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Bluegrass Music

Tidbits: Garcia, Ellis, SEMBMA, Circle TV, YouTube

Hey! Remember back on May 16, 2020 when my blog was about how the IBMA refuses to recognize Jerry Garcia as a viable influencer on bluegrass music (https://luegra.design.blog/2020/05/16/why-wont-the-ibma-recognize-jerry-garcia/)? WELL! It seems that this year’s World of Bluegrass virtual conference is having a presentation on Jerry and his work with the bluegrass music industry. Hmmm, I wonder where they got that idea from. Anyway, here’s a link to the description in the schedule: https://worldofbluegrass.org/schedule2020/ . It will be on October 1 at 11:00 am. I’m not expecting a thank you from IBMA, if you want to know.

Last Saturday the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association had its annual Hall of Honor ceremony. I was proud to see that Marvin “Red” Ellis was inducted. I wrote about him in a previous blog (https://luegra.design.blog/2020/03/15/red-ellis-and-the-forgotten-history-of-michigan-bluegrass/), and will continue to research the history of bluegrass music in the Detroit area. On a related note, there was a good article on the Miller Brothers in the September 2020 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited. The Miller Brothers were originally from Kentucky, lived for a while in Indiana, them moved up to the Detroit area for auto factory work. While in Michigan, they recorded a few bluegrass albums in the early 1970s. They are definitely a group that I hope to research more for the SEMBMA Hall of Honor.

Speaking of SEMBMA, the Association is now awarding scholarships to youth 13-18 years of age who are interested in pursuing further education with bluegrass music. The scholarships will be paid directly to the instructor/institution, and lessons can be in-person, over the internet, or some form of video. Students can be studying a stringed instrument (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, autoharp) or studying vocals. For more information on the scholarships and to secure an application form, go to http://www.smbluegrass.org . Submission deadline is January 1, 2021 and may require a personal interview of the applicants by SEMBMA board members and/or the scholarship committee.

Late to the Party Department: I just discovered that Circle TV (www.circleplus.com) is available in my area over the air (I don’t have cable, and my mom’s cable service sucks to say the least). I don’t watch television much, maybe an hour a day, but now that I can watch Circle, I may make use of it since the pandemic still won’t let us go to see live music. I get to watch the Opry on Saturday night (although host Bobby Bones irritates the crap out of me), reruns of Hee Haw and The Beverly Hillbillies, some Ditty TV programs, Daily & Vincent, and even some CMA songwriter programs. Pass me the Doritos!

YouTube fiddle lessons videos: I may have mentioned FiddleHed here before, but if not, I highly recommend checking him out, even if you don’t play fiddle. I have an article on him for Fiddler magazine coming up in the Winter 20/21 issue. I bring him up because he is one of the few that actually “teach” the tunes. I recently did a search for fiddle instruction for the Bill Monroe song “Uncle Pen.” A lot of videos came up, but most of them were hardly instructional. They are usually just a camera pointed at the fingerboard during the “lesson,” and no slow downs or explanation of what the fingering is. That is not instruction, that is just showing off that you can do the lick. Thank you again, FiddleHed!

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

The Sir Walter Raleigh Statue and Why I Left the IBMA

I was recently scanning the articles on the Bluegrass Today website and came up on the following op-ed from former International Bluegrass Music Association employee Abby Lee Hood:

I recommend a full reading of it, but in short, Hood suggests that the IBMA stop using the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh as part of its World of Bluegrass advertising representation. The image is of the statue of Raleigh (namesake for the city in which WOB is held yearly) with a banjo slung over his shoulder. Cute, funny, eye-catching. But Hood thinks that the use of Sir Raleigh is offensive since he had reportedly murdered native Americans while attempting to colonize early America for the English.

Of course, the comments to her editorial were about 90% against. Most people saying what I stated in the previous paragraph and that bluegrass music should not get involved with politics.

Well my friends, it is much too late for that. It is about time I talk about why I resigned from Leadership Bluegrass and no longer am a member of the IBMA (which I have hinted at in previous blogs).

