As mentioned in part one, The Origins of Bluegrass Music: A True-grass History, Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys were still, more or less, just a good ole’ hillbilly string band when they joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1939.
At the time, they had not yet added a banjo player. They were still just a bunch of good ole’ country biscuits, sans the fried chicken.
In 1943, Bill Monroe hired David ’Stringbean’ Akeman to play the banjo. While this added the last element to what would be the classic ‘bluegrass’ instrumentation, there was still an element missing.
Stringbean played the banjo with the traditional ‘claw and hammer’ technique: the thumb and middle finger alternating between plucking and strumming. The style lent itself more to background rhythm and not to lead playing.
In 1945 Lester Flatt joined the Bluegrass Boys as guitarist and lead singer. Soon after, Stringbean left the band. Monroe began looking for a replacement, but Lester wasn’t all that eager to find one. He was convinced the claw n hammer players just couldn’t keep up with the lightning pace of many of their songs. “They all sound like Akeman!” he complained to Monroe.