Thursday, May 31, 2007

Long Black Veil

Murder ballads have a long history in the Southern Appalachians, but one of the most popular songs of a tragic death adds a few twists. “Long Black Veil” is the story of a man who didn’t murder anyone. The song is sung from the point of view of a man wrongly accused of a murder. When asked by the judge to provide an alibi, he refuses to tell that he had been having an affair with his best friend’s wife. Without an alibi, the man is hung for the murder and takes the secret of their affair to his grave.

But, ”Long Black Veil” is not a traditional Appalachian ballad. It was written in the late 1950s and first recorded by Lefty Frizzell in 1959. Even though the song is sung from the point of view of the wrongly hanged man, it was written by a woman, Marijohn Wilkin, an ex-school teacher who moved to Nashville after her first husband was killed in WWII. During the mid-1950s she toured with Red Foley and wrote many hit songs. Her songs were recorded by many of Country music’s biggest names. In 1959, she, along with Danny Dill wrote, ”Long Black Veil”. Wilkin, later reworked and recorded the song as ”My Long Black Veil”, sung from the woman’s perspective.

Many riders on the Bus may recognize Marijohn Wilkin as the one credited with discovery of Kris Kristofferson. As a songwriter, Marijohn also owned a publishing company in Nashville. One of Marijohn Wilkin’s cousins was in the army with Kristofferson and sent her several of his songs, which she published for him. "For the Good Times" was recorded by Ray Price in 1970 and went straight to the top of both the Country and Pop charts, giving Kristofferson instant credibility as a songwriter.

Marijohn Wilkin remained active in the music publishing business until her death last October. Her most recent hits were recorded by LeAnn Rimes.

The Country Gentlemen - Long Black Veil.mp3

Marijohn Wilkin - My Long Black Veil.mp3

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Those 'I Killed My Wife' Songs

I first met my good friends Greg and Ramona when Greg and I worked together on a project in Illinois. I had arrived at the jobsite a day before I was to start work. As I had done many times before, I drove east from the jobsite in search of a place to stay while I was on the job. I learned early on in this gypsy career, if I live east of the job, I won’t be driving into the sun on my way to and from work.

As often happened, I found a bar before I found a place to stay. It was midday and I needed to wash the road dust from my throat. The barkeeper was a woman named Jackie and she had just bought the place. The structure wasn’t much more than a little clapboard shack, but it had a certain comfort to it. Jackie and I had the place to ourselves and enjoyed some good conversation and more than a few drinks. After a while a few other folks drifted in and joined us at the bar. They were a friendly, pleasant lot, mostly farmhands from the surrounding cornfields.

One by one my new drinking buddies stepped down off their stools and stumbled to the door. Just as the day had started, Jackie and I were once again talking and drinking in her empty barroom. As she poured me another beer, Jackie told me closing time had past a few hours earlier and asked where I was staying. That is when it occurred to me that I had not gotten very far on my search for living quarters. Jackie offered me the use of a cot she had in the back room and told me she would be back at 6:00am to open for breakfast. As I settled onto the cot I heard Jackie lock the doors on her way out. My dreams had come true! I was locked in a bar overnight.

As promised, Jackie returned at dawn. I took my place at the bar with some of the same farmhands from the night before and had a couple of eggs, sausage, and a shot of rot gut whiskey before heading off to the jobsite.

It was on the jobsite that I met Greg. He was a friendly sort and we talked most of the day. As we were leaving for the day he asked where I was staying. Damn, I had forgotten all about that! Greg offered a homemade meal with him and his wife and I was in no position to refuse. After a wonderful supper, we poured a few of Greg’s homebrews. Greg fetched his guitar and Ramona’s mandolin, and I, my Autoharp. I don’t recall all of the songs we played that night, but we came around to “Banks of the Ohio” and followed that with “Little Omie Wise”. As we took a break to empty and refill our glasses, Ramona turned to Greg and said “It looks like you have found someone to play all of those ‘I killed my wife’ songs with.”

Ramona had a point that I had not considered until then. There are a fair amount of murder ballads in early Appalachian music. Until then, I had not thought about the significance of murder ballads, and to be honest, I haven’t given it much thought since. It's strange, but every time I hear one of the old murder ballads, I don’t think about jealousy or death. I remember an evening of good friends, good food, good drink, and good music.

Riley Puckett - Chain Gang Blues.mp3

Bill Monroe - On The Banks Of The Ohio.mp3

Dock Boggs - Little Omie Wise.mp3

Molly O'Day - Poor Ellen Smith.mp3

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

If I didn't have to work...

Well the first day back at work went fairly smooth. I like these short weeks. Next weekend is already within sight.

