The Cumberland Gap


Long before the Great Depression the mountain people of the Eastern states of America were poor. They had always been poor. But some Virginian &  Pennsylvania folk went west, that's where the action was. The comfortable stayed at home, the restless went west and they took their music with them.

The folk song Cumberland Gap told the story.

In 1750 the Cumberland Gap was discovered, leading to the fertile bluegrass country of Kentucky. From 1780 there was a massive influx of Irish and the 'poor white trash', or 'hillbillies', who took root in the Appalachians where land was cheap. These communities were more isolated than the earlier settlements on the rich Easter seaboard.

Between 1775-1810 some 200,000 to 300,000 pioneers trekked through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian mountains into Kentucky & Tennessee. Some stopped along the way and from the 1830s the country region was settled and their music thrived and can be post rationalised as two sub genres - 

traditional music; ballads and dance tunes, brought over with the Anglo Celtic immigrants. In this way the Southern Appalachian mountain folk enjoyed their own North America ballads and dance tunes derived from their own tradition of Scottish reels, Irish jigs, and English ballads ... and square dancing & line dancing.
The music followed the ancestral migrations from Scottish folk music, gypsy fiddles & squeeze boxes augmented by Presbyterian congregational participation, across the 12 miles to protestant Ulster and on to the big Atlantic leap from Londonderry to Phidelphia. Their music was generally simple in form & harmony accompanied with characteristic fiddle triplets ... for the ceilidh! Inexorably leading to the Carter Family, Woodie Guthrie & Bob Dylan.  
The 1st immigrant wave of thee Ulster Scots was in 17th century but the wave that laid the 1st layer of country music came 100 years later. The left along the Wagon Road into the Appalations and took their fiddle music with them. On the road they picked up the African banjo rhythms and fused the conversations. They went into the churches and the Baptist chapels and sang 'The sacred Heart' songs. Life was hard music was a social triumph. In the 20th century the music came down from the mountains and in 1922 fiddling John Carson broadcast on WSB Atlanta and then the flood gates opened as yin 1927 the Victor Talking Machine Company recorded Jimmie Rodgers blues and the Carter family rhythms in Bristol, Tennessee.     

'old-time' music; popular from around 1900 became a blend of the old tradition with African American styles, and Minstrel songs. Clearly these poor Scots, Irish & English immigrants inevitably met up with the slave music & in this way the 'country' music tradition had roots in plantation songs, minstrelsy and The Blues ... and certainly around the end of the 18th century the trekkers were heavily into church music and the rhythms of the southern churches. How else could such distinctive Country rhythms prosper? They played 19th Century pops from minstrelsy and Americanised British folk songs with Afro-American rhythms and blue tonality. 'Hillbilly' music focused on the fiddle in a sort of chordal & drone mode, with banjo and percussion ... banjos around 1860 and guitars around 1910 ... and bones.
The basic back beat, the 'boom chuck', was the rhythmic focus of Country ... the ubiquitous syncopation of the Negroes ...
The cow camps of the country folk 'included in' the southern Negroes who had their own distinctive music which was 'in the mix'.
Their music had generally simple forms and harmonies accompanied mostly wth banjos ... 

The Blues and Country music emerged at the same time and had intermingled roots from the start.

Listen to Mike Seeger, Musician, Documentarian, Ethno-Musicologist -

sample.jpg'I believe that to get some idea of the process of Southern vernacular dance development, we must consider it in parallel with its companion music and the dominant cultures that have mixed to produce it: British and African. These cultures began their intense musical interaction here in the 17th century, first among African Americans and then in the 19th century among British Americans, especially in small Southern towns and nearby rural areas. A good example of Anglo/Afro interaction in music is the introduction of the banjo, originally an African instrument. It is quite certain that the interaction between the European fiddle and African banjo changed the styles and repertoire of both. African Americans first played these instruments together soon after being brought here, and the banjo/fiddle combination was the basis for the late 19th century/early 20th century mountain music to which most of our older dancers moved.

