Monday, May 31, 2010

Carnegie Hall and Stephanie House

The House family does not yet rank up there with the greatest of musical families, such as the Bach family, the Von Trapp's, or the Carter family, but God has blessed my wife and children with a great amount of musical talent. And He has blessed me with a great amount of love for music of all kinds and a determination to musically inundate all my children.

My wife, Stephanie, has had an extraordinary year of musical work and success. For the past year or two, she has been taking music classes from Texarkana Community College. She already had a music minor (and elementary education major), but she wants to advance her musical training and knowledge. Along with her college course work, she has been teaching the Veritas Academy secondary school choir. The Veritas Academy Singers (VAS), as we call them, consists of ALL our secondary students. (You don't just teach reading to skilled readers, after all.) She also has taught several classes of recorders for the elementary students. And she has been performing in the Texarkana Regionale Chorale (TRC), under the direction of Marc-Andre Bougie.

This past year, she has sung with the TRC on several occasions, including a concert of African-American music for black history month and Carmina Burana. Her school choir, the VAS, performed a Christmas concert for the school and at the First Presbyterian Advent series. Then they performed for the Lenten services of First Methodist Church, Texarkana, Arkansas. At the end of the year, they presented a delightful program called "Hooray for Hollywood." (Leading to an epidemic of musicals being watched, along with constant refrains of "Somewhere, Over the Rainbow" and other songs from musical classics.)

This Friday, Stephanie leaves to go to New York to perform at Carnegie Hall. She will be singing with other members of the TRC. This will be her second occasion to sing at Carnegie Hall. Three years ago, she came home from practice one night and said, "The choir will be going to Carnegie Hall to perform...but I know I can't go...."

I responded, "YES, you have to go. It's Carnegie Hall! Flatt and Scruggs performed there! It's almost as great as performing at the Opry!"

I remember the day of that year when I was driving home from work and thinking of the fact that my wife was at Carnegie Hall singing. I don't know how I managed to keep the car on the road as I was dazed with wonder at realizing where she was. (By the way, that same trip included another concert given in Canada, so Stephanie is an international singing star.)

Once again the opportunity came up for her to go to New York. Economic constraints, to put it nicely, prohibited us from her going this year....until a college student dropped out and the door opened for her to go for $500 (flight and rooms, with a few other perks). God answered her prayer, so she is off at the end of the week on another singing venture.

As I said earlier, the legendary Bluegrass stars, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, along with all the Foggy Mountain Boys performed at Carnegie Hall back in 1962. Years ago, I borrowed my brother-in-law's record album of that performance. I later recorded a cassette tape off the record (copyright lawyers, take note: In those days there was no way to find the record or a cassette around here). In recent years, I noticed that the Flatt and Scruggs at Carnegie concert had been reissued in its entirety on compact disk. (A hint to all fans of BH: I would really like to have that CD. See picture below.)

The Flatt and Scruggs concert and record/cassette tape/CD is an outstanding piece of work. It is a live performance, so it includes the cheers and screams of a New York audience in 1962 (a little over a year prior to the Beatles' arrival)hearing some of the finest Bluegrass music, which was just beginning to break into new audiences with the folk music revival. And the recording includes Lester Flatt's wonderful commentary on the songs. "Back home, a band might just be a fiddle and a banger picker...."

The high point of the recording comes from the crowd on the earlier songs. As they cheered at the end of each song, you could hear folks yelling out, "Martha White...Martha White." Finally, Lester says, "I keep hearing some of you callin' for 'Martha White.' I didn't know y'all had heard of that up here. Martha White is a sponsor of ours back in Nashville. I don't know if we can remember all the song or not; we've only been doin' it for about ten year." (And Lester in that Southern idiom, said "year," not "years.") Then the fiddle broke loose and the chorus jumped in,
"Oh you bake right,
with Martha White,
goodness gracious, sakes alive, it's Martha White,
for the finest cornbread, cakes, and pies,
it's Martha White self-risin' flour,
one all purpose flour,
it's Martha White self-risin' flour,
it's got Hot Rize."

