Hooked on Bluegrass

Alan Shank

My first taste of Bluegrass came courtesy of "The Dillards" in about 1963. My brother Erik had been playing banjo for a while, and we went to "The Troubador" in Hollywood, CA to see them play. I had heard mandolin in a couple of songs by the Irish group "The Clancy Brothers", and liked the sound. I was impressed by Dean Webb's mandolin work, and decided to try playing, despite the fact that I had never had any musical instruction and was already almost 18 years old.

I was fortunate enough to come in contact with Bob Artis, who later wrote the book "Bluegrass"; he gave me some mandolin lessons but, more importantly, introduced me to the music of Bill Monroe. To be frank, at first I found Monroe's music a bit "hicky" and did not even appreciate his mandolin work that much on the first few songs I heard. I also bought an album by Earl Taylor at a supermarket. I found the fiddle playing and "hicky" singing not to my taste, either.

In 1965, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys came to the Ash Grove, and I went to see them. The "crisis" came when they did "Wicked Path of Sin", and Bill hit that falsetto tenor echo "I can hear...the angels singing". That was the first time I ever heard a round of applause for a "vocal riff", and I just about fell out of my seat. I was hooked. By the way, that Earl Taylor album, "Bluegrass, Taylor-Made", I later realized, was a truly great album.

(posted 4/16/2008)

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