Monday, April 30, 2007

"Mission Accomplished": Four Years On

"We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car...I hardly recognize this country anymore...George Bush doesn't have common sense. He just has a lot of sound bites...he prides himself on being faith-based, not reality based. If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, I don't know what will."
- Lee Iacocca

The first of May.
The pre-Christian European holiday of May Day.
It is also International Workers' Day.
More recently, today is the forth anniversary of "Mission Accomplished."
I could use a drink.

John McCutheon - Let's Pretend.mp3
website: John McCutcheon

David Rovics - The War Is Over.mp3
website: David Rovics

Chuck Brodsky - Dangerous Times.mp3
website: Chuck Brodsky

Norman & Nancy Blake - Don't Be Afraid of the Neo Con.mp3
website: Norman & Nancy Blake

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Serena Ryder: If Your Memory Serves You Well

When I first put this CD on I was expecting something exceptional. Some friends had told me about the young woman from Ontario that they saw at SXSW. “Incredible vocal range” and “she took command of the stage” were a few of their comments. Before the end of the first stanza of “Sisters of Mercy” I had to stop in my tracks, sit back in my chair and take it all in.

Serena Ryder is a 24 year old powerhouse from Millbrook, Ontario. Her song, "Just Another Day", off her 2005 CD Unlikely Emergency brought her to the attention of many Canadian radio listeners and set the stage for her new release, If Your Memory Serves You Well.

Her three octave range and emotion-filled voice has been described as smoky, bluesy, and soulful. The best description I could muster was simply, amazing!

If Your Memory Serves You Well is an eclectic study of Canadian songwriting set into motion when Frank Davies, founder of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, invited Serena Ryder to perform at a press conference to announce the 2005 inductees. He was so taken with Ryder’s vocal talent that he suggested she make an album of classic Canadian gems. Included are Dylan’s “This Wheel’s on Fire” (co-written by The Band’s Rick Danko), Percy Faiths' "My Heart Cries for You”, Leonard Cohen's "Sisters of Mercy", a powerful rendition of Bonnie Dobson's "(Take Me For a Walk in the) Morning Dew", Sylvia Tyson's classic "You Were on My Mind", and Ed McCurdy's 1949 anti-war anthem "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”. Ryder also included three of her own compositions that indicate she may be a candidate for the Hall of Fame herself one day.

Note: All files are streaming audio.

Serena Ryder - Sisters Of Mercy.asx

Serena Ryder - This Wheel's On Fire.asx

Serena Ryder - My Heart Cries For You.asx

Serena Ryder is currently on tour in the States. Catch her at one of these shows in May:
5/4 Roxy Theatre Atlanta, GA
5/7 Living Room New York, NY
5/9 Mercury Lounge New York, NY
5/11 Tin Angel Philadelphia, PA
5/12 Star Hill Charlottesville, VA (join me for this show)
5/13 Jammin’ Java Washington D.C.
5/15 Center for the Arts Univ Buffalo, NY
5/18-20 Non-Comm-vention Louisville, KY
5/22 The Mint Los Angeles, CA
5/23 Hotel Café Los Angeles, CA

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Slide guitar, a sandy beach and umbrella drinks

One cannot have a discussion of slide guitar without at least a mention of Hawaiian guitar and the craze that took the world by storm in the 1920s.

The guitar made its way to Hawaii by way of Spanish sailors on trading ships. One of the modern masters of the slide guitar, Bob Brozman, says that the first documented use of the slide guitar in Hawaii took place in 1876.

So, Put on your best flowered shirt and mix up a tall tropical drink. It's Friday!

Kanui & Lula - My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua.mp3

Kanui & Lula - Tomi Tomi.mp3

I realize that I have posted My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua just this past November, but I was in the mood to hear it again. A word of thanks to our good friend and frequent commenter, Rockin’n’rollin’, for sharing this copy of Tomi Tomi with the other riders on the Bus.

Aloha, y'all.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Slidin' the strings

I am a little surprised, and pleased, at the response to the posts this week. Let’s continue our look at the guitar and the many styles of playing.

So far we have concentrated on the right hand and the means of striking the strings, but the let hand has an equally profound effect on the sound of a guitar. Normally the strings are fretted, pressed against the fingerboard above a metal fret, thus shortening the length of the string that is free to resonate, changing its tone. To change the tone of a string from one note to another progressively, without interrupting the voice of the string, the guitar player can slide his finger along the string from one fret to another.