Along with the collection of bluegrass, folk, gospel, and country songs that Flatt and Scruggs picked up from their former boss, Bill Monroe, they included some of their own work. Of course, their music always featured the distinctive three finger style banjo picking of Earl Scruggs, along with the dobro (or 'hound dog')playing of Josh Graves. Flatt's mild and distinctive voice worked well with the harmonies of the group. I cannot remember who played fiddle for their band, but I always get cold chills when I hear him playing a dance number where he thumped the body of the fiddle while playing the strings. It added a percussive sound to the jig, which is already explosive from the fiddle and banjo combination. All in all, a great performance.

But back to Stephanie: I am so excited about her getting to sing again at Carnegie Hall. And I hope she enjoys seeing "South Pacific" on Broadway and seeing the art museum. (Alas, she probably won't go to the Strand Book Store, which is the only thing I would care to see in New York.) I wish I could be there for her performance, but it is good for her that I will not be there. I would have to yell out at the end of each song, "Martha White...Martha White."

A legendary performance in music history.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Ringing Bell

By Nick
So much of Christian Rock music today dissapoints me. A brief trip to the Music section of your local "Christian Store" (It's not a bookstore anymore.), reveals the culprits: Sappy worship bands, derivative pop acts, vapid rock bands with largely teenage-girl fandbases, and groups that seem more of an excuse to listen to metal than actual art. Fortunately, there are some Christian artists out there who are not musically egregious and/or lyrically jejune.(I love that word.) Derek Webb is one of them.
Derek Webb is a really cool bald guy who started out with the Christian pop/folk/worship-ish band Caedmon's Call (highly recommended), before striking out on his own. His albums have created controversy among listeners-meaning his songs actually say something worth hearing instead of "If you wanna live life loud, throw your hands up" and other tripe like that. Webb's albums are probably the best musical example of applying a Biblical Worldview, at least that I have heard.
The Ringing Bell is Derek Webb's most rockish album to date. Musically, it falls somewhere in the territory of amplified Dylan, the Rubber Soul/Revolver era Beatles, or the early Rolling Stones. What sets it apart from the early 60s rock it emulates is Derek Webb's scratchy voice and his thoughtfull Lyrics. The album kicks off, oddly enough, with a baby's heartbeat, and dives in to it's first song, titled "The End". One line out of that song "We've really got to stop talking and thinking like kids", could sum up the album entirely. "The End" segues into "The Very End", a more mellow love song for Derek's wife. Webb's Christian Worldview comes out in all his songs "A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fears", a more guitar driven song,combines awesome riffs with almost riddle-like lyrics "I Wanna Marry You All Over Again" is one of the few songs I've ever heard that is sexy in a Christian Way. Yes, I really did say that. Listen to it and you'll see what I mean. "I Don't Want To Fight" sounds like it's about Church Politics, of all things, proving that Webb can write a good song about anything. "Name" is another riff driven song, this time about labeling people. "Can't Be Without You" is another love song, this one sounding like it's about dating, sort of, countered by "An I For An I", which is a hate song. "A Savior on Capitol Hill" shows off Webb in his blues jam mode, and the final song "This Too Shall Be Made Right" is a bleak, but ultimately hopeful acoustic track about what's wrong in the world.
Webb's lyrics make the album. His songs deal with hate, conflict, politics, and human behavior. Fortunately, he's no know-it-all humorless singer-songwriter, and he is as witty as he is insightful. Check this line from "I Wanna Marry You All Over Again." "I Wanna buy you a diamond ring/and then we'll run into my ex-girlfriend." Priceless.
Derek Webb also manages the tricky feat of writing political songs without supporting some human political agenda. Instead of openly supporting Democrats (like Green Day) or Republicans (Like Toby Keith), Derek Webbs's political songs are more about the Kingdom of God and the failure of humans to rule biblically than about party politics. Maybe he's a minarchist. Hmmm....
The only major flaw in this album is that it's too short. Several of the songs, especially "Savior", are only about two minutes long, and most lack guitar solos. Also, the 60s vibe might get a little annoying if you're not in the mood for it. But those are simply sins of omission-the record is close to being flawless.
Bottom line-If you want Christian Rock that is actually Biblical, as opposed to just a Christian gloss over pop/emo/metal/whatever, check out Derek Webb, and his album The Ringing Bell.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cowboy Copas Discovered

Recently I came home and discovered that my son, Nicholas, the co-editor of this blog, had been listening to my Cowboy Copas album. Particularly, he was focusing on Copas' incredible guitar picking in his great hit "Alabam.'

