17 October 2017

Introduction

Australian Bluegrass Profiles.

As with all artistic creations, there is the need to recognise the achievements of those who, though sheer tenacity and single-mindedness, have forged a path where none have traveled before. 

In 1939, Bill Monroe’s vision for a new music sound drove him to search. He finally achieved that vision when Earl Scruggs joined the Blue Grass Boys in December of 1945. The definitive sounds of that band featured Cedric Rainwater (Howard Watts) on bass, Chubby Wise on fiddle, Bill Monroe on mandolin, and Lester Flatt on guitar and Earl Scruggs on banjo. This new music form was embraced by the public and a variety of new bands in the following years such as the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, The Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse and many others.

By the 1950′s and 60′s, in another hemisphere, thousands of miles away from it’s birthplace in Kentucky, this new bluegrass music was beginning to take hold in Australia. A dedicated core of pickers were diligently honing their chops from a very limited supply of recordings and scarcely heard radio shows. they were unwittingly preparing to become the ‘keepers of the flame’ downunder.

There were a number of groups recognised as early Australian bluegrass bands. These included The Hayes Brothers and the Bluegrass Ramblers, The Green Willow Boys, The Skillet Lickers and Trev Rick and Dennis. The Hayes Brothers are credited with being Australia’s original bluegrass band, featuring Mike and Peter Hayes, on mandolin and banjo, Roy Taylor on fiddle, Alan Pope on bass and George Harris on guitar. This band is also credited with recording the fist long-playing (LP) record in 1968.

The great players and contributors listed on this website come from all walks of life, and some are better known than others. Their common link is they have, quite simply, achieved the remarkable status of being the genesis of a movement, directly or indirectly inspiring any Australian picker who’s ever sat in a bluegrass / old-time session at one the many festivals now on offer here.

In their day, those wonderful opportunities we now take for granted, were few and far between. Imagine the commitment required in those early decades to first track down recordings, find like-minds to play with and then to rise to a level of mastery, all in a far-off country with absolutely no bluegrass culture at all is in itself a major achievement. Wow, you’d have to love your Bluegrass. By comparison today we enjoy YouTube and the now endless source of online and pre-recorded tuition on CD and DVD’s and the many how to books.

Today, there is a new generation of Australian pickers, who are continuing the ongoing task of leading the Australian Bluegrass scene to ever greater heights and popularity, no doubt inspired by our forefathers.

Around the world the rate of participation is ever-increasing, festivals are growing in size and number and the future is looking strong for an art form that emerged from one man’s vision in the 1940′s.  It is important for us who love bluegrass and old-time music to recognise the achievements of those Australian pioneers who paved the way for our enjoyment. As such, this page will be progressively updated to include more high-achieving contributors to the Australian picking scene.

Next time you catch one of them at a festival, after a concert spot or at a session, tip your hat, buy them a drink, and pay homage to someone who, not only opened the doors that you are now walking through, but made the welcome on the other side mighty warm. We owe these trailblazer’s a nod of gratitude.

John Werner – Gippsland Victoria.

References:

  • The Bill Monroe Reader – 2006, University of Illinois by Tom Ewing
  • Australian Bluegrass Recordings, A History and Discography – John L Boothroyd
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