'Partners in Time: Dancers, Musicians, and Negro Jigs in Early America, Music & Meaning in Early America' by April Masten, associate professor of history at Stony Brook University, 2013 -

'Negro jigs were produced by competition and cooperation among Irish and African musicians and dancers, who met and interacted. It wasn't just poverty and displacement that brought them together, it was likenesses in their music and dance. In both African and Irish practice, music and dance were inseparable. Tunes distinguished dances in Ireland, just as rhythms differentiated them in Africa.
Good musicians did not just keep time for the dancer; they responded to the steps, there was an interchange in the 'Double Shuffle', 'Heel & Toe', 'Buck & Wing ... and 'Juba'.
For black fiddlers and white dancers, adopting another group's cultural practices did not have to mean oppression or loss. Negro jigs were the property of both. Synergies were involved'.

A clear interpretation of history emerged -

Appalachian music like many American music styles was linked to the African American

slaves loved group singing in work and worship, with distinct call & response patterns

joyful celebrations of social life, with improvisation to fit the moment

African rhythms fed the singing and dancing 

Banjos spread like wild fire with the Minstrel Shows and especially after the Civil War

syncopation 'bom-diddle-diddy' had dominated dance and song rhythm by the turn of the century

spirituals spread into the mainstream 

emancipation and black music moved from the south 

1920s race music became popular and influenced Appalachian songs

white Country gospel was also prevalent

simple, repetitious verse & refrain, call & response was easy to learn ... 

Later Appalachian folk music came into the cities with the jobs ... into Atlanta, Nashville & Memphis and in these centres 'country' music was noticed, a music distinctive but influenced by the rhythms of black blues and southern church music.

Did the publicity start in 1910 when John Lomax published 'Cowboy Songs and other Frontier Ballads'? Certainly John Lomax was well aware of the new sounds -

'It was not unusual to find a negro who, because of his ability to handle wild horses or because of his skill with a lasso, had been promoted from the chuck-wagon to a place in the ranks of the cowboys. Negro folk songs, the songs of the lumber jacks, the songs of the mountaineers, and the songs of the sea, already collected, being included in this final publication'.

Extensive research established the Work Song, Church Song, Minstrelsy, Hot Bands and Ragtime as influential inputs into Jazz and there were similar African rhythm inputs into Country music via percussion -

the banjo and percussive strings, the banjo came from Africa to folk music via the slaves not direct

the pentatonic blues and percussive melody, ornamentation of simple scales with the third and seventh blue notes and sliding tones were also Afro American

the negro jig, the walkaround, tap dancing and percussive dancing

... and interestingly white anti percussive musical preferences were a constant brake on raw polarising African rhythms ...

Appalachian folk music was a distinctive genre of folk music. Jigs & Reels were folk music for dancing.

Reels 4/4 time 8th notes and one & three accents. AB or AABB 2*4 square bar sections
fiddle & tin whistle, flute, harp ...

Jigs 12/8 time lively folk dance in compound meter. 2*8 bar parts AB from French giguer, 'to jump'
19th century America, the jig was the name adopted for a form of step dancing developed by enslaved African Americans and later adopted by minstrel show performers. Danced to five string banjo or fiddle tunes in 2/2 or 2/4 meter played at schottische tempo, the minstrel Negro Jig was characterized by syncopated rhythm and eccentric movements.

Tap Dance had roots in Irish stepdancing, Lancashire Clog dancing and Juba Dance. It began in the mid-1800s during the rise of Minstrelsy.  

In 1913 The Georgia Old Time Fiddlers' Conventions started in Atlanta and fiddling legend Fiddlin' John Carson (1868–1949) was there and country music was introduced to America as  'Hillbilly' ... 3 chords and the truth ... in the Medicine Shows selling the Snake Oil and even Insurance.

Okeh Records began issuing hillbilly music recorded by Fiddlin' John as early as 1923.