I was a member of Leadership Bluegrass Class of 2014. I met some fantastic people there in the bluegrass music industry, many of whom with which I still stay in contact. Our chat group was continually discussing concerns about promoting various aspects of the music. Then around 2017, things started to change. The California Bluegrass Association participated in a gay pride parade with a float that had IBMA signage on it. This was never approved by the IBMA, but the executive director (Paul Schiminger) and the board did nothing to prevent it or reprimand the party. Soon after, there was praise on the chat group for this person taking that initiative. Then, there was a debate regarding boycotting the WOB at Raleigh because of North Carolina’s stance on transgender people using the bathrooms of their choice. This was obviously a few vocal people speaking for themselves and not the membership, which is very family-oriented and ripe with Christian values. Those vocal members also made it a point that if anyone had a dissenting opinion, they were considered bigoted and should not be heard from (sound familiar?).

I decided that it was at the point that I should resign from Leadership Bluegrass, since it seemed that the direction of LBG (as well as the IBMA in general) was straying away from the association’s Mission Statement: “The IBMA is the non-profit music association that connects, educates, and empowers bluegrass professionals and enthusiasts, honoring tradition and encouraging innovation in the bluegrass community worldwide.” I sent in my LBG membership identification materials to the IBMA office with my letter of intent.

I received a phone call from Mr. Schiminger a few days later, and we had a productive discussion on the matter. However, my mind did not change, and I did not renew my IBMA membership when it became due later that year. I also discussed this with one of my songwriting partners, which did not change my mind either.

As the years have rolled on, I have noticed that the IBMA has taken a stronger political stance (leaning left), and seem to be negligent of understanding the values held by a large contingent (probably a large majority) of the membership. Recently, the IBMA was supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement (go to that organization’s website to read about its Marxist agenda) by participating in a Blackout Tuesday with its website. Yet they have never spoken about the vandalizing of the Bill Monroe statue that stood in front of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, which was done by the BLM protesters back in June.

Former IBMA employee Abby Lee Hood has been a voice in the leftist protests (check her Twitter account). She worked for the association for a few months in 2019, yet her influence has had an impact on Mr. Schiminger, the current staff, and the board members. The thought of promoting bluegrass music in the community has become secondary to the appeasing of the left. It has only been in the last two years that “Diversity and Inclusiveness” has been added it the Values section. The IBMA doesn’t want to offend anyone that is so easily offended and will resort to violence if their demands are not met.

What do I see in IBMA’s future? Well, just like every other association surrendering to the Woke generation, there will need to be a certain ratio of minority and gender-based members on the board, with no concern of their expertise in the bluegrass music industry, but only to make sure that those lifestyles are represented. Perhaps for the yearly awards given out, the removal of the Gospel Recording of the Year replaced with, say, Inspirational Recording of the Year, so as to appease the non-Christians and atheists. We may even see a removal of all images and references to Bill Monroe. Yes, he is considered the Father of Bluegrass Music, but he also participated in comedy routines early in his career that consisted of blackface performers. Think about it.

Part of this left-move by the IBMA is the fault of the membership. Most do not really care about politics, as long as the WOB presents a lot of great bluegrass talent during the fan fair days in Raleigh. It is about time the membership take a look at what the IBMA does with the money it gets from its members. There are a lot of great programs that the association has continually presented. However, some are becoming political and PC-correct so as not to offend the few that are vocal.

I suggest that if you are a IBMA member, then you should thoroughly read the associations’s website (http://www.ibma.org), closely examine what the association does in comparison to the Mission Statement, and if you are confused or have concerns, then contact the IBMA office or one of the board members. It it their job to listen to your concerns.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

More on the IBMA World of Bluegrass (and a short note on Tex)

The list of performers for the IBMA World of Bluegrass fan fair this year has been set, and all of the performances will be streamed online. You can go to www.ibma.org for the list.

According to what IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger states, many of these performances have already been filmed. So, one will be watching a “live” performance that is not actually live. I can understand some of the reasoning for this, specifically that no one can trust the streaming online, with possible freeze-ups and blackouts. Well, that is what you can expect when a lot of people will be watching it online for free.

Free? Well, according to the press release, all of the viewing of performances are free IF you have a Swapcard. Trying to find out what Swapcard truly does is like doing a scavenger hunt. Swapcard is some business headquartered in France that allows a person to attend scheduled conferences and events through its app. Some things are free, like networking with other Swapcard members, but there is a $7.00 surcharge for attending other online events. That’s about all that I found out on the surface. To find out more, you have to JOIN Swapcard and get the app. Gee, that sort of sounds like Nancy Pelosi telling us Congress needed to pass the Obamacare bill before we could see what was exactly in the bill.

