Thursday, April 27, 2006

Doin' what I like to do

The Potomac River as in enters Mather Gorge is where I spent most weekends as a teenager. Friday evenings friends would start arriving at our house with their kayaks strapped on their cars. We'd spend the evening preparing our boats and gear, drinking and playing music. The morning sun would find us asleep on the cool grass of the backyard, boats, bodies and bottles scattered where they fell. After a hearty breakfast we were off to the river.

The water is still my preferred escape. I've been paddling most of my life. Rolling whitewater, a calm lake, or sun-dappled swamp, I always enjoy my time on the water. The sound of a paddle in the water can melt away the hustle of the workday world like nothing else can.

C'est L'Aviron is a song used by the voyageurs de bois as they penetrated the Canadian wilderness. The way it is performed here by The Boarding Party, brings to my minds eye, a vivid picture of fur trappers singing to paddle their big voyager canoe in unison. The rhythm is perfect.
According to "Folk Songs of Canada" by Edith Fowke and Richard Johnston, this song was collected by E. Z. Massicote in 1927 from the wilds of interior Canada. It appears that the French have quite a few rowing/paddling songs, a style of song notably absent from the Anglo-Saxon repertoire. I have searched my copy of "Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman" (W. M. Doerflinger, Meyerbooks, 1951) and found nothing comparable in English.

The Boarding Party - C'est L'Aviron.mp3

With the weekend in sight, I'll leave y'all with the paddler's traditional farewell...
See you on the river!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Midwest punster and songster

Art Thieme is a living national treasure. His puns, stories, sense of humor, and collection of folk songs are as comfortable as a well worn pair of walking shoes. His voice and instrumental work are so natural that when you hear him perform a song, it sounds like an old favorite, even if you've never heard it before.

The Rock River Valley, along the Illinois border with Wisconsin, is where Art Thieme was raised and sparked his life-long love of folk music. I believe Art could play anything, and I do mean anything. His main instrument is the guitar, including his unique nine-string guitar, but he also plays old time banjo, musical saw, nose flute, jaw harp and who knows what all. He has collected an amazing amount of folksongs of the Midwest, and preserved them through his recordings.

Art, along with friends, Fred Holstein, Steve Goodman and John Prine, were the driving force in the Chicago folk music scene in the 1960s and 70s. He taught at the famous Old Town School of Folk Music, wrote articles for the legendary "Come for to Sing" magazine, hosted a radio program, and performed at Chicago's No Exit coffeehouse for 37 years.

I've seen Art Thieme perform several times, the last being well over a decade ago in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. His live performances harken back to when folk music was an era, a way of life. Unfortunately, Art had to stop performing years ago due to Multiple Sclerosis, but with the help of Sandy Patton of Folk-Legacy Records, he has recently released a new CD of live recordings. For long time fans, you'll know most of the songs, but if you know Art, you know he never performed any song the same way twice. For those of you not familiar with this Midwest troubadour, this CD is a chance to experience one of the best storyteller/singers of the folk era.

Art Thieme - Red Iron Ore.mp3
From his "Songs of the Heartland" LP on Kickin Mule records.

Art Thieme - What Does The Deep Sea Say.mp3
Also from his "Songs of the Heartland" LP

Art Thieme - Here's To You Rounders.mp3
From his "Out Right Bold-Faced Lies" LP on Kicking Mule Records

Art Thieme - Red_River_Valley.mp3
Played on the musical saw. Also from his "Songs of the Heartland" LP

(Kicking Mule was bought by Fantasy Records and are currently out-of-print)

Buy Art Thieme's new CD "Chicago Town & Points West - Live" at Folk-Legacy. Folk-Legacy also has his "On the Wilderness Road" and "That's the Ticket" CDs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A message from Merle

Merle Haggard is the greatest country songwriter since Hank Williams. One of the early innovators of the Bakersfield sound with it's hard, driving electric guitar, and an influence on every country artist since. Haggard has always remembered his roots as a working man. After his release from prison, he worked as a ditch digger and electrician while playing music on weekends. His string of hits in the mid 1960s assured he wouldn't be digging ditches again. "The Bottle Let Me Down", "Sing Me Back Home", "Mama Tried", and "Okie From Muskogee" are just a few of his songs now considered classic country.

