By Douglas B. Green
Where the 1930s was unquestionably country music's most explosive, creative decade, the 1940s was for the most part a decade of refinement and consolidation. One band, however, maintained that creative head of steam, and excited vast audiences with their fiery, passionate music. That band, of course, was Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys.
They had two fine solo singers, a rafter-reaching yodeler, three of the top instrumentalists in country music, consistently great vocals, powerful songs, excellent comedy... all the while shaping and creating the form known as bluegrass, the music named for this band.
Bill Monroe's long and still thriving career has been detailed often; it is a marvelous struggle against personal and musical adversity, a saga of flinty determination and the surprising and gratifying success of a purely personal musical style of intensity and integrity. The history of the comings and goings of such great musicians and entertainers as Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Stringbean, Chubby Wise and many others has also been told many times.
Still, it is important to realize that these were formative years for Bill Monroe and his music; he was still evolving his unique band sound after having left the extremely successful duet with his brother Charlie known as the Monroe Brothers, one of the most popular and creative groups of the 1930s. Bill's first solo recordings, for RCA in 1940, are a study in transition from the old duet style to this evolving band sound, a sound which had advanced considerably by his first sessions for Columbia in 1945.
Bill Monroe was at this time 34 years old, having maintained this successful Opry band for over five years, continually striving for that sound developing in his mind and on the stage. He had pretty much achieved that sound when he and his Blue Grass Boys first recorded for Columbia on February 13, 1945, and it was a sound which crystallized with the addition of Lester Flatt, then Earl Scruggs to the band. Their first efforts were recorded September 16-17, 1946. Their sound was astonishing in their day –– and in many ways remains unequaled to this day –– and they showed marked improvement during their three years as a cohesive band.
Band members come and go, of course, as eventually did Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and Chubby Wise a little later. Still, it was an exhilarating era while it lasted for both musician and listener.
Bill himself recalls, "Through those years I knew that I had my music going in the right direction, where I wanted it. A lot of them that came with me wanted to take it in other ways, and I had to hold it in there just the way I wanted it. I'd take what they had that was good for this music and throw out what wasn't. It was a hard time, but a great time, because bluegrass music was really forming to what I knew it could be."