A True Bluegrass Mandolin anthology

Following up on the successful release of their True Bluegrass Banjo and True Bluegrass Fiddle CDs in 2012, Rebel Records has released two more anthologies True Bluegrass Mandolin and True Bluegrass Guitar (more of this latter compilation at another time).

Drawing on the many talented artists who have recorded for Rebel and County Records over the years, these instrumental collections are sure to delight lovers of hard-core, traditional bluegrass music.

A broad range of styles are showcased and present a little something for everyone. First and second-generation performers such as Red Rector, Hershel Sizemore, Frank Wakefield, and Doyle Lawson provide solid links to the roots of bluegrass. Younger musicians including Alan Bibey, Dempsey Young, Jimmy Gaudreau, and Larry Rice burst forth with inventive variations for the present and the future.

Still others, like the late Butch Baldassari and Scott Napier, fused youthful enthusiasm with the fundamentals of the masters. Among the highlights are Bill Monroe picking on his own showpiece Road to Columbus as well as tracks by Ricky Skaggs and Frank Wakefield that appear on CD for the first time. In fact, Wakefield’s Bill Cheatham is issued here for the first time anywhere.

To whet the appetite, Bluegrass Today spoke to three of the very talented mandolin players that are represented on this now-released album.

Jerry Stuart contributes two original tunes, Rocky Run and Stuart’s March……

“Rocky Run was started by Paul Beane and myself in the fifties when we were high school students. We were learning Get Up John and Bluegrass Ramble from Bill Monroe 78 rpm records, and talked about coming up with another special tuning. The tuning for Ramble was an A tuning, and the tuning for John was a D tuning. We came up with a tuning where the treble strings were an A tuning and the bass strings were D tuning. The second and third strings are unchanged. We then wrote a new mandolin tune in A that used the special A tuning on the treble strings when the tune was in an A chord, and featured the bass D tuning when it went to a D chord. We use the middle strings when the tune goes to the E chord. I continued to polish the tune, adding pull-offs etc during college. Mike Seeger sought me out to add an original tune to his Folkways Mountain Music Bluegrass Style project in 1959. I recut it for my County 767 project. That project has the Green Valley Ramblers along with Bobby Hicks on fiddle and old friend Tom Gray on bass.

The idea behind Stuart’s March was to devise a tune where I could play Bill Monroe downstrokes with a banjo at full speed. Usually, downstrokes are limited mostly to blues, slow stuff, and medium tempo. The bane of downstroke mandolin player is the banjo player who kicks the tune off too fast for the downstrokes to work. Stuart’s March is structured so the down-stroked mandolin player can outpace the banjo if he needs to.”

Scott Napier, who has long been a teacher of the mandolin, takes us back to an earlier time when he was a student ….

“The tune Around the Carousel was written during the time I was getting into Texas-style fiddle tunes with more advanced melodies and challenging fingerings on the fretboard. The plan was to keep the chord progression simple beneath the twists and turns in the melody line. As a composer it’s probably the norm to write from your strengths, but in this case I was writing from my weaknesses — using uncomfortable ways to play, for a ‘forced practice’ approach. I was trying to incorporate my pinky finger more into my lead lines. I would practice the tune at a slower tempo at first and the title came from that. It reminded me of a ragtime era tune that could have been played on a carousel ride. After I got the speed up and into the studio it took on a new feel. Larry Sparks’ move to play the capoed guitar out of an A chord position gave it a lively sound that suited what I was going for. It’s nice to look back and feel that the tune has held up well nearly twenty years later.”

Alan Bibey’s Gordon McGregor in the key of A has a slight Celtic vibe …

“It was the first tune I ever wrote, actually, and we were rehearsing at Terry Baucom’s house with the original IIIrd Tyme Out. We had played the tune all night the day before. The next morning the name came to us. It was a special bunch of guys and a great band of brothers.”

True Bluegrass Mandolin (Rebel REBCD 8009) is a budget-priced collection of 18 tunes, available from usual music outlets in CD and digital format.

Track listing –

Old Town – Butch Baldassari / Florida Blues – Ricky Skaggs / Rebecca – Hershel Sizemore / Juke Joint Boogie – Lyle Meador / Around The Carousel – Scott Napier / Road To Columbus – Bill Monroe and Kenny Baker / Rocky Run – Jerry Stuart / Speckled Pups – Dempsey Young / The Jackrabbit Trail – Butch Baldassari / Coo Coo’s Nest – Larry Rice / Cricket On The Hearth – Norman Blake and Red Rector /Gordon McGregor – Alan Bibey / Lover’s Concerto – Doyle Lawson / Bounce Away – Hershel Sizemore / Bill Cheatham – Frank Wakefield & Red Allen / Fisher’s Hornpipe – Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein / Foggy Valley – Red Rector and Fred Smith / Stuart’s March – Jerry Stuart. 

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.