As the music critic John Morthland has written, ”Bluegrass was almost entirely the creation of Bill Monroe.” A Kentucky-born songwriter, singer, bandleader, and mandolin player and a heck of a good buck-dancer, Monroe is now 81, but on the evidence of producer-director Steve Gebhardt’s fine profile, he remains a witty, dexterous performer. Monroe is a severe-looking man who makes music that is loose, playful, and frequently frenetic in its precision and intensity. An original concoction of folk, blues, and jazz, Monroe’s bluegrass is heard in vintage film clips and recordings, and it still carries a fresh, invigorating shock.
The Father of Bluegrass Music features interviews with musicians who have been influenced by Monroe, including Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Jerry Garcia, and Ricky Skaggs. (Skaggs makes a convincing case for Monroe’s influence on acts as surprising as the Beatles, and has a lovely campfire conversation with Monroe, eliciting vivid memories and anecdotes.) Listen to country radio or watch The Nashville Network’s other programming, and you’d think country music began with Randy Travis. Check this out and see its real roots.