Thursday, June 29, 2006

The soul of the Clinch Mountains

Bill Monroe is the acknowledged father of Bluegrass music, but the sound we know as bluegrass today is an aggregation of many different takes on Monroe's creation.

Yesterday's post got me to thinking how Ralph and Carter Stanley helped form the bluegrass sound. Born in the high, remote ridges of Dickenson County, Virginia (Carter in 1925 and Ralph in 1927) their folks moved to the Clinch Mountains of McClure, Virginia where they could make a living farming. Music was always a part of the Stanley home, but the boys didn't play for money until they both returned from stints in the service. After the war they made the move from farming to music. For over a decade in the mid 1940's and '50s they were regulars on WCYB's "Farm and Fun Time" radio show in Bristol, Tennessee. They played the music that they had grown up listening to; the old time Appalachian Mountain music of J.E. and Wade Mainer's Mountaineers and the likes.

Noting the popularity of Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, the Stanley brothers incorporated some of Monroe's new "Bluegrass" stylings into their own sound. They bumped up the tempo and Ralph added a few three-finger (Scruggs-style) runs to his old time clawhammer banjo playing, but they remained true to the sounds of their southwestern Virginia home. Carter's simple, but highly emotional lyrics and his strong voice paired with Ralph's high mountain tenor became their trademark.

Nowadays, the folks from the Old Time camp and the folks from the Bluegrass side of the hill don't always see eye-to-eye. The Stanley Brothers were the first to bridge that gap, combining the old time traditional sound with the new Bluegrass stylings.

The brothers played with their Clinch Mountain Boys from 1946 until Carter's death in 1966, with only a short hiatus in the late '50s. Of course Ralph Stanley is still playing and touring today.

I can't think of a better way to kick off the weekend.

Stanley Brothers - How Mountain Girls Can Love.mp3

Stanley Brothers - Gonna Paint The Town.mp3

Both cuts are from the now out-of-print Stanley Series Vol. 3, No. 4 recorded at the New River Bluegrass Festival in 1958. For other early Stanley Brothers recordings try

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Black Diamonds from the coal fields

I first heard the Black Diamond Band some years back, at the Central Virginia Family Bluegrass Music Festival in Amelia, Virginia. I got reacquainted with their music on my way through West Virginia a few days back.
The Black Diamond Band is from the coal mine country of southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia and their sound is true to the traditional high lonesome bluegrass sound of the Allegheny Highlands. This area was home to the Carter Family, and Ralph & Carter Stanley and the Clinch Mountian Boys. Today the area is a hotbed of bands playing in the traditional style, the Black Diamond Band is one of the bands leading the way.

Black Diamond - Julie Ann.mp3

Black Diamond - Black Diamond Coal.mp3

Listen to clips and buy Black Diamond CDs here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ridin' in the car

Whew, what a trip! Let me just sit a spell and rest up.

I brought home lots of great cheese and beer. I was sure to make my usual visit to New Glarus Brewing for several assorted cases of their wonderful creations.

I also managed to find some good music along the way, which I'll be sharing in the future. In the mean time, I'm gonna pour myself another Spotted Cow and put my feet up.

It's good to be home again.

Woody Guthrie - Riding In My Car (Car Song).mp3

Monday, June 19, 2006

Beer, brats, and cheese

The Bus will be parked for a week or two while I visit the in-laws in Wisconsin.

I've left the door unlocked. Come on in, put your feet up, have a drink, listen to a few tunes. Just leave the place like you found it.
I'll be back next week.

Charlie McGuire - Getting In The Cows.mp3

Thursday, June 15, 2006

That old banjo

When my son, the recent graduate, decided to learn to play that old Kay open-back banjo that has been around the house longer than he has, I sent him to

Richard Hefner is the mastermind behind the guitar and banjo (both clawhammer and bluegrass) tab and tutorial site. Once a member of The Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, he has won or placed eight years in a row in the banjo competition at the Vandalia Gathering in West Virginia. Originally hailing from the Allegheny Highlands of Pocahontas County, in southern West Virginia, Hefner often tells of how his grandmother was a banjo picker, in fact, seven of her nine children were musicians.

