Bluegrass History: Music Trivia #1 - Did You Know?

A brief discussion of how to engage and entertain your bluegrass music audience or bluegrass jamming buddies by providing them with interesting concise tidbits of traditional bluegrass folklore. Several short examples are provided in the classic “Did

When performing bluegrass music it is important to engage the audience; they like to know that in some way they are part of the event. An excellent way to acknowledge them and spice up the entertainment experience is to provided your listeners with little bluegrass morsels of information they can take away with them. Everyone likes the classic “Did You Know?” format. Fortunately the bluegrass genre with its roots in Old Timey, Appalachian, Traditional Country, Folk, and, “Hillbilly” music is rich with folklore and interesting gems of classic trivia that are yet to be mined.

Rattlesnake Tales

Did you know that it was not uncommon for old-time stringed instrument players to place rattlesnake tails inside the resonating portions of their stringed instruments; the most common being the fiddle? The players claimed it enhanced the sound resonance. Rattlesnakes will shed their skin up to four times a year adding a new rattle section each time. So, if you every got the impression a fiddler player was a little snake-bit; ask him to shake his fiddle to hear if it rattles.

Devil’s Box

Did you know that there was a time, back in the ol’ days in parts of rural Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky, when the fiddle was considered the Devil’s Box? It was considered, by the virtuous folks, sinful to play as it was associated with drinking and rowdy revelry. There have been old worn fiddles discovered within the walls and remains of long forgotten log cabins; placed there by those newly saved fiddlers who couldn’t bear to destroy their precious heirlooms, but nevertheless gave them up. Think about this the next time you hear a spirited fiddle rendition of Devil’s Dream or Hell Among the Yearlings.

Bill Monroe’s First Choice

Did you know that the mandolin was not Bill Monroe’s first choice of instruments to learn as a young boy? It was a fiddle. As a matter of fact it wasn’t even his second choice which was the guitar. By default young Bill, the future father of Bluegrass, was told to play the mandolin. Being the youngest of six children in a family band he was pretty low in the pecking order (or picking order if you will) and didn’t have much to say about it. His older brothers also made him play with only four strings instead of the traditional mandolin’s eight strings because they didn’t want little brother playing too loud.

The Stanley Bothers First Hit

Did you know that the first Stanley Brothers hit was not sung by both brothers? Interestingly enough it was a duet sung by Carter Stanley and Darrell (Pee Wee) Lambert entitled “Little Glass of Wine” that was released in March of 1948. Brother Ralph Stanley was on the flip-side with his banjo and vocal rendition of “Little Maggie”. To this day Dr. Ralph Stanley says that “Little Glass of Wine” is his most requested song when he performs for live audiences across the country.

Jerry Garcia

Did you know that Jerry Garcia, of the infamous Grateful Dead psychedelic band of the sixties, had a Bluegrass band called Old and In the Way? The original band included Jerry Garcia (banjo), David Grisman (mandolin), Peter Rowan (guitar),John Kahn (acoustic bass) and Vassar Clements (fiddle). Three albums came out the group; Old and In the Way (1975), That High Lonesome Sound (1997), and Breakdown (1997). All of these albums came from live recordings that were produced in October 1973. The group only existed for one year; 1973. Here is a famous Jerry Garcia quote: “Truth is something you stumble into when you think you're going someplace else.”

The Lester Flat G Run

Did you know? When guitarist Lester Flatt joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1944, replacing Clyde Moody, he had to make some adjustments to the rapid pace of several of the band’s arrangements. Lester’s style used more open chords and bass runs than his sidemen predecessors. These bass runs helped him catch up between phrases. One such bass run was used in nearly every song Lester and Bill performed – the infamous G run; commonly referred to by today’s bluegrass guitar pickers as the Lester Flatt G run.

I hope you had as much fun reading these tidbits of bluegrass trivia as I had “digging” them up and cleaning them off. Have fun sharing them with your bluegrass listeners whether at your next performance or if you are just sitting around jamming with your fellow bluegrass pickers.

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Mitch Page
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Posted on Jan 29, 2011