Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"I do not play no rock 'n' roll, y'all"

"Mississippi" Fred McDowell was born around 1904-1905 in Rossville, Tennessee, a small farming community east of Memphis along the Mississippi border. He worked as a farm laborer most of his life and played music on weekends at church picnics, juke joints, and house parties. In the late 1950s he was "discovered" by the legendary folklorist, Alan Lomax.
Lomax said of McDowell:
"Fred was surprised when I admired his music sufficiently to visit him for several evenings and record everything he knew. In true country fashion he kept telling me that he couldn't play nearly as well as other men he knew. In my estimation he is simply a modest man, for in him the great tradition of the blues runs pure and deep."

Fred McDowell - Baby Please Don't Go.mp3

Fred McDowell - Kokomo Me Baby.mp3

Fred McDowell - 61 Highway.mp3

Monday, February 27, 2006

Fat Tuesday and King Cake

One of the traditions of Carnival is the King Cake. Everything about Twelfth Night, Carnival, and Mardi Gras is steeped in tradition. If you are not familiar with the symbolism of the king cake, an excellent explanation can be found at www.nola.com (you may be asked for your date of birth to enter.)
Even though I am a thousand miles from New Orleans now, the company I work for is based in Louisiana and it is their tradition to have king cakes delivered fresh from New Orleans to each jobsite on Fat Tuesday. The people who have found the baby in years past are still working here. I suppose there may be something to the superstition!

Professor Longhair - Go to the Mardi Gras.mp3

Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys - New Orleans Beat.mp3

Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers - Git It, Beau Jocque!.mp3

Buckwheat Zydeco - Zydeco La Louisiane.mp3

Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band - Creole Two Step.mp3

Laissez Les Bon Temp Rouler!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Let the good times roll!

Mardi Gras!
It's that time of year again!
For several years the Old Blue Bus was parked on a lot in Boutte (Boo-Tee), Louisiana, just off Hwy 90 west of New Orleans. Your humble driver managed to participate in the 'round-the-clock party that is Carnival Week in New Orleans for three years in a row. And I was fortunate enough to share the good times with some fellow gypsies and very good friends such as that happy reveler in the photo.
It's been more than twenty years since I've been able to make it to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I have celebrated every year no matter where the Bus was parked.

This year our friends in the Big Easy are having a monumental rough time, but they still take time off to celebrate the week before Lent. I wish them all the best and wish I could be there. I'm with them in spirit.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band - Mardis Gras In New Orleans.mp3

Bo Dollis, Monk Boudreaux, Rebirth Brass Band - Shoo Fly.mp3

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Takin' the time to take it easy

Sometimes it's the simple pleasures that are the best. They are all around us, one just has to take the time to notice and enjoy them.

Bob Devlin was a street singer in Georgetown. Most Friday evenings in the '70s he could be found at the corner of 18th & M Streets, perched on his metal stool, guitar in his lap, harmonica rack around his neck, and cymbal under his right foot. He had a small, beat-up old amplifier to be heard above the noise of traffic and a car battery to provide power.

It was always a joy to stand on the busy sidewalk in the midst of D.C.'s rushing masses and to tap my foot and sing along with this modern minstrel.
These two songs are from his Live at 18th & M.

Bob Devlin - Takin' The Time To Take It Easy.mp3

Bob Devlin - The Apple Picker's Reel.mp3

Take some time this weekend to enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Big Bill

"Blues is a natural fact, is something that a fellow lives.
If you don't live it you don't have it . . .
Young people have forgotten to cry the blues.
Now they talk and get lawyers and things."