My interest in Copas was re-awakened last summer when I read John Roger Simon's book Cowboy Copas and the Golden Age of Country Music. The beginnings of my interest must go back to around 1969 when I bought a record album of Copas' music. Before that, I knew of him through a song called "Sunny Tennessee" that he sang on one of those many country combination albums, which introduced me to many singers.
I was around 13 years old at the time. The kids I knew did not usually listen to country music, and when I did come across someone who liked country music, they were listening to the more popular and current artists of that time, such as Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, or Charlie Pride.

I had no one to tell me that there was something wrong with a kid listening to Cowboy Copas, who had died in 1963. I was marching to a different drummer, or to be more exact, listening to a different style of guitar playing. John Lennon, Jimmy Hendrix, and Simon & Garfunkel did not appeal to me. (In later years, I have learned to appreciate the last duo mentioned, but still don't generally choose on my own to listen to them.) Copas' music was always calling me back (and he was not alone) to an older era in music and to a type of country music that was not being manufactured in recording studios to "appeal to a wider audience." Copas and others knew that there were enough farmers and factory workers and housewives and even goofy 13 year old boys out there listening to the music that had grown out of the southern, rural, and country experiences. (In Lloyd Estel Copas' case, southern meant southern Ohio.)

He epitomized the country singer of that era. He was tall and lanky, and he wore an oversized white cowboy hat and highly decorated suits. The clothes were part of the entertainment, a sign that the singer was there to give the fans something they were not used to seeing on the farm or assembly line.

I often wonder what would have happened to Copas if he had not died in that airplane crash that was so devastating to the world of country music. He had been a popular singer in the early fifties, and then with the advent of Elvis, he had faded. Then in the early sixties, his hit "Alabam" gave country fans a driving beat with lyrics and melody to dance to. He was a major comeback star.

What if Copas had not died in 1963?

With his resonate baritone voice, would he have been transformed into one of those dinner club singers with violins and a chorus of voices behind him? Ray Price certainly excelled in his older country music, but did many great songs after his mid-1960s transition. (So did Eddy Arnold.) Or would Copas have stuck to his style, like Porter Waggoner, and simply held on to his fame by his unchanging methods? I tend to think that he might have had a third come-back as a star. The Outlaws might have adopted him as one of their own, or the revival of pure country sounds, such as that of Randy Travis and George Strait, might have called attention to his music.

Of course, many country singers faded from the greater prominence and have been ignored by most radio stations, but they continued on through their days appearing on the Opry--and maybe a few small shows across the land--singing their big hits from decades ago.

With Copas, we will never know. But I will call again for the powers that be to put this legend in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

[The album pictured below is not the one I own. But the cover is almost exactly the same. My album is titled "Alabam," but it has the same picture of Copas standing in front of the grand WSM microphone. I have yet to discover--and perhaps it does not exist--a good two to four compact disk set of the essential or greatest songs of Cowboy Copas.]

John Roger Simon's biography of Copas fills in many details of his life, such as the fact that he was from Ohio and not Oklahoma as was often claimed. The book is published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation in Ashland, Kentucky.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Joshua Tree

