Bluegrass In The City

Somewhere along the winding gravel road of Bob Dylan’s MusicCares Person Of The Year acceptance speech, he mentioned something that I think is profound.

The term “Hillbilly Music” was coined by Al Hopkins in the 1920’s and continued in use until the late 1950’s.  Dylan credits the Delmore Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, Roscoe Holcomb, and the Skilletlickers in his speech as examples but they aren’t the only ones.  The music itself, grown in the hills of Appalachia is a melting pot of music bringing together the music from everyone who settled America.  Although originally spanning gospel to Celtic and everything in between, the music became more synonymous with old time and bluegrass musics.  Films like “O Brother” have brought attention back to the music.

Grown in the hills and country, the music came to the city where it attracted new attention and sophistication.  Bands like the Country Gentlemen from Northern Virginia, The New Lost City Ramblers in New York City played traditional American music to a whole new audience.

Here is a cut from another New York City group, the Greenbriar Boys.  John Herald, Ralph Rinzler, and Bob Yellin started playing in the Greenwich Village area.  They opened for and provided backup for Joan Baez.  Given the folk circuit of the day, they certainly played along side Bob Dylan as he first showed up in New York.  This cut, “Russian Around” is one of my favorites.  A simple instrumental featuring banjo and guitar, I think it’s significant because it has one of the earliest guitar breaks I can think of that effortlessly mixes cross picking and single string styles.  Although you hear similar breaks today, this is really a ground breaking instrumental.


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