- Big Bill Broonzy

William Lee Conley "Big Bill" Broonzy was born June 26th, 1893 in Scott, Mississippi. His parents, sharecroppers, had been born into slavery. One of seventeen children, his family moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas while he was still young.
His first introduction to music was the fiddle his uncle Jerry Belcher made out of a cigar box and taught Bill how to play. Bill was working the fields during the day and playing fiddle at dances in the evenings and at church on Sundays.
After a two year stint in the army, Broonzy returned to Arkansas where he worked several jobs during the week and played at the clubs around Little Rock on weekends.
Sometime around 1924, he moved to Chicago where he learned to play the guitar and became one of the central figures in the Chicago blues scene. His biggest gig yet, on December 23rd, 1938, "Big Bill" was one of the principal solo performers in the first "From Spirituals to Swing" concert held at the Carnegie Hall in New York City. He was a stand-in for Robert Johnson, who had been murdered just the week before.
Upon his return to Chicago, Big Bill Broonzy was finding gigs harder to come by. His acoustic country blues, hokum, and ragtime were considered outdated. The electric guitar and full band was gaining popularity. The Chicago-style blues were taking shape and by the late 1940s there wasn't much demand for country blues.
By 1951 Big Bill had simplified his guitar style and added folk songs to his repertoire. It was the beginning of the folk revival and the first time Broonzy made a living playing music without having to work other jobs to pay the rent. He was playing to white audiences in the packed concert halls of Europe.
Eric Clapton cites Big Bill Broonzy as being one of the musicians that influenced his style. Clapton recorded Broonzy's "Key to the Highway" with Derek and the Dominoes.
Big Bill Broonzty died of lung cancer August 15th, 1958.

Big Bill Broonzy - How You Want It Done.mp3
recorded March 29, 1932

Big Bill Broonzy - Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down.mp3
recorded October 11, 1935

Big Bill Broonzy - Come Home Early.mp3
recorded August 16, 1937

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Damn Big SUV

On my way home from work last night, I came up behind a large SUV (I prefer the acronym SAV - Suburban Assault Vehicle) that seemed to have trouble staying on our side of the road. It would drift across the center line and then back, but never fully in it's own lane. There seemed to be a rhythm to the swaying. After a while, I realized that the driver was drifting to the center of the road each time we approached a mailbox along the shoulder, as if they were driving a tractor-trailer with a wide load.
I drive a little, 36 year old two-seater. Makes sense to me, since I drive alone most of the time. And running through the gears in a vintage sports car on those winding backroads is a wonderful way to unwind on my way home most evenings. Unless I encounter someone in an oversized vehicle straddling the line.

Papa Joe Grappa - Damn Big SUV.mp3
from Too White To Sing The Blues - available from papajoegrappa.com

Monday, February 20, 2006

Outfit your band in the kitchen and hardware store

High quality, European-style instruments were in short supply in North America during the first decades of the 20th century. Even if they could be found, few rural musicians could afford them.
More affordable instruments were in order. Two of Mama's spoons, her washboard, a couple of dried bones from Sunday's rib dinner, and a freshly emptied jug of corn liquor. What you couldn't get from the kitchen, you were sure to find at the general store for a reasonable sum.

The Jaw Harp (or Jews Harp) is one of the oldest and most widespread of instruments. Metal Jaw Harps have been uncovered in historic excavations around the western world. The bamboo version is found throughout Asia and the South Pacific.

John Wright - Medley of Irish Reels.mp3
from Good Time Music - recorded at the National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Vienna, Virginia, 1974

Bones were a readily available and popular rhythm and percussion instrument.

Blind Blake - Dry Bone Shuffle.mp3
from The Best of Blind Blake - available from Yazoo

Washboard and Kazoo. Add a fine guitar player and you're ready for them up-town joints.
Blind Boy Fuller - Jitterbug Rag.mp3

Now, knowing how much I enjoy a good jug band, I know a few of you out there are wondering why I didn't post any jug. I've got a good excuse. I ain't quite emptied this one yet!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

To each 'is own

I've mentioned before in this space how subjects that stir deep emotion in the songwriter and singer make for powerful music. It doesn't matter what the subject is, as long as it provokes deep, heartfelt emotion in the performer. The blues of the poor and down-trodden, the anger of the protest singer, the hope for justice of the civil rights marchers, the loneliness of a wronged lover, and the belief in a deity, all have produced some of the greatest music.