By Nick

Bands and artists who become famous tend to go through three stages. First, they burst onto the scene with a fresh new sound. People hearing them for the first time are amazed. Fans try to convince all their friends to drop all their other bands and listen to this new one. Second, the band's new sound catches on with the mainstream public and they become famous, get a good record deal, have big-name tours, platinum albums, number one hits, etc. Thirdly, they become so ubiquitous that they usually reach such a level of pompousness that they implode. They start to water their music down with vapid pop influences, or their producers take over their studio time and downgrade their music. Their record label begins to demand that they record covers of 1980s dance music classics. Indie-ish music fans who have the same feeling about famous musicians that kids have about broccoli start denying that they were ever fans: "What? (Insert Alternative Rock Band Name Here)? They're just sell-outs." And finally, critics who promoted their music before they were big become jaded and dismiss their music without thinking.
U2s breakthrough album was the Joshua Tree, which catapulted them to household names. While it's tempting to write a review dismissing U2 as self-important snobs who write really slow songs that don't sound like AC/DC, I don't write for Rolling Stone, so I won't write that kind of review. Instead, I will try to scrub my mind clean of any negative connotations and review this album like it was fresh.
U2 is a band that is defined by it's style, an haunting ethereal sound canvas mainly painted by Bono's soaring vocals and The Edge's inventive guitar sonics. The album starts out with "Where The Streets Have No Name", beginning with an almost church music feel provided by an organ before breaking out into the fast rhythm guitar that has characterised U2. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and "With or Without You" are very good, solid songs, although their greatness has been somewhat tarnished by overexposure through radio and other means. Still, even if a song has been played 1,000 times, it's still a good song.
Musically and Lyrically, the album is all about redemption, whether through God or through a Woman (or both). The album covers a large range of emotions that are set in perfect counterpoint. The tense and bleak "Bullet The Blue Sky", (I dare you to listen to this song in a pitch black room at night with your closet door open.) is set off by the incredibly relaxed "Running to Stand Still", which musically is close to something that someone's grandmother might have sung at church. "Red Hill Mining Town", the albums anthem of hope, is juxtaposed with the ambiguous "In God's Country". And so on.
It is easy to pick out the flaws in this record. Bono's voice and The Edge's guitar licks are either great or awful, depending on your mood. "Trip Through Your Wires" is U2s attempt to write a blues song, which seems to happen every album. U2s style works for soaring anthems and emotional ballads; with a few exceptions, it does not work for blues jams. "Trip Through Your Wires" sounds half like an attempt to turn U2 into a classic rock band and half like a drunken bar song. "One Tree Hill", despite having good lyrics, is a bit too bouncy and happy for a song written about a guy's funeral. And "Exit" was mixed so quietly that you either have to crank your stereo up to 11 or put your ear on the speaker to actually hear anything. Not sure if this was just a mistake that never got corrected or if it's on purpose.
However, I shouldn't go so far in criticizing a truly epic album. Bono's lyrics give what could have been a pretensious project into an amazing exploration of the themes of grace and redemption. Bono's lyrics aren't cutesy "positive and encouraging" waffle,(Think Mainstream Christian Pop), or endlessly despairing(Think Nirvana). Instead, the band shows life as it really is, with all of it's horrible, ugly warts, but also heartbreaking beauty. Or, as the Foo Fighters said so well, "Echoes and Silence, Patience and Grace."

Roots of Bluegrass Music in Sonnet Form

Mountain Music

Living in cabins set in valleys wrapped in hills of oak,
Folk who fit ‘ginst Indian, plagues, pests, Yankee and Redcoat,
Whose planting and harvesting were metered to epic rhyme,
Family and clan whose ties to land bound them against time.
They had songs of old, tunes, jigs, and reels pulsing in their blood,
Philosophers with fiddles preserved truth, beauty, and good.
When they buried, they cried to God in mournful ancient chants,
Preachers lined the Sabbath hymns of faith-weary supplicants.
Ballads were hummed with the whipoorwhills on warm summer nights,
When lonesome hearts longed for the hopeful flickering of lights.
In winter’s snow, song and hearth joined the whirring cold of wind,
When the folk longed for Jerusalem’s mountain to descend.

Both songs of death and life were paced to dance by,
For the day, for the night, for the rugged folk to survive.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Grand Ole Opry Flooded

With all the sorrows and miseries accompanying last week's floodings in middle Tennessee, there was the additional sad story of the flooding of the Grand Ole Opry building. Of course, no mere waters were able to stop the historic Friday and Saturday night performances. When the current or "new" Opry building cannot be used, the show moves back to the Mother Church of Country Music, generally known as the Ryman Auditorium.