Listen again to John Dilleshaw’s Spanish Fandango posted yesterday. Dilly starts the song off with a slide transition and continues throughout the piece. He also provides excellent examples of “hammering on” and many other left hand techniques beyond the scope of this post, but one should take special note of his use of “harmonics” at about 2:41 into the piece. Just beautiful!

Sorry, I got sidetracked. Let’s get back to the slide. At some time, someone realized that a glass or metal tube slipped over one of the fingers and held against the strings could be slid up and down the length of the string to produce a continuous sound of various notes. There is some controversy about where and when the slide was first developed, but I’ll save that for a future post.

The most common object used as a slide by early practitioners was a small medicine bottle or the cut-off neck of a whiskey bottle. Today commercially made slides of metal or glass and are sized to fit over one of the player’s fingers. To keep the slide from striking and sounding on the metal frets as it is slides along the string, the “action” of the strings (that is, the distance that the string sits above the fingerboard) must be set higher than a standard guitar. But a guitar with high action takes much more finger strength to fret and is Hell on the fingertips. Most guitarists like the action of their strings to be set just high enough that the strings don’t buzz against the frets, making fretting fast and easy. The bottleneck slide player has to compromise the ease of fretting and an unobstructed path for his slide. Pickers that play lap style rarely, if ever, fret and can happily set their action high. I’m off on a tangent again, I’ll blame the gin.

There are hundreds of excellent slide guitar pieces I could post as examples. I chose two that I particularly like for their simply melodies and artful use of the slide.

Bukka White - Jitterbug Swing.mp3

Sylvester Weaver - Guitar Rag.mp3

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Fingerpickin' Goodness

There are basically two ways to play a guitar, the difference being in the way that the strings are struck. All of the music in Monday’s post was created using a pick (plectrum) to strum or strike the strings. This method is commonly called flatpicking. The other method is to use the fingertips or fingernails and is known as fingerpicking. When fingerpicking a guitarist will strum downward with the thumb and strike individual strings in an upward motion with two or three fingers.

There is no advantage to either fingerpicking or flatpicking. In the hands of a talented musician both are equally pleasing to my ears. Today, I have posted two of my favorite fingerpicked tunes. If you are not familiar with the two styles and their differences, listen closely to Monday’s post and compare it with today’s.

Sam McGee - Buck Dancer's Choice.mp3
Recorded 1926 - Sam McGee played with Uncle Dave Macon's Fruit Jar Drinkers for many years.

John Dilleshaw & the String Marvel - Spanish Fandango.mp3
Recorded 1929 - John Dilleshaw was a big, left handed guitarist from Georgia best known for his whimsically-named band, Seven Foot Dilly & His Dill Pickles. The String Marvel was his earlier band.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Just Flat Pickin'

Most of us think of the guitar as a lead instrument, but it hasn’t always been that way. The guitar is a relatively new instrument, and as late as the 1800s was used primarily as a rhythm instrument. During the later half of the 19th century, the parlor guitar, a smaller bodied instrument than a regular concert guitar, gained in popularity due to its size and affordability. With its increasing popularity composers and musicians began writing music specifically for the guitar. During the late 19th and early 20th century the parlor guitar was so popular that a whole genre of “parlor songs” was composed for it.

Some of the earliest guitar recordings show the incredible transformation from playing rhythm to melody. Listen to Riley Puckett’s early recordings with the Skillet Lickers. Although Puckett was a fine guitarist, lacing his playing with delightful runs, today his part would most likely be played on an upright bass.

Let’s have a listen to some of the hottest flat pickers of the late 1920s.

Lowe Stokes & His North Georgians - Take Me to the Land of Jazz.mp3
1928 - Hoke Rice's breaks and runs on this tune are just amazing.

Melvin Dupree - Augusta Rag.mp3

Johnnie Crockett & Albert Crockett - Fresno Blues.mp3
1929 - Great duo by Johnnie & Albert of Crockett’s Kentucky Mountaineers.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Takin' Bluegrass to New England

In previous posts I’ve featured a few of the artists that helped to bring the music of the Southern Appalachians to new audiences. No discussion about the spread of Bluegrass would be complete without mention of the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover.

The Lilly Brothers, Everett and Bea Lilly, were raised in the rural community of Clear Creek, near Beckley, West Virginia. Raised on the popular brother duets of the 1930s, the Lilly brothers first performed together as the Lonesome Holler Boys. Around 1938 they were invited to perform on the Old Farm Hour on WCHS radio in Charleston.