Religion is one of those forces that stirs deep emotions. In my personal collection I have some powerful, moving, religious music. Everything from Gregorian chants and haunting Polynesian prayer songs, to the more familiar Christian gospel and New Orleans funeral marches. With the Middle East in an uproar over cartoons, arsonists torching Alabama churches, and the evangelical stranglehold on our Federal government, religion has been prominent in the news around the world lately.

No matter what your own beliefs, religion has an affect on the lives of us all. It has taught me to plan for the future. For if I empty my last bottle of hooch on Saturday night, I have to wait until Monday morning to restock. Thank God, I can run out for a beer after noon!

George Thompson - A Chaw Of Tobacco And A Little Drink
recorded February 1930

Corn Bred - God Don't Work The Night Shift
from It's Hot - 1978 Briar Records (out-of-print)

Bryan Bowers - Zen Gospel Singing
from By Heart - 1984 Flying Fish, buy it here
Yes, that is the Seldom Scene signing harmony.

John McCutcheon - Talking Pat and Jerry Blues
from Hail to the Chief!(and other short shelf-life classics) - buy it here, but, he offers it as a free download here.

If you are looking for some good gospel tunes, head on over to Long Sought Home, where Rob posts some wonderfully obscure, and powerful music of the afterlife.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cruisin' Deuces

"He's been called the 'World's Greatest Unknown Guitarist', but what famous guitarist could outplay him?"
-Guitar Player magazine; Mar. '89

Danny Gatton, nicknamed "The Humbler" (a monkier given him by Amos Garrett), started playing guitar in 1957 at the age of 12. Deciphering the riffs of his hero Les Paul, soon he was playing a perfect note-for-note duplication of "How High the Moon". His parents urged him to pick up the pace of Bill Dorrett's "Honky Tonk" and songs by Chet Atkins and their neighbor, Roy Clark. The kid had some hip folks, eh?! At the age of thirteen, Gatton appeared on a local Washington D.C. country music TV show and played "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" so fast on his Vega 5-string banjo that the show's band couldn't keep up. The host, Don Owens, asked young Danny how long he had been playing. "Seven months" was the youngster's reply!

Joining D.C.'s active music scene around 1974 with his newly formed band, Danny and the Fat Boys, Gatton soon became the guitarist of choice. Armed with his self-customized '53 Fender Telecaster, Gatton played a diverse repertoire of guitar-driven musical styles. Blues, rockabilly, country rock, funk, jazz and blends of each. His legendary status grew through the '70s as he teamed with pedal steel innovator, Buddy Emmons, forming the fiery Redneck Jazz Explosion. He briefly joined Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen in 1978. In the early '80s he played with country star Roger Miller and the neo-rockabilly Robert Gordon.

Guitar Player magazine, in 1989, named him "World’s Greatest Unknown Guitar Player". Earning him his second nickname, "The Telemaster". In 1991 he released the critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated album 88 Elmira St. Despite it's popularity with guitar enthusiasts, the album didn’t sell well, nor did his 1993 followup, Cruisin’ Deuces. Though he seemed on the road to success, he was dropped by Elektra, and on October 20th, 1994 the guitar world lost a great talent when Danny Gatton died by his own hand.

Gatton's electronic innovations were honored by Fender with the issue of the Danny Gatton Signature Line. Fender also sponsored a benefit concert for his daughter's college fund.

I was fortunate to see Danny Gatton several times in the late 1970s/early 1980s. In fact I bought my copy of Redneck Jazz, pressed on bright red vinyl, at one of his shows with Buddy Emmons in D.C.
He is sorely missed.

Danny Gatton - Funky Mama.mp3
from 88 Elmira St.

Danny Gatton - Elmira St. Boogie.mp3
from 88 Elmira St.