"Okie From Muskogee" was a political statement in response to the Vietnam war protests and hippy culture of the late 60s. An anthem for the common man, a view he has carried through his music all along.

That's why I was taken back when I watched the video on his website. If Merle still speaks for the common working man, then there is hope.

Watch Merle Haggard's video here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

When Summer comes to the Northland

The Northwoods, peaceful rivers, placid lakes, and beautiful forests.
I have always enjoyed my hikes and paddling trips on both sides of the U.S./Canada border. Back in the mid 1980s I made my first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which includes Quetico Provincial Park on the Ontario side. It was about the same time I found a couple of albums by Steve Lehner and Maureen May. Their "Old Home Place" and "Ballad of the Buffalo" LPs are long out of print, but still some of my favorite listening when I'm dreaming of dipping a paddle in a quiet lake.

Steve Lehner & Maureen May - Summer in the Northland.MP3

Steve Lehner & Maureen May - Blue Skies.MP3

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mother Earth

Saturday was the 37th annual International Earth Day. On the first Earth Day in 1970 I joined with a group of students that were concerned about a factory in our hometown that discharged an orange colored liquid into a creek that fed into the lake on the edge of town. The lake was a favorite fishing, paddling and swimming hole during the summer and the location of numerous pick-up hockey games in the winter.

We collected photographs and water samples, wrote reports, and presented our findings to the city council. It took a couple years, but the factory was eventually forced to treat the effluent before pouring it into our beloved lake. Many years after I had moved from my childhood home, the city bought the land surrounding that lake and turned it into a beautiful park.

Brooks Williams - Mother Earth.mp3
For Brooks Williams CDs and concert info. visit

Tom Rush - Mother Earth.mp3
The first concert my wife and I produced was Tom Rush at the Lyric Theatre in Stuart, Florida. As his music suggests, Tom is a warm and generous person. He gave us the confidence to continue in the concert production/promotion business.
Also, if you ever get a chance to visit the historic and beautifully restored Lyric Theatre, tell them "Hello" for us, and look for the brass plaque on the back of the seat that states "Donated by Front Porch Music".
Check out for CDs and concert info.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Sometimes good music just falls into your lap.

Although he has been involved in music nearly 50 years, Jim Stringer is not a well known name. I only stumbled across his music recently, and quite by chance. I was searching for philosophical essays on a particular subject when I found several that I really enjoyed. When I did a search on the author, a fellow by the name of Jim Stringer, I found that he is a helluva guitarist out of Austin, Texas. There must be something in the water down there. More likely, it is a culture, business community, and local government that supports the arts.

Stringer and his AM Band have three CDs that are getting airplay and rave reviews from around the world. Check out his site here for his bio and more info. Be sure to check out the "opinions" tab, that's how I first found him. Also check out Jim Stringer and the AM Band for more music, clips, and info on where to buy some for your collection.

Jim Stringer - I Want To Be In Your Dreams.mp3

Jim Stringer - Sugarfootin'.mp3

Jim Stringer - Bye Bye Bayou.mp3

- Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The mouth organ and the stringband

The evolution of modern American popular music, like the occupants of this continent, is a blend of styles and cultures from around the world.

The first white settlers of the Appalachians were Irish and Scottish immigrants who moved south along the Blue Ridge from Pennsylvania, bringing the music of the British Isles. Newly freed slaves migrated north from the plantation lands of the Piedmont and Delta regions, bringing with them the polyrythmic music of western Africa and the banjo. It was the medicine shows and traveling minstrels that gave birth to Blues, Bluegrass, and Country music. Black and white musicians playing and swapping techniques and songs. It's not a coincidence that black blues musicians and white hillbilly musicians shared many songs in their repertoire.

