Bluegrass and Classic Country

        First of all; here’s the disclaimer. These opinions are only mine, and not endorsed by any particular organization. I’m an independent sort, and never was much of a joiner, although I do belong to the IBMA and the AAFP. And these opinions may very well be wrong, but they’re mine, so I get to keep ’em anyway.

        I like bluegrass and true country music. In many ways they are the same thing. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve done wrong to get too rigid about the separation of the two. Think back to the 50’s. You might hear Loretta Lynn on the radio followed by Lester Flatt. They were both considered country music, and to my mind they both still are.

        Modern commercial country is a different breed of cat to my ear. I have nothing against it, but it doesn’t make my day better, so I don’t listen to it much.

       Part of the problem is money. If you are not of extreme wealth, or backed by someone who is, you can forget having your cut played on commercial country radio, regardless of how good it might be. When art is driven by commercial consideration only, it is created by business people. I guess that’s okay for some but it doesn’t speak to my heart. It’s much like modern medicine. I guess I’m old-fashioned but I’d rather my Doc not be a businessman, other than to do well enough to where he or she can afford to keep practicing medicine.  

        I am reminded of an old doctor. At medical staff meetings all the doctors would argue about some issue. He’d sit back and smoke a pipe. At the end of the meeting, regardless of the issue at hand, he’d say, “Gentleman, I don’t know exactly what’s wrong here, but I think it’s got something to do with money.” He was seldom wrong.

        I find his sentiments applicable to the modern music world. Too much money goes to too many business people and not enough goes to the artists. At the same time musicians have to be commercially viable to stay afloat. (“No margin; no mission”) So, what’s the answer?

        I don’t know, but it does make me wonder. I’ve been told fan participation at IBMA is down. I also know the general manager of The Grand Ole Opry was the keynote speaker at the IBMA last year. He indicated the Opry had similar concerns in this tough economy and told us they were interested in new bluegrass acts that had a country edge. You can be sure he wouldn’t have been there if he didn’t think the bluegrass fan base might help fill seats in the Opry.

        I noticed a number of fine country music based folks at the IBMA this year. I’m certain some of them share my sentiments that current commercial country music radio has become too dadburn homogenized and has drifted away from its roots. It might be considered sacrilegious to say it, but I wonder if the time has come for all of us who love bluegrass to extend a hand to our brothers and sisters who play and love country music to all work together to preserve true music. 

        Some of this is already going on. Marty Stuart is a great example. He plays a lot of bluegrass venues these days, but he is not strictly a bluegrass act. When Marty was young Lester told him, “In this music folks are fans for life.” Was Lester talking about bluegrass or country? For that matter, at that point in history, were they more alike than different? I’m not sure, but I do know this; Marty came up in bluegrass and if he ain’t country I ain’t a doctor.

        When I interviewed the Halls, Miss Dixie said for her the criteria for whether or not it was true was if it made your toes tingle when you listened to it. I like that. Tom T. quoted Kris Kristofferson. “If it sounds county it is.”

        So much of what is on the radio these days doesn’t sound country to me, and I think that is driven by the fact that the creators of it have other motivations than music. Okay, so call me a dreamer but that’s my opinion.

        I’d like to see us bring acts to the IBMA that maybe wouldn’t qualify as straight bluegrass but are true classic county music nonetheless. If the Opry is extending a hand to bluegrass, perhaps all of us bluegrassers would benefit by reciprocation for people who play other forms of real country music. After all, it was good enough for Loretta, Lester, and Marty, and that’s good enough for me.

Dr. B

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4 Comments on “Bluegrass and Classic Country”

  1. Megan Peeler Says:

    Loved, loved, loved today’s post. You hit the nail on the head with every line!
    “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

    • drtombibey Says:


      You are country girl and a country singer if there ever was. And you are so right; it’s tough world and we all have to hold onto our dreams.

      Dr. B

  2. Danny Fulks Says:

    Tom, I know you’re a person willing to take a risk, writing stories many common folks will read and enjoy. Good luck if your universities and colleges don’t say, good, but it was not like presenting a paper at a professional conference or writing something maybe 12 people read plus students who are forced to read it to pass a class. But you’ll always be on the mailing list for stewardship, high class word for cash money.

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