Categories
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

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.