the presence of royalty. To me, they were just the guys who played the theme to the Beverly Hillbillies. All these years later, I now know what an opportunity I had and what an experience it could have been if I'd been a little wiser.
Here's one worse. I was 15 (1995). My brother said he had a ticket for me to see the Grateful Dead and Chuck Berry at Portland Meadows (OR). I said they sucked and declined. How was I to know it would soon be all over for Garcia, and that I would become such a fan only a year or two later?
Guess, I'm not really sure. I remember going to dances and parties, with my folks, and often there would be live music. Mostly Country Western, and occasionally there were be a banjo, mandolin, and dobro in the mix. I didn't know what it was called, but I was hooked before that even. I spent some summers with my aunt and uncle, who was in the service, and the only entertainment on the radio was C&W, and stations that played Bluegrass. I loved music, and my aunt and I would dance, and play 'air-guitar' back then in the late fifties.
I graduated college, and found myself being unemployed. So, I began playing guitar in a band that played a lot of C&W venues. I developed an interest in the banjo, after a band mate gave me an old banjo. I spent a good summer learning how to do rolls, courtesy of an Earl Scruggs book, and really enjoyed it. Sometime late in the 70's wound up selling most everything I had to make ends meet, except for my J-200 acoustic, and quit playing music altogether. Lost my hearing mostly as the new Millennium was ushered in while recording. Then, about 3 years ago was able to buy some high tech hearing aids that gave me the ability to hear music somewhat. I began picking up the guitar again, and started studying Gypsy Jazz, and developed some problems - bad technique. Couldn't play guitar for 6 months, but when I returned my son was playing a lot of Bluegrass music, and got hooked again. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
It's nice to learn of your interest in bluegrass, and I'm glad to see you have joined this group. I've listened to your audio clips on your personal page where you are doing some nice fingerpicking. But that HD-28 of yours makes a fine flatpicking bluegrass axe. Are you currently playing bluegrass with anyone? How about your son? If he is listening to the music, is he also a player?
Hi Ken, just trying to get my flatpicking up to snuff. I've been listening to a lot of Clarence White, and going thru the book his brother Roland and his wife put out. Man, I want to play with some coinfidence before I even think about playing with real bluegrass pickers. Then, again, that is why I got the HD-28. I played some jams and my J-200 'Blondie' just doesn't cut it for soloing in bluegrass. It's more of a strumming guitar, which I think is fine. The HD-28 is a beast!
My son is more of listener of bluegrass, and he has a wide range of musical interests. He has started playinng ukelele, though. I hope at some point he can get to the point where he can play along providing rhythm in sort of a mandolin chop style.
I appreciate the kind words about those early demos. I know they are not perfect, and am working on updates. Getting good recordings is hard work, so I've found so far with my little Tascam DP-008, but it's a lot of fun. Do you have a recorder?
Hey Ken...I've been a poor friend and not much activity has made it perfectly OK to just sit by myself. Reading your bio is much like reading my own. Started in late 1950's 'cuz a piano was too big to take on a date and a clarinet was just not cool unless you were one of the Miller's or Jewish. I learned to finger pick in 1961, well then the Traver's Lick or however you spell it was the hardest, easy thing I learned to do. Armed with a few major and minor chords I traveled though the last half century having a lot of fun and not much instruction. Spent two years on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee between Nashville and Chattanooga learning Mouontain Folk and City Slicker. Learned to play the banjo watching Pete Seeger singing Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie. Almost got arrested and left college and joined the Marine Corps.
The last few decades I have spent in retirement trying to take what I learned in the mountains and bring it into Gospel music. My greatest irritation has been the "If your style ain't like mine, you ain't......(fill in the blanks)." The inventions of a few notables and the style are not owned by one or two people. Bro. Earl did not invent 3-finger banjo picking. Long neck banjo and 12-string guitar do not belong to Pete Seeger alone...although I would give him credit just 'cuz he got me started ove 40 years ago.