In 1923 Ralf Sylvester Peer (1872-1960) started with Mamie Smitth & 'Crazy Blues' in New York before feild recordings with Okeh in Atlanta. In 1927 he set up the Bristol Sessions with Victor Square Deal contracts brought royalties and riches to the artists. 'Country Music' blossomed as WSB radio, Okeh records and barn dances monopolised Saturday Nights ... from Shananoah to Chicago.

A year later in 1924 Papa Charlie Jackson (1887-1938) a blues singer from New Orleans was recorded by Paramount, 'Salty Dog Blues'. This was a follow up after the success in 1920 of Mamie Smith's 'Crazy Blues'. Black and white folk music as Blues and Hillbilly were emerging as identifiable recorded genres with popular appeal at the same time.

However, from the same roots, The Blues and Country Music were evolving into distinct sub genres. Race music was black and involved the horns and hillbilly was white with strings.

In this way Country music was much of a mix but predominantly dance music of the Scottish reels, Irish jigs, and square dances; the poor man's version of the French 'cotillion' and 'quadrille'? The English ballad also got transplanted into this new world and was merged into the rhythms of the religious hymns of church and camp meetings.  It was a myth that Appalachian mountain folk & cowboys preserved a British ballad tradition. Yodeling, Hawaiian guitars, accordions, waltz & polkas, reels & jigs were essential parts of the scene but they mixed with the Blues ... Afro-American rhythms and blue tonality ... Country had more rhythm than melody ... and the rhythm was Afro American ...

Interestingly the guitar became popular in the South only around 1910 as more and more blacks abandoned the banjo and adopted the guitar with the flexibility to play those bass lines of the Blues. The guitar went to black American music at the same time as the banjo from Africa went into white American music. Another example of the culture mix ...

The new jazz music was heard on the radios in the mountains, and became a big source of entertainment. The locals didn't imitate this horn music, the costs of buying wind instruments in the country was beyond their meagre means. However, many homes had cheap string instruments hanging on pegs ... and players aplenty ...

 The result was toe tapping 'Hillbilly' played with fiddles, banjos, guitars and simple rhythm instruments. A different kind of 'jazz' music, which grew & grew in popularity.

Hillbilly always involved lots of everyday folk and everyday action ... ranching cowboys, logging louts, mining rednecks, railroads, wrecks, shootings, robberies, disasters, murders, bust ups & train crashes ...

In 1925 the grand ole opry, a WSM radio barn dance, started broadcasting from Nashville. Country music had come of age. Country & Western styles became established as an influential part of American popular music throughout the 20th century. 

Then in 1927 RCA Victor Records recorded the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers.

The defining virtuosos of the new music - 

Maybelle CarterThe Carter family - Alvin Pleasant 'A P' Delaney Carter (1891–1960), his wife Sara Dougherty Carter (1898–1979), and his sister-in-law Maybelle Addington Carter (1909–1978) were early practitioners clearly playing improvised blues with Maybelle's rythm guitar.

They recorded from 1927 - 'Wandering Boy' 'Poor Orphan Child' - 'Keep on the Sunny Side' 'Worried Man Blues'.

Sarah had a beautiful voice but A P was the musician and found the songs.

Maybelle's guitar style was significant. The 'Carter Scratch' involved bass lines of melody played with a thumb pick on the low strings with upper string rhythmic strumming maintained with the fingers. No need for separate rhythm and lead guitars, Maybelle did it all in one ... straight from Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929) ... or Lesley Riddle (1905-80) a black musician ... and picked up by Merle Travis (1917-83) who got it from Arnold Shultz (1886-1931)? No doubt she never realised how influential her contribution was ... she was just playing the music she loved the best way she could ...

But Maybelle was not playing British ballads, she was playing rhythm guitar!

Jimmie Rodgers (1897-1933) was the 'Father of Country Music' he was first super star who yodeled the blues; the mountain blues, 12 bars 3 stanzas, with the easy swing of jazz. A blues singer who happened to be white.

'Blue Yodel' 1927 and 'In the Jailhouse Now'. His seminal contribution was to American music was a brilliant collection of country blues. A persistent fiction was that country music was pure white, but right from the beginning it was a hybrid, in the low down joints on the railway tracks, Jimmy heard the blues and all the gang, the Carters, Bill Munroe, Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, had black musical mentors.

Yodelay-i-tee! In 1839 a Swiss singing group the Tyrolese Rainer Family toured the USA. Their Alpine harmonies and yodeling inspired the formation of like minded singing groups in rural America. In the 1840s there was a yodeling craze in America ... of course, the 'field hollers' of the slaves were well known and involved the same mix of long, loud, musical shouts, rising and falling and breaking into falsetto ...

Roy Acuff (1903-92) and his Crazy Tennesseans, was a veteran of WSM Grand Ole Opry for 50 years, perhaps the 1st GOO star? He was from the Bible Belt, he sang church & mountain style with his 'Smokey Mountain Boys', often tearful with his Dobro guitar with a metal resonating plate. A staunch traditionalist, probably the most popular ever. 'Wabash Canonball'.

With Roy the country pop songs began to lead the genre and the string bands from the hoedowns and cow camps began to lose out to radio and Hollywood.

Gene Autry (1907-98) the singing cowboy from Texas. Recorded with Columbia in 1929, made a name in Hollywood and ran a publishing business. 'Back in the Saddle Again' 1935, 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' 1949.

Then in 1939 Bluegrass style appeared.

Bill Monroe (1911-96) joined the Grand Ole Oprey radio programme in 1939 with his 'Blue Grass Boys' (Kentucky was the 'Bluegrass State'). The 'Bluegrass' music was characterised by tight discipline, careful integration, driving, brilliant, high pitched, up tempo, instrumental virtuoso breaks, pinched nasal toned interpretations of 'Gospel' and 'Blues' ... even Jazz ... and also sentimental ballads. My, did they play fast.

Earl Scruggs (1924- ) played a characteristic 3 fingered syncopated banjo style. He took the banjo out of fun Minstrelsy into 'serious' music.

The birth of bluegrass and the life of Bill Monroe were well documented. And unlike the mystery of Buddy Bolden and very early jazz, his music was recorded for listening.

The common cause of the Blues and Country was established again as Bill Monroe was raised on a farm in Kentucky and his first musical experiences were with a black blues guitar player with the unlikely name of Arnold Shultz (1886-1931). Arnold Schultz

Monroe's family members were musically inclined and played for barn dances and social gatherings. When the three Monroe brothers left for Chicago in 1929 (Bill was 18), they were fairly accomplished in the instrumental and vocal style that they had learned. Just like many others from the South they earned money playing music while working at unskilled factory jobs. There was a lot of Jazz  around Chicago at this time and Bill Monroe absorbed the sounds. In a rare Southern California appearance in 1977, Munroe announced his next tune as 'something I remember hearing when I lived in Chicago'. and he launched into 'Milenberg Joys'.

From 1932 to 1938, Bill & Charlie Monroe were very popular in the south as a brother duet. Bill on mandolin, Charlie on guitar. They both sang and played. Bill had developed a mandolin style that was much more sophisticated than the simpler styles of country musicians. They were not yet playing mature bluegrass.

From 1938 until 1945, Bill Monroe led a country style dance band that incorporated some of the motifs of popular music. It was pretty corny stuff with some minstrel oriented comedy. It brought in enough money to live on, but it wasn't satisfying to Monroe's creative urges. He had a sound in his head that was finally realized when he heard a banjo played in the three finger roll style that had been developed by a few in the Caroline region. In 1945 he was able for the first time, to bring together the instrumentation and the skilled players to play the first identifiable bluegrass sound.

The 'new' rhythmic banjo sound (Earl Scruggs), a bluesy fiddle (Chubby Wise), a solid rhythm guitar (Lester Flatt), a dance rhythm string bass (Howard Watts), and a virtuoso mandolin with some blues and jazz influence (Bill Monroe). What a band!

The Foggy Mountain Boys was a bluegrass band founded out of Monroe in 1948 by guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs.

Ralph Stanley (1927–2016), covered the Monroe sound with his brother Carter in The Clinch Mountain Boys.

