Bluegrass | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Bluegrass. Popular instrumental/vocal music, originating in the south-eastern US during the years following the Second World War. It is considered a genre of country music but also shares its traditions and modern audience with folk music.


Bluegrass. Popular instrumental/vocal music, originating in the south-eastern US during the years following the Second World War. It is considered a genre of country music but also shares its traditions and modern audience with folk music. The term "bluegrass" came into use in the mid-1950s and was coined after Bill Monroe's pioneering band, the Blue Grass Boys (named for the Kentucky regional grass species). Bluegrass is played by small groups of singers who accompany themselves on acoustic instruments - variously, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, dobro, and double bass. Instrumental facility is typically virtuosic; lead and harmony singing, high-pitched.

Bluegrass Bands

Bluegrass, like country music, was first heard in Canada via recordings, radio broadcasts and concert performances by US musicians. By the mid-1950s it was played by Canadians in the eastern and central regions of the country (eg, by Montreal mandolinist Ron Scott who, with Bobby Hill and the Rank Band, recorded "When the Bees Are in the Hive" for Sparton in 1957); and by Toronto's York County Boys (including, at times, Al Cherny), who made the LP Blue Grass Jamboree for Arc in 1959.

Other early Canadian bluegrass groups and musicians included Vic Mullen's Birch Mountain Boys (who comprised Angus Walker and, unusual in bluegrass, two black musicians, Harry Cromwell and Brent Williams) and brothers Bill, Larry, and Ken Boutilier in Halifax; the Bluegrass Mountaineers in St John's; the Southern Ramblers and Bob Fuller and the Mountain Strings in Montreal; and Humphrey and the Dumptrucks in Saskatoon - all active during the 1960s.

Bluegrass enjoyed particular popularity in Canada during the 1970s and the early 1980s. Bands of note in this period included Cody, Cross Country Grass, the Dixie Flyers, Grassworks, the Humber River Valley Boys, Station Road, Streets & Hills, and Whiskey Jack in southern Ontario; Bluegrass 4 and Mountain Meadow in Moncton; Ladies' Choice Bluegrass Band in Halifax; and the White River Bluegrass Band in Montreal. The progressive "newgrass" style that flourished in the late 1970s was represented in Canada by Big Redd Ford of Aurora, Ont.

Among the bands to emerge during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s were Acoustic Horizon (Newcastle, NB); Barley Wik (Victoria, BC); the Blackwell Bluegrass Project (Ont); Bluegrass Diamonds (NB); Endless Train (Man); the Foggy Hogtown Boys (Toronto); Foxtail (Ont); Hard Ryde (Ont); Hometown Bluegrass (Ont); Hungry Hill (northwestern Canada); Jerusalem Ridge (Edmonton); Knee Deep (Sask); Leavin' Train (Ottawa); Lone Tree Road (Sask); McDonald Bluegrass (Callander, Ont); New Cumberland (Ont); Northern Sons (Ottawa); the Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Boys (Abbotsford, BC); and Trad'badour (Quebec).


Individuals to enjoy renown for their skills have included the banjo players Frank Doody, Denis LePage, John Saunders, Chris Stevens, David Talbot, and Buddy Weston; the mandolinists Duck Donald and Randy Hill; the guitarists Smiley Bates, Doug DeBoer, Richard Gulley, and Slavek Hanzlick; the dobro guitarists Guy Carpenter, Amon Savoie, Gordon DeVries, and Chris Barkley; the fiddlers Roly LaPierre, Claude LePrieur, Gordon Stobbe, and J.J. Guy; and the multi-instrumentalists Vic Mullen (banjo, fiddle); Eddy Poirier (guitar, fiddle); and Raymond Legere (mandolin, fiddle, guitar). Legere and the harmonica player Mike Stevens also have worked with groups in the US.

Festivals, Organizations, Publications, Awards

Bluegrass has remained an avocation for most Canadian players and many of their recordings have been self-produced, although the record labels Banff, Boot, London, Marathon, Rodeo, Snocan, and Woodshed were active in the field. Bluegrass has been largely promoted by clubs of fans and musicians. Festivals, generally held in rural settings, proliferated during the 1970s and 1980s, and have included the long-running Nova Scotia Bluegrass & Oldtime Music Festival (established in 1972 in Hardwoodlands County and latterly based at Ardoise and Kempt Shore), Bluegrass Canada (1973-98, Carlisle, Ont), and the Blueberry Bluegrass and Country Music Society Festival (1985-, Stony Plain, Alta), among others in Denbigh, Tottenham, Trout Creek, Palmer Rapids, and Woodstock, Ont; Chetwynd, Coombs, McKenzie, and Sooke River, BC; Boggy Creek, Man; Memramcook Valley, NB; Haines Junction, Yukon; and elsewhere. Bluegrass is also heard at many Canadian folk, gospel, country, and roots music festivals.

Additional bluegrass organizations and festivals have emerged in virtually all parts of Canada, including the Yukon Bluegrass Music Society; BC Bluegrass; the Victoria Bluegrass Association; the Foothills Bluegrass Music Society (1987- ) and the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society (Alta); the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Society (Sask); the Manitoba Old Tyme & Bluegrass Society; the Thames Valley Bluegrass Music Association; the Ottawa Valley Bluegrass Music Association (Ont); the PEI Bluegrass & Old Time Society (1985- ); and Nova Scotia's South Shore Bluegrass Music Association (1985- ).

Canadian publications devoted to bluegrass have included the Toronto Area Bluegrass Committee newsletter Bluegrass Breakdown (Toronto 1968-80); the bi-monthly Canadian Bluegrass Review (Waterdown, Ont, 1978-87); and Bluegrass Canada (Kamloops, BC, 1989-2000). The musicologist Neil V. Rosenberg (a member of Crooked Stovepipe in St John's) wrote the comprehensive Bluegrass: A History (Urbana, Ill, 1985).

The Canadian Bluegrass Review organized the Canadian National Bluegrass Awards in 1979, dividing them into central and eastern divisions in 1985. With the publication's demise, the central division continued under the aegis of the Northern Bluegrass Committee in Burlington, Ont (sponsoring the Central Canadian Bluegrass Awards), and the eastern division under the auspices of the Downeast Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Society in Lantz, NS (sponsoring the Eastern Canada Bluegrass Awards). The East Coast Music Awards has also presented awards for bluegrass, and in 2002 introduced a showcase stage for bluegrass performers.

Further Reading