I’ve always considered myself lucky to be able to make a good living doing something that I enjoy. As much as I complain about work, I really do enjoy my chosen career, but, I have been doing it for thirty-two years! I’m not quite ready to retire, but I sure do try to enjoy my time off.

The Dixon Brothers - Weave Room Blues.mp3

The Dixon Brothers - Spinning Room Blues.mp3

Merl Lindsay & His Oklahoma Night Riders - Cotton Sack Drag.mp3

When I do retire, I believe I’ll build another Old Blue Bus and travel to as many festivals as possible. Here’s a list of some more great festivals this summer. Thanks to all the folks that sent in links to their favorites.

North Carolina Sate Bluegrass Festival
June 14 - 16
Cherokee, North Carolina

Telluride Bluegrass Festival
June 21 - 24
Telluride, Colorado

Old Songs Festival of Traditional Music & Dance
June 22 - 24
Altamont, New York

Tottenham Bluegrass Festival
June 22 - 24
Tottenham, Ontario

Stan Rogers Folk Festival
June 29 – July 1
Canso, Nova Scotia

Winnipeg Folk Festival
July 5 - 8
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Woody Guthrie Folk Festival
July 11 - 15
Okemah, Oklahoma

30th Annual Vancouver Folk Festival
July 13 -15
Vancouver, British Columbia

Lowell Folk Festival
July 27 - 29
Lowell, Massachusetts

Champlain Valley Folk Festival
August 3 – 5
Ferrisburgh, Vermont

Newport Folk Festival
August 3 -5
Newport, Rhode Island

Edmonton Folk Music Festival
August 9 -12
Edmonton, Alberta

46th Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival
August 17 - 19
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Fox Valley Folk Music
& Storytelling Festival

September 2 - 3
Geneva, Illinois

Walnut Valley Festival
September 12 - 16
Winfield, Kansas

Monday, May 28, 2007

Talk About A Party!

Whew, what a great holiday weekend that was! I hope y'all had a great weekend too.

The good times are still with us as we get back to work today. Hopefully, we can ride those good times all day, before the reality of the workweek hits.

Don’t over do it today. Try to ease back into whatever tasks lie ahead.

Roy Clark and Gatemouth Brown - Talk About A Party.mp3

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Valley

It's Friday and in the US we are looking at a three-day weekend. I’ve checked the weather forecast and the river levels. The weather is shaping up to be beautiful, with highs around 90°F (32°C) and clear skies. The rivers, on the other hand, are emptying fast.

All of this thought of festivals and outdoor concerts started last weekend when we went to see Emmylou Harris on Brown’s Island. Located on the James River, at the mouth of the reconstructed Kanawha Canal, Brown’s Island is Richmond’s favorite concert and festival spot.

Wherever you are this weekend, take a little time for a few of the pleasures that make our trip on this little planet worthwhile.

Y'all have a good weekend!

Bailey Brothers - Happy Valley Special.mp3

Don Reno, Bill Harrell & the Tennessee Cut-Ups - Red Rockin' Chair.mp3

The Sometime Band (Bobby Atkins, Vassar Clements, & Frank Poindexter) - Two Dollar Bill.mp3

Frosty Mountain Boys - Slew Foot.mp3

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Smoothin' out the edges

Wednesday was one of those days that never seemed to end. I got a lot accomplished, and I suppose I should take some solace in that, but every time I looked at the clock it didn’t appear to have changed from the last peek.

By the time I got home, I just had to make a little music to set myself straight again. I took an Autoharp out to my rocking chair on the porch. A couple of Carter Family tunes quickly put my head back where it belongs and soon all was well with the world. Ah, the power of music! If only more troubles were so easily vanquished.

Mother Maybelle Carter has been an influence on all Autoharp players, your humble driver included. As originally designed, the Autoharp was meant to be sat on a tabletop and strummed. Maybelle Carter played with her Autoharp resting on a small table when she first started performing, but the Autoharp is a very quiet instrument, especially when accompanied by more vocal instruments such as the guitar and banjo. In order for her instrument to be better heard, Mother Maybelle lifted her Autoharp off the table and held it to her chest, helping to direct the sound forward rather than up.

Nowadays, nearly all Autoharp players hold their instrument “Mother Maybelle” style.

Of course, I am a bit biased, but I find Mother Maybelle’s Autoharp music soothes a rough day. Perhaps a few other riders on the Bus could use a little soothing today.

Mother Maybelle Carter - Drunkard's Hell.mp3

Mother Maybelle Carter - Running Bear.mp3

Sara & Maybelle Carter - Happiest Days Of All.mp3

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Your blue eyes run me crazy"

All this talk of upcoming festivals has got me highlighting dates on my calendar. This year’s festival season is looking great. With so many good festivals to choose from, deciding which ones to attend is pretty tough.

