Author: Ramos, Jean

Country Is…

I recently went to a Country Music jam at the home of our friends, Jim and Carol Johnston. They live on a mountaintop in Aromas, a quaint little town near the coast. There were many people there that I had met and jammed with at CBA functions. It dawned on me that if it had not been for the CBA, I would not have known any of these wonderful people. Several of us went to the Saturday night concert at the Morgan Hill Grange to see and hear the Central Valley Boys and Quebe Sisters. Of course the place was filled with more CBA folks. On Monday night, we went to Phil’s Fish Market at Moss Landing and it was my pleasure to do a couple songs with The Courthouse Ramblers, a Bluegrass group that Pete Hicks performs with. My association with CBA has brought so many wonderful people and joyful experiences into my life.

In reviewing the CBA’s statement of purpose you will find we are “Dedicated to the furtherance of Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Gospel Music in California. The organization was formed to promote, encourage, foster, and cultivate the preservation, appreciation, understanding, enjoyment, support, and performance of traditional instrumental and vocal music of the United States.”

When I connected with this group, I was already a fan of the music though I knew very few Bluegrass songs by heart. I had quite a few Doc Watson, Flatt and Scruggs and Bill Monroe vinyls in my collection and like many people, I had the O’ Brother DVD and CD. Never the less, Country music and Southern Gospel has always been the dominant musical force in my life. It’s what I grew up with and what I’m most comfortable singing.

There doesn’t seem to be an association (like CBA) that is dedicated to the preservation of Good Old Country Music. Fortunately, I have found a core group within CBA who appreciate and enjoy playing the music that I love. Most of them are card-carrying CBA members and are supportive of CBA events. You can find us at the various festivals and camp-outs, easily recognizable by the preponderance of guitars. There is a reason for that of course, country music is more about vocals than instrumentation and the guitar is the best instrument for vocal accompaniment. I’ve had many people come to my jams and say something like, “That ain’t Bluegrass…” and to that I will say, “No, it isn’t.” I have found, however, that many of the Bluegrass pickers also enjoy and appreciate old style country music and they often cycle through our jams.

It’s interesting to note that many of the top bluegrass stars have switched back and forth between the two genres, which tells me that they see the value in both. “Crossover” songs are not uncommon, the lines get blurred and folks will argue over whether a song is bluegrass or country. Of course, it’s easier to differentiate between traditional bluegrass and country than it is to separate some of the contemporary bluegrass. Artists like Rhonda Vincent, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill have flipped back and forth. Rhonda, the Queen of Bluegrass, is now promoting “An Evening of Traditional Country Music” with Daryle Singletary. She has done many concerts with Gene Watson, and you don’t get any more country than Gene Watson (or anymore Bluegrass than Rhonda Vincent). Tom T. Hall had many chart toppers as a country music singer but now, along with his wife, Dixie, has been devoting a good deal of his songwriting talents to Bluegrass.

I don’t know why, but it seems easier for a bluegrass singer to make the switch to country than it is for a country singer to switch to bluegrass. Merle Haggard did an album called The Bluegrass Sessions that fell short of the mark as far as having a Bluegrass sound. Ronnie Reno produced it and Merle had some of the greatest Bluegrass Musicians backing him. I think the reason why it didn’t work was because the songs were country songs and Merle is a country singer. I can relate to this very well, I can sing a bluegrass song but to my ears, it still has a country sound.

Though I know that the CBA focus is on Bluegrass, and rightly so, it has given us Country singers a place to get together with like-minded musicians and singers and enjoy doing what we do. I am grateful that there is room at CBA events for everyone to appreciate and enjoy the music that they love. I believe Country music falls under the category of traditional music of the United States and I’m doing my part to preserve it. My advice is, find your musical niche and do it to the best of your ability and most of all, find enjoyment in what you do. See you at the Father’s Day Festival if not sooner.
Posted:  3/23/2014

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