While they enjoyed a local popularity it was their move to Boston in 1952 that would set them on a path to musical history. The move to Boston was at the request of a friend, Tex Logan. With Don Stover, on banjo, making a foursome, the Lilly Brothers and Don Stover played at the famous Hillbilly Ranch in Boston and toured all over New England. They were one of the first real, professional bluegrass bands to perform regularly in the Northeast and can be credited with bringing an appreciation for Bluegrass to the folks of New England.

The Lilly Bothers & Don Stover - The Old Home Town.mp3

The Lilly Bothers & Don Stover - Good Old Mountain Dew.mp3

The Lilly Bothers & Don Stover - Long Journey Home.mp3

The Lilly Bothers & Don Stover - We're Going to Have a Big Time Here Tonight.mp3

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bluegrass Instrumentals

With the weather starting to feel a bit more like spring, I've been planning a few road trips to enjoy soon. One of the advantages of living along the Piedmont Breaks is that it is a short drive east to the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic, or west to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Fortunately, I don’t have to choose one over the other, as either is close enough for a weekend getaway. As the spring festival season gets in full swing I plan to spend many weekends in the mountains, listening to some great live music.

You may have noticed, if you’ve been riding the Bus for a while, that I tend to lean towards the Old Time camp when it comes to mountain music. Every once in a while I get a hunger for some good Bluegrass to balance things out. Lately, I’ve been in one of those Bluegrass moods. Let’s get the Bus back on the road with a few instrumentals from the golden age of Bluegrass.

Mac Martin - Smokey Mountain Rag.mp3

Roy Ross - Blue Ridge Breakdown.mp3

Log Cabin Boys - New Deal (Don't Let Your Deal Go Down).mp3

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In Memoriam

I know that all of the riders on the Bus join together in extending our deepest sympathies to the students and families of Virginia Tech.

Mac Martin - Life's Railway to Heaven.mp3

John Starling & Carolina Star - Prayer For My Friends.mp3

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Listen to the rain

It was a good weekend to stay indoors. The big storm that left snow in New Mexico, flooding in Texas, and tornados in Mississippi, refueled with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and turned into a nasty nor’easter dumping heavy rain and wind from Nova Scotia to Key West.

I didn’t mind the bad weather, I had no reason to leave the warmth of the house. While I was looking forward to an entire day with nothing to do, I fully expected my wife to have an itemized honey-do list prepared for me. As we finished off the morning coffee I figured I had better get started and ask what she had in mind for the day. “We could break the seal on that bottle of gin” she said as she pulled a couple glasses from the cupboard.

Sometimes we all need a rainy day with nothing to do.

Hickorywind - Rainfall.mp3

Cactus Pryor - Cry Of A Dying Duck In A Thunderstorm.mp3

Buck White & The Down Home Folks - Good Morning Country Rain.mp3

New Grass Revival - When The Storm Is Over.mp3

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Whoa, mule!

I've been workin' like a mule lately, so I rummaged through the collection on the Bus for a few appropriate tunes to end the work week.

Jim Greer - Uncle Eph's Got The Coon.mp3

Curly Fox - Johnson's Old Gray Mule.mp3

Bobby Smith & The Boys From Shiloh - Whoa, Mule Whoa.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Little 'Grass With Your Corn

Wow! I should have saved yesterday’s post for Friday. It had my toe tappin’ all day. By the time I got home from work I was well overdue for a cold beer.

After I knocked the edge off that awful thirst I poured myself a fourth, grabbed an Autoharp and settled into my rocking chair. The very first song I ever learned to play was “Old Brown Jug”, and it is still one of my favorites. It’s a simple little tune with a happy melody.

I once heard Bluegrass described as “Old Time music performed by depressed people on amphetamines.” Not all Bluegrass fits the High Lonesome stereotype though. Some Bluegrass is downright fun.

The Frosty Mountain Boys - Mama Likes Bluegrass Music.mp3

Hylo Brown - Little Brown Jug.mp3

Don Reno & Bill Harrell - Hot Corn, Cold Corn.mp3

Our friend and long time rider on the Bus, Larry, sent this photo of the famous old Martha White bus. It has been used by many Bluegrass artists including Bill Monroe and Flatt& Scruggs. Thanks Larry!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

David Ball: Heartaches by the Number

“Take good care of these old songs”
That is the message of David Ball’s Please Feed the Jukebox.

On his new release, Heartaches by the Number, David Ball pays a special tribute to the great classic country songs that were such an influence on his own music. Ball’s 1993 Top 20 Country hit Thinking Problem was one of the rare contemporary commercial country songs that had the feel and soul of the classic songs of country’s golden age. But then, David Ball has always been country music’s renaissance man.

