Video: Ricky Skaggs on the Legacy of Bill Monroe, the Bluegrass Brute

Like Jimi Hendrix on the rock guitar or John Coltrane with the jazz sax, Bill Monroe's mandolin playing defined a whole genre of music. Monroe was so instrumental in the advent of bluegrass, in fact, that the term derives from the name of his band, the Blue Grass Boys. The outfit launched the careers of luminaries like Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt and cemented the musical vocabulary for bluegrass that's been carried on ever since.

Monroe's impact was profound and far-reaching, influencing his immediate peers in the '40s and '50s as well as the new wave of players that came up in his wake. Included in this class is prolific performer and producer Ricky Skaggs, who recently had us by his studio to discuss Monroe's life and work.

In the video above, Skaggs recollects going up on stage with Mr. Monroe at the age of six. He discusses how the Gibson F-5 mandolin unlocked Monroe's style, and the very strong overlap that exists between first generation bluegrass and first generation of rock 'n' roll.

In the second video in the set, Skaggs explores the particular rhythmic quality of Monroe's mandolin arrangements, and how his particular bluegrass style has survived over the years amidst a certain neglect from the broader music world.

As Skaggs told us, "Bill Monroe survived rock 'n' roll, and he also survived Nashville. Because Nashville never ever really tipped its hat to this music."

But today's a different story. A wave of younger musicians and fans are gravitating to the songs and sounds of bluegrass in a way that hasn't been seen in years. Skaggs credits Monroe's tenacity and brute force for keeping the music alive — especially in the lean years — and for maintaining it as an inviting form for new generations to come.

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