Arts & Culture

A North Carolina Bluegrass Playlist

  • By Freddy Jenkins

North Carolina's bluegrass musical roots run deep. This playlist features the must-have music of influential bluegrass artists, past and present.

banjo player 2

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
Rounder Records
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
Mercury Records
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.

Snuffy Jenkins

“Long Journey Home” from Pioneer Of The Bluegrass Banjo
Arhoolie Records
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.

Doc Walsh

“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.

Charlie Poole

“Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues” from Old Time Songs Recorded from 1925 to 1930
Rebel Records
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
RCA Records
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
Ceili Music
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

Kickin’ Grass

“Hometown” from The Kickin’ Grass Band
Superfan Records
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
Rebel Records
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

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9 Responses to A North Carolina Bluegrass Playlist

  1. Joseph C. Niser says:

    “Many have tried, many have died blowing the battle horn”

  2. Bonnie johnson says:

    There is an awesome CD just out that can be purchased, to check this great bluegrass CD by Donnie Ray Mayhew go to his Facebook page. He has been listed as “the best kept secret”… Any bluegrass lover will for sure want to hear this!!

  3. grant britt says:

    Del McCoury is not from North Carolina. He was born in York County PA.

  4. dwight franklin says:

    Ever heard of DOC WATSON?

  5. Jeff says:

    Great list but you left out Chatham County Line.

  6. rcarolinian says:

    Good piece, but it seems odd to mention the Monroes and Lester & Earl in connection with NC without mentioning that both acts lived in Raleigh at different times as they appeared on WPTF. It was the Monroe Brothers’ last gig before they split in 1938 and went on to start their separate bands. Flatt & Scruggs lived here in 1952 and their son Randy was born in Raleigh. It was part of a string of radio-tied residencies for them but Earl and Louise distinctly remembered it because of Randy’s birth.

  7. Jerry Jackson says:

    How about Siler City’s Nu-Blu? Similar to Sweet Potato Patty in content.

  8. Janet Bradley says:

    Love all these.. but one not listed has traveled the south keeping the bluegrass sound of the greats before, Deeper Shade of Blue. The group of guys from Union County, NC have epitomized what bluegrass music should be. Jim Fraley, Brian Hinson, Jason Fraley, Troy Pope and Frank Poindexter are some of the finest musicians when it comes to bluegrass. Hope you get a chance to hear them perform. When it comes to bluegrass, they are the south’s best kept secret.

  9. Ken says:

    Great article… we love Our State… used to be a subscriber… unfortunately like several things the past couple of years, we had to make some tough financial choices… however we still get by the local library, when we can, and read the magazine… keep it up… as native North Carolinians… we love to read about all of the ‘neat’ things our state has to offer.

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