Archives for category: Bill Monroe

Andy May and Kenny Malone - photo courtesy, Kevin Schlatt Photography

There were all sorts of events both musical and public ceremonies going on around Nashville last Sunday. It was a slow time getting up and I wasn’t really up for the pomp and circumstance, but, I was up for some good music.

The Country Music Hall of Fame has a schedule of free demonstrations, concerts and films. September 11th sounded interesting with Andy May and Kenny Malone doing a “Guitar and Drum Demonstration” set in the Gibson Room at 1Pm.

This was an opportunity not only to listen to an interesting set but to ask questions and get some interesting answers and advice by a couple of masters.

Andy May is a guitar and mandolin player as well as a singer, songwriter, and music educator. Andy has won the guitar grand championship at the Old Time Fiddler’s Convention (Union Grove, North Carolina) and he has appeared with Brownie McGee & Sonny Terry, Merle Haggard, Nickel Creek, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger, and others. He is a regular at Merlefest .

Kenny Malone is a percussionist who has performed or recorded with Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and others. 

Kenny Malone, not just a drummer, but, a master percussionist, brought world beat to Country Music years ago. One of the first records that he used Djembe drums and other percussion was with Don Williams. Kenny talked about how he likes to read the lyrics before he reads the music so that what he performs on the song doesn’t distract from the lyrics.

Kenny showed his newest set-up, five Djembe drums set up in a full pentatonic scale.  Kenny stated, “Several cultures independently found the pentatonic scale on their own. The pentatonic scale would be the black keys on the piano. When drums are tuned to a pentatonic scale, there is no discordance with the music being played and you can hit any drums together and they blend.”

Andy showcased his versatility not only by playing his own songs such as “Love is The Greatest Gift of All” off Blackberry Jam, on a Martin Acoustic through a Roland Cube which sounded 10 times bigger than it was, but, took requests from the audience to maximize what Andy and Kenny could do between Guitar and Percussionist, going everywhere from “Roll Over Beethoven” to “Star of the County Down” sung by Andy’s daughter.

Kenny showcased a new percussion piece for the first time which he decided to call “9/11,” in honor of the date.  Andy and Kenny both talked about deciding on doing the gig together on 9/11.   Rather than being about what happened on 9/11, it was a time to memorialize the 10th anniversary and remember that American Music is a blend of different cultures. Drums coming from big brass band European military music.

“The snare came from the battlefield. They needed something that would crack through everything. The snare was used to give directions on where to shoot or fight. It was code tapped out on the snare. The percussionist brought nothing into battle but a snare drum. It was dangerous work. Of course there is the Scottish drum and fife corp.”- Kenny Malone

Kenny- “When I was in the military, playing music was part of the job. When we passed a Russian ship in international waters we had the responsibility to play the national anthem.”

Andy commented about music being a mixture of roots in traditional folk melodies mainly known through older gospel music and religious traditions of different cultures.

Kenny made the remark that we are constantly blending musical forms noting that he was playing traditional African instruments as well as a snare from military tradition while Andy was playing an instrument that came out of Europe in various forms hundreds of years ago.

Kenny has been doing the acoustic guitar/drum duet thing for a while with Darrell Scott (songwriter, multi-instrumentalist) at Hippy Jack’s, the Americana Music Festival and the Folk Alliance in Memphis.

Kenny will be playing with Darrell Scott to celebrate Darrell’s new Country music release at the Station Inn on October 5th and 6th. This is a show not to be missed.

Before leaving The Country Music Hall of Fame, I stopped into the Ford Theater to see Bill Monroe’s appearance on Austin City Limits back in 1981 and 1986 and this was a tribute special aired in 1997. It was cool to see him and Ralph Stanley on the big screen. I guess 9/11 can be a day when we celebrate American culture and what we have given to the world. Music is the great communicator and no ideology or extremism can take away what we have been able to accomplish by blending this stew we call America.

Night Ranger, before lift off

My friend, Steve in Wichita, who may the biggest Night Ranger  fan in the world, insisted I go to their unplugged set at the Hard Rock Nashville at 7Pm. I was glad I went.  Not so much for the rare acoustic interpretations of their own songs but whatever came to mind.