I liked Michael's reference to "Old Time" as I had heard it in "O Brother Where Art Thou?" My other concern is that over the years "bluegrass" has come down to me anyway mostly sounding the same. Same sound, same technique, and same subject matter. I am not enough of a "purest" I guess. There is only one facet of "bluegrass style" that still lights my candle. That facet is the uncontrolled and explosive JOY and HAPPINESS that style still can bring across like NO OTHER. Almost any song, any hymn, and anything that is not taking you to the grave with sadness can still light an audience on fire when done by a Soul-onFire Gospel Bluegrass Band or a soloist with a full bodied guitar and a floor bass.
Makes every sad song I ever learned a waste of time to do. I ahve some stuff over on my page that no one listens to. Don't suppose it is in this genre 'cuz I didn't do it for any special group. THough my ego is big enough that I wold have liked some one to listen. Have a video on my page too that may not hit the mark on this discussion either, but I just love to make a pain out of myself. Hope I haven't bored anyone. "Keep on Pick'in, Time's Tick'in!"
As a teenager I attended the first Mariposa Folk Festival in 1961. There was a street dance downtown and the music was provided by The York County Boys. This was my first exposure to Bluegrass music. Part way through the night, a young couple came walking down the street and John McMannaman (sp?) the banjo player, called them up to do a song. They were Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker. They came up and played a couple of songs with the band, one of which was Wildwood Flower, the first tune I had learned on the guitar.
A little later I went to a folk club in Hamilton, Ontario to see The Greenbriar Boys, John Herald, Ralph Rinzler and Bob Yellin, with Brian Barron, the fiddle player from The York County Boys sitting in. This was my introduction to flat picking lead guitar, played by John Herald.
My involvement in bluegrass took a long round about way. My first intense interest in music was in the folk scare. My first concert was the Limelighters followed by Baez, The Kingston Trio, and PP&M. I was finger picking devotee and gravitated into folk blues. After a while I decided the best way to master finger style was via Classical music lessons. I got hooked on classical for a while. My guitar playing was rather sporadic through my working years and raising a family. Mostly jamming with folks that were in bands...R&R, country, maybe a little folk here and there.
Actually returned to serious playing again when my youngest son wanted a guitar and lessons. So I got him a Strat and a practice amp and took him to a large guitar instruction place. He picked out a heavy Metal instructor and while I was there I choose a Jazz instructor and we had lots of fun at this school for about a year.
Shortly after this I started to hang with a part time professional C&W song writer that I worked with. We started having a bunch of guys over (drums, bass, and a couple of guitars) on a weekly basis and my son actually sat in with us occasionally.
I was invited to join this group in gigs but never had the time or desire to frequent the bars they performed in.
When my youngest son took off for college (with an Ovation Pinnacle under his arm) my playing slowed down a bit but I would always hook up with an instructor every now and then to develop some new things. Jazz, blues mostly.
Just before retiring a few years ago I picked up my first Martin. Now it's hard to acquire a Martin without starting to listen to the music that Martin is synonymous with....Bluegrass! After retiring I decided to take flat picking bluegrass lessons and before you know it....I acquired a dobro, a mandolin, and of all things...a banjo!
I don't perform with any bands but do jam with two groups. One a bluegrass group, the other a blues group.
My son has continued to play guitar and has recently expressed an interest in joining in on these jam sessions.
So.....I was a late arrival in bluegrass but enjoy it immensely. I prefer old time bluegrass myself......the stuff I ignored at the beginning of the great folk scare!
Since we seem to have come in about the same time, musically; I was wondering what model Martin guitar you started with. I received a Martin 0-18NY as a Christmas present around 1959 after I had been playing about 4 years on my own and a D12-20 12-astring in 1072. I still play both of them and a few others listed in my bio.
BTW both of my Grandsons are playing...electric. I am still mostly unplugged although both Martins are wired for sound when I have to get further out there.