Compton and Carter: Monroe-Style Mandolin

Mike Compton is recognized as one of the most influential mandolin players in acoustic music today. As a performer and teacher, his contributions have helped shape bluegrass and old time music. Originally from Meridian, Mississippi, Mike first heard Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Flatt and Scruggs when he was 15 years old. Mike moved to Nashville when he was 21 and in 1984 helped found the legendary Nashville Bluegrass Band. For the next many years, Mike traveled with the band, performing at festivals, clubs and venues around the world. In the early 1990s, Mike became the sideman for John Hartford, a role he kept until Hartford’s death in 2001. In 2000, he played on the landmark O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.

In 1985, Mike began teaching the mandolin style of bluegrass founder Bill Monroe in lessons and camps. “I learned initially on my own from mimicking what I heard,” Compton explains. “But in later years I had the opportunity to learn from Mr. Bill Monroe himself. I have been focused on first generation bluegrass mandolin for 45 years. The Monroe mandolin vocabulary is seldom learned by beginning mandolin enthusiasts because it is out of style in popular music. It is practiced and understood by only a handful of artists. I believe the style to be a very powerful and unique way of expressing ideas, similar in many ways to impressionistic painting (such as Van Gogh) in that it implies ideas rather than spelling out every detail.”

Apprentice Jackson Carter has been playing mandolin for fifteen years, since he was a teenager. “I tried the modern styles,” he explains, “attempting to mimic great modern players. Yet, no style spoke to me. That all changed when I met Marty and Charmaine Lanham. Marty and Charmaine moved to Nashville in 1974 and opened the Station Inn. It was through my association with the Lanhams that I met Mike Compton around ten years ago. Mike Compton is the recognized authority on Monroe-style mandolin playing. My main goal would be to gain a better understanding of Bill Monroe’s mandolin style.”