Bluegrass Music from Foggy Mountain Boys to Nickle Creek

A Brief History

Bill Monroe - bluegrass mandolin player and the
Bill Monroe - the Grandfather of Bluegrass. courtesy of Humble Press

In the early 20th century, Country Music enjoyed some popularity as Country Singers started to spread their craft in the cities. Country Music, also known as Mountain Music, was so-called because it had evolved in rural towns and villages, and it was characterized by two or three-part harmonies sung over acoustic instrumentation.

In the 1920s, The Monroe Brothers from Kentucky rose into the public eye, where they were appreciated well into the next decade.

They featured Charlie Monroe on guitar and his brother Bill on mandolin. Finally in 1938, the brothers split to form their own separate bands.

Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys

Having hailed from Kentucky (The “Blue Grass State”), Bill named his band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. After appearing on the Grand Ole Opry in 1939, Bill and the Bluegrass Boys enjoyed extensive success as they forged their bluegrass style. This original bluegrass band implemented elements of Gospel, work songs, folk music, Country, and Blues music, and showcased various types of vocal harmonies - including duos, trios, and even Bill singing by himself. The Blue Grass Boys experimented with many acoustic instrumentations, but eventually settled on guitar, bass, fiddle, mandolin and banjo.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, Bluegrass music had begun enjoying extensive popularity, and Bill Monroe was considered the father of the genre.

Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt

Eight years later, a young banjo player named Earl Scruggs joined the Blue Grass Boys. Scruggs developed an innovative three-finger picking style that eventually became known simply as “Scruggs Style” banjo. In 1948, Scruggs left the Blue Grass Boys, and eventually teamed up with fellow Blue Grass Boy Lester Flatt (guitar).
They called their band The Foggy Mountain Boys, and while they used the same style of music on the same instruments as the Blue Grass Boys, they also added dobro to the lineup. Flatt & Scruggs spent the next fourteen years bringing Bluegrass Music to television shows, universities, and coliseums.

In 1969, Flatt & Scruggs parted ways, as Earl went off to develop a band with his sons, called The Earl Scruggs Review. Lester Flatt’s new band, The Nashville Grass, enjoyed popularity until just before Flatt’s death in 1979.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In 2001, the Coen Brothers produced a film called O Brother, Where art Thou?, which re-popularized Bluegrass Music, attracting new audiences across the country. Now, nearly a century after its incarnation, bluegrass music has evolved so far it’s even being played by rock bands, or Newgrass bands, as they’re referred to. Bands like Nickle Creek and Open Road continue to innovate the genre and draw younger audiences to the festivals; while true blue legends like Earl Scruggs are still going strong.