Danny Gatton - Thirteen Women.mp3
from Cruisin' Deuces

Danny Gatton - Slidin' Home.mp3
from 88 Elmira St.

Danny Gatton's recordings are now being re-released by Big Mo. If you don't have any, you'll need to get some.
Danny Gatton was a tinkerer as well as "The Greatest Guitarist You Never Heard Of". I mentioned his modified '53 Telecaster that Fender released as the Danny Gatton Signature Line. He also built an electronic control box, mounted on his '61 Les Paul Custom, that controlled everything from his motor-driven Echoplex to his Leslie organ speakers, known as the Magic Dingus Box.
When not amazing audiences with his guitar, he built custom street rods at his farmhouse in Maryland. Danny believed that every old farm house needed an old "yard car" to complement the landscaping. Danny said this car was too far gone to fix, so it became his lawn ornament.

So much for my short post!
Ya'll have a good weekend

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Another day in Virginia

I just couldn't resist another day of music from Virginia.

The Right Turn Clydes (that's them pictured above) aren't really from Virginia. They make their homes just across the border in Durham, North Carolina. But two of them are originally from the Richmond area, and the song I chose to post is titled "Going Back to Mechanicsville" (a suburb, east of Richmond). If you want to hear more of these fellas you can book them for your next party or catch one of their rare appearances at festivals in North Carolina. They haven't recorded anything besides a demo yet. But I have a feeling we'll be hearing more from the Right Turn Clydes in the future.

Right Turn Clydes - Mechanicsville.mp3
Please excuse the poor quality. This is a live recording the Clydes made at one of their shows.

The Hackensaw Boys are from Charlottesville, Virginia. They've made a name for themselves on the college circuit and have been touring North America and Europe for the past few years. They still play at the Blue Moon Diner in Charlottesville whenever they aren't on the road.

Hackensaw Boys - Alabama Shamrock.mp3

Just a note: I've been having some trouble with Blogger every night this week. I may have to keep Friday's post short (as if anyone would miss my rambling). I'll try to work out some of the bugs this weekend.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Davey Crockett Ward and his neighbor Alec (Uncle Eck) Dunford were a couple of fiddlers from Ballard Branch, Virginia, just a couple of miles from Galax in Carroll County. Even folks who do not follow old-time music know Galax, Virginia as the home of the Galax Old Fiddler's Convention, the oldest and largest old-time music competition in the world.

Uncle Eck Dunford lived in a small cabin on Ballard Branch. He earned a decent living playing fiddle for Earnest Stoneman and his Dixie Mountaineers and competing at fidder's conventions. In 1932, when Stoneman left Galax, Uncle Eck refused to leave his beloved Ballard Branch and joined forces with the Ward family.

Crockett Ward and His Boys were a popular string band in the Galax area. The band consisted of Crockett on fiddle, his son Fields played guitar and sang, and his brother Wade Ward played banjo. The Ward's family doctor, Dr. W.P. Davis, was the band's manager and sometimes played autoharp with the Boys. When Uncle Eck joined their ranks it was the good doctor who suggested a name for the new band in reference to the mud on the rough road to the Ward's cabin.

From 1937 until 1942, the Ballard Branch Bogtrotters delighted audiences in southwest Virginia, and through their records, all across the country. Uncle Eck was a regular at the Old Fiddlers Convention from 1935 until his death just weeks before the 1953 Convention. All participants and the audience observed a moment of silence in Uncle Eck’s memory. His cabin still remains on Ballard Branch.

Ballard Branch Bogtrotters - Deadheads and Suckers

Ballard Branch Bogtrotters - Cold Icy Floor

Monday, February 13, 2006

Forty-five years from now

Today 192 million Valentine’s Day cards will trade hands according to Hallmark. That figure does not include pre-packaged Valentine's for children's classroom exchanges.
Flowers, candy, cards, and other gifts, a commercial celebration of love. No one is sure who St. Valentine was, could have been any of three ancient fellows. Visit the History Channel for a brief and interesting history of Valentine's Day.