Of major concern was the historic round portion of the Opry stage that came from the old building. This was the portion of the stage where Hank Williams, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash and a host of other country singers stood when they performed on the Opry stage during the Golden Years of Country Music.

If we were Medievals, we would all believe that merely viewing that portion of the Opry stage would shave off 500 to 1000 years of listening to rancous rock or elevator music in music Purgatory.

But Luther, that pioneer who saw the connection between the bar songs and hymns, helped push the Medieval world past the errors of that age and into the Reformation. And, the Reformation ultimately reached the British Isles, including Scotland where the deeply ingrained old tunes were preserved in the heritage of those folks. From there, the music skipped across the ocean to the Appalachians until such time as the Bristol Recording sessions, featuring the Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers, made the music universal. (Yes, I am saying that the Reformation led to the development of Country Music. In some future blog, I will highlight the writings of yet another founding father of Country Music, the poet John Donne.)

At any rate, the historic portion of the Opry floor has been rescued. Seats, walls, facilities, and the other things can be replaced, but that portion of wood was special. It is hard to see from the picture how it was rescued; nevertheless, singers will be able--in time--to stand where the legends stood.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

House of Heroes

By Nick
The first time I listened to House of Heroes, I was not particularly impressed. I brushed them off as just another Pop/Punk band, like a grim, humorless version of Relient K. Two albums and one concert later, my opinion has been totally changed. I now consider House of Heroes to be the Next Great Thing in Rock music, and totally renounce any former slights against them.

House of Heroes' music is like nothing ever heard before. Critics have compared it to Rush, The Beatles, and Relient K. Their music, although familiar, is quite their own. Imagine the best of 90s and 2000s rock thrown into a blender and that is possible the most adequate description.

Their First major album, Say No More, has songs that range the gamut from "Fast Enough" which sounds like Green Day if they quit writing tired political rants and started experimenting more. The upbeat "Friday Night" sounds like a less nerdy incarnation of Weezer, and "Mercedes Baby" feels like what Relient K would perform if they ever grew up. What truly distinguishes House of Heroes is their "everything-and-the-Kitchen-sink" approach. Instead of writing a bunch of verse-chorus-verse three-minute-pop songs, they stretch the limits of song structure with prog-punk in "You Are The Judas of The Cheerleading Squad", which seems like a super-fun excercise in throwing everything possible into a song. And it's awesome.

Their follow-up album The End is Not The End, is even better, if that is possible. The album has a vaguely World War II theme to it. It opens up with "If", a "song about love" that would be a huge pop smash if the world was sane. The album then glides into "Lose Control", whose opening metal riff could make it the most awesome sports anthem ever, even beating Metallica's "Enter Sandman". The next song, "Leave You Now", is a strangely upbeat tune about a POW, featuring an awesome solo, which proves that inde-alternative rock people can shred. "Dangerous" would be on C.S. Lewis' iPod if he liked fun stuff like this (It's hard, but not impossible, to imagine C.S. Lewis having an iPod.) "In The Valley Of The Dying Sun", the album's highlight, is the "Carry On Wayward Son" of the 21st century. It tells the story of Jacob and the Angel, the music moving along with the story. "Code Name:Raven" another awesome concept song, this time about a French Spy in World War II, follows up. Espionage was never this groovy. The beautiful acoustic ballad "By Your Side" effectively divides the album in half, and proves that House of Heroes' ballads are as good, if not better, than their fast hard songs.
The second half of the album drags on a bit, and falls into a bit of Pop/Punkish Hey-girl, Whoa-oh nonsense. And then there's the one blemish on the album: "Baby's a Red". Nothing Like Professing your love for a system that killed 100 million people. "Voices" however, makes up for it by including a preacher talking during the end. (Not quite as good as the preacher in "Underdog" by Audio Adrenaline, but everything was better in the 90s). The album ends on a high note with "Field of Daggers" about the horrors and ravages of war. If you have the special-ish edition, you get the two bonus acoustic tracks, "New Moon" (Nothing to do with that girly vampire movie) and "Ghost". The first is a sort of artsy acoustic rock track, and the second is perhaps the saddest song in the world.

