We all have our favorite bluegrass bands. Some of them have been playing together for many years and they have a familiar mix that just never gets old. A band member may change from here to there but some bands have a consistency over time that is a big part of their appeal. Familiar comfort food.
Family bands can stay together for a very long time. If they don’t things can get nasty. The Whites have officially been together since 1981 but if you count Buck’s band just before that, it runs to 1976 because they were all in that band too. Out here in California, High Country comes to mind as a band that goes way back but the personnel has changed slightly from time to time.
It takes a lot of work to keep a band together. Great bands have very creative individual members and it’s hard to keep people on the same page when everybody has a good idea and a direction they want the band to take. Let’s be honest too, egos and jealousy can play a role in why sometimes groups have to disband to the dismay of all their loyal fans.
Breaking up may seem tragic at first but it can be a very good thing as it turns out. The music we love would not exist if it had not been dispersed by a series of breakups that destroyed perfectly good musical collaborations and fostered more creative progeny.
The pattern goes back to the prehistory of bluegrass at the so called “Big Bang” in Bristol, TN in 1927 that marks the beginning of country music. The Carter Family was there. Pop Stoneman was there. All to be recorded by Ralph Peer and gain wide following through the miracle of phonograph records. The biggest star to emerge from that Big Bang was a singing brakeman known as Jimmie Rogers. Unfortunately, (for him unfortunate, but for music history crucial) his band deserted him just before the recording session and he had to do it solo. What would music history have been if not for that breakup?
Some years later Charlie and Bill Monroe had a successful brother duet act with a regular radio show, packed concerts and a recording contract. Some people thought Bill was crazy to leave his brother and make his own way but eventually bluegrass music as we know it was born.
That birth was helped in no small part by a singer named Lester Flatt and a phenomenal banjoist named Earl Scruggs. But guess what? (Of course I know you know what happened next).
Bill was no doubt devastated. The fans who had followed this unique band were devastated too. But in retrospect it was the best thing that could have happened to bluegrass music as an art form. Now we had two great bands with this special type of music that nobody else was playing. Actually three because of imitation of the style (at first unwelcome by Monroe himself) by the Stanley Brothers.
One could certainly make the argument that, without the great schism bluegrass music would have died with Bill Monroe’s band. Once the band was split that made room for other musicians to compete for stage time
In more recent times, Doyle Lawson’s Quicksilver spawned one of my all time favorite bands IIIrd Tyme Out. Like Bill Monroe’s bands over the years Doyle Lawson’s bands were a crucible for young talent and they were schooled by a master in how to pick and sing bluegrass.
breaking up is hard to do