I'm a bit of a romantic, but I've never had much interest in Valentine's Day or Hallmark's version of love. A relationship is a yearlong, no, lifelong endeavor. Like life itself, love has it's ups and downs. It's all in what you make it. Make it special and you'll be walkin' on the moon more often than not.

Katy Moffatt & Rosie Flores - Walkin on the Moon
from The Folkscene Collection Vol.III

Stan Rogers - Forty-Five Years
from Fogarty's Cove

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A taste of winter

It's been an unusually warm winter along the Atlantic coast. This past weekend we got our first nor'easter of the season. It looks as if New England got a real snowfall. Here in Virginia, we got a couple of inches that looked mighty pretty Sunday morning. By noon the sun had melted our winter wonderland into the more typical Virginia winter mud. Not as picturesque, but a lot easier for Southern folk to deal with.
With the smell of woodsmoke in the air, I enjoyed a cup of coffee in the quiet, white landscape before it melted off.

Bill Staines - Haulin' In The Wood
from Old Wood and Winter Wine. Buy it here

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Like a fine bottle of wine...

Today, while sitting at work, I realized I had yet to turn my wall calendar. I flipped the page to February and reflected on the passing of time and how, as I've aged, I've become content with my lot in life. In fact, life has been good, and either I'm easier to please or my life is getting better as I mature. Oh, I've seen my share of hard times as I'm sure most of us have, but all told, I've really enjoyed my life. I'm looking forward to the next stages with anticipation. My wife and I have just a couple years more and we will be empty-nesters. I am looking forward to seeing our children off on their own and making their way in the world. They are starting on an exciting and sometimes scary journey. On the other hand, my responsibilities are less and my time is more and more my own. I'm looking forward to once again spending time alone with my wife, who after more than two decades and three children, is even more beautiful in my eyes than when we first met. The days of family vacations halfway across the continent to Grandma & Grandpa's are done.
I've come to appreciate the maturity, peace, and hopefully a little wisdom, that age has allowed me thus far. And I am looking forward to the next stage of this trip.

Stan Rogers - Lies
from Northwest Passage buy it here

Cheryl Wheeler - 75 Septembers
from Driving home buy it here

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Pickin' Women: Rebecca Hoggan

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Rebecca Hoggan moved to Colorado during the summer of 2000 in search of other pickers to form a band. And find other pickers, she did.
The band, Hit & Run Bluegrass is comprised of Rebecca Hoggan (guitar), Erin Coats (bass), John Frazier (mandolin), Todd Livingston (dobro) and Aaron Youngberg (banjo). Their 2004 debut CD, Beauty Fades is one of very few contemporary Bluegrass CDs that I can listen to repeatedly. Listen to sound clips from their latest CD Without Maps Or Charts at hitandrunbluegrass.com.

An accomplished flat picker on her own, Rebecca has been recognized by Flatpicking Guitar Magazine and Bluegrass Unlimited for both her flatpicking and vocals. These three cuts are from her 2001 solo CD Born In East Virginia, available here. Give a listen to the wonderful combination of her rock solid flatpicking and beautiful voice.

Rebecca Hoggan - East Virginia

Rebecca Hoggan - High On A Mountain

Rebecca Hoggan - Big Mon

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Big black trains and cold, cold beer

There is only one road out of the industrial wasteland where I earn make my living and that road is crossed by three railway crossings. Recently it seems that someone at Norfolk Southern Railroad has scheduled the assembly of a large freight train at beer-thirty on Wednesday afternoons. A long string of tank and hopper cars eases across the road, the engine well out of sight beyond the bend, ever slowing until the echoing jolt of the couplers is heard and then the parade reverses. As the last tank car approaches the crossing, the snake of cars comes to a stop once again as the brakeman throws the switch. The string of cars reverse down a new track this time until, bang!bang,bang,bang... yet another string of cars are added to the parade. Now much longer than when it first backed across my path to cold beer and freedom, the train slowly starts it's long journey to places far away.
I've sat in my car watching this slow-motion pong game for thirty to forty-five minutes every Wednesday and it occurred to me that most songs about trains speak of gaining your freedom on a train to somewhere new or of losing someone who was leaving on a train. Not a song comes to mind that presents the train as an impediment to freedom. Perhaps I could use my time, as the tank cars lumber by, to write a sad train song about my temporary loss of freedom.
Yea, or I could just throw a cooler behind the seats on Wednesdays.

