Not really sure whether it's our alcohol mixture, some pharmacological imbalance our sex life or just male menopausal phenomena, but lately Lonesome, Onry and Mean has been on an evil bluegrass jag. Nothing like playing our Stanley Brothers 45-rpm of "If I Lose" - "If I lose, let me lose/ I don't care how much I lose/ If I lose a hundred dollars while I'm tryin' to win a dime/ My baby, she's got money all the time" - to make us feel like drinkin' a barrel of moonshine, sharpening our razor and ambushin' some revenuers or strangling the no-good lyin' woman who done us wrong and burying her down in the holler by the sycamore tree. Here are a few of the meaner nuggets in constant rotation this past week:Stanley Brothers, "Rank Stranger":
Certainly the Coen Brothers'O Brother, Where Art Thou
, with its spot-on Dan Timiniski version of the Stanleys'"Man of Constant Sorrow,"
brought both bluegrass and Ralph Stanley back into the public consciousness after a long period of dormancy where the music was literally of interest to few people beyond the rabid aficianados LOM often refers to as Bluegrass Nazis.
LOM's mother didn't care for bluegrass, but our father did, and he handled our education in the music of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers. People always think of bluegrass as some kind of high-speed breakdown, but check the pace on this classic. We never see these old black and white clips that we don't think of the old lyric, "It takes a worried man to sing a worried song." These guys look worried - and more than a little dangerous.
Flatt and Scruggs, "Randy Lynn Rag": Veterans of Bill Monroe's band, these guys paved the way for bluegrass to move into the modern era when they teamed with Bob Dylan producer Bob Johnston and began to cut Dylan songs bluegrass-style. They also struck gold and fame with their theme to the popular television show Beverly Hillbillies.
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But LOM was deeply immersed in the brilliance of Flatt and Scruggs long before he knew of Dylan or Jed Clampett. There's only one way to describe this band of psych-hillbillies, which included Hylo Brown (bass) and Josh Graves (dobro): they're badasses. If you ever wondered where Jerry Douglas picked up his faster-than-a-Ginzu-chef picking style, check out Graves on dobro.
Bill Monroe, "Uncle Pen": The Father of Bluegrass. Most historians attribute the evolution of string band and mountain music into the more modern form known as bluegrass to Monroe. When Earl Scruggs joined Monroe's band - which already contained eventually legendary players Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Cedric Rainwater - in 1945, the band that scholars would eventually refer to as the first true bluegrass band was complete. Their Columbia recordings in 1945-46 remain the Holy Grail of bluegrass.
Check back later this week, when we'll delve into some of the earliest, scariest Appalachian pickers, singers, and writers.