North Carolina's bluegrass musical roots run deep. This playlist features the must-have music of influential bluegrass artists, past and present.
Bluegrass music takes its name from Kentucky, the home state of Bill Monroe and the man generally credited as “The Father Of Bluegrass.” Over the years, the Tar Heel state became influential in its own right, producing a fair share of fine musicians who were instrumental in the development of bluegrass.
Here is a playlist featuring those musicians whose past contributions helped shape the sound we’ve come to know and a current crop of musicians who keep bluegrass music alive and kicking. Those appearing on the list are either from North Carolina or have musical connections to the state, include Monroe himself, who recorded music in Charlotte in the 1930s.
The Monroe Brothers
“Nine Pound Hammer Is Too Heavy” from The Monroe Brothers Volume 1: What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul
Before Bill formed The Bluegrass Boys, he and his brother Charlie recorded around 60 sides in 1936 in Charlotte. The driving “Nine Pound Hammer” is from those sessions.
Flatt & Scruggs
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown” from The Complete Mercury Recordings
This familiar instrumental was recorded in 1949 by the duo shortly after they left Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. It features Shelby, North Carolina’s Earl Scruggs and his stellar work on the banjo.
“Long Journey Home” from Pioneer Of The Bluegrass Banjo
Earl Scruggs is credited as the leading proponent of the three-finger style of banjo playing – it is even called “Scruggs style” – but he cites the Harris, North Carolina native, Jenkins, as a major influence.
“In the Pines” from In The Pines:Tar Heel Folk Songs & Fiddle Tunes
Old Hat Records
Another “pre-bluegrass” musician, Walsh, from Wilkes County was another early proponent of the three-finger style. He joined with Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster to form the 1920s group, The Carolina Tar Heels.
“Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues” from Old Time Songs Recorded from 1925 to 1930
Though not specifically bluegrass, Poole, born in Rockingham County, and his music have to be counted as part of the foundation used by Monroe during his formation of the Bluegrass sound.
Wade Mainer & Zeke Morris
“Short Life and It’s Trouble” from Ragged But Right: 30’s Country Bands
This song by these two North Carolina natives is classic in its style which bridges the gap between old-time music and bluegrass.
The Del McCoury Band
“All Aboard” from Del and The Boys
The North Carolina-born McCoury did a short stint in Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and has gone on to a fantastic, and still thriving, career leading this group with his sons Ronnie and Robbie. His voice is “high-lonesome” at its’ finest. www.delmccouryband.com
“Hometown” from The Kickin’ Grass Band
Based in Raleigh, this band adds a contemporary twist to traditional Bluegrass and also performs fine original compositions that offer fresh perspectives on timeless subjects. kickingrass.com
The Grass Cats
“A Good Way To Get The Blues” from A Good Way To Get The Blues
New Time Records.
From Four Oaks, The Grass Cats spotlight the lead vocals of Russell Johnson in a classic Bluegrass sound. They mix their own songs with an entertaining collection of covers of blues, country and rock tunes. www.grasscats.com
The Bluegrass Experience
“These Blues Are Rollin’ In” from Respect For Tradition
Salisbury Street Recordings
For nearly 40 years, this Pittsboro-based band has been presenting what The International Bluegrass Music Association has described as “stone-cold bluegrass.” www.ibluegrass.com/bg_bands2.cfm?b__i=1522
Steep Canyon Rangers
“A Ramblin’ Man Is A Ramblin’ Man” from Lovin’ Pretty Women
Formed in Chapel Hill over a decade ago and now based in western North Carolina, Steep Canyon Rangers have raised their profile in the last couple of years by teaming up with Steve Martin. steepcanyonrangers.com
Sweet Potato Pie
“River Of Jordan” from Journey Called Life
Mountain Road Records
The all female acoustic band performs a mix of bluegrass, country and gospel that they call “Sweetgrass.” www.sweet-potato-pie.com
Freddy Jenkins is one of the hosts of Back Porch Music on North Carolina Public Radio, WUNC. He is a North Carolina native and graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. He began working at WUNC as a work-study student recording features and assisting in the music library. Later, he moved to on-air work. Over the years, his duties have included hosting music programs of all types, recording live concerts, and engineering talk shows. He’s written about music for various Triangle publications. Freddy’s also been involved in just about every job there is in the music business, from music retailer/product buyer to making many trips around the country as a tour manager. He lives in Chapel Hill.
Back Porch Music can be heard each Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 PM on North Carolina Public Radio, WUNC. Listen online and find more information about the program at: www.wunc.org