Night Ranger w/Mark Volman - The Turtles

Kelly Keagy, drummer, is a Nashville resident and I have caught one of his unplugged sets he did with Mark Slaughter and Kip Winger (both Nashville residents) before but this featured six tequila shots each as well as a guest walk up of The Turtles – Mark Volman and a Night Ranger run through sing along with 200 of their closest Nashville friends of “Happy Together.”

It became a challenge to see what could be played on the guitar.  One of the biggest surprises was when Jack Blades asked Brad Gillis to tell the story about what happened when he took over the Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Oz tour after Randy died. Randy was killed in a small plane crash mid-tour and Brad came in and filled the guitarist shoes after a short audition to finish out the “Diary of a Madman” tour.

A little Deep Purple "Highway Star"

There were banners like “Randy Forever” flying in the crowds and he was met with the challenge of matching one of the greatest guitarists of the day when Brad was a virtual unknown outside of the California Bay Area.

Sharon Osbourne, who managed Ozzy at the time decided to give Brad a bad time. She said, “Oakland is cancelled.” Brad- “Why??” “Lack of ticket sales.” Sharon said with a frown, then after a moment, she smiled and said, ”just kidding, it sold out in three hours.” Brad was asked to stay on but was anxious to get back to record Night Ranger’s first album. This lead to an outrageously good acoustic rendition of “Crazy Train” with Brad Gillis ripping the Randy lead part on a Taylor. He got a roomful of cheers for that one.

Kelly singing The Doors "Roadhouse Blues"

After a few Tequila shots, Kelly celebrating his Birthday, began to reveal his age when he talked about seeing The Doors in 1968. After guitars started churning “Roadhouse Blues”, the band went full swing, on a great tribute to The Doors with Kelly doing his best Jim Morrison.

It was over the top moments like these one of which featured a full on Ritchie Blackmore ripping – Deep Purple “Highway Star” mid-song bust out as well as the fact that this was a benefit for families dealing with children with drug problems, You’re Not Alone  Organization, that made the cozy room above the Hard Rock Café feel like a private party for Kelly Keagy and 200 of his best Nashville friends.

Music is one of the things that pulls us together as a country, it helps to identify those special moments in our lives, for Night Ranger it was like Déjà vu. “Ten years ago on 9/11 we were playing with Journey in Detroit. Now we are still on tour with them. A tour that started in 1982…ha-ha…”- Jack Blades

Night Ranger will be opening for Journey and Foreigner tonight at Bridgestone Arena.

Kelly Keagy's copy official set list

 – Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN

Keynote Speaker Sam Bush

 Sam Bush set the mood for the 2010 World of Bluegrass giving the keynote Address on Monday night with reminisces of Bill Monroe.  As Sam noted many young players go back maybe as far as Sam or some of the other mid generation players and don’t remember the root of it all. A genre of music that began with one man.

Growing up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Sam was aware of Bill Monroe’s music through his parents and he could remember as a young boy, Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys rolling into town, not how it is now, the day would start with a Baseball game against a local pick up team, followed by jamming while the “venue” a big tent was set up for the nights festivities. Sam remembered being intrigued by the playing and the music that really cross genred mountain music with room for jazz style improvisation.  If you can play Bluegrass you can play anything.

Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys

Finally, when Sam was thirteen his family travelled down to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry. Bill Monroe and the band were not scheduled to perform but as the show was wrapping up Bill Monroe and band showed up instruments in hand ready to play and the show didn’t end for a while, in fact they brought the roof down. Sam was hooked, as he headed back up to his home in Kentucky he woodshedded many hours on the Mandolin as he also picked up the Fiddle.

He kept his keen interest in Bluegrass music from his teen friends, because after all it was the Sixties and it was only cool to be into rock and roll and not old time music. He went to the National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest in Weiser, Idaho at the age of fifteen and he realized there were other Fiddle “geeks” like him.  It was at this time in his life that he had his first brush with the father of Bluegrass Music.  He was playing Mandolin during a jam when somebody went up to him and said “play somethin’ on this” and slipped a 1927 Gibson F5 into his hands. He had never played such a fine instrument. The person who lent him his instrument just happened to be David Grisman, a great player who would become a lifelong friend.  He noticed somebody peering over his shoulder and we glanced back he realized it was Bill Monroe. He dug in and played hard, Bill then said, “Keep playin’ that fiddle”. Sam said “I don’t know what he meant by that. Maybe he was needing a fiddle player in his band, but, it inspired me to be the best I could on that Mandolin.”