One of the instruments that was also a common link was the harmonica. Mass produced, inexpensive, and small enough to transport, the harmonica was a common instrument used by both black and white musicians.

For the most part, the harmonica has fallen from use in country and bluegrass. Charlie McCoy (the modern master of bluegrass harmonica), Jimmie Fadden (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Terry McMillan (Nashville's top session player for the past twenty years) are the only names that come to mind nowadays. That wasn't always the case. The harmonica was a common instrument in stringbands of the late 1800s, and early 1900s. Unfortunatley, the harmonica was beginning to lose it's place in the hillbilly band just about the time the record companies started to take an interest in rural music. Hence there isn't alot of harmonica mountain music preserved.

The Woodie Brothers were from Ashe County, North Carolina and didn't venture far from home. During the Great Depression they cut a record or two, but givin' that folks were having trouble putting food on the table, buying records was a luxury. The Woodie Brothers sold only 864 copies of their record. But they knew they would be rewarded "over there", even if they had to hit ol' Satan "on the head with a two by four".

Woodie Bros - Chased Old Satan Through The Door.mp3

Woodie Bros - Likes Likker Better Than Me.mp3

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Newport '63

Last week I posted a few cuts by Clarence "Tom" Ashley and mentioned how he introduced the world to Doc Watson. Ashley was making the circuit of folk music festivals. Along with him were Doc Watson, Fred Price, and Clint Howard. One of the monumental festivals of the era was the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. It was one of the major music festivals that exposed a new generation to traditional musical styles that had blended and shaped popular music.
I was just a young school kid at the time, but my Uncle Bill had this record spinning on his big old Magnavox Hi-Fi for months. I suppose it left an impression on me. Listening to this still thrills me. Classic performances here.

Ashley, Watson, Howard, Price - Maggie Walker Blues.mp3

Ashley, Watson, Howard, Price - 'way Downtown.mp3

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dark and weary, not down and out

I had Monday off and after a very warm, make that down right hot weekend, I was looking forward to a day off of messing around in the garden, brewing up a batch of beer, and generally doin' whatever pleased me.

Well the thermometer dropped 20 degrees and it's been dark and raining all day.

Fitting, I suppose. It is Tax Day here in the U.S., we won't discuss that subject here. I seem to pay an outrageous amount of taxes, and I'm not at all happy with how it has been squandered by that gang of thieves in D.C.

It's also the 100th anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. I thought about featuring some Enrico Caruso on the Bus today. He was the most popular singer of the time in 1906 and had given a concert with the Metropolitan Opera in San Francisco the night before the quake hit. He had to stay in one of the tent compounds set up on the hills above the burning city for a couple weeks. I'm just not in the mood for opera very often.

I opted to go with the weather as my guide to today's selections.

The South Austin Jug Band are from, well, south Austin, but they aren't a jug band. They are a band that is getting a lot of well deserved recognition. Voted "Best New Band" at Telluride 2003, "Best Bluegrass Band" at the 2005 Austin Music Awards, and a European tour last summer. Check out their website for tour dates and CDs.

Tres Chicas are Lynn Blakey, Caitlin Cary and Tonya Lamm. The three friends perform some of the sweetest three part harmonies you're likely to hear from three women today. Their "Sweetwater" CD was one of the Top 10 Country Records of 2004 at

South Austin Jug Band - Dark and Weary World.mp3

Tres Chicas - Sweetwater.mp3

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Parlor Pickin'

From their home in Milledgeville, Georgia, Bud and Janice Merritt play and record old time country and folk music. They enjoyed playing with an old childhood friend, Randy Howard. You may be familiar with Randy Howard's recording career, a twelve time National Fiddle Champion who recorded with Garth Brooks, George Jones, J.D. Crowe, Bela Fleck and a host of others. These two songs were recorded in the Merritt's home before Howard's death in 1999.
Some good down home parlor pickin' to start the week off right.

