Virtuoso mandolinist, father of bluegrass, a frigging musical Mount Rushmore–Bill Monroe is all that, but he’s also a notorious master of the undying feud. His bands have always consisted of the creme de la creme, but in 1945 he put together what many people consider the best bluegrass band that ever was and ever will be, with a lineup that included guitarist Lester Flatt and banjoist Earl Scruggs, the man who would revolutionize the genre with his three-finger picking style. When Flatt and Scruggs bolted in 1948, they ended up in the “unforgiven” column of Monroe’s ledger. At 83 he may have mellowed a bit, but it’s clear the wound still smarts. Writer Dave Marsh recently asked Monroe about the evolutionary impact of some fellow bluegrass legends, including his old band mates, and he said: “Well, some of them fellers didn’t know too much to start with, they were just tryin’ to learn how to play guitar….You gotta be a pretty good man to play the guitar for bluegrass, and I guess they learned.” A tad dismissive, perhaps, but then again he is the man who first combined the drive of speed metal, the improvisatory passion of jazz, and a cry so high and lonesome we’re not likely to hear it realized so fully again. In his feuds and in his music the old lion still roars. Saturday, 8 PM, Coronet Theatre, 817 Chicago, Evanston; 708-733-0030 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim DeVault.