May 2009

Dawg Music: David Grisman

Playing in every important ensemble related to Americana at some point over the last fifty years has made David Grisman owner of a pretty intimidating discography. His earliest recorded moments with the Even Dozen Jug Band counted as an introduction the music biz. But soon, Grisman found his way into the Kentuckians, making his name as a soloist, but equally adept at rhythmic derivations for bluegrass settings.

In that, Grisman came to fully realize his musical intent. And to incorporate jazz improvisation and soloing into the already technically challenging genre of bluegrass would make his life mission pretty clear by the dawning of the '70s.

Commander Cody: Seeds and Stems

As the explosion of the '60s country and rock fusion thing moved more towards slick commercialized acts like the Eagles, but prior to the outlaw county movement really getting its teeth, a few acts were needed to keep dirty Americana alive and well in a rock context.

Ann Arbor, Michigan was a hotbed of hippies, social unrest and more drugs than can be recalled during this time. And that's why, in part, John Sinclair based his White Panther Party and the MC5 there after growing tired of the police harassment being levied upon them in Detroit. Ann Arbor, though, also had the Stooges for a bit, making the MC5 less of a threatening presence.

Willie Nelson: A Gift

The name Lefty Frizzell probably doesn't mean too much too many folks today. And really, if not for The Pizza Tapes from Garcia and Grisman, I'd probably have come upon the songbook of Frizzell much later. But that aside, the contributions to the stack of country standards from Frizzell is on par with songs from Hank Williams and the like.

During the '40s and '50s Frizzell was a part of the blossoming of country's initial commercial period. At that time, as opposed to now, songs weren't nonsensical retreads masquerading as stories from real life - they were real to life. To hear Merle Haggard sing about going to jail meant that he'd gone to jail. But the enormous catalog of Frizzell influenced a generation being raised on the radio, the Grand Ole Opry and traditional songs.

Bill Keith: Auld Grass

In discussing American music of any kind, there are a few innovators whose names always arise - Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Earl Scruggs, Chuck Berry. There're obviously others as well, but a complete list would take an entire day to compile. But never amongst these gentleman is the name of Bill Keith. Of course, the banjo doesn't have the luster about it that the instrument once did, but that doesn't make the contributions of this Bostonian any less important.

Beginning in the early '60s, Keith played with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and basically redefined the way in which banjo was to be played in the genre over the span of less than a year. These innovations would basically lay the ground work for what would later be referred to as new grass. Of course, these musics are all still tied to country and folk music from the '20s and '30s, but with a defiantly modern tinge to it all.