Ricky Skaggs – back to the ’40s

Ricky SkaggsWhen I saw Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder perform in 2005, they dedicated a portion of their show to reminding the audience that the following year (2006) would mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of bluegrass music.

It is widely held that bluegrass was born when Bill Monroe performed with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs at The Grand Ole Opry in 1946, along with Chubby Wise and Howard Watts. Though Monroe had named his group The Bluegrass Boys before these men joined the band, it was this combination of musicians who gave the music we now know so well its defining parameters.

Skaggs made a point of referring to this event, and the music that these pioneers made, before the band played a number of songs from that era, in a style remarkably faithful to the original recordings. I’m not sure if this is still a staple of his live show, but I’m sure it will be next year when his next CD hits.

Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and ‚Äò47′ is scheduled for release on March 25, 2008. The 12 tracks are envisioned as a tribute to the Original Bluegrass Band, comprised of songs they recorded over that seminal two year stretch. The list is one sure to stir the passions of any die-hard traditionalist.

Why Did You Wander
Mighty Dark To Travel
When You’re Lonely
Toy Heart
Remember the Cross
Bluegrass Breakdown
Mansions For Me
Little Cabin Home On The Hill
I Hear A Sweet Voice Calling
I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky
The Old Cross Roads
Sweetheart You Done Me Wrong

And Skaggs has the band to pull this off. Banjo picker Jim Mills is a serious student of Earl Scruggs’ music, and tenor singer Paul Brewster can soar as high as Monroe ever did. Skaggs is, of course, a gifted vocalist and a fine Monroe-style mandolinist himself. Fiddler Andy Leftwich, though a youngster, can surely emulate these “ancient tones,” and guitarist Cody Kilby and bass player Mark Fain are equally up to the task.

Ricky said that the idea for this CD came to him when he came across some live recordings of Monroe’s band in ’46 and ’47, and he felt that he had a chance to both honor the men who brought this music to life, and also tell their stories in the music.

"We wanted to tell their stories through music, honoring their arrangements and their tempos, bringing 1946 to the present for the next generation of listeners. Every generation needs to be educated. If you don’t tell the stories of the fathers (of the music), the next generation will forget. That’s what this record is about."

Yep… 2008 is shaping up to be a fine year for recorded bluegrass music.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • This is one great news for us traditionalists! Kentucky Thunder can really do justice to those Monroe numbers…from Jim Mills (one of my heroes) to Ricky who’s a great Monroe stylist, and the voice of Paul Brewster. I will order mine as soon as it becames available.

  • I love the original bluegrass sound too; but this seems to be one style of music that is always looking backwards. Bands are almost required to include an old Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs song on every album. What is the point of constantly re-recording these songs when the original versions are so timeless?