The Music of Bill Monroe

The Music of Bill Monroe

The Music of Bill Monroe

Words like dynamic and evolving best describe the music of Bill Monroe. Adjectives such as impressive and powerful are also suitable since watching his live performance is an experience like no other. Learning the life story of Monroe as well as the development of his music is virtually akin to tracing the history of bluegrass music itself. Monroe is bluegrass and bluegrass is Monroe, after all.

The Essential Characteristics of Bluegrass Music

Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, or at least the version of it that played from 1945 to 1948, is credited for establishing the hallmark of classical bluegrass music. Then, the band was composed of Monroe on mandolin, fiddler Chubby Wise, bassist Howard Watts, Flatt on the guitar, and banjoist Earl Scruggs.

Together, they created what would define bluegrass music: neck-breaking tempos, stirring vocal arrangements, and instrumental solos often performed using the fiddle, mandolin, and banjo or breaks performed by band members.

Mandolin Was Not His First Choice

It may seem surprising but if Bill had a choice, he would probably have learned to play a different instrument. In his childhood years, the Monroe family often got together for jamming sessions. His older brothers, however, already had mastered playing the fiddle and guitar so the younger Bill Monroe was left to playing the mandolin.

In spite of this, Monroe soon excelled in playing the stringed instrument and in the 1940s he came into possession of a mandolin that would be an integral part to his career: a 1923 F5 model from Gibson and which Monroe fondly called the “Lloyd Loar”.

Another All-Star Cast

Although the original formation of the Bluegrass Boys eventually disbanded, Bill Monroe would later enjoy another spectacular cast in the 1950s with Rude Lyle on banjo, Jimmy Martin on the rhythm guitar and providing lead vocals, and fiddlers Vassar Clements, Bobby Hicks, Charlie Cline, and Merle “Red” Taylor.

This particular version of the band would help Monroe establish the high lonesome melodies that would be another popular element to the band’s music. It was also this version that was responsible for producing many bluegrass classic hits such as Uncle Pen, “On and On”, and My Little Georgia Rose as well as instrumental favorites such as “Get Up John” and “Roanoke”.

Folk Revival

The bluegrass scene languished at the end of the fifties but was soon revitalized when 1960s ushered in the folk revival period. It was during this time that bluegrass festivals first entered the scene and proliferated since then. Bill Monroe became much in demand in these festivals and would later establish his own to conserve the legacy of bluegrass music.

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