The Merritts featuring Randy Howard - Daddy's Swimmin' Hole.mp3

The Merritts featuring Randy Howard - The Reckoning

Purchase their mp3's here or the CD at CD Baby.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tom Ashley

Clarence "Tom" Ashley was raised by his mother and grandparents in Mountain City, Tennessee. Born in Bristol, Tennessee in 1895, Ashley asked his grandparents permission to join a traveling medicine show at the age of 16. He toured with the show for several years and honed his skills as a banjo player. In 1914 he married Hettie Osborne, and continued to play at fairs and festivals. In 1925 he, Gwen Foster and Doc Walsh formed the Carolina Tar Heels after meeting at a fiddler's convention. The Carolina Tar Heels recorded 18 records for the Victor label in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1960, Ralph Rinzler met Ashley at the Old Time Fiddler's Convention in Union Grove, NC and convinced him to record some of his old banjo tunes. Ashley started touring on the folk revival circuit and brought along a few of his friends from back in the hills of North Carolina and Tennessee, including a young man from Deep Gap, North Carolina named Doc Watson.

Tom Ashley & Tex Logan - May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister.mp3
A recording from his "re-discovered" musical career. With Autoharp!

Tom Ashley - My Sweet Farm Girl.mp3
A bluesy and bawdy song from one of his early recording sessions.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Mid-week Autoharp

Ever since I started this daily rambling, I've spent an hour or two each evening selecting music, transferring from LPs or 78s, and writing something about the music. The other day I was wondering what I used to do before the cyber version of my Old Blue Bus. It occured to me that I haven't picked up an instrument in months!
Tonight I dusted off one of my Autoharps, tuned up and lost myself in the music for a while. Boy did it felt good! With summer just around the corner, I better practice a little more. Around our house we have a tradition of spending Sunday evenings on the back porch pickin' and relaxin' in the cool shade.
The Autoharp is an under-appreciated instrument. Only a few autoharp players are household names. Mother Maybelle and June Carter, Kilby Snow, John Sebastion, Dolly Parton, and Bryan Bowers are the names that are most often remembered. Its been a while since I've featured some Autoharp. I'm a little biased, but, to my ear, it is a beautiful instrument in the right hands.

The Stoneman Family - Blue Ridge Mountain Blues.mp3

David Holt (slide guitar) & Ron Wall (Autoharp) - Train That Carried My Girl.mp3

John Hollandsworth (Autoharp) & Sam Bush (mandolin) - Listen to the Mockingbird.mp3

The last two cuts are off the superb 3 CD collection "Autoharp Legacy". Buy it here!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Coasters, coal fires, and a Midwest string band

Sometimes you come across music in the most unexpected ways. This evening I was planning a few things to do with the family this summer and thought I'd look into our favorite amusement park, Knoebels. Nestled in the rolling hills of the anthracite coal area of central Pennsylvania, Knoebels, is an old fashion family amusement park and campground, known for their preservation of classic wooden roller coasters, including the Phoenix pictured here. No fancy theme park, Knoebels was originally opened during the depression on a family owned, heavily wooded hillside.

Somehow, I got sidetracked in my research and started looking into the town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, located about 15 miles from Knoebels. For those of you not familiar with Centralia, it is a town that is no more due to a fire deep in the earth. You see Centralia and the surrounding area have been mined for generations, extracting the anthracite coal beneath. Most of the mines have been shut down for decades, but they still pose a threat. Back in 1962, a trash fire was set on an exposed coal seam and it ignited the coal seam. The fire has spread and moved along the seam, under the town. Hot and toxic smoke rises from fissures in the ground. As the coal slowly burns away, the ground above sinks into the cavern left behind. After decades of trying to slow or stop the fire, the town was evacuated and most of the buildings demolished. Only the slow burn remains beneath the deserted streets. For the whole story read this. I was reading about Centralia, when I came across a string band from the flatlands of central Illinois, who had composed a song for the Pennsylvania town.