Bluegrass music branched out into a variety of sub styles.

Some was very much Jazz oriented with the more modern sounds of extended chords and complex rhythms. Traditional jazz and bluegrass only overlapped in a few areas. They were both played best in small groups of 5 or 6 or 7. They were both best played without reading music and required the ability to improvise individually and collectively.

Both have popular appeal because of the 'happy' rhythmic feel that was generated for dancing.

Two sub traditions emerged shadowing the trend in mainstream popular music, swing and dance -

1. Western Swing - country music imported Big Band Swing ... 

Bob Wills (1905-75) became popular in the 1930's with his fiddle and holers with his Texas Playboys; interpretations of big band swing as pop blues, jazz, saxes and drums, blended with the string band. This was fiddle jazz? Wills loved Bessie Smith. Western Swing was broadcast from Apollo 12! 'San Antonio Rose'.

2. Honky Tonk - derived from the rough piano music of the Western dives which led to boogie woogie and the Fats Domino Rock 'n' Roll style of New Orleans piano - electric instruments started to be used as they became available.

Ernest Tubb (1914 - 84) - an ex country blues singer, the Texas Troubadour, became popular with Honky Tonk. 

Hank Williams (1923-53) a rough & ready Honky Tonk heart wrenching songster taught by his blues mentor Rufus  Tetot' Payne, a black street performer, 3 chords and a strum. Singer songwriter who spanned both sub traditions, with his 'Drifting Cowboys'. Blues strains and the spirit of Rock 'n' Roll. He sang from the heart, sincerity, phenominally successful. Led a life of turmoil with Audrey and back pain. Died of alcohol & pills at only 29.

His idol WSM Grand Ole Opry and Roy Acuff warned him off alcohol, 'you got a million dollar talent and a 10 cent brain'.

Started recording in 1946. 'Honky Tonkin'' 1948 and 'Your Cheatin' Heart' 1953.

Merle Robert Travis (1917–83) a singer songwriter and influential syncopatin' finger pickin' guitarist from Kentucky. Peaked in 1950s with 'Sixteen Tons' and 'Folk Songs of the Hills'.
Arnold Schultz was the leader of the pack. Picking and rhythm. Chet Atkins followed. As did alcohol & drugs.

Kitty Wells (1919-2012) the pioneering girl, 'It wasn't God who made Honky Tonk Angels'!

'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' 1952 by J D 'Jay' Miller, an 'answer song' to Hank Thompson's hit 'The Wild Side of Life' by Bill Warren. The song blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women.
Establish Wells Kitty Wells as country music's first major female star, and paved the way for the other girls Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette ... who defied the stereotype submissive to men.

The melody = 'Thrills that I Can't Forget' Welby Toomey & Edgar Boaz 1925, the Carter Family 'I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes' 1929, Roy Acuff 'Great Speckled Bird' 1936.

Arthel Lane 'Doc' Watson (1923-2012) was discovered at Newport in 1960, a blind singer of everything, but always swiped from the blacks. Learned his finger picking and flat picking tricks from Merle Travis (1917-83) and black bluesman Arnold Schultz (1886-1931).

Jim Reeves (1923-64) Texas born was Jim a Country 'crooner'? ... he was outstandingly successful during the 1950s ...

Chet Atkins (1924-2001) record producer and guitarist. The Nashville sound, he made a guitar chorkle and he made it wince. An accomplished syncopated pickin' style from Merle Travis (and Django). 'Mr Sandman', 'A Taste of Honey', 'Yakety Axe'.

The Louvin Brothers, Ira (1924–1965) and Charlie (1927–2011), wrote and performed fire and brimstone Gospel music. Ira played virtuoso mandolin and sang a real high lead vocal, Charlie played rhythm guitar and support. They helped popularize the vocal technique of close harmony in Country.

Rose Maddox (1925-98) with 4 brothers ... hillbilly music, rockabilly & gospel. Rose was noted for her 'reputation as a lusty firebrand', and her 'colorful Western costumes'.