Hefner's renditions of mountain standards are steeped in the traditions of earlier times. His beautiful, melodic picking, is perfectly accompanied by his mountain tenor voice. Through the teachings and tablature on his, my son was well on his way to playing that old banjo.

The Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys cd is available at CDBaby

An appropriate close to our look at some of the teachers who are helping to assure that Old Time music will be around for a long time to come.

Richard Hefner - Cumberland Gap.mp3
on Banjo

Richard Hefner - Shady Grove.mp3
on Banjola - a banjo with a mandolin-style body

Richard Hefner - Shady Grove.mp3
on Ukulele

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The future of Cajun and Appalachian is in good hands

The other day I posted some great music by four teachers who are helping to pass along the sound of Old Time music. The members of the Rockinghams have one other thing in common. They all have played with Dirk Powell.

Dirk Powell has been one of the most ardent supporters of Old Time Appalachian music, but he has also been at the forefront of the Cajun music scene. His wife, Christine Balfa, is the youngest duaghter of the man that is credited with bringing Cajun music out of the bayous to an amazed new worldwide audience. Dewey Balfa along with his brothers Will and Rodney were founding members of the Festivals Acadiens in Lafayette, Louisiana and the Balfa Brothers were instumental in renewing interest in Cajun music. Dirk Powell and his wife Christine formed the Balfa Toujours after Dewey's death in 1992. Many riders on the Bus are familliar with the Balfa Toujours, as I have posted some of their tunes in the past.

Dirk Powell has long been a leading force in the revival of Old Time music. He gained his love of traditional music from his grandfather in Sandy Hook, Kentucky. Mostly known for his fiddle, he also plays guitar and banjo, and has written the scores of several documentaries.

Dirk Powell - Moonshiner.mp3

Dirk Powell Band with the Foghorn Stringband - Lonesome Road Blues.mp3
Recorded live at Clemson, South Carolina, in July, 2004

For CDs and tour info visit

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Two down, one to go

Today our second son graduates from high school. It's one of those milestone events in your child's life that forces you to reflect on the passing time. It seems not long ago that I taught him to ride a bike, to roll a kayak, drive a car... This fall he will follow his older brother to college. The journey continues.

Congratulations to this year’s crop of graduates.
The world will soon be yours, be gentle with it.

Pete Seeger - What Did You Learn in School Today.mp3
Just as appropriate today as it was in 1963 when Pete recorded it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Four Teachers

The fact that one of the best fiddlers playing old time music is Italian born Rafe Stefanini is a testament to the style's worldwide appeal. Stefanini started playing with his brothers Bruno and Gianni as the Moonshine Brothers in Italy. In the 1970s, driven by his appreciation for old-time music, he moved to the U.S. He has toured and recorded with some of the finest Old Time bands of the past few decades. Rafe Stefanini plays and teaches Old Time fiddle and banjo. He currently lives in the hills of Pennsylvania.

Asheville, North Carolina is home to veteran old time banjo player John Hermann. John has been playing Old Time banjo for over thirty years. He has toured Europe several times and recorded with Bruce Molsky, Dirk Powell, Big Hoedown, Critton Hollow, and One-Eyed Dog, to name but a few. John Hermann teaches banjo at some of the best workshops and Old Time festivals.

Beverly Smith is one of the most respected guitar players in Old Time music today. She plays guitar, fiddle, and autoharp and has worked with Bruce Molsky, Laurie Lewis, John Doyle, and Mick Moloney. She tours and records as a duet with Carl Jones. Based out of Pennsylvania, she teaches guitar workshops when not touring.

Meredith McIntosh of Asheville, North Carolina plays fiddle, guitar, bass, flute and piano. She has a degree in music education and is known as a patient and enthusiastic teacher. Over the years she has performed with Ida Red, the Heartbeats, Balfa Toujours, and the New Southern Ramblers.

These four stars of the old time music scene have much in common. They all have become recognised masters of their trade and they each pass their love of the music along as teachers. Over the years their paths have crossed many times. After years of playing together at festival campsites, they finally recorded a CD together in 2003 as the Rockinghams. The CD, "Shout Lulu", is a delight to listen to and a wonderful statement of where Old Time music is today, and where it is headed.