This CD has the feel and sound of those classic albums, due in part to Ball’s great vocals and his heartfelt appreciation of authentic country music. To further the link to the classic sound, Ball recorded the tracks “live” in the studio with an impressive lineup of sidemen.
David Ball pays tribute to the great songs of Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Hank Williams, Hank Locklin, and Bob Wills and tops if off with the only original song on the CD, Please Feed The Jukebox, in which he urges us to “Take good care of these old songs”.

David Ball has treated these classics with honor, talent and enthusiasm.

David Ball - Pick Me Up On Your Way Down.mp3

David Ball - Please Feed The Jukebox.mp3

label: Shanachie
buy it at:

Monday, April 09, 2007

Clawhammer on the Suwannee River

In any discussion about the state of clawhammer banjo today one name comes up early in the conversation. Mary Z. Cox is a long time favorite of many riders on the Bus, and we aren’t alone in our admiration. The readers of Banjo Newsletter recently voted Mary as one of the top four Old Time banjo players.

The latest issue of Mel Bay’s Banjo Sessions webzine has a great interview with Mary. Included with the interview are two short mp3s and Mary’s tablature. For all of you budding clawhammer players, Mary Z. Cox is not only one of the best players but also the best teacher of the style. Nearly all of her CDs have accompanying tab books available.

Visit Mary Z. Cox for all of Mary’s wonderful banjo and dulcimer CDs, concert and workshop schedule and 3 free mp3s.

Of course, Mary and Bob will be at the Florida Folk Festival again. If you can make it to the Florida Folk Festival over Memorial Day Weekend, I highly recommend the experience. For the dozen years that my wife and I owned Front Porch Music and the Barracks Coffeehouse Concert Series in Hobe Sound, Florida, we always looked forward to this annual celebration of Florida’s rich and varied cultural history.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fiddle favorites: Western Swing

In keeping with my habit of posting upbeat music to start the weekend, let's finish "Fiddle Week on the Bus" with some toe tappin' swing numbers.

Three day weekend ahead!
Some folks have today off, others, like me, have Monday off. After months of overtime and no holidays, I’m ready for three days off.
“Gonna get tight, gonna drink that booze
Yea I’m gonna get tight, do what I choose
Now I’m gonna dance, and I’m gonna sing
I’m gonna get tight, do everything”
- Slim Harbert

Clayton McMichen - Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet.mp3

Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies - Oh You Pretty Woman.mp3

Rod Morris - I'm Coming Over Tonight.mp3

Ole Rasmussen and His Cornhuskers - Sleepy-Eyed-John.mp3

Slim Harbert & the Sunshine Boys - Gonna Get Tight.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fiddle Favorites: Fiddlin' the Blues

No look at fiddle music would be complete without mention of the fiddle’s role in the early blues. The role of the fiddle in the blues was often overlooked by early musicologists and folklorists.

Fortunately, the good folks at Old Hat Records have released two absolutely wonderful collections of African-American fiddle and string band music.

As our friend and fellow rider, John, pointed out in his comment to yesterday’s post, Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow! Vintage Fiddle Music 1927-1935: Blues, Jazz, Stomps, Shuffles & Rags is not only an amazing collection of rare fiddle recordings, but the 32 page booklet that accompanies the 24 track CD is a treasure of information.

Also from Old Hat is another collection of rare fiddle blues, entitled Violin, Sing The Blues For Me: African-American Fiddlers 1926-1949. Of course this incredible collection also comes with a detailed 32 page booklet.

Both of these outstanding collections with their informative booklets are available from as one of their “Better Together” deals for US$37.96.

Andrew & Jim Baxter – K.C. Railroad Blues.mp3

Jack Kelly – Red Ripe Tomatoes.mp3

While we are at it, our friend, KJK(aka Ken), also left us a couple of great links yesterday to two great contemporary African-American string bands.

Check out The Carolina Chocolate Drops. This young trio from Durham, North Carolina are headlining the First Annual International String Band Festival in Calhoun, Georgia May 5th, and have earned the support of such greats as Taj Mahall. The Carolina Chocolate Drops have a few videos, photos and articles here.

The Ebony Hillbillies were new to me. I was so impressed with what I heard, that I ordered their CD, Sabrina’s Holiday right away. This wonderful trio plays Old Time string band music on banjo, dulcimer, bass, and fiddle. Their new CD, I Thought You Knew, will be available soon. I’ll be checking back often.

