MTPR

Montana Americana Music: Boot Stomping In Big Sky Country

Aug 7, 2016

A type of music called “Americana” has been played in Montana for more than two centuries (that we know of) beginning with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Aaron Parrett, author of a new book Montana Americana Music: Boot Stomping in Big Sky Country, says " The Corps of Discovery had a high percentage of people of Indian extraction along with them. I think it’s a half or two-thirds were Métis Indian, including Pierre Cruzatte, one of the fiddlers (there were two). And he played a lot of what we would now recognize probably as Métis fiddle tunes."

Chérie Newman: But what, exactly, is Americana music?

Aaron Parrett: “Americana” is a tricky word to apply to music, mainly because in the industry it’s used to refer to the radio format, which includes many genres. But the one thing that all of those genres sort of have in common is that they are associated with country, rather than city.

    [Country Girl Kay, “Montana Stomp”]

AP:  Musicians like the one you’re hearing right now, Country Girl Kay, were not only amazing musically, but they also had fascinating back stories. In the case of Country Girl Kay, that backstory was tragic. But for other musicians like the Mission Mountain Wood Band, great phenomenal success. They became world-famous.

                [Mission Mountain Wood Band, “Mountain Standard Time”]

CN: Mmmm, sounds kinda like Bluegrass music.

AP: People hear a fiddle and a banjo and they think bluegrass. But really, Bluegrass is a very narrow, narrowly-defined kind of music. It has to have three-fingered bluegrass banjo with finger picks. You know, that frenetic, angry-sounding, Earl Scruggs banjo style. And the fiddle is very flashy and showy and you have to be a pretty accomplished musician to play bluegrass fiddle. Whereas old-time music, while it does have a fiddle and a banjo, the banjo is claw-hammer style and the fiddler is not necessarily very accomplished; he just needs to be able to play a tune well enough for people to dance to. In fact, there was a compilation of Montana fiddle tunes put together sometime in the 1970s called “If You Can’t Dance To It, It’s Not Old-Time Fiddle.” I think that’s a great distinction because you don’t really dance to bluegrass. It’s listening music.

                [Big Sky Mudflaps, “Utah Moon”]

AP: The Big Sky Mudflaps I think are the longest-lasting band I discussed in the book—at least the most steadily-working band. They came together in the early ‘70s, actually down in Hamilton, Montana. Phenomenal band. And The Big Sky Mudflaps have probably the greatest band name, ever. And they told me that the Duckboy postcard guy, Paul Stanton, gave them the name. And he said, All your advertising will be done for you.

                [Martha Scanlan, “Hallelujah“]

AP:  Martha Scanlan started her career with an old-time band called the Reel-Time Travelers. And the Reel-Time Travelers became a kind of a sensation. They played old-time music mainly on the bluegrass circuit, so there were not a lot of old-time bands that got to do something like that. One of my favorite songs by that band is “Hallelujah.”

Montana Americana Music: Boot Stomping in Big Sky Country, by Aaron Parrett

Aaron Parrett

Aaron Parrett was born in Butte, Montana. He earned a degree in Philosophy from the University of Montana and holds a Masters' and a Doctorate in Comparative Literature from the University of Georgia. He has published widely in many fields, including fiction. He has also gathered accolades for his original music, including the 1996 album The Sinners. In 2004 he won The People's Choice Award from the Montana Historical Society for his article "Montana's Worst Natural Disaster."