Country Music People October 2017 - Page 14

What made bluegrass become a separate genre? The big change came in 1954 with the emergence of Elvis Presley and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll took off like a rocket - especially with the newly titled, ‘teenagers,’ a youth culture that had arisen since the end of World War II. Young people, unlike pre-war generations, demonstrated their independence by no longer dressing and acting like their parents but choosing, as it were, ‘to do their own thing.’ What is more, they now had disposable income with which they could purchase recordings of their favourite pop artists and so became a lucrative target for the music industry. The electrically amplified sound of rock ‘n’ roll became so popular that it made the acoustic sound of fiddles and banjos sound old fashioned. The raw, acoustic sound of bluegrass became exposed, highlighting its difference. It also provided an alternative for those who, in the early days, saw rock ‘n’ roll as subversive and degenerate. Bluegrass, with its grounding in church and family and its ready inclusion of gospel music, provided as they thought, a safe haven from rock ‘n’ roll, considered by some to be, ‘the devils music.’ The great irony in this near-death blow to bluegrass was that Elvis’ first hit single, That’s Alright Mama, had as its B side, Blue Moon Of Kentucky, a song written by bluegrass music’s creator, Bill Monroe. What became of bluegrass music after the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll? When it looked as if bluegrass had been backed into a corner and was in danger of being relegated to a position of a regional, minor curiosity, along came an unexpected saviour in the guise of the folksong revival. Back in the 1930s, a bunch of left wing activists - including folk singers: Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers together with the staff of the magazine, Peoples Songs (predecessor of Sing Out!) - recognised that folk songs were the songs of the common people and, as such, required preservation and propagation. By the mid-1950s, the growing number of those interested in folk music had begun to disregard the political dimension and to enjoy the music for its own intrinsic qualities. In fact, it became, for a time, the ‘in’ thing, and set a growing trend. One of the chief trendsetters was none other than, Pete Seeger, who in 1954, had revised his 5-string banjo instruction book to include three-finger picking (Scruggs Style), which of course, also means, bluegrass style. When Seeger voiced his approval of bluegrass as legitimate folk music, it was taken out of its erstwhile rural, blue-collar, farming setting and introduced to a new and much wider audience. Pete Seeger makes a statement. 14 cmp - OCTOBER 2017