Thanks to John and Ken for sharing these great finds with their fellow riders.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Fiddle Favorites: African-American Fiddlers

African-American musicians had the most profound effect on the music of North America. The Banjo, the blues, and jazz are often cited as the major contributions of African-Americans to American musical culture, but it goes much deeper than that.

I know this is a theme that I keep returning to, but I don’t believe it can be overstated. The blending of African and Caribbean rhythms and syncopations with the traditional English and, later, European musical styles is what made American music unique and laid the foundation for Rock ‘n’ Roll. This blending was already evident by the time Edison invented his cylinder recording machine, so that by the 1920s, when the record companies were swarming all over the South, very little music did not already contain at least some Black influence.

Although Black and White musicians would freely trade licks backstage and at informal jam sessions, this was still the period of Jim Crow and recording sessions were strictly segregated. That is until Bud Landress, the fiddler with the popular White string band the Georgia Yellow Hammers, sat out of a recording session in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It was August of 1927, the Yellow Hammers had traveled to Charlotte to record for Victor. Riding on the same train, but a few cars back, were the Baxter Brothers. The Baxter Brothers were actually the father and son act of Andrew and Jim Baxter. They, too were on their way to record for Victor, although during a separate session.

The Baxters and the Yellow Hammers had played together plenty of times back in Georgia and when Bud Landress sat out of the session, Andrew Baxter sat in as fiddler for the Yellow Hammers. To my knowledge this was the first integrated recording session in the South. The song that Baxter sat in for Landress on was G Rag, and turned out to be one of the Georgia Yellow Hammers better selling records.

Andrew and Jim Baxter - Forty Drops.mp3

Andrew and Jim Baxter - The Moore Girl.mp3

Georgia Yellow Hammers - G Rag.mp3

Andrew & Jim Baxter recordings are somewhat scarce today. Here are a few CDs that include some of their work:
Raw Fiddle available from County Sales
Roots of American Fiddle Music: Vol 2 available from HeaHeah

Last year I posted about the Georgia Yellow Hammers and the Baxters and shortly after I received an email from Paul Shoffner, Jr. of Calhoun, Georgia. He had been working for years to convince the powers that be in Calhoun that they ought to celebrate their native sons, Andrew and Jim Baxter. Well, the folks of Calhoun finally saw the light and on May 5th, 2007 the First Annual International String Band Festival will take place in Calhoun. The festival is being sponsored by the fine folks at Old Hat Records.

I won’t be able to make it to Calhoun, I’m still working too much overtime. If you can make it to the festival, leave a comment on the Bus and give your fellow riders a report.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Fiddle Favorites: Times are a' changin'

Before the radio, music was a locally produced staple of life. Nearly every area held Saturday night barn dances and church picnics on Sunday afternoon. Music was provided by anyone with an instrument. A rural town was fortunate if there was a fiddler in the area, and luckily there seemed to be plenty around.

I’ve discussed the importance of the traveling musician to American music many times in the past. These troubadours, minstrels, and medicine shows were the spoon in the pot of American music stew. They blended ingredients from all over the old world and the result was something familiar, yet a little spicier.

Here are a few regional tunes from Kentucky, Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas. Each still has its local roots, but each of these regional styles was already well evolved with various components of outside influences. In fact, by the time the record companies discovered rural music it had already been changed forever. The popularity of Race, Old Time, and Hillbilly records actually helped preserve some of this music as it caused something of a revival of the older styles.

Dr. Lloyd - The Girl I Left Behind Me.mp3

Carter Brothers & Son - Cotton Eyed Joe.mp3

Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers - Hell Broke Loose in Georgia.mp3

Smokey Valley Boys - Benton's Dream.mp3

Ralph Blizard & The New Southern Ramblers - Blackberry Blossom.mp3

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Fiddle Favorites: Old Time Standards

The fiddle has always played an important roll in the music of North America. It was one of the few instruments that made the trip across the Atlantic with some of the first settlers, thanks to its small size and popularity.

Last week I posted just a few of my all time favorite tunes and it occurred to me that a good number of them were fiddle tunes. I know that more than a few riders on the Bus are fans of fiddle music also, so let’s spin a few good fiddle tunes this week.

Clayton McMichen & Riley Puckett - Fire On Mountain.mp3

Fiddlin' John Carson & His Virginia Reelers - Goin' Down To Cripple Creek.mp3

Fiddlin' Arthur Smith & the Delmore Brothers - Blackberry Blossom.mp3