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Beer & Bluegrass // With one band, bluegrass was born

Bluegrass musician Tom Henderson traces the roots of bluegrass to the Irish and Scottish immigrants who settled in Appalachia and other parts of the South.

"It was a very regional music for a long time, but it's now spreading worldwide," he said.

Henderson said there are 400 active bluegrass bands in Japan, and festivals throughout Europe.

The music has only occasionally produced mainstream hits, such as Dueling Banjos from the film Deliverance. The song actually was written years before the movie.

The birth of bluegrass has been traced to 1945, when mandolin player Bill Monroe hired guitarist Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, who played the banjo in a three-fingered style that characterizes bluegrass today. The ensemble, dubbed Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, created a unique sound that received heavy air play on the Grand Old Opry radio show.

In 1949, Scruggs and Flatt formed their own band: Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. The band gained commercial success, playing at Carnegie Hall and performing The Beverly Hillbillies TV theme song. Its original recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown became a hit when it was used in the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde.

Their fame eclipsed that of the man who gave them their start.

"Bill (Monroe) never quite got over it," said Henderson.

Later, however, Monroe was called the father of bluegrass music. He is still alive, but ailing, at age 84.

"What we need today," said Henderson, "is a movie with another bluegrass hit."