Fact of Life #1: NOTHING IS FREE. I do not care what Bernie Sanders tells you! Whenever you are told that something is free, you will pay for it eventually, whether it be through money and taxes, or with some of your precious time, or your legacy after you have passed on, or your sanity. I am truly suspicious of any organization telling you that something is free but only if you have a certain app on your phone/computer. That app will make you pay, either with money or by slamming you with pop-up ads that can never go away unless you pay to have those removed (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, the list goes on). If anyone out there can give me a simple and complete explanation of Swapcard, I would welcome it!

So, in short, you will be paying for pre-recorded performances that are probably not much different than those that the artists put on their YouTube or Facebook channels. I understand that the IBMA (as well as a few other music business associations) want to stay in touch and relevant with its membership. However, everyone is in the same boat with the Coronavirus pandemic. Artists have found ways to perform online with a tip-jar situation. Why is the IBMA making it so confusing to attend a virtual performance (I ranted about attending the IBMA business conference in a previous blog)? On the surface, it just makes me want to participate even less than before (which was a big NO).

On a final non-related note, I just learned that Alan “Tex” Booker, a long-time resident of my city of Hamtrmack, passed away recently. If there ever was a definition for “character,” one only had to look at Tex. He would be seen wandering the streets of town with his cowboy hat and T-shirt marked SECURITY during celebrations such as the Hamtramck Festival (which would be on Labor Day weekend, but of course was cancelled) and Paczaki Day. Every store owner knew him. He was a pain in the butt many times, but his heart was there. He will surely be missed by those who love Hamtramck. Rest in Peace, Tex.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

New Grass Revival and The Johnson Mountain Boys

So the 2020 International Bluegrass Music Association’s 31st Annual Awards nominees have been announced. I won’t go into them big here; you can take a look at them at https://bluegrasstoday.com/2020-ibma-award-nominees-announced/ . However, one thing that I do want to address is the Hall of Fame inductees, specifically two of the three that truly deserve more recognition than they have gotten from the bluegrass community.

First is New Grass Revival. Sam Bush started this band back in the early 1970s, and while there have been a number of great musicians that have served time in the group, its most famous lineup is of mandolinist Bush, bassist John Cowan, banjoist Bela Fleck, and guitarist Pat Flynn. During their tenure in the band, these guys made listeners from all different genres come to love bluegrass! They were amazing soloists, Cowan and Bush sang like their lives depended on it, and they could kick anyone’s ass when it came to live performances! Their audiences ranged from old traditionalists to mohawked punk rockers. Leon Russell took them on tour with him in 1980. Each album they put out reflected their approach with one foot in old school, the other foot aimed at the moon! What other band could cover Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Bill Monroe’s “Wicked Path of Sin” and make it all sound like their own as well as showing respect to each original artist? They gave the progressive “newgrass” format a whole lotta class!

Unfortunately, they decided to call it quits in 1989, right when they finally achieved some chart success with “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” Garth Brooks respected them so much that he asked the band to regroup for his 1993 recording of the song.

Their 1986 self-titled album is still in heavy rotation on my CD player and is definitely one of my Top 20 of all time favorites. Their original albums are hard to come by, even in used bins. There are a few different “Best Of” compilations floating around, so be sure to grab one if you don’t have anything by NGR.

Second is the Johnson Mountain Boys. What NGR was to progressive bluegrass in the 1980s, the Johnson Mountain Boys was to neo-traditional bluegrass. While other bands were dressing casual in blue jeans on stage, the Boys dressed as if they stepped out of a time machine from the 1940s. They approached each of their songs, whether it was an original or a cover, with the same attitude that Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs would use. Formed in the mid-1970s by guitarist/vocalist Dudley Connell, other notable members included Eddie Stubbs on fiddle, Tom Adams on banjo, David McLaughlin on mandolin and Marshall Wilborn on bass. Like NGR, they had their big break about the time they decided to break up when their live album At the Old Schoolhouse was nominated for a Grammy in 1988. Fortunately, they re-formed a little while later and recorded another Grammy-nominated album Blue Diamond in 1993 before calling it quits for a second time.

After the 1996 final breakup, members secured various music jobs. Connell works with the Seldom Scene as well as worked for Folkway Records. Eddie Stubbs still handles the weekday evening hours DJ-ing on WSM in Nashville. The band was signed to Rounder Records, a label that respects all of its artists, so fortunately music of the Boys’ back catalog is still available. Anyone wanting to know how to effectively cover a bluegrass standard and not make it sound amateurish should listen to an album from the Johnson Mountain Boys.