Alvis Edgar 'Buck' Owens Jr (1929-2006) and 'The Buckaroos'. Learned his music as a youngster in the work camps with Blacks with Blues & Spirituals, and the Mexicans with thier folk songs. 'Honky Tonk' emerged in the 1960s Buck led the 'Bakersfield' sound with Merle Haggard - twangy, electrified, rock, interpretations. Later he did TV and a country comedy show 'Hee Haw'.

George Jones (1931-2013) 'White Lightening', 'She Thinks I Still Care', 'He Stopped Loving Her Today' but 'no show Jones' was a sad alcoholic. Married Tammy Wynette (-). Joined The Grand Ol' Oprey in 1957.

Johnny Cash (1932-2003) Country Gospel and the music of black Arkansas to Bob Dylan. The Tennessee Three and 'Folsom Prison Blues' - 'The Man in Black' married June Carter, Maybelle's daughter, Cash suffered multiple serious health problems including an ostrich kick and a broken jaw during dentistry the resulting pain resulted in lifelong addition to amphetamines and barbiturates

In 1969 Cash's Country music outsold pop. A mate of Carl Perkins and Sun Records.

Patsy Cline (1932-63) heartache from Virginia, died at 30. From the Nashville sound to pop. 'Walking after Midnight' 1957. 'Crazy' 19??

Loretta Lynn (1932-) 'Coal Miner's Daughter' 'I'm a Honky Tonk Girl' Patsy was her mentor and best friend

Willie Nelson (1933-) poetry from Texas followed in the wake of Bob Wills, played the Blues with Wynton Marsalis and toured the country in a bus.

Charley Reid (1934-) black who sang hot country songs of the 1970s.

Elvis Presley (1935-77) a country boy at heart?

Kris Kristofferson (1936-) country songster writing lyrics. 

Merle Haggard (1937-2016) out of Johnny Cash. 'The Stangers', the Blackboard Café, Bakersfield.

Texas had deep Country music roots. In 1964, 'The Broken Spoke', opened featuring country; Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and young Willie Nelson ... but also Blues, Dixieland, Armadillo & Reed's Jazz Club ... 'Country Rock' and 'Progressive Country' ...

In 1972 Willie Nelson left Nashville for Austin Texas as the centre of gravity moved.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore (1945-) was a real Texan and into Blues & Rock 'n' Roll and Butch Hancock (1945-) with The Flatlanders and knew the Lubbock/Austin road ... well trodden by Buddy Holly & Roy Orbison ... and Elvis was there 'Rockabilly' music. And, of course, Buddy Holly was into Hank Williams, The Louvin Brothers as well as Elvis.

Dolly Parton (1946-) poor country girl made the big time.

Nashville was tops for recording but Austin was for performers ... 

Emmylou Harris (1947-) beautiful harmonies and a beautiful girl. Wonderful duets with Gram Parsons (1946-73) of The Byrds who was filled with the sorrows of Haggard, Hank and George ... and idolised Elvis ... he died in a pool of alcohol at just 27 ... maybe he thought he was Keith Richards?

Emmylou was fed on The Blues, Rock and Folk ... she loved them all and heard all the same musical elements and feelings in her own Country harmonies.

Country Rock - 1960s The Byrds and 1970s The Eagles ... with pedal steel guitars ...

Conway Twitty, Pee Wee King, Dolly Parton ... and Guy Mitchell was a country boy.

Johnny Cash muses that Hot Country today is all sex ... but real country makes you confront your life ... simple words, string driven, melodic ... emotional ...

Bruce Springsteen (-) manages the old music well ... he went backwards from Rock 'n' Roll and met Muddy Waters from The Yardbirds.

Musical Characteristics

Country MusicInstruments

1 banjo - America's only indigenous instrument, out of Africa it was played as a percussive instrument. The lead was played like a hot clarinet. 1820, Congo Square, New Orleans, 'claw hammer' 'drumming' on the strings with the back of the fingernails. Rolls breaking up the beat with subdivisions, 3 over 4 in the case of the Scruggs 3 finger style, the result, identical to jazz, is to superimpose a flexible 4/4 over rigid hillbilly 2/4.

