Dieselpunks.org | June 4, 2013
Ah, the glorious American music of the Diesel Age! The blaring of the horns, the wailing of the clarinets, the tinkling of the pianos, the plonking of the banjos…wait, banjos?
Yes, and fiddles, mandolins, and jugs too!
While the Hot Jazz and Cool Swing of the cities may steal the Diesel spotlight in many people’s minds today, the American countryside had its own musical traditions and innovations, many of which resonate today in modern music. The traditional American string band sounds of the Steam Era countryside, with roots from Ireland to Dahomey, were themselves undergoing a transformation with new picking styles and melodies, influenced by world sounds, and laying the foundations for much of modern music. Blues (Delta, Piedmont, and others), Old Time string bands, and Jug bands developed new and more complex harmonic structures and arrangements, cross-polinated, and in turn defined the emerging American sounds just as much as Jazz and Ragtime. They formed the basis for such emergent “genres” as Blues, Old Time, Bluegrass, Folk, and Country. [image from crackletonmanor.tumbler.com]
And then fell out of popular favor in many circles.
While the String Band traditions survived and even thrived in many areas, particularly Appalachia, by the 1970s they were often relegated to popular media as the music of “hicks” and “rednecks”, often disparaged as the sounds of an older, more ignorant group, and largely ignored. These great musical traditions were targeted mainly to more niche audiences, typically older and rural. Even Country music began to electrify and move in more “pop” directions, ditching the banjo for the most part. A few popular afficionadoes like Roy Clarke, Sam Bush, Garrison Keillor, and Steve Martin kept the sounds alive, and the Folk Music revival gave them a brief popular resurgence with the 60s counterculture, but these often had a passing ”kitch” or nostalgic appeal, rather than seen as something contemporary and relevent.
Thankfully, that has changed.