Stan Johnson & The Sonics - Big Black Train
Ruby Records - 1967

O.C. Holt - This Train
Sun Records (unreleased)

Monday, February 06, 2006

Right here in my backyard

My adopted home of Richmond, Virginia is known for many things. Home to a Federal Reserve Bank, tobacco giant, Phillip Morris and the Legend Brewery. To history buffs it was the capital of the Confederacy and boyhood home of Edgar Allan Poe. To kayakers it is the only city with a natural class 5 whitewater river running through it. To it's critics it is the fifth most dangerous city in the U.S.

I have come to appreciate the many faces of Richmond in the ten years I've been here. Situated on the Piedmont Breaks as are Washington D.C., to the north, and Charlotte, North Carolina, to the south. The Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic beaches just to the east and the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains to the west, all close enough for a day's visit.

Today, I thought we'd take a look at some of the good, homegrown bluegrass from right here in my backyard.

Jackass Flats - Train 2732
Visit Jackass Flats.

King Wilkie - It's Been A Long Time
Technically, they are from just this side of Afton Mountain in Charlottesville.
See when King Wilkie will be in your area.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Pittsburgh and Seattle

The Old Blue Bus doesn't normally make mention of sporting events, but this is the Super Bowl. What could be more American than parking your butt on the couch, cold beer and snacks at arms reach, and watching millionaires playing a game on TV? But, hey, I did win a little extra spending money in the office pool!

In the past I have lived in both Pittsburgh and Seattle. Both are great cities that I would gladly visit again.

Good Neighbors Band - Kentucky Whiskey & Pennsylvania Women

Bryan Bowers - The View From Home

Friday, February 03, 2006

"New" old-time string band music

String band music is making something of a resurgence in popularity these days. Possibly fueled by the popularity of bands such as Nickel Creek, who have blended the string band instruments with pop and rock, or by the satirical groups such as the Boxcar Preachers who, while being great musicians, seem to poke fun at the style.

But there are bands out there playing good, traditional string band music. Portland, Oregon's Foghorn String Band are an excellent example. These guys don't rely on silly stage shenanigans or digital tom-foolery, their tight instrumentals and honest vocals are all that's required to get an audience on their feet and dancing. In fact they host, with caller Bill Martin, a popular, free monthly square dance in Portland.

The interplay between the fiddle and mandolin on this live recording is just wonderful. Foghorn perform and recorded their first 2 CD's just as you see them pictured above, seated in a semi-circle, as if it was an informal jam session. I have not had the pleasure of seeing them perform, but it sure sounds like they are enjoying themselves, and it's contagious!
"Roll up the rug, you know Mama don't want you dancin' on it!"

Foghorn - Lacy Brown/Hangman's Reel

Foghorn - All Night Long

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

New Lost City Ramblers

During the folk revival of the late 1950's and '60's, city boys Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tracy Schwarz, as the New Lost City Ramblers, introduced a new generation to old-time string band music. They learned the songs from long out-of-print 78 rpm records and presented them in traditional style to new audiences at festivals, clubs, and college campuses. They sparked a resurgence of interest in this long forgotten American musical style.

The New Lost City Ramblers have not only introduced traditional performers to new audiences but have greatly influenced many of today's performers, such as the Highwoods String Band and the Horseflies.

New Lost City Ramblers - Roll On Buddy

New Lost City Ramblers - Stone's Rag