Finally, the music! Bet you thought I'd never get around to it.
Well, the Big Sky Stringband are grounded in the flat farmland of central Illinois. Another one to add to our recent look at younger folks playing old time and string band music. These talented guys have a more modern take on the style, using some electric instruments. Read more about them here.

Big Sky Stringband - Centralia.mp3

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Quick road trip to the Inner Harbor

Monday and I'm looking forward to being at work for a few hours this morning. I need the rest.
It was a busy weekend, including a drive up to Baltimore and back Saturday. A trip I'll have to repeat this afternoon.
Not much time to put a decent post together.
Here's a nice little tune from Jody Stecher to ease into a Monday.

Jody Stecher and Kate Brislin - Old Country Stomp.mp3

Friday, April 07, 2006

Short life of trouble

At the 1927 fiddlers' convention in Mountain City, Tennessee, two men met by chance and together they helped shape country, bluegrass and folk music forever. Gilliam Banmon (G.B.) Grayson and Henry Whitter were, without a doubt, the most influencial of all mountain musicians.

G.B. Grayson was born in Ashe County, North Carolina November 11, 1887. Legally blind from an early age, as a young man he made his living as a minstrel, travelling the mountain communities and playing his fiddle and bajo at dances and gatherings. His fiddling was some of the best you're likely to hear, so he made a comfortable living. He eventually settled in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee, near the Virginia border.

Henry Whitter was born April 6, 1892 in Fries, Virginia. Whitter has a mill-hand who performed on guitar and harmonica. His musical talent was not exceptional, but he was a strong promoter of old-time music.

After teaming up in 1927, the pair recorded for the Gennet and Victor labels, until Grayson's death in an automobile accident in 1930. Their recording career was relativley short, but their impact on music continues to this day. As was the tradition of the minstrel, Grayson penned songs about the popular news of the day. In the days before radio or TV, songs were a means to pass along the latest news to a largely illiterate popoulation. Several of Grayson's songs are now considered classics and are still being played by contemorary artists. "Tom Dula", which later became the Kingston Trio's standard "Tom Dooley" (which matches the local pronunciation) was written by Grayson. A list of their songs reads like a "Best Loved Songs" list of country, bluegrass or even folk music: "Banks of the Ohio", "The 9 Pound Hammer", "Little Maggie", "Handsome Molly", "Ommie Wise", "Train 45", "Short Life of Trouble" ... I could go on, but you get the picture. These two men penned some of the best known songs ever recorded. Ralph Stanley recorded an entire album of the songs of Grayson & Whitter. Buy it here

Tom Dooley - Grayson & Whitter.mp3

Short Life Of Trouble - Grayson & Whitter.mp3

Going Down The Lee Highway - Grayson & Whitter.mp3

Wow! what a great start to the weekend!
Ya'll have a good one, see ya back here Monday.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Earl Johnson's Clodhoppers

For the past few weeks we've heard from a few of the bands of younger musicians who are playing in the old-time tradition. Today I thought I'd post some of the pioneers of old-time.

Georgia was hot in the mid 1920s! The music was full of energy and fun. Compare the relatively sedate songs of Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Tar Heels with the wild antics of Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers. Those Georgia boys were havin' a good time!

One of the wildest, most chaotic fiddlers in Georgia at the time was Earl Johnson. Born in 1886, in Gwinnett County, Georgia, Johnson learned to play the fiddle from his father. He began his recording career in 1925 for Paramount under the name of the Dixie String Band. He signed up with the Okeh label and recorded over 50 sides with his bands (alternating between the Dixie Entertainers and his Clodhoppers. Driven by the popularity of Tanner & the Skillet Lickers, Johnson sang in a falsetto voice and infused his music with humor. His bands had the tough job of keeping up with his frenzied fiddling. Their recordings are still the standard for some great technical instrumentation.