Chew on it and comment. Have a good 4th of July!

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Why Won’t the IBMA Recognize Jerry Garcia?

There are a number of reasons why I am no longer a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association. I won’t get into the full story here; it would take five or six blogs, at the very least. However, one of the reasons I had become disenchanted with the organization is its lack of recognition of those outside the “norm” of the bluegrass community that have helped promote the genre in so many ways.

While I was a member, as well as a serving member of Leadership Bluegrass, there were a few of us who worked hard to get Hazel Dickens inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame. She had already been presented the Merit Award in 1994 (the first female to receive it), but finally, in 2017, she was admitted to the HOF (after a lot of hard work on many members’ behalf) along with Alice Gerrard.

The IBMA has been promoting itself as a diverse community, but as for as recognizing musicians from outside of the fold that have promoted bluegrass, they turn a deaf ear.

So how about this person – Jerry Garcia? Yes, he was the founder and guitarist/singer for the legendary Grateful Dead, the group that gave us the moniker “jam band.” Those who know rock-n-roll history are aware of Garcia’s demons, most notably heroin and cocaine, and mixing that with his diabetes condition, his body could only take so much. He slipped into a diabetic coma for five days in 1986, had a few relapses, and eventually passed away in 1995 at the age of 53 – way too soon. However, his musical career and scope cannot be ignored by the bluegrass community.

Years before he started the Dead, his main musical interest was bluegrass music. He learned guitar and banjo (playing Scruggs style despite missing a finger on his right hand), and formed the Hart Valley Drifters in 1962 with future Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. While the band never released a commercial recording, a tape from a college radio performance was recently discovered and released in 2016 on Rounder Records as Folk Time. While the performance at times stumbles, one cannot deny that Jerry’s singing and his playing has a true respect for the music.

Jerry was also passionate about promoting other bluegrass bands in the area, such as The Kentucky Colonels. In 1964 he was playing in The Black Mountain Boys on banjo. But while Jerry’s musical tastes turned more toward electric rock within a few years, he never lost touch with bluegrass. Around 1969 he played banjo in an offshoot band called High Country. In the early 1970s, the Dead began adding an acoustic set to its shows, which continued throughout the band’s tenure. Songs like “Uncle John’s Band” and “Ripple” have heavy bluegrass influence, and one can hear that sound influencing today’s young, progressive grass bands such as Hawktail, Mile Twelve and Steep Canyon Rangers just as much as Bill Monroe or The Stanley Brothers had influenced them. One also has to think about the numerous jam-grass bands that were impacted by Jerry, such as String Cheese Incident, Salamander Crossing and Yonder Mountain String Band.

Garcia had a number of side projects besides the Dead, such as The Jerry Garcia Band and New Riders of the Purple Sage. However, the one project that bluegrass afficionados pay attention to is Old & In The Way. Jerry played banjo and sang, along with mandolinist David Grisman, guitarist/vocalist Peter Rowan, bassist John Kahn and fiddler Vassar Clements. Rowan and Clements were former Blue Grass Boys, and Grisman had worked with Hazel & Alice among other bluegrass/roots projects. The band didn’t last long, only a few months, but a live recording released as Old & In The Way in 1975 would become the best selling bluegrass album of all time (until 2000 with the release of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou?). Garcia and Grisman would continue to put out acoustic albums until Jerry’s passing.

Garcia never let bluegrass leave his heart. In an interview that appears in the 1993 documentary Bill Monroe: The Father of Bluegrass Music, Jerry talks about a time in the mid-1960s of approaching Monroe to possibly audition to be a Blue Grass Boy, but chickening out and going back to California. While he would pass away a few years later in 1995, Jerry left an impact on his fans. Many learned about bluegrass music and the magic of Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, and Flatt & Scruggs through Garcia’s praises. Bluegrass mandolinist/pioneer Jesse McReynolds respected him enough to release a Grateful Dead tribute album a few years back.

So why can’t the IBMA pay him some respect with some award? Of course, Jerry’s in the Rock and Roll HOF with the Dead, and received the President’s Award in 2008 from the Americana Music Association. Is it because he’s a rock icon? His issues with drugs? Because he’s from California and not an Appalachian? He’s done more to promote bluegrass to the younger generation than almost anyone.

