Ralph Stanley, Mountain Music vs. Bluegrass

Just heard an interview of Ralph Stanley conducted by some pretentious NPR host. He’s now 82 years old and has been making music for 63 years. He got a lot of attention when the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack was doing well. He had the only good songs on an otherwise not-so-good soundtrack.

He characterizes his style as Old-Time Mountain Music as opposed to Bluegrass. I think he falls somewhere between the two.

Bluegrass, which can be enjoyed in small doses by most people in the US, is a pop version of many forms of American Roots Music. Bluegrass mostly came about because banjo players all around the country started to copy the stylings of Earl Scruggs, and a uniform style of playing the banjo was born. Before recorded music was widely spread, American Roots Music was regional.

Although American Roots Music had a different sound all over the country, the style most commonly associated is that of Appalachian Music. Musicians out of the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Roscoe Holcomb (example 1|example 2|example 3) is a good example of Old-Time Mountain Music, as well as Clarence ‘Tom’ Ashley (example 1|example 2|example 3)



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