The Rockinghams - Red Steer.mp3

The Rockinghams - Sugar Hill.mp3

Buy this CD at County Sales.

Another shout out to Walt for sharing his musical finds and keeping me up on the good stuff at the Williamsburg Library.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Easin' back to work

As the days get longer, it seems the weekends get shorter.
Just as I'm fully unwinding from the last work week, it's time to gear up for the next one.

Ah, who am I kiddin'? I started windin' down for the weekend last Wednesday! It'll take Monday and Tuesday to hit my stride at work. The next thing you know, it's Wednesday again and time to start plannin' the weekend! It's a vicious cycle.

I know I have played a lot of Norman Blake before, but nothing suits a dreaded Monday better than Norman's smooth flatpickin'

Norman Blake - Down At Milow's House.mp3

Norman Blake - Macon Rag.mp3

Both of these cuts are from his CD Whiskey Before Breakfast on Rounder Records

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ain't goin' drinkin' no more

A couple more drinking tunes.

This time with a twist.

A couple of cautionary tunes.

Henry Whitter - Little Brown Jug.mp3

Walter Smith - The Bald-headed End of a Broom.mp3

Reeltime Travelers - Ain't Gwine Drink A, No More.mp3
Visit the Reeltime Travelers.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pass around the bottle

It's been a while since I've featured some songs of drink, and by gum, I'm in the mood for a few.

Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers - Pass Around The Bottle And We'll All Take A Drink.mp3

Washboard Sam (Robert Brown) - Bucket's Got a Hole in It.mp3

Roosevelt Sykes - Devil's Island Gin Blues.mp3

Tommy McClennan - Bottle It Up and Go.mp3

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The King of Western Swing - Bob Wills

Few people have been as influential on nearly all styles of American music as Bob Wills.

James Robert Wills was born near Kosse, Texas on March 6, 1905. His father was a fiddle player who, along with his grandfather, taught the young "Jim Rob" to play the fiddle and the mandolin. In his 20's, he attended barber school, married, and moved to Turkey, Texas, to be a barber. In his spare time he was a regular at fiddle contests in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Turning to music full time, he moved to Fort Worth and joined a up with a medicine show. (Side note: How often have I mentioned just how influential the medicine show was to American music?) The owner of the show changed Jim Rob Wills nickname to "Bob".

While working the medicine show, Bob Wills met Herman Arnspinger and struck out on their own as The Wills Fiddle Band. Milton Brown joined the group as vocalist in 1930. It was Brown who brought innovation and experimentation to the group, combining elements of hillbilly, boogie, blues, big-band swing, jazz, and even mariachi to the band's arrangements. The band gained the sponsorship of Light Crust Flour and played a radio show as the Light Crust Doughboys until a falling out with their sponsors.

Wills moved the band to Tulsa, Oklahoma, renaming the outfit the Texas Playboys. Their radio show gained the attention of the American Recording Corp. and the band was off on their recording career. The Texas Playboys horns, fiddles, steel guitar and swinging sound took the country by storm in the mid 1940s.

By blending elements of nearly every style of American music into his own Western Swing, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys had a strong influence on nearly all American Music since. In 1968, Wills was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and in 1999 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In the 1970s, poor health started to catch up with him. He had had several strokes and heart attacks and was wheelchair bound at his last recording session. Another stroke during the session left him in a coma for a year and a half. Bob Wills died on May 13, 1975 at the age of 70.

His music lives on through his influence on nearly every style of American music.
Bob Wills - the first great amalgamator of American music.

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys - Bring It on Down to My House Honey.mp3

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys - Stay a Little Longer.mp3

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys - Corrine, Corrina.mp3
Corrine, Corrina is one of those songs, like Sitting On Top Of The World, that has been performed by many artists in many different styles.

Most of the recordings of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys can be bought at

Monday, June 05, 2006

Women of the Piedmont Blues - Etta Baker

As with bluegrass, the Piedmont blues is another musical style with few female influences. The one female Piedmont blues guitarist that instantly comes to mind has had a profound influence on many musicians.

