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Acoustic Guitars Bluegrass Music Musicians

Addendum: Coronavirus, Michigan Bluegrass, and Glarry Guitars

Some follow-up on previous blogs …

Coronavirus – the US death toll is over 2,000 as of this writing (March 29). It is going to double for sure, most likely way more than that. We have to remain vigilant and stay to ourselves as much as possible. It is sad that even when we need to turn to God, the churches are closed indefinitely.

Internet concerts are popping up like crocuses on the lawn. That can be bittersweet. Many of the potential viewers are in the same situation as the performers – no job and needing money. Add to that every musical artist is doing this, which means most will be pushed by the wayside. That’s showbiz. It was a positive thing to see that Congress passed a bill providing some financial relief to performers of the arts. However, one idea that artists must realize is that they chose this career, no one pointed a gun at them to do it. It is a freelance type of employment, and it moves the way the wind blows. Whether it is a school district budget, a city or municipal budget, or a pandemic, the arts and entertainment funds are usually the first to get cut during hard times. Please accept the fact that you may have to forego any reliance on playing guitar or singing, and this may be a situation for a long time. I also see these virtual concerts being more of a norm in the future, with live performance venues suffering once the virus threat has subsided.

A good read is an article by Bobby Owsinski in Forbes Magazine: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbyowsinski/2020/03/19/music-business-after-lockdown/#1506837f7c8c

Michigan Bluegrass – While I complained about how little attention is paid to the history of bluegrass music that happened in Michigan, I must say that part of the blame lays on the media in Michigan, particularly in Detroit. On March 22, Eric Weissberg passed away in a nursing home located in suburban Detroit. He was a multi-instrumentalist who performed and recorded with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and The Talking Heads. His most famous work was playing the banjo part on the hit recording of “Dueling Banjos,” which was on the soundtrack to the movie Deliverance. The New York Times had an obituary; Rolling Stone had an obituary; neither the Detroit News nor the Detroit Free Press had an obituary. Sad. I was motivated enough to write to the Detroit News story desk and complain. I doubt that it will go anywhere. RIP Eric, your work is appreciated.

Glarry Guitars – Well, these guitars are becoming quite popular, and my Glarry blog is the most read of all of them. Checking out the Glarry website (www.glarrymusic.com), in the Acoustic Guitars section, all of the guitars are sold out except one, which I predict will be out very soon as well. Now granted, these are made in China, and with restrictions on imports due to the virus, this may take some time to recover getting them back into the Glarry US warehouses. However, it does go to show that these guitars must be worth the money. One can read the numerous reviews and posts on the website and see that almost all respondents are satisfied with the guitars. Once I got my GT502 set up, I compared it to my Jasmine by Takamine S341 and the Glarry outshined! It won’t replace my Martin D-28, but I may try to get it into the hands of someone who will do wonders with it. I truly hope that this surge in purchasing quality but budget-priced musical instruments helps get people, especially kids, picking them up and putting down the Playstations.

I should have something different to talk about next week. Until then, chew on it and comment.

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Bluegrass Music

Red Ellis and the Forgotten History of Michigan Bluegrass

I recently read in the March issue of Bluegrass Unlimited that Red Ellis passed away in Little Rock, Arkansas on December 29, 2019. He was 90 years old. The paragraph in the “Life’s Highways” section noted his work in bluegrass gospel with Jimmy Williams and The Huron Valley Boys during the 1960s. The note made a few errors, stating he was born in 1919 and that he served in the Army during World War II (he actually served during the Korean War).

However, the most upsetting error to me was that there was no mention that most of Red’s recorded bluegrass work was done while he lived in the Detroit area. The notice was not well researched, suggesting that all of his work was performed while he lived in Arkansas. I have been doing some research on Red lately for possible induction into the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Hall of Honor. Red, shortly after his mustering out of the Army, moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan to work for American Airlines and later Ford Motor Company. He also worked as a DJ and engineer at local radio stations in the Ann Arbor area.

During this time, Red hooked up with mandolinist Jimmy Williams, who previously worked with The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and Mac Wiseman, to record and release a number of records for Starday label. He also recorded with The Huron Valley Boys and Red Ellis and The Crossmen. All of these recordings were gospel bluegrass in content, with many of them being re-released on the Old Homestead label out of Brighton, Michigan. He moved back to Arkansas in 1967, but reunited with Williams in 1971 to record two albums on the Jessup label out of Jackson, Michigan. His last few years were spent DJ-ing and occasionally performing in Arkansas.

This just seems to be one more example in which Michigan is often forgotten when it comes to talking about bluegrass music during the 1950s and 60s. The automobile industry was booming during this time, and many men from Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and the Carolinas relocated to the Motor City for steady work. Want for back-home music made bluegrass and old-time country music extremely popular on the radio stations and in local dives. Jimmy Martin and The Osborne Brothers got their first post-Monroe big breaks in Detroit performing on WJR as well as Casey Clark’s TV show on CKLW out of Windsor.

The meteoric rise of The Motown Sound suffocated the bluegrass scene in the Detroit area, with most popular artists moving back south by then. Heck, Charlie Moore even recorded a song in 1972 (which has been covered many times) called “I’m Leaving Detroit.” Today, while there is no great scene for bluegrass here, there are remnants of fans at the local Kentuckians of Michigan hall. The west side of the state has produced some fantastic talent, with the band Detour as well as guitar wizard Billy Strings making names for themselves. Even when bluegrass was at one of its lowest points during the 1970s, the Jessup label helped keep it alive, releasing two albums by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys (featuring young versions of Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs).

The history books on bluegrass music seem to completely ignore how popular and developing the genre was during the 1950s and 60s in Michigan due to the automobile manufacturing workforce. It gets mentioned as a footnote at best. It is even more insulting when it gets misrepresented in coverage. It is high time that this small piece of bluegrass music history gets more recognition. There are a number of ancestors in Michigan who should be proud of what bluegrass meant to the area in past decades. Hopefully, organizations such as the Southeast Michigan Bluegrass Music Association and the West Michigan Bluegrass Music Association will step up even more to not only preserve, but to promote the great history that is there.

Chew on it and comment.