I’ve listed some more of my favorites, along with links, below. I’m still planning the ones that will require road trips. If any of you good Bus riders have a favorite that hasn’t been mentioned yet, leave a comment and let us all know about it.

Here are a few of my favorite local events:

Bayou Boogaloo & Cajun Food Festival
June 22 – 24
Norfolk, Virginia

July 26 - 29
Floyd, Virginia

Old Fiddler’s Convention
August 6 – 11
Galax, Virginia

Central Virginia Family Bluegrass Festival
August 16 - 18
Amelia, Virginia

National Folk Festival
October 12 – 14
Richmond, Virginia

Carter Family - I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes.mp3

West Virginia Coon Hunters - Your Blue Eyes Run Me Crazy.mp3

The Dixon Brothers - Bonnie Blue Eyes.mp3

Flatt & Scruggs - Baby Blue Eyes.mp3

The Armstrong Twins - Sparkling Blue Eyes.mp3

Monday, May 21, 2007

"I don't like to wear no shoes"

It’s finally here! We’ve been looking forward to it all winter long and now Festival Season is here. Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial kick off of the summer festival season here in the States. Our friend Dan reminded us that north of the border they started the season this past weekend with Victoria Day.

Once again, I plan to enjoy as many outdoor festivals as I can possibly get to this year. Overtime at the industrial wasteland that pays my bills should be over by the end of June. Until then I’ll have to stay closer to home, but there are plenty of good festivals nearby to enjoy.

For those of you free to travel the season kicks off with some great festivals.
Here are just a few:

Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival
June 07 - June 10, 2007
Wind Gap, Pennsylvania

North Fork Bluegrass & Roots Music Festival
June 08 - June 10, 2007
Hotchkiss, Colorado

Celebration in Old Town
June 08 - June 10, 2007
Chicago, Illinois

Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival
June 09 - June 16, 2007
Bean Blossom, Indiana

5th Annual Canada Day Jam
July 01, 2007
Toronto, Ontario

It’s time to slip off those shoes, fill the cooler, and enjoy some good live music in the warm sunshine.

Bill Clifton - Barefoot Days.mp3

Reno & Smiley - Barefoot Nellie.mp3

Stringbean - Shake That Little Foot Sally Ann.mp3

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bluegrass Fiddle

No, I didn’t stretch my long weekend into a week long rest. Although I’ve been gone from the Bus for the past week, I only took last Monday off from work and I have been working extra hours of overtime to get back on schedule. Its funny how, when you most need some time away from the job, it is usually when you can least afford to be gone.

It’s good to be back on the Bus. Let’s get the music rolling again!

Over the past week I have been reflecting on past posts and it occurred to me that during our week-long look at the fiddle I neglected to post any bluegrass. So let’s start this week off with some bluegrass fiddle.

Jim Eanes & Bobby Atkins - Old Man Joe.mp3

Reno & Smiley - Kansas City Railroad Blues.mp3

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sun, Sand, and Tequila

Long hours at the plant have taken their toll this week. I believe I’m overdue for a long weekend.

I mentioned to the wife that I’ve had a hankerin’ for a weekend on a river in the mountains (she doesn’t read these daily ramblings.) She thought a long weekend was a great idea, but had a different location in mind. So, we compromised, she said “the beach” and I said “sure.” After twenty-five years together I’ve finally learned the art of compromise.

We all need a little time away from the work-a-day world now and again. A long sandy beach, an umbrella, an ocean breeze, and a well stocked cooler by my side fits the bill just fine. Three or four days on the Outer Banks of North Carolina should do the trick.

I’ll leave the bus idling, y’all make yourselves at home.

Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers - Come Wet Your Mustache With Me.mp3

Jim Reeves - Drinking Tequila.mp3

Ernie & Mack - Gonna Raise A Ruckus Tonight.mp3

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sweet Mountain Fiddle

Clark Kessinger was one of the greatest mountain fiddlers of the 1920s & 30s, entering fiddle contests all up and down the Southern Appalachians and winning nearly all contests he entered.

Clark Kessinger was born in Charleston, West Virginia and lived most of his life in Kanawha County. Clark studied classical violin as a young man, but also played the songs he heard along the riverfront. Clark and his nephew, Luches, had been entering contests throughout the area and taking prizes home on a regular basis. In 1928 his violin teacher arranged for a recording session with Brunswick so Clark and Luches headed off to the studios in Ashland, Kentucky. Although they were uncle and nephew they billed themselves as the Kessinger Brothers, and their records sold very well. The two enjoyed a brief moment of fame before the Depression ended their musical career.

During the folk revival of the late 1950s and early 60s, the Kesinger brothers were rediscovered and enjoyed a second brief period of fