Video of the week

This series is over and lo longer updated

Hi, and welcome to the Video of the week! Every week, I will choose a Youtube video for you to enjoy. These are not videos of us, but videos of bluegrass and country artists that we enjoy. For those of you who don't know much about our kind of music, hopefully you will get acquainted with it, and for those of you who know and like bluegrass, I hope you will enjoy the music and perhaps even learn a thing or two. I will try to write a few words about the song or artist with each video. Stay tuned!

Robin Holliger

15 April 2013 - #19

Lester Flatt & The Nashville Grass - Dueling Banjos

Bluegrass Dueling Banjos with Marty Stuart on mandolin

I have posted Dueling Banjos before (actually, the original Feudin' Banjos by Arthur Smith & Don Reno), but I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a later bluegrass version. Here we have Lester Flatt & The Nashville Grass, probably around 1972, a few years after he and Earl Scruggs had parted with a very young (I think around 14 years old) Marty Stuart on mandolin (Marty Stuart became a successfull mainstream artist in his own right).

Lester Flatt: guitar
Marty Stuart: mandolin
Haskel McCormick: banjo
Paul Warren: fiddle
Charlie Nixon: dobro

08 April 2013 - #18

Flatt & Scruggs - Long Journey Home

More from Lester and Earl

I have posted a Flatt & Scruggs video earlier (#5), an instrumental, showcasing Earl Scruggs' banjo picking. But the duo was just as much known for Lester Flatt's warm voice, and it is only fitting (although a bit late) that I would post now a video of them doing a song. Recorded around 1960, it is a duo, where Lester Flatt sings lead while Curly Seckler sings tenor. The video features all the classic-era Foggy Mountain Boys:

Lester Flatt: guitar, lead vocals
Curly Seckler: mandolin, tenor vocals
Earl Scruggs: banjo
Paul Warren: fiddle
Uncle Josh: dobro
Cousin Jake: bass

01 April 2013 - #16 & #17

Bill Monroe - A Voice From On High & Wicked Path Of Sin

The high tenor voice of Bill Monroe

I am sorry I have not posted a video last week. Therefore, and as an Easter celebration, here are not one, but two videos of Bill Monroe. Both showcase his extraordinary high tenor harmony that he would pull on a number of songs. The first one, A Voice From On High (with a three-part harmony), is probably from around 1954 (on the Grand Ole Opry - it is presented by Ernest Tubb), while the second one, Wicked Path Of Sin (sung as a quartet) would be from around 1969.

A Voice From On High

Bill Monroe: mandolin, tenor vocals
Jackie Phelps: guitar, lead vocals
Charlie Cline: baritone vocals
Bobby Hicks: fiddle
Ernie Newton: bass

Wicked Path Of Sin

Bill Monroe: mandolin, tenor vocals
James Monroe: guitar, lead vocals (Bill Monroe's son)
Rual Yarbrough: banjo, vocals
Bill Yates: bass, vocals
Kenny Baker: fiddle

18 March 2013 - #15

Ralph Stanley - Clawhammer Medley

Ralph Stanley

I have already talked about the Stanley Brothers. When Carter Stanley died in 1966 of a liver disease, bluegrass music lost one of its greatest lead singer and songwriter. This was one of the first tremendous loss bluegrass music experienced because of the untimely death of a musician (Red Smiley would die in 1972, Lester Flatt in 1979). And since Carter, besides his voice and his songwriting skills, was the front man of the Stanley Brothers, the outgoing master of ceremony, always keeping the crowd entertained with jokes and stories, Ralph, the shy little brother, faced a terrible ordeal. Nonetheless, Ralph Stanley, the quiet half of the band, decided to move on and keep going with the Clinch Mountain Boys. He learned to sing lead and be the boss on and off stage, and steered his band even more towards the traditional mountain music he and Carter had grown around. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys have always kept a very old-time mountain sound, and have been playing ever since.

This video shows Ralph Stanley play the banjo in the old "clawhammer" style, the old-time style that was superseded in bluegrass by the three-finger style. This is the style Ralph originally learned from his mother, although when Carter and he began playing the music of Bill Monroe, he adopted the three-finger bluegrass style (and in fact, is known for his own "Stanley-style" variation). Nonetheless, he would still play clawhammer from time to time. The song is a medley of three songs: I've Got A Mule To Ride, Rocky Island and Shout Little Lula.

11 March 2013 - #14

Ricky Skaggs - Pig In A Pen

Ricky Skaggs & Kentycky Thunder

Ricky Skaggs is one of the second generation bluegrass pickers. A child prodigy mandolin player, he played at a very young age with the greatest, getting himself invited on stage at a Bill Monroe show at the age of 6, and on Flatt & Scruggs TV show at the age of 7. Later, his first boss was Ralph Stanley, who hired him and his fellow Keith Whitley, in the early 1970's. After a few years with Ralph, Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley left the Clinch Mountain Boys and tried their luck in mainstream country music. Ricky played mandolin, guitar and fiddle with Emmylou Harris for a time, and then became one of the most successful country singer of the 1980's, releasing hit after hit (Keith Whitley also was successful in his own right, before his tragic death in 1989). By the mid-1990's, he was longing to return to his first love, bluegrass music, but his record company wouldn't let him. So after ending his contract with them, Ricky left it and started his own record label and got back into bluegrass, which he has not left since. Complemented by his band of red-hot pickers, Kentucky Thunder, he became, and still is, one of the flagships of traditional bluegrass today.

This video (probably from the late 1990's) has Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder showcasing their virtuosity on the old-time song, Pig In A Pen, on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.

Ricky Skaggs: mandolin, vocals
Bobby Hicks: fiddle
Bryan Sutton: lead guitar
Jimmy Mills: banjo
Paul Brewster: guitar, vocals (behind Ricky)
Not sure who are the others.

04 March 2013 - #13

Doc Watson - Deep River Blues

Doc Watson

Arthel "Doc" Watson is a legendary folk guitarist and singer, who had a tremendous influence on bluegrass and folk guitar, bringing flatpicking guitar solos up front (before him, lead guitar was rarely heard, except for the crosspicking of George Shuffler in the Stanley Brothers) and to a new level. Besides his flatpicking, he is also known for playing his own kind of Merle Travis-inspired two-finger fingerpicking. He didn't write songs, but played mostly traditional folk songs in a warm old-timey way that made him a favourite of the folk revival of the 1960's.

Born in the Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Doc Watson lost his sight shortly after his birth (before his first birthday). He mentioned later that had he not been blind, he probably wouldn't have been a professional guitar player (he thought he would have been a carpenter or something). Growing up, he was musically influenced by folk music of the area, and by early country artists like the Carter Family (from nearby Clinch Mountain in Virginia), the Delmore Brother and the Monroe Brothers (made up of Charlie Monroe and Bill Monroe, who would start bluegrass music in 1945).

Doc Watson played the old-time banjo and guitar, occasionnaly accompanying himself on the harmonica. At one time, he played a Gibson Les Paul in a rockabilly band, and was asked to adapt fiddle tunes on the guitar. This gave birth to his fiery flatpicking rendition of Black Mountain Rag that has now become a standard, and lead to other fiddle tunes adaptations in the new flatpicking style.

Doc Watson also developped a solid fingerpicking style, while he was trying to play a Delmore Brothers song, (I've Got The) Big River Blues. Unable to replicate the two guitars at once, he then heard Merle Travis play on the radio and adapted his two-finger fingerpicking style to play the Delmore Brothers song. The video show Doc Watson play this very song, with the alternate title Deep River Blues.

25 February 2013 - #12

Jimmy Martin - Tennessee

Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys

I mentionned Jimmy Martin twice in earlier videos: the Osborne Brothers and him played together for a while, and Doyle Lawson was a member of his Sunny Mountain Boys for a while. Jimmy Martin is another great name in bluegrass, and like most of them, began with Bill Monroe. Jimmy was the lead singer and guitar player for the Bluegrass Boys from 1949 to 1954, after which he recorded a few songs with the Osborne Brothers, and then started his own band, Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys. Like the Osborne Brothers, he deviated a bit from the traditional bluegrass sound of Bill Monroe and the mountain music of the Stanley Brothers, singing catchy country music-influenced songs and using drums and sometimes a high female vocal part seldom heard in bluegrass. A heavy drinker with an exhuberant and somewhat imprevisible personality, Jimmy Martin is an important figure in bluegrass music, to the point of being nicknamed the "King of Bluegrass".

This video shows Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys (with Gloria Belle on the upright bass) playing the song Tennessee.

18 February 2013 - #11

The Osborne Brothers - Rocky Top

Rocky Top, Tennessee state song

The Osborne Brothers is another of the early bluegrass bands, although a peculiar one. As often, they had roots in Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, with which Sonny Osborne had played banjo in 1952. After that, Sonny and Bobby worked together with Jimmy Martin, recording six songs in 1954, before parting ways in 1955. They then began playing as the Osborne Brothers around 1956, and quickly began deviating from the traditional bluegrass sound that was still strong at the time. They worked out a new harmony style, with no tenor (higher) harmony: Bobby's high lead voice would be complemented by Sonny's lower baritone and a third singer singing still lower. During the years, the band continued to stray from traditional paths, by trying amplification, drums, and adapting country songs in their repertoire. Still they always kept a firm bluegrass sound, more so than later progressive bands. Sonny retired in 2005, but Bobby continues to perform as of today.

This video shows them around 1971 playing what is probably their biggest hit, Rocky Top. This song, written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant as a break from writing a series of slow songs, was first recorded in 1967 by the Osborne Brothers, and became an official Tennessee state song in 1982 (the fifth at the time - there are now eight!).

11 February 2013 - #10

Arthur Smith and Don Reno - Feudin' Banjos (1955)

The original version of Dueling Banjos

This week's video, though not a video, is probably the most well-known banjo instrumental, although it might not be strictly "bluegrass". In 1972, an arrangement of this tune was used in the movie Deliverance, by John Boorman, which propelled it to fame. They called it Dueling Banjos, and it was played by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell in a banjo-guitar duel (despite the name). But the original tune is much older than this, and was written by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith in 1955. Arthur Smith (nicknamed "Guitar Boogie" (after on of his tunes) so he wouldn't be confused with an other country musician of the same name, "Fiddlin" Arthur Smith) recorded it the same year with Don Reno, of Reno & Smiley fame. In the original recording, Arthur Smith flatpicks a 4-string tenor banjo while Don Reno plays the standard 5-string banjo, hence the name Feudin Banjos or Dueling Banjos. In later covers this aspect is often dropped, and the tune name looses its relevance as other instruments duel with the banjo (usually guitars or mandolins).

03 February 2013 - #9

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - I Am Going To Heaven

Doyle Lawson, the master of a capella bluegrass gospel

Doyle Lawson started playing bluegrass professionally with Jimmy Martin in the early 1960's. He alternated between Jimmy Martin's Sunny Mountain Boys and J.D. Crowe's New South during the rest of the decade, then spent most of the next one with the Country Gentlemen. Finally, he started his own band, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver in 1979, which is still active today. During the 1980's, he became a master of a cappella gospel music, which before him was rarely performed by bluegrass bands. He released one fully a capella gospel album, and included a lot of a capella songs in his regular albums. Doyle Lawson performs mostly gospel songs, more than the typical bluegrass band, although he made popular some secular songs too (notably The Girl From West Virginia, and Julie Ann).

This recent video shows Doyle Lawson and his band perform an a cappella song, I Am Going To Heaven as a traditional quartet.

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