The Golden Era of Bluegrass Instruction

Young musicians at Grey Fox Bluegrass Academy for Kids

By Yvonne Tatar

Listening to records, jamming, and occasionally seeing live bands - unless you were a part of the first generation of bluegrass players who were members of Bill Monroe’s or Flatt & Scruggs' original bands, this is how players learned to play bluegrass years ago. Some of today’s stellar players recall their early learning experiences.

As a young teen, Ron Block discovered County Sales after hearing an early Country Gentlemen recording. “I started buying five or six records at a time, listening and learning them inside and out.”  John Hickman also taught him the value of listening to old records from legends such as J.D. Crowe, Flatt & Scruggs, the Kentucky Mountain Boys, Red Allen and Stanley Brothers.  “One day John just piled the reel-to-reels in a bag and let me take them home to record.  It was like being handed a gold mine, “ Block recalls.

A young LeRoy McNees happened to hear The Country Boys live on the radio one day.  He soon met the band to jam and pick up some guitar licks.  Roland White then asked him to play the Dobro in the band. “Billy Ray Lathum showed me a few licks and the rest I learned from slowing down Flatt & Scruggs records with Josh Graves on them.”

Eric Uglum began playing guitar at about 13, and he learned a tremendous amount through jamming.  His love for jamming was intense.  “I remember driving to the Norco festivals as a teen and resenting the time it took me to park the car, so consuming was my desire to jam,” Uglum says.

As time passed, learning bluegrass branched out to include a full range of written materials and lessons available.  And with today’s technology and the spread of bluegrass around the globe, bluegrass instruction is at its peak.  Bill Bryson notes that, “Today is a Golden Age for beginners with all the resources out there.” Feigning Gabby Hays, he humorously states that, “Forty years ago, we couldn’t do that!”

Many varieties of live bluegrass instruction awaits any musician, no matter what skill level.  In an effort to begin to bring these instructional resources together in one listing for reference, the Foundation for Bluegrass Music has begun an initial database of just such information.  Since this list is the first compilation, we welcome any bluegrass live instructional opportunities and updates not listed here to be sent to nancyc@ibma.org.  And good luck to all those folks learning and teaching bluegrass!

Please to go to http://www.bluegrassfoundation.org/Programs/CampsWorkshops to access the list of bluegrass camps and workshops.