And in an ADD moment, it's interesting to note that the songs "By Your Side" and "Code Name:Raven" present fighting for your something honorable. It's nice to see that unlike so many UnAmerican Idiots in the music business, is showing some respect for the military, even if it is in World War II

Of course, no all-round survey of an artist would be complete without accounting for their live performances. House of Heroes replicates their four part harmonies as much as possible onstage, and almost all their songs sound like they do on their Records. They also do some awesome Beatles covers.

In the End, House of Heroes is one of the best modern rock bands that no one has ever heard of. Compared to them, Green Day sounds tired, Kings of Leon is monotone, Blink-182 is snarky, Breaking Benjamin is disgusting (Well, Breaking Benjamin is disgusting anyway.), and Three Doors Down is simply boring. Forget what you've heard about modern rock. House of Heroes is the best there is.

(And they also all have really cool last names.)

The Ugly guy with the hat is me.

Adendum to the Bluegrass Music

By Nick

Alongside the great classic Bluegrass artists described below, many newer Bluegrass artists have gained popularity in the last 30 years.

Ricky Skaggs started out playing Mandolin at a young age and for a brief moment at age 5 played with Bill Monroe on stage. After a successful career in mainstream country music, he left his label, tired of playing music that he didn't like. He formed (I believe) a new band, Kentucky Thunder, and began playing the music that he had grown up on: Bluegrass. Skaggs's style is very technical, with long and complicated solos. Ricky's talent on the mandolin is gargatuan. Mixed in with his faster, more solo based songs are his ballads, usually about the country themes of God and family. Skaggs is a bit more cosmopolitan than his inspiration, Bill Monroe, and he recorded an entire album with Bruce Hornsby, which included a Bluegrass rendition of "Super Freak" by Rick James. I have not listened to the album (yet), but with a cover like that, it has to be good.

Interestingly enough, my dad and I had the chance to see Ricky Skaggs in a Cracker Barrel in Franklin, Tennessee. Our table was next to his, but separated by a thin partition. We could feel the talent.

Marty Stuart is another young bluegrass prodigy who started performing at a young age, and ended up playing with Lester Flatt in his late teens. He then graduated to playing guitar for Johnny Cash before going solo. His early music in his solo career blended country, roots rock and bluegrass. His later music is more bluegrass influenced, but his musical range is such that he is equally at home in Nashville or Memphis. He is known for his amazing hair, his slightly rascally personality, and his marriages to Cindy Cash and Connie Smith (who is about 20 years his senior)

Alison Krauss is another Bluegrass singer and musician who started off at a young age. Despite not having performed with a legend like Marty or Ricky, she joined the Grand Old Opry at 21. She performed on the Soundtracks to O Brother, Where Art Thou, and Cold Mountain, among others. Her most recent Cd is a collaboration with Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant. Despite not having a Bluegrass rendition of "Stairway to Heaven", it has gotten good reviews from the press, whatever that means.

Many Newer bluegrass groups have come out in the last few years who combine bluegrass with overtones of indie, American folk, or singer-songwriter music. Some of these groups include Nickel Creek, Sarah Jarosz, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops,Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand, and The Infamous Stringdusters. I have only dabbled in this music, but much of it sounds good.

Jazz has always been an influence on bluegrass music: Bill Monroe's "Rocky Road Blues" swings as much as anything by Louis Armstrong. Sarah Jarosz blends bluegrass instrumentation with music in the vein of Jazz-influenced singer-songwriters like Norah Jones. I look forward to being able to listen to and review more new bluegrass acts. In addition to that, she looks eerily like Anna Popplewell, best known for her role as Susan in The Chronicles of Narnia films.

Bluegrass By Morning

During the month of April and on through to the end of school, Nicholas has dedicated our mornings to celebrating Bluegrass music. He has been working through our collection that includes lots of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, older songs by Ralph and Carter Stanley, and Ricky Skaggs. Along with these great artists, we have heard Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Flatt and Scruggs, Marty Stuart, and compilation CDs containing a variety of artists and songs. Bluegrass music provides a strong surge for folks getting up and trying to get ready to face the day. The fast rhythms, the deep roots of the songs, and the accustic skills of the musicians give the morning just what is needed.

