Bluegrass History

Briarhoppers bookThe Charlotte Observer ran a piece a couple days ago featuring an interview with author Tom Warlick. Warlick co-wrote a book with his wife Lucy, in 2007 titled: The WBT Briarhoppers: Eight Decades of a Bluegrass Band Made for Radio.

The book apparently stirred up a bit of controversy with its suggestion that the Briarhoppers had influenced Bill Monroe.

I don’t have a PhD in Bluegrass History, so someone who does may want to weigh in here, but it seems to me there are a few problems with the authors’ dates.

We made the point that Bill Monroe and the Briarhoppers were in the same place, the WBT studio, at the same time, between 1940 and ’43. Both were performing on separate radio shows. Bill Monroe was in a duet with his brother (Charlie) and they were sitting back, listening to this band, the Briarhoppers, with a three-fingered banjo style. It could have inspired Bill to form his Bluegrass Boys and hire someone like (three-finger-style) banjo player Earl Scruggs.

My understanding was that the Monroe Brothers disbanded in 1938, Monroe acquired a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry in late 1939 with his band The Blue Grass Boys. Stringbean came on board in 1942, being replaced by Earl Scruggs in December of 1945.

So what gives? Is there any truth to Warlick’s claim? I’m not against admitting that Monroe had influences. He didn’t come up with the bluegrass sound in a vacuum. There was very clearly other music going on around him. This comment from Warlick troubles me though.

Members of the International Bluegrass Association started hitting me with e-mails. ‚ÄòHow dare you blaspheme the name and memory of Bill Monroe.’ One e-mail said, ‚ÄòDo you know how much damage you’re doing?’ I got e-mails from some big folks (in the music industry), but I won’t mention names. ‚ĶIn the bluegrass community, to say Bill Monroe is not the true father of bluegrass, you are crucified.

Even if the Briarhoppers were using a 3-finger banjo style and influenced Monroe in that way, he would still have a valid claim to the title of Father of Bluegrass.

Is there any substance to the allegations of these emails?

I’m counting on some of you who know to chime in on this. Hit the comments folks.