Major Bluegrass Bands of the 40s and 50s

Bill Monroe

Father of Bluegrass and one of America’s greatest musicians. Prodigious songwriter and innovative mandolin player, his high pitched vocals formed the basis for bluegrass singing. Always carried top level players and was a veritable training ground for countless bluegrass musicians. Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Carter Stanley, Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Sonny Osborne, Chubby Wise and Vassar Clements are among the former Blue Grass Boys.

Flatt & Scruggs

Left Bill Monroe and formed their own band. By the 1960’s they were more well-known than Bill Monroe. Earlier material is best (pre-1960’s). Some consider Flatt & Scruggs of the 50’s the greatest bluegrass band ever. Very tight rhythm, innovative tasteful banjo playing and smooth vocals. Little mandolin playing in the band, they added Josh Graves on dobro in 1955.

Stanley Brothers

Celebrated for the haunting mountain old-time style of singing duets and trios. Carter Stanley wrote many mournful songs, which he sang with an understated, poignant feel. Ralph’s banjo playing was stellar, though less adventurous than Scruggs, and his high tenor voice blended perfectly with his brother’s. Like Flatt & Scruggs, they de-emphasized the mandolin. They added some lead guitar playing.

Jimmy Martin

Very strong singer and forceful rhythm guitar player. Jimmy’s voice was on the country end of the bluegrass spectrum. Always had very tight vocals and top banjo players like J.D. Crowe and Bill Emerson, but on some recordings electric bass and drums were added. Jimmy passed away in 2005.

Jim & Jesse

Smooth vocals featuring Jim’s ability to sing very high without straining and Jesse’s polished lead singing. Brought in lots of older brother-duet songs, especially the Louvin Brothers. Always carried top musicians, although they tried the country sound for awhile. Jesse developed a unique cross-picking style of mandolin playing.

Reno & Smiley

Don Reno was a very talented banjo player who played very complicated solos, way ahead of his time, but also at times outside the bluegrass norm. He also flat-picked guitar, sung tenor and wrote hundreds of songs. Smiley was a decent singer who blended well with Reno, more in the style of some of the older brother-duets.

Osborne Brothers

Known for stacking the harmonies underneath the lead, this enabled Bobby Osborne to sing lead at the top of his range during verses, and stay on the high lead in the chorus. Very smooth harmonies, but without the lonesome quality. Sonny Osborne plays banjo very much in the Scruggs style with a few of his own ideas thrown in. Also added drums to their recordings for awhile.