Bluegrass music is an amazing American phenomenon. Bill Monroe is acknowledged as the Father of the genre of music. It grew out of older forms of country music, gospel music as sung in country churches, and folk ballads reaching as far back as the Scotch-Irish people who settled the Appalachian frontier of America. The old fiddle tunes, the mournful ballads, the simple hymns (often lined out by the song leader, and the lyric poetry of poets who honed their craft with a copy of Robert Burns propped up on their plows formed the roots of Bluegrass music.

Amazingly, even though Bluegrass musicians have formed a unique community in American culture, there have been enough disputes in Bluegrass circles and among the major artist to rival a Presbyterian denomination. First of all, Bill Monroe, for all his creative genius and encouragement toward others furthering the music, set many artists against each other, or more particularly, against him.

Some people questioned whether Bluegrass music was a distinct kind of music. Bluegrass was, they suggested, simply older country music. Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys played with a style similar to Monroe, but Acuff was never considered Bluegrass. The Stanley Brothers always preferred the term Mountain Music over Bluegrass Music. It is a more accurate term, for the bluegrass sections of Kentucky were historically the home of the planter class (complete with fine plantation houses and Thoroughbred horses), while the mountains were more the seedbed of the music.

For a time, Monroe was resentful of the Stanley Brothers. After all, they were playing many of his tunes. In time, they were able to convince Monroe that they were usuing his music because they respected him. Also, in time they were able to develop their own repertoire.

When two of Monroe's key musicians, guitarist and vocalist Lester Flatt and banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs, left to start their own band. For years, Monroe refused to speak to either Lester or Earl even when they passed by each other backstage at the Ryman Auditorium (which was the home of the Grand Ole Opry). After many years, and many outstanding works, Flatt and Scruggs split up. Flatt formed a new band called the Nashville Grass which focused on the traditional music that had swept Flatt and Scruggs to fame. Scruggs, joined by his young long-haired sons, turned more toward more modern, upbeat songs of the youth who were by this time going wild over accustic, folk, and Bluegrass music.

A few years before Lester Flatt died, he was invited to perform at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in Indiana. Bean Blossom was not only one of the greatest yearly festivals, but it was also closely tied to Monroe. It was there that Monroe walked into Flatt's dressing room and stuck out his hand and reconciled with his old friend.
Sadly, Flatt and Scruggs also talked (in Lester Flatt's hospital room right before his death) of getting back together and doing an album. Flatt's untimely death prevented that.

I don't know whether Monroe and Jimmy Martin were ever reconciled. Martin was another of the guitarists and vocalists who went through the revolving door of being a Blue Grass Boy. Martin was often called "the King of Bluegrass Music." Surely that must have rankled the proud Monroe. For some reason, Monroe managed to block Martin from being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry. When I was a young teenager, my parents and I went to the Friday Night Opry (the poor man's chance to hear the Opry entertainers). Not only was Monroe there, but so were Flatt and Martin. I would never have guessed that they had any rivalries or conflicts.

Sonny and Bobby Osborne created a row when they added electrification to their already highly charged musical style. They wanted the upbeat driving force that could appeal to younger audiences, but they also just wanted to be heard.

All kinds of other conflicts have occurred within the big family of artists. Even the word Bluegrass is part of the controversy. Monroe's band name and spelling was Blue Grass, but the compound word Bluegrass has come to be more dominant.

Much of the music industry has been hostile or indifferent toward Bluegrass artists. Even when the predominantly Bluegrass collection and soundtrack for the movie "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" was the number one album, radio stations rarely if ever played their music. Ricky Skaggs, who was originally a bluegrass mandolin player who played in Flatt's band, was directed toward other kinds of country music for years before he returned to his Bluegrass roots.

But with all the controversies and challenges aside, Bluegrass music is alive and well. You can hear it often at our house and in our cars. Right now, you can hear it each morning.