Obit of the Day: Grandfather of Bluegrass
Wade Mainer was never taught to play banjo. In between sets at local dances, he would pick up the banjos of other musicians and play around, eventually teaching himself. During the process Mainer rejected the then-popular “clawhammer” style, where players simply strummed the strings. (Hence the lyric, “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, strummin’ on the ol’ banjo.”) Mainer started using his index finger and thumb to pick the strings, a sound he preferred.
During the 1930s, Mainer and his band, The Sons of the Mountaineers, became popular across the south for their mix of country, blues, and what we now call bluegrass. (Coincidentally, Mainer died the day before the 100th birthday of the “father of bluegrass,” the late Bill Monroe.) In 1941 they were invited to play for the Roosevelts at the White House, which was made memorable for Mr. Mainer because he spilled ice cream on the First Lady.
Considered a direct influence on modern pickers like Earl Scruggs, Mainer also played with legends of folk music including Woody Guthrie and Burl Ives. He and Guthrie even hosted a BBC Radio show together during WWII, “The Old Chisholm Trail,” that featured traditional American folk and country music.
Mainer, who passed away at the age of 104 – which, to note, makes the “grandfather of bluegrass” only four years older than the “father of bluegrass” – last performed in 2002 during his one, and only appearance at the Grand Ole Opry.
(Music copyright Great American Music Co/FLG.)