Earl Johnson & Dixie Entertainers - Ain't Nobody's Business.mp3

Earl Johnson & His Clodhoppers - Red Hot Breakdown.mp3

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Carrying it on

I have to say that I am pleased to see so many young folks interested in bluegrass and old-time music. As we've determined before, old-time music was called "old-time" music by the folks that recorded it in the early 1920s!

There is something to a musical style that can span nearly a century and still be popular. There is a growing number of younger bands performing some outstanding bluegrass and old-time style music nowadays. Cletus and the Burners, Foghorn, and the Dowden Sisters are just a few we've heard here on the Bus recently. These younger folks are writhing new songs and keeping the old-time style current, alive and vibrant. It is not a historical interest alone. The smooth, natural melodies and unadulterated instrumentation of the style speaks to them, and allows them to speak through the music and make it their own.

The Biscuit Burners are Shannon Whitworth (clawhammer banjo, guitar, vocals), Mary Lucey (bass, vocals), Bill Cardine (resphonic guitar, vocals), and Dan Bletz (guitar). (1-2-3-4, yep, got 'em all this time). They are based out of Asheville, North Carolina, which seems to be having a revival of interest in mountain music styles for the past few years. Only one year after they formed as a band and released their first CD, they have won the accolades of the bluegrass community. Their first CD Fiery Moutnain Music was chosen as one of the Top Ten Bluegrass Albums of 2004 by the Chicago Tribune, and their song "Come On Darlin" was chosen as the IPOD Hot Pick Bluegrass Song of the Year. Their songs, all original compositions, are so well crafted that they sound like old favorites. One day they may be.

Biscuit Burners - Once Upon a Time.mp3

Biscuit Burners - Red Mountain Wine.mp3

Biscuit Burners - If I Fall.mp3

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bluegrass from the hills of New York

Cletus & the Burners may have started as an inside joke, according to their website, but these young men are making some good music in them northern hills. Based in the Ithaca, New York area, Cletus & the Burners have been playing their brand of Mountain music since 2001. Their website describes them as:
"Good Music. Five Young Men. Traditional Acoustic Instruments. One Quart Corn Whiskey."

You can't argue with those ingredients!
Cletus & the Burners are; Nick Aives on banjo, Phil Weinrobe plays the upright bass, Michael Penque on the guitar, Tom Eaton plays the Mandolin, and Ben Smith plays the Fiddle. All add their voices to the blend.

Cletus and the Burners - Take Me From This Earth.mp3

Cletus and the Burners - When I'm Gone.mp3

Sunday, April 02, 2006

On the southern border

Over the past months, I have tried to take the riders on this bus on a journey into the different musical styles of North America. I have tried to showcase some of the vastly different regional styles and the influences that have formed those styles. Aside from the fact that I just flat out get off on this sort of thing, there is a strong renewed interest around the world in the musical styles that were blended and shaped rock and popular music of today. In the 1950s and 60s it was the "Folk Revival", in the 1980s "World Music", the different folk musics from around this little planet, was popular, today it's "Roots" music. What they all have in common is that they are the musical styles that formed the music you hear on the radio today. - )Wait a minute, what I mean is, the music you hear on a few good, independent radio stations today. The only influence on most commercial radio is corporate profits.)

One of the more recent regional folk styles to have an influence on popular music is the music of our southern border. Conjunto, Norteno, and Tejano, the music that grew along the U.S. - Mexico border. Themselves blends of more traditional styles, these styles have had the strongest influence on the music of the southwestern U.S.

Flaco Jimenez has been the master of the border accordion for more than 40 years. Conjunto is the Mexican-American adaptation of Polkas and waltzes of the German settlers of south-central Texas. For all of you accordion fans.

Flaco's brother, Santiago, was another of the founders of Conjunto. His son, Don Santiago Jimenez, Jr. has carried on, and furthered his father's and uncle's styles.

Mentiste Cuando Dijiste - Flaco Jimenez.mp3

Santiago Jimenez, Jr. - Zulema Waltz.mp3