As he was increasing his ability on the Mandolin and Fiddle he got a call from the biggest Bluegrass group in Louisville, Kentucky, The Bluegrass Alliance.  The only problem was he was invited to join the band as a guitar player. He said sure and there he was in his first professional band as a guitar player.

Newgrass Revival

He was often encouraged as other musicians were by Bill Monroe to keep playing, at least until the big “shake-up” of 1971 when there were defections from one band to the next. The Bluegrass Alliance was not one to be left out. When all the members decided to fire Lonnie Peerce, he told him that they couldn’t do that because he owned the rights to the name The Bluegrass Alliance.  It turned out to be true so all the other members said in that case we quit. Sam and the others went on to form Newgrass Revival.

Unfortunately, through unproved rumors as well as the non- traditional long hair jam style they were not invited to be on Bill Monroe’s Festivals but performed on Bluegrass alternative festivals with forward thinkers such as The Country Gentlemen.  They were out to push the boundaries of traditional Bluegrass.

Things began to come full circle when Sam had a bout of cancer in the mid 80’s. While he was in the hospital, one night his wife answered the phone and quietly saying “yes Mr. Monroe.” when Sam realized who was on the phone he wanted to speak although horse and severely out of it.

Bill Monroe told him to beat the cancer he knew what it was like and Bill knew Sam could beat it. He also offered generously to perform at any benefits that were needed, which Bill did among others in the music business.

Later on, Sam performed with Emmylou Harris’ Nash Ramblers.  While on the road, one day he heard some stuff going on at the front of the bus and rolled out of bed in nothing but cut off shorts with his long hair to find Emmylou talking with Bill at the front of the bus.  He felt it was typical, Bill was there when he least expected it.

One of the crowning moments of his career was when Emmylou wanted to record an album  live at The Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman was not in the greatest of shape in 1991, there were holes in the ceiling and in the floor; only about 300 people were allowed in at a time. He told Emmy Lou that they shouldn’t do the live album there that is was condemned Emmylou thought, hey only the better.  What a cool idea.

So the night came to perform and it was being videotaped for a live concert release and there was a part in the show where Emmylou had a guest to dance with her while the band performed. On this special occasion, they had invited Bill to dance with Emmylou which he graciously accepted.

After the “dance” The mobile recording truck was busy changing the big analog tapes which would take about ten minutes. One of the other band members said to Sam, “Why don’t you jam with Bill?” and there during the taping break, was Sam jamming with Bill Monroe on the stage of The Ryman. It was a moment that Sam had dreamt about all his life, something he had hoped for, but never thought possible. It was a moment etched forever.

It was the “olive branch” moment when Sam was welcomed back into Bill Monroe’s world.

Bela Fleck / Sam Bush

Finally, he talked about the death of Bill Monroe. He said there were two times in his life that he could remember exactly where he was, the death of Bobby Kennedy and the death of Bill Monroe. Interestingly enough, he was at the time playing with another genre stretching band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones and The Flecktones on the fateful day of September 9th, 1996. Here was the man that began a type of music that influenced his life’s ambition from the time he was a little boy when The Bluegrass Boys’ tent “venue” rolled into town.

Sam has become a part of that legend, the growth of the genre known as bluegrass while forging ahead to find new ways to explore beyond Bill Monroe’s Legacy. Sam related the story of another Bluegrass Artist who wrote a song specifically with the style of Bill Monroe in mind. He finally had the opportunity to play it for Bill. Bill just said “it sounds great; now let’s see what you can do”.

Sam made a point that although there is tradition and structure to Bluegrass music that even Bill himself enjoyed what others could bring the table and how they could leave their mark on his legacy. Sam has continued the genre bending style that pushed the envelope with Newgrass Revival back in the early Seventies.

 He can play traditional with the best of them , in fact he is one of the best Mandolin players ever, a product of his Kentucky upbringing a bridge to the past, knowing Bill Monroe himself as the next generation were able to glean from his memory and understand the charisma of Bill Monroe, a Pioneer of a new style that is now bigger than it has ever been with national exposure and now being celebrated with the twentieth year of the IBMA World of Bluegrass that originally started with a few outdoor tents and now is hosted in Nashville filling the Convention Center.  

– Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN,