So is it pick then grin, or grin then pick?
July 12, 2013 9:14 AM   Subscribe

What Bluegrass should I really dig into to get a feel for the style?

I've started playing bass with a working Bluegrass band. Which is great. The problem is that my bluegrass knowledge is just enough to be an o.k. Bluegrass bass player. I want to be a GREAT Bluegrass bass player. I've got the chops, and at the audition they raved about my sound, so I don't think that's a problem, but I need to learn the musical language.

So what do YOU as a Bluegrass musician\listener\random-person-who-has-a-Bluegrass-song-they-love recommend I listen to? Bonus points if it involves a great bass player, and even better if you can explain what it is you like about it. Everything from: groups; specific recordings; standard songs I need to know; to Pod-casts is welcome.

Oh and I have been going through the older bluegrass questions on askme, and know about Bela Fleck's work with both Edgar Meyer and Victor Wooten.
posted by Gygesringtone to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My current favorites, big on the Virginia bluegrass-festival circuit, are Larry Keel and Jake and the Burtones.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:28 AM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: WAMU Bluegrass Country is available for online streaming and it offers a huge number of shows that feature different styles and eras, interviews with contemporary artists, and so on. For example, I was listening to a show the other day where they were taking several bluegrass classics and playing multiple examples of recordings over the years showing how different groups and artists reinterpreted or paid homage to the original (like, there was a long segment on "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and how it was originally written/recorded by Bill Monroe in 3/4 waltz time but then converted into 4/4 first by Elvis Presley and then brought back into the bluegrass fold that same year by a 4/4 recording by the Stanley Brothers).

I would recommend you just start listening to it on the regular to get an education into the history and current state of the art in bluegrass music. Some of the shows that might be most valuable to you are broadcast at inconvenient times (like Bluegrass Master Class at 4 am EST) but there's probably some way to figure out how to capture the stream.
posted by drlith at 9:29 AM on July 12, 2013

I'm no expert by any means, but any time a random skeptical friend says that they just don't get bluegrass, I play them a song off this album of Doc Watson/Bill Monroe duets. I figure if they don't like THAT, then there's no hope for 'em. (The album's on Spotify too!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:31 AM on July 12, 2013

Well, as far as classic, pure, archetypical bluegrass ensemble recordings go it doesn't get much more wonderful than Flatt & Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Banjo... which inexplicably seems to be out of print at the moment. You may be able to find it scattered around YouTube... it's a very short album, but really excellent start to finish. My favorite track is Home Sweet Home.

To be honest, what I like so much about this particular album is that it's instrumental and really showcases the musicians. (I'm not crazy about most bluegrass vocals, but I know that's mostly my own hangup.)
posted by usonian at 9:44 AM on July 12, 2013

I've really been digging The Infamous Stringdusters lately. Not so much because they're canonical bluegrass, but because they're just jaw-droppingly good musicians. Look them up in your favorite online music service and see what else comes up.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:32 AM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: I'm also an ok bluegrass bassist (a music project I'm doing is in my profile, if you're interested). I think Mike Bubb, who used to play with Del McCoury, is one of the best bass players around. There's also a guy who played with a band called Open Road...unfortunately I can't remember his name, but he still tours with other bands and is a terrific bass player. The bassist for Della Mae is also wonderful. You can't go wrong with those three bands for getting some good sounds in your ear. For the classic bluegrass, of course, you've got to start with Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, the Louvins, etc. Good luck!
posted by Ollie at 11:09 AM on July 12, 2013

Ben O'Connor was the bass player for Open Road.
posted by Ollie at 11:16 AM on July 12, 2013

Also (last comment and I'll stop) my husband, who's a bluegrass singer and guitarist, says what he likes in a bass player--and what is especially great about Mike Bubb--is someone who will physically pick up the bass and move it behind the person taking the break, so the soloist has the benefit of that very loud rhythmic support. But keep in mind that Bubb suffered from tendonitis after years of doing this, and for someone like me, who's smaller than the bass, it isn't possible. But it definitely is an asset if you can manage it, strength-wise.
posted by Ollie at 11:25 AM on July 12, 2013

Best answer: For the core of the genre, you need to listen to Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, & the Stanley Brothers. Their recordings will teach you most of the standards you should know.

I tend to think of CO bluegrass bands as being slightly off from the core -- not as progressive as the Infamous Stringdusters, Punch Brothers, etc.., but also not the same as bands from KY/TN/VA. For that sound listen to Tim O'Brien/Hot Rize, Sam Bush, or Peter Rowan.

I would agree with the Mike Bubb recommendation above. He's a great contemporary bass player. Also Bryn Bright is great.
posted by Burgoo at 4:33 AM on July 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all. All of these are just the kind of answers I was hoping for, and every one got me to some great listening. I got so far down the rabbit-hole yesterday that I forgot to mark best answers.
posted by Gygesringtone at 8:45 AM on July 15, 2013

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