Monday, May 11, 2009

Italian influence on country : old-time mandolin

Doc Watson - Texas Gales / Blackberry Rag (medley) (buy)

Late 19th century saw an increasing immigration wave from Europe, especially Mediterranean countries like Greece or Italy, or Eastern and Central Europe.
Those groups had their influence on American popular music and especially in country, not so much as the Afro Americans, but undoubtdedly noticeable.
If Italian folklore is not directly perceived in country, the growing use of the mandoline, first a Napolitan instrument, is a major contribution.

According to various sources, it seems that the mandolin was first introduced in the late 19th century, thanks to "a group of touring young European musicians known as the Estudiantina Figaro, or in the United States, simply the "Spanish Students."
The success of the Figaro Spanish Students spawned several groups who imitated their musical style and colorful costumes. In many cases, the players in these new musical ensembles were Italian-born Americans who had brought mandolins from their native land." (Wikipedia)

"Luthier Orville Gibson introduced the flat-backed, scroll-bodied mandolin in 1898. When designer Lloyd Loar introduced his improvement of this design, the Gibson F-series mandolin in 1923, the model's improved tone and greater volume enhanced the mandolin's appeal, as did Bill Monroe's distinctive use of the F-5 model in the 1940s and beyond.

Earlier, blind minstrels Lester McFarland and Robert Gardner (Mac & Bob) had formed a popular duo whose songs were spread via broadcasts from WLS in Chicago and their popular records. Their singing and mandolin/guitar accompaniments inspired a host of brother-style duets in the 1930s, notably the Blue Sky Boys and the Monroe Brothers." (Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press).

Monroe Brothers - My long Journey Home (buy) (02/17/1936)

I love these Monroe brothers recordings... We will come back to them later for sure.

A funny anecdote I read in Wikipedia : "Because his older brothers Birch and Charlie had already laid claim to the fiddle and guitar, respectively, young Bill was left with the smaller and less desirable mandolin during family picking sessions. Monroe later recalled that his brothers insisted that he remove four of the eight strings from the instrument so that he would not play too loudly."

More about mandolin : Country Music Hall Of Fame instrument page
About the Monroes : a great review of their compilation "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul ?" on

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"More about mandolin" ? Les concertos pour mandoline de Vivaldi :-) un peu antérieurs aux vagues d'émigration évoquées, certes. Merci pour cette pépites en tout cas, cher Nicolas. Je ne sais pas traduire "pointu" en anglais. "Focused" me semble faible et pas assez obsessionnel... Well done, anyway ! Philippe M