So I recently read another WordPress blog by another bluegrass fan. His moniker is “Why Evolution is True,” and the blog centered on the great flatpick guitar abilities of Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings (https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/6177163/posts/293181). Now I have been a fan of both of these kids (they are both 27, but they could still be my kids age-wise) since first seeing them, and after learning that Billy is from my home state of Michigan, I take interest in him even more. The two of them have done a number of performances together, and have a great chemistry. I would LOVE to see the two of them record an album together, particularly a song-for-song remake of one of the legendary (yet underappreciated by a lot of bluegrass and guitar fans) Blake & Rice albums.
I was taken aback when the author stated “I think both are even better than the flat-picker par excellence of my generation, Doc Watson.” Now, with the statement “I think,” it becomes his opinion, and opinions are like belly buttons – everybody’s got one. However, I would never in a million years make such a statement. Billy and Molly are fantastic, but occasionally their picking is flashy, sometimes over the top. Doc never did that. They are playing to a different kind of bluegrass audience than what Doc had. They are excellent at their craft, different by far, but I would not say “better.”
My favorite banjo player of all time is Don Reno. He introduced a lot of techniques back in the late 1950s that were innovative to say the least. I love his style on the Reno & Smiley songs. But I would never say he is the best, because there are so many the have done other innovations, yet those players may not have some of Reno’s style down pat. Look at Bela Fleck, who literally took the banjo to a different planet, let alone a different level. Same with Jerry Douglas on the dobro, Chris Thile on the mandolin, and Michael Cleveland on the fiddle. But are they “better” than everyone else?
B.B. King was not the fastest or most melodic blues guitarist. But one of his notes could say more than 20 notes from some up-and-comer. When B.B. played a note, you listened!
It all comes with the times. There may be some younger people that follow Billy and Molly but have never heard of Doc. They could listen to Doc now and think that he couldn’t hold a candle to Billy or Molly. Yet Doc was way ahead of his time back in the 60s, and he had an amazing impact of Clarence White, Tony Rice, and Dan Crary, who in turn influenced Josh Williams, Chris Eldridge and Bryan Sutton, who in turn influenced Billy and Molly. Who knows what will come in the next flatpicking generation?
What I appreciate most about Billy and Molly is that they are getting young people to listen to and enjoy bluegrass. Bluegrass has changed, not in style or set-up, but in sound. There is a lot less high lonesome vocals and more instrumental solos. It is the evolution of the genre. Rock music doesn’t sound like it did in the 50s and 60s. However, the importance is to respect and learn from the elders. While there will always be a piece of the fan base that will thumb its nose at the progressive artists. However, if they are not allowed to grow, then the whole genre will die. There will never be another Bill Monroe, but that is the way it should be – appreciate the person for what he/she has done, and allow the next generation to blossom and not be compared.
Now, as for fiddlers, my favorite of all time is Kenny Baker. However, if you want to see some amazing work by my friend Patrick McAvinue with Michael Cleveland, something that will make you have to catch your breath when it’s over, check this out:
Chew on it and comment.
Glarry Addendum: Glarry has re-stocked much of its musical instrument lineup, however, some models are selling out just as fast as the re-stocks! NOTE: The GT-502 model that I reviewed here (https://luegra.design.blog/2020/03/02/glarry-gt502-good-first-acoustic/) went up in price to $59.99. I’m not sure if it’s due to demand, tariffs, or workers’ pay raise, but just be aware that it is not longer available at the price I previously announced.