Well, if Bill Monroe heard this recording, he'd probably say "that ain't no part of nuthin'"...
“Mangler of Bluegrass” is my track-by-track deconstruction of one of my favorite recordings of all time, Bill Monroe's "Master of Bluegrass", recorded and released when Bill was 70 years old (!) in 1981.
This great recording remained unreleased on CD until January of 2007, when Bear Family Records released a four CD box set entitled “My Last Days On Earth”, which contained “Master of Bluegrass” in all of it’s glorious
I bought “Master of Bluegrass” on vinyl the day it came out in ‘81, mainly because I had heard Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys perform “Right, Right On” at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and just loved the tune.
“MOB” didn’t disappoint, but there certainly was a slipshod feel to the whole affair.
Larry Sledge, the bassist on the sessions, later confided
that “we did the entire recording in one session, just not much over 3 hours”.
From the wacky production (for bluegrass, that is) to the cool cover art, "Master of Bluegrass" was a gem, and yet it seemed to always cruise a little bit under the radar in the bluegrass community.
I started to become a little obsessed with this recording that was only available on vinyl or cassette (until very recently), and started playing and recording the tunes just for grins...
One thing led to another, and fairly soon I had quite a few of them on tape.
But there was one problem. Some of them rocked, and some of them rolled, and none of them really were “bluegrass”...
Thus, “Mangler” it is, with each tune taking on a different genre...
Review of "Mangler of Bluegrass", from Vintage Guitar Magazine, May 2008:
"Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. But parody may be the highest form of praise.
Bruce Harvie, whose "day Job" is milling, grading, and selling instrument tonewoods, is a bluegrass addict who became enamored by Bill Monroe's 1981 Decca release, "Master of Bluegrass". Here, he has created some of the most convoluted and--if you have any sense of humor (unlike Monroe himself)--amusing versions of Monroe's tunes ever committed to tape.
The album starts with the sound of an old typewriter and a voice reading,
"Dear Mr. Monroe..." followed by solo nylon-string mandola on Monroe's "Old Ebenezer Scrooge" and an audio clip from Monroe where he states, "well, real hot licks with the fiddle don't need to be in it (bluegrass), you don't need drums in it, you don't need a dobro in it, and a hot guitar, you don't need that in it...". Naturally, Harvie follows the quote with a wacky live version of "Right, Right On" featuring Harvie on electric mandobird, John Parry on hot fiddle, Mike Simmons on drums, and Jeff Gray on bass. They cook.
The oddest cut on this very strange album is a version of "Old Dangerfield" using a four-string banjo and a Thai chicken whistle recorded in the back of a truck in Northern Thailand. Talk about cross-cultural influences!
Go to Bandcamp and download this. It's free, as in "nada". Except for a bit of disk space and bandwidth, you've got nothing to lose.
If you like Bill Monroe and have a sense of humor, you need a copy of "Mangler of Bluegrass".