Bill Monroe’s influence on music

November 28, 2014

Bill Monroe album coverI recently read a fascinating thread about Bill Monroe on Mandolin Cafe which delved into various perspectives regarding Bill Monroe’s importance and his influence on music — even rock music — over the decades.

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The opinions were, of course, wide-ranging:

  • Perhaps the most common view is that Bill Monroe started what would become a very distinct genre of music (bluegrass, of course), in virtual single-handed fashion — so much so that he became known all over as the Father of Bluegrass.
  • Some folks apparently believe bluegrass to be merely a niche music genre in the first place, and that it has not been particularly influential in the music world.
  • … And many other opinions in the forum lie somewhere in-between those listed above.

Bill MonroeBut most interesting and intriguing of all were the comments concerning the influence of Bill Monroe specifically, and bluegrass in general, upon other artists — especially back in the early days of rock & roll. The very fact that Bill was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame speaks to his deep and wide influence.

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Monroe’s music had quite a distinct feel to it; one need only listen to the very early recordings — that is, before Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs joined in 1948 — to notice the uniqueness of the music. Stringbean, the old tymey banjo player perhaps best known for Hee Haw, provided a very different feel than the hard-driving Scruggs. (The band even had an accordion… say it ain’t so!) Bill pulled it all together and a new genre of music was born.

According to the Mandolin Cafe forum, Bill Monroe made disparaging comments toward the above and other pioneering groups during the early days of bluegrass. The thread also makes some interesting comments reagarding the rifts between Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs after they left the Bluegrass Boys and formed the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Bill MonroeAs a number of articles about Monroe’s younger days have claimed, the mandolin — the instrument that Bill is rightfully credited with bringing back to prominence — was bestowed upon Bill because as the youngest of his brothers, he got the last choice of family instruments… and by then the guitar and fiddle had already been claimed!

Bill Monroe was well known to have a strong personality, which tends to add emotion, strength, and variety to the opinions about Bill Monroe and his creation of & influence upon bluegrass. Apart from Bill Monroe, the genre of bluegrass itself seems to generate similarly strong opinion throughout the music world, even today.

Bill Monroe’s influence on my own music

I look at the influence of Bill Monroe on the music I have written. Most of my music was written on the mandolin, the instrument that Bill revived. Some of the tunes — maybe a quarter or so — are bluegrass fiddle tunes which also include a banjo as an essential part of the song. The other music I have written veers pretty strongly away from bluegrass, fiddle playing at music party at Bearcave at Tony Huber's house - Feb 2014to include Irish, gypsy, and waltzes. Yet, even these non-bluegrass tunes contain what are essentially the instruments of bluegrass; bass, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. These songs also include woodwind, which would be considered outside the bluegrass genre.

[ More: Sources of inspiration for my songwriting ]

Although I would not consider Bill Monroe to be a primary influence on my songwriting style, my music would not be anywhere near what it is without him. Without Monroe, I’d most likely not be playing mandolin.

A few nights ago I had friends over to pick what turned out to be mostly bluegrass tunes. These fun picking sessions and parties we have every few weeks would not be happening without Bill Monroe. Also, I met every one of those friends when they were playing at various Live Music.

Thank you, Bill Monroe… You changed my entire perspective on music!

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