Forget Madonna. Forget Gaga. If you want music branding genius, look no further than Bluegrass
I am currently reading How to Make Gravy, memoir of Aussie music poet (he’s not a fan of the bastardisation of the world ‘icon’), Paul Kelly. For anyone with unabashed, tween-like infatuation of lyrics like me, this book is something to be slowly savoured. Suffice to say I’m loving it so much it’s made it to my list of Ideal Dinner Guests – Alive, Dead (or Inanimate and Readable).
During his description of his foray into bluegrass, Kelly introduces us to the origin of the genre that was the out-of-wedlock progeny of folk and country music. Bluegrass came wailing into the world in the 1940s into the hands of Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys.
That's right: a whole genre named after one band.
Bill and his pose are the Hoover, Google, Xerox and Kleenex of a particular style of music; a proper noun that became so common it could also conceivably – in slang - become a verb (to bluegrass?) and a geographic reference (the bluegrass region).
Part of the genius was Bill’s popularity began when he innovated a product with an already established audience of consumers of folk and country music and re-invented it so beautifully that it sparked its own wave of devotees (Apple anyone?)
Bluegrass began with a banjo, an instrument that became synonymous with white, hillbilly country music but ironically originated in Africa. Combined with super-speedy banjo, some strutting mandolin and some smoking fiddle, these guys had listeners audibly gasping at this new style of old music.
The thing was, Bill Monroe played his music his way, yet did what he had to make it marketable (read: relatable and lovable) to his target audience:
Something was going on, all right. But canny Bill never forgot he was making music for farmers. Despite having left home (as all heroes must), he named his band after the native blue grass of his home state, Kentucky. None of his classic 1946 band came from there and he’d left for lack of opportunities, making his living in neighbouring states, but Kentucky became Bills idealised motherland, the pure wellspring. He crafted a myth of continuity, of the old mountain home, speaking of ‘ancient tones’ and presenting his music not as radical innovation but as a return to the source.
Kelly, Paul (2010). How to make gravy, Penguin Group (Australia)
Is how to make Branding.