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Bluegrass world celebrates Monroe centennial

Associated Press Modified: September 28, 2011 at 11:01 am •  Published: September 28, 2011

"I think it's a great time because we still have so many originators of styles such as Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs is still around, Doc Watson we still have, and we've got all these great young new bands," said Sam Bush, who will host the awards show. "Some of them play what you call Nu Grass and some of them take great pride in following the tradition of Bill Monroe. So I think he'd be pretty proud of the entire scene that's going on here."

Bush said he'll focus his remarks on something he once heard Monroe say after listening to a player mimic his sound flawlessly: "Bill looked at him and said, 'Now that's real good. What can you play on your own?'"

Monroe, born on a farm near Rosine, Ky., was already arguably country music's greatest mandolin player when he formed his Blue Grass Boys in 1938 and began refining his sound.

"Bill Monroe was one of the greatest experimenters of them all," Skaggs said. "The whole creation of bluegrass was an experiment. It was a test-tube baby."

By the time he found Scruggs — Monroe reportedly began to dance with joy as Scruggs showed him his new three-fingered playing style — he was writing songs that would help redefine country music.

"One time he told me, 'People don't know it, but I learn from them,'" said Del McCoury, who was Monroe's lead singer for a year in 1963-64. "He meant other musicians. His music comes from a lot of different styles, jazz and what he heard as a kid."

In turn, he would influence new generations of young listeners with his sound. Doyle Lawson first heard Monroe in the late '40s on an Opry broadcast.

"I fell in love with it," Lawson said. "I asked my mother, 'Who is that?' and she told me it's Bill and he played mandolin and he sang really high. And from that day on I never took my eye off the ball. I knew I was going to play music."