Thirty years ago I canvassed a sizeable number of radio program directors in an effort to ascertain the reasons for the total segregation of Bluegrass Music from regular programming on their stations. The sum of their answer was Radio Play is determined by an Absence of Negatives and Bluegrass contained too many negatives to be considered for Normal Air Play. The big three were,
1) The singers sound like they buy their underwear three sizes too tight!
2) An acute shortage of well crafted new songs!
3) Lack of separation and balance in the instrumentation. It’s all about Banjo!
Their opinion was, the small number of people that liked these esoteric forms of music could tune into the genre specific segments that were broadcast on, for the most part, NPR. Tom T. Hall loves Bluegrass but almost all of his great songs were recorded as Country Productions. Chet Atkins told me about working with one of North Carolinas most prolific writers, Don Gibson. “Don loved to play and sing Blue Grass and when he would bring his new songs to the studio the battle would begin. We had to drop three keys and cut the tempo in half.”
If you are in this business to be commercially successful you must keep one eye on the bar of public acceptance. Chet worked the same magic for another singer named Elvis Presley and history indicates that his ability to make these assessments was unsurpassed. The resulting recording project from this study was the New South’s “Old Home Place.” (Rounder 044) The radio stations that played any Blue Grass spun it a bunch however the magazine reviews were luke warm at best. It wasn’t the sound they expected from J.D.Crowe. Eight years later, 1983, a live Old Home Place recorded concert won a Grammy for “Fireball”.
My current interest, The Mountain Music Machine, is a very different landscape. It features writers, singers and musicians that choose to pursue music as an avocation, not the gypsy life of a full time touring performer. They are mature world class talents that perform passionately from the heart. Glenn Lawson has a marvelous ability to capture a lifetime of experience and observation in lyrics that can take you to another place. The vocalists are, with out question, the very finest I have ever had the opportunity to work with. Eleven of the fourteen cuts on this project were arranged in our studio while we were tracking. Glenn had never worked with or knew any of the participating performers but one hour into our first session the mutual respect and shared musical taste was truly synergistic. We did very few second takes in the layering process and postproduction was a snap. No pitch correction and very small EQ adjustments were all that was necessary when mixing down to two tracks. This was the easiest and most rewarding project I have worked on over these last thirty years. We are baby boomers addressing the interests of our peers that Country and Rock have long since abandoned. Let me know what you think about “The Human Condition”
– Hugh Sturgill
Glenn Lawson: The Human Condition – available at CD Baby