Etta Baker was born in the foothills of Caldwell County, in Morganton, North Carolina in 1913. She began playing guitar at the age of three. "I was so small, I had to lay the guitar on the bed, stand on the floor and play on the neck," she recalls. One of eight children, Etta quickly learned the guitar and joined her brothers and sisters playing for corn shuckings and other community events.

The story of her "discovery" is as extraordinary as her guitar mastery. On a summer day in 1956, Etta's father took the family to nearby Cone Mansion. Folksigner, Paul Clayton, happened to be walking the grounds with his guitar that day. "My daddy asked Paul to let me play One-Dime Blues. He was over the next day with his tape-recorder."

Paul Clayton issued Etta's renditions of One-Dime Blues and Railroad Bill on the landmark album "Instrumental Music from the Southern Appalachians" on Tradition Records. A young Taj Mahall was a college student in the early 1960s when he first heard those recordings. "I was immediately taken by her version of Railroad Bill. She is the greatest influence in my guitar playing."

In 1962, Paul Clayton brought his friends, Bob Dylan and Susie Rotolo to visit Etta at her home in Morganton to celebrate Dylan's 21st birthday. After his visit, Dylan rewrote Clayton's song Whose Going to Buy You Ribbons, When I'm Gone into his classic Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, in which you can clearly hear Etta's guitar influence.

Etta Baker - One Dime Blues.mp3

Etta Baker - Railroad Bill.mp3

Etta Baker - Going Down The Road Feeling Bad.mp3
A rare example of Etta's deft banjo picking.
From "The North Carolina Banjo Collection" available here

All of Etta Baker's music can be found at

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Women of Bluegrass - Hazel & Alice

Nowadays the bluegrass music charts seem to be full of very talented women. Allison Krause, Rhonda Vincent, Allison Brown, ...

When Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard teamed up in the early 1960s, they doubled the number of serious female bluegrass artists. The only other women able to make inroads into this male-dominated musical style were Molly O'Day and Wilma Lee Cooper (although she is most often remembered for her years as a duet with husband, Stoney Cooper, Wilma Lee continued her career after Stoney's death.)

Hazel Dickens was born in Mercer County, West Virginia. Her father, a teamster carrying timber for the local coal mines, picked banjo. Her brothers played guitar and mandolin, and Hazel sang in the choir at church. In the 1950s her brothers moved to Baltimore to avoid a dismal life in the coal mines. Hazel followed and began playing and singing in the local clubs and taverns. While in Baltimore Hazel met a classically trained singer named Alice Gerrard. The two formed a friendship and started performing together.

Although mostly known for their renditions of nearly forgotten old-time, mountain, and hillbilly tunes, during the 1960s Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard recorded many bluegrass standards. In 1996 Smithsonian Folkways released a collection of the duo's bluegrass recordings entitled "Pioneering Women of Bluegrass". I consider this recording an essential part of any bluegrass collection.
Get your copy at Smithsonian Folkways or Amazon.

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard - Darling Nellie.mp3

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard - Coal Miner's Blues.mp3

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bawdy Songs: Obscenity

This week the Bus has taken a light-hearted look at some of the bawdier songs of the past. I have posted tunes that I felt illustrated the point, yet were not overly lewd. I did this as a form of self-censorship, as I have no control over who visits the Bus. I trust that if anyone riding the Bus felt that they may be offended by any of these songs, that they have the good sense not to download the files. That's how reasonable people deal with things they find offensive.

Throughout time there have been groups of people that have felt a need to determine what is offensive for the rest of us. Recently we've seen protests over cartoons in a small Danish newspaper and the film version of the fictional book "The DaVinci Code".

The U.S. Senate, having solved the problems of hunger, energy, education, healthcare, and their own coruption, have now set their collective minds to save our country from gay marriage (silly me, I always thought that divorce was the end of the traditional marriage, who would have thought it was the lesbian couple down the street!).

In these times of government corruption and scandals, the NSA and even librarians spying on citizens, many in this country go hungry, FEMA leaves town as hurricane season begins, cable and phone companies want to control the internet ...

Where's the real obcenity?

Daddy Squeeze and The Doctor - Real Obscenity.mp3