Hooked on Bluegrass

John Duncan

I grew up listening to country music (back when it really was ). My parents and older brother were fans, and just about all the records they bought (yes they were 78s) were by the popular country artists back then. I probably played them more than they did. Some of my favorite artists included Carl Smith, Eddy Arnold, Faron Young, Hank Williams, Johnny and Jack, Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, and the Maddox Brothers & Rose. But, also included within the world of country music was the music of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, Reno and Smiley, and others who we now consider to be bluegrass performers. Some of their music was also included in our family's record collection, and it got frequent airplay on the local radio stations that played country music. I never really thought there was a difference between country music and bluegrass.

I guess I was hooked on the whole field of country music and not just bluegrass. Yet, when I was able to afford a record player of my own, the first lp record I bought was an album by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs entitled “Country Music,” which I still have. I think I must have been taken by the hard driving banjo and the soulful fiddle playing.

During the 60s and 70s, it bothered me that country music was undergoing a huge change (although, I did become a serious fan of Buck Owens, Ray Price, and Merle Haggard). Through it all, though, bluegrass seemed to survive.

Having said all that, it wasn't until the late 70s and early 80s that a series of events started to “light my bluegrass fire” so to speak. I was living in San Jose when, one weekend, I went to dinner at a place call the Winchester Wagon House. There I discovered a group of young women playing bluegrass in the lounge. The band was Sidesaddle-my kind of music, I thought. I went back again and again.

A short time later, after moving back to Sacramento, a friend convinced me to drop in at a regular Thursday night jam session at the Fifth String Music Store. It was located in an old Victorian house with several rooms, and there was a great jam going on in every room. I went back every Thursday night and heard some seriously good music. Many of the professional bluegrass players in the Sacramento area and a lot of amateurs would be there just having fun together. The owners of the store were John and Skip Green (John still owns it). One evening, they said that they noticed how much I was enjoying myself, but suggested that I would enjoying it even more if I let them teach me how to play an instrument. Not too long after that, I bought a brand new bass from them and began trying to learn how to play it. It took awhile to muster up the courage for me to even take it out of the house. It turns out that other pickers were very encouraging and willing to give me pointers. That's the way bluegrass folks are, don't you think?

It wasn't long after that before Skip and his family were “dragging” me up to the Fathers' Day Festival in Grass Valley. The great entertainment, the friendly atmosphere, and the late night jam sessions were enough to keep me coming back for more and more. I haven't missed a Fathers' Day Festival since, and I try to get out to as many other concerts and festivals as I can.

(posted 2/3/200/)

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