In this half of our century there have been three preeminently influential guitar players: Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, and Arthel "Doc" Watson, a flat-picking genius from Deep Gap, NC. Unlike the other two, Watson was in middle age before gaining any attention. Since 1960, though, when Watson was recorded with his family and friends in Folkways' Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, people have remained in awe of this gentle blind man who sings and picks with a pure and emotional authenticity. The present generation, folkies and country pickers alike, including Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, the late Clarence White, Emmylou Harris, and literally hundreds of others, acknowledge their great debt to Watson. Watson has provided a further service to country/folk by his encyclopedic knowledge of many American traditional songs. While Merle Travis and Chet Atkins started on acoustic guitars and moved to electric, before Watson's "discovery" during the folk revival in the early '60s, he played electric in a local all-purpose band that played current rock, swing, country, and of course folk music. He gained recognition gradually, first from the Clarence Ashley album, which led to a rave performance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. Folkways soon recorded an album of Watson, followed in 1964 by a series of albums by Vanguard, nearly one a year through the decade. No sooner had interest in folk music waned than Watson was back in great demand because of the three-disc Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a watershed album in 1972 that was created by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It featured Watson, Merle Travis, Roy Acuff, and a Who's Who of country greats. Merle, Watson's son and a talent in his own right, began appearing with his father regularly. The result was good enough for them to win two Grammys for traditional music, in 1973 and 1974. Father and son played beautiful music together for over fifteen years, until Merle died on the family farm in 1985, the sad victim of a tractor accident.Watson continues with his appearances, showcasing his beautiful voice, his great instrumental talent, and his mastery of traditional material. He is an American treasure. ~ David Vinopal
Biography of Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe invented bluegrass music and reinvented the mandolin, two of the many reasons he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has for decades been a tower in country music, as influential as The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Williams. His band, The Blue Grass Boys, has yielded graduates who make up a Who's Who in bluegrass history, including Flatt And Scruggs, Reno and Smiley, Mac Wiseman, and Carter Stanley. No one has shown greater love for the music, nor done more to promote it, than Bill Monroe. From 1927, when he and his brothers got a band together, up to the present, Bill Monroe has toured and played in schools and cellars and tents and auditoriums and in the open; as of this writing, he has been on the road for over 55 years. And he obviously loves what he does at least as much now as when he started. He'll perform his beloved bluegrass until he dies. It's difficult to imagine any type of music having a stronger advocate.
With Bill on mandolin, Charlie on guitar, and Birch on fiddle, in 1934 The Monroe Brothers played on a Chicago radio station, then moved to the Carolinas, where Bill and Charlie cut some records in 1936. The duo's sound was much closer to the prevailing duet sounds at the time than to what evolved into bluegrass. Two years later the band separated, with Bill moving on to an Atlanta radio station and forming the first of his many Blue Grass Boys configurations. By October 1939, when he debuted on the Opry with "Mule Skinner Blues" (a Jimmie Rodgers song), he had already established his trademarks -- the high, pure tenor and the powerful instrumental leads on the mandolin. In 1945 Earl Scruggs and his banjo entered the band, and the bluegrass sound was complete. When Earl Scruggs left three years later, Bill Monroe replaced him with the first of a long succession of Scruggs-style banjo pickers. As band members came and went, The Monroe sound stayed intact.
As country music tastes have changed over the last half-century, so have most of the acts, with performers understandably trying to make a better living from prevailing musical fads. But not Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. In feast or famine, Bill's sound has remained the same -- that high and lonesome tenor, the mastery of the mandolin, and that unyielding determination to protect and preserve the bluegrass music he so loves. ~ David Vinopal