In 2018 the IBMA restructured its award distribution. Gone are the Merit Awards (at least as far as I can see, it’s not listed on the IBMA website), replaced with more Industry Awards. Thus, anyone who had a previous impact on the bluegrass industry (more than a year ago) and is not a full-time bluegrass professional has very little chance of being recognized by the IBMA. If that person has passed away, the chance is even more scarce. Someone like Jerry will most likely never be recognized for his influence on bluegrass unless there is a big change in the powers-that-be at IBMA. Totally sad, since Garcia will not be the only one forgotten for his bluegrass work (except by me, I refuse to, as well as a few others). If the IBMA is so concerned with the diversity of its fan base and membership, maybe it should look at who it recognizes as those pioneers of diversity in the music itself.

Chew on it and comment.

Categories
Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass Unsung Hero: Andy Griffith

Every year at the World of Bluegrass conference sponsored by the International Bluegrass Music Association, they present Momentum Awards for musicians and people in the industry that have had an impact on the progress of the music format. One person who definitely deserves an award (albeit posthumously) is television star Andy Griffith.

Andy Griffith was a legend. He was a great actor who could do both comedy and drama, serve as both the hero and villain, and made all of his characters believable. Of course, what he is best remembered for is the role of Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. While he continually helped keep the peace in Mayberry along with a number of comedic characters, he also had a charm that could put anyone at ease. A good friend and I will continually text each other to say that we are in one of those moods that only an episode or two of The Andy Griffith Show can cure.

What I respect Griffith the most for, and what so many people seem to forget about him, is his love for music, particularly roots-based music like bluegrass and Gospel. Throughout the series of the television show, there was hardly an episode where at the very least Andy could be found strumming a guitar on the porch in the evening.

Griffith was seeped in music as much as in acting. He graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a Bachelor of Music and was the president of the glee club. One of his first great roles in film was as the guitar-slinging bum turned political influencer “Lonesome” Larry Rhodes. Previous to that, he had released a comedy album and appeared on Broadway. Then came the role of Sheriff Andy Taylor. It seemed he had a guitar to his side more than a pistol. He brought forth a persona that made everyone wish that he was the sheriff of their town.

But the love of music went beyond strumming a guitar. Early episodes included appearances of the West Coast bluegrass group The Country Boys, which included brothers Clarence and Roland White and would eventually become The Kentucky Colonels. One of these shows revolved around a city-slicker record executive coming to Mayberry to record local bands, which included Griffith performing a few tunes with the band. Other episodes included Gospel singing by fellow Broadway actor Jack Prince (who portrayed moonshiner Rafe Hollister), and Andy promoting a rockabilly guitar player named Jim Lindsey (portrayed by James Best, better known later as Sheriff Rosco Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard). Even the show’s theme song was a catchy tune, still with us today in a Lincoln SUV commercial with Matthew McConaughey.

However, the most popular musical episodes involved the arrival of the Darling family to town. Denver Pyle was the father figure and did the talking, while his four silent sons were the members of the bluegrass band The Dillards. Every episode they appeared usually had two songs, with either Rodney Dillard, Griffith, or sister Charlene (played by Maggie Peterson) singing lead. While Pyle playing a jug with the band was laughable, those appearances helped not only The Dillards, but folk and bluegrass music in general at a time when bluegrass was found mostly on college campuses.

Yes, one can say that The Beverly Hillbillies show, with its theme song “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” and appearances by Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs was more prominent. The theme song was a hit on the Billboard charts and, along with “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” appearing in the movie Bonnie & Clyde, got Lester & Earl back into the spotlight. However, those appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies seemed much more comical and hokey compared to the music on The Andy Griffith Show. Both shows were comedy, but music performances on TAGS seemed much more part of the storyline, and never seemed like it was promoting something else.

Even after that show went off the air, and Griffith went on to Matlock as well as a number of film roles, he still had a passion for music. He put out a number of Gospel and folk-style albums in the 80s and 90s. He also made appearance on a number of variety shows singing folk and Gospel songs. In 2003, Martin Guitar Company showed its appreciation for him by issuing a limited-edition Martin D-18 Andy Griffith Acoustic Guitar. If a company like Martin can see how important Griffith was for roots music, then a whole lot of other people and organizations should as well.

Andy Griffith was as American as apple pie and baseball. If a fifth face was to go on Mount Rushmore, it should be his.