Traditional Plus

When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus,’ meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play.” – Doc Watson

Music seems to always be evolving, no matter what genre, what country, or what time period. Part of the beauty of creating music is the ability to make a sound your own. Every listener could be said to hear a song “their way,” or perceive their own message from the music being played. Naturally this translates into a vast array of renditions and takes on the preexisting songs and sounds of the time.

The rise of the radio, as mentioned in Robert Cantwell’s piece titled “Hillbilly Music,” set a certain standard for the style of traditional bluegrass as artists like Bill Monroe began to be broadcast nationwide. People as far away as Hawaii were even tuning in to hear the high lonesome sounds of bluegrass.

With the change of times and the wider, faster dissemination of information made possible by the radio, a certain homogenized society tends to form, while the rural isolated traditions seem to lose importance in the minds of the youth.

At the time of the rise of radio, rich the traditions of the backwoods were shared with the world. As these isolated cultures were shared with the masses, so too were the cultures of the masses shared with the backwoods.

In years since, these traditions, songs, stories, and general ways of life have intrigued and brought great joy to people all over the world. That being said, there also seems to be somewhat of a loss of certain primordial customs. Is it possible for a way of life once exposed to the public to avoid influence from outside of tradition? Can a culture truly remain authentic and unadulterated in modern times?

As Cantwell mentions, the old time bluegrass sound was followed by and influenced by Chicago style jazz. The improvisation and breaks seen in the jazz movement of the time were heard in music from groups like the Prairie Ramblers and Clayton McMichen and the Georgia Wildcats.

In the Prairie Ramblers’ “I’ll Never Say ‘Never Again’ Again” elements of the new jazz influence are evident.

Over the years the evolution has continued. The raw purity of the old time, backwoods sound may be nearly as difficult to hear in present day as it would have been living in an urban setting before radio. Collaborations of artists across genres and covers of pop songs in bluegrass style have been made from the beginning. Even for those who treasure old time bluegrass above all other styles cannot deny that often times the result can be both tasteful and eloquent.


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