The Sad Reality of Bluegrass

by | 5 Jan, 2020 | 1 comment

Hey Ozzie,
My friends (not musicians) tell me that the bluegrass songs I sing are too dark for them. They say bluegrass is a sad genre, often about bad people. Are they right?

I think they’re being too hard on the music. Sure Poor Ellen Smith is a song about a woman shot through the heart lying cold on the ground. And yes, Lost and I’ll Never Find a Way is about a manic depressive. I agree that ‘Gold Watch and Chain’ is about a lover dumping his girl at the wharf and sailing away never to think of her again. And it’s true that Jesse James is about a psychopathic killer. Recall Wildwood flower? It’s an agonising song about a boy who promises a pretty virgin that he’ll always be true then dumps her at the first opportunity, and she swears vengeance. Then there’s Bill Monroe’s classic, My Last Days on Earth is all about his fear of death. That black man’s moan, Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad might be all about slavery, but white boys still suffer too, as that bouncy little number Pain in My Heart explains.

But there are compensations in the repertoire. For example, We Live in Two Different Worlds is a jaunty piece about a man who realises that he and his girlfriend are so different morally, ethically and financially, that they must split up before the real damage occurs. All he suffers is a badly broken heart and a lifetime of mourning regret. Or there’s that all-round classic All the Good Times are Dead and Gone about a man so blue he looks like he’s been out on the freezing ice pack all night in only a pair of jocks. Of course, you’ve got to choose your stuff carefully. Search for happy stuff. Pig in a Pen is popular, but keep it away from social media. That bit about the guy wanting a pretty little girl to hang around and feed his pig while he’s gone might prompt a bit of negative chatter.

1 Comment

  1. Howard Miller

    I am not certain when Bluegrass Music became a “Thinking seriously about what you are singing and stop having a great time doing it.?” I for one, had never given a serious thought to the outcome of “a long black veil” or “Mother is in Heaven”, especially when singing the words. Not certain Dr Ralph Stanley saw himself as a Psychiatrist who is burdened with healing all the troubles of the World.? I do believe our “modern society” has, ? to use a term, “Got a bit inside itself by the reverse method” and that really we should simply enjoy a good lyric and a good melody and good instruments and good harmonies. the only mention about serious thinking is ? seriously getting all those thing as best as you can.? Something wrong with all that.? Come back later ? I’m tuning up the five string, “Got an itch I have to scratch,?