The claw hammer technique was to 'hit' the strings on the down with a crooked hand ... this was drumming ...

2 Mandolin - cornet like busts on the offbeat

3 Fiddle - trombone like heavy bowing, flexible rhythm

4 Guitar - rhythm, heavily accented, basic pulse tended to be 'strummed' and 'picked' on the up European style.

5 Slapped bass - rhythm, metronomic line

Singing – Tenor a 3rd above the melody, frequently with sustained high notes, baritone a 5th below, bass on the octave. But the predicable triad is dispelled through anticipation, passing notes and ornamental slides/glissandi. High pitched, upbeat, flattened, tight integration, improvised, up tempo. Multiple parts in continual interaction, ensemble music

Hoedown SongsRhythm – Europe and Africa, the jigs and reels and the drum lines of Africa portrayed by melody instruments ... some folks didn't like the 'talking' drums during slavery ... that was voodoo and not for the Saturday night funtion. Melody and counter melody. Basic pulse and counter rhythm. Melodic rhythms, playing the drums on the instruments. A melodic image of the rhythm ... the hoedown song ...

Blues and Latin rhythms

Two forms of counter rhythm - 

 displaced accents = syncopation

 cross rhythms = 4 on 2 and 3 on 4

... the effect was a break-up of the metronome sense, crossing rhythmic waves sets the bars in motion, a linear roll or, more correctly, a 'rock' and 'roll', a to and fro, the syncopated 'backbeat' takes the bar back on itself only to urge forward again on the next downbeat, the fundamental beat is attacked where it hurts, under the beat itself, the beat is undermined and the rhythm lifted of its foundations in a state of buoyancy, the uncoupling of rhythm from the meter.

Scruggs used eighth notes, thumb, index and middle finger, 3 note 'rolls', creating the familiar 'secondary' rag of the Negro. Ragtime on the banjo, the 1st ragtime piano piece was, of course, a 'banjo' imitation. 5th string is not a 'drone' note but a chime! Breaks or 'scatters' the pulse.

Melody – acoustically pure notes - octave 2/1 5th = 3/2 4th = 4/3 major 3rd = 5/4 minor 3rd = 6/5the ear recognises there ratios sympathetically, all other notes in the scale are culturally dependent. In our modern system the 'tempered' octave is divided into 12 equal intervals. The diatonic scale uses 7 of these intervals. Almost invariably folk music divides the octave into 5.

the major pentatonic plus the flattened 3rd and 7th = the blues!

the minstrel song is the 'Dixieland' song, jumping up and returning to the tonic through the cadences of the circle of 4ths.

the spiritual on the other hand goes below the tonic and returns with rising cadences.
typically, pentatonic verse with the start of the chorus moving to the subdominant, 'minstrel spirituals'!

the blues phrasing is everything, the melody is preaching all the time

As with jazz it was the way it was played, the feel; the hot lick, the rolls, the blues, the ensemble, functional music, disciplined & spontaneous, recorded & imitated, mimetic, ex minstrelsy.

The Dixie Chicks?

There were many musical influences that were mixed together to form the musical style of Bluegrass music and from that mix emerged many musical styles ... that's the only way evolution can work ... and, for sure, Country Music has evolved ... it was along journey from Fiddlin' John Carson to 9/11/2001 ...

A few major sources -

Folk music of the British isles as transplanted in southern areas of the US, both the singing style and instrumental effects (drone sound for example)

Minstrel shows

Shape note singing

Barn dance instrumentals

Black rural blues

Ragtime sounds

Popular music of the 20s & 30s via radio and records. NBC went coast to coast in 1928.

Field music including black spirituals

and some jazz ...

These influences all came together around 1945 due to the efforts of the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

Clearly there was Country Music before and after Bluegrass ... the music went from Hillbilly, to Grand Ole Opry, to Bluegrass, and on to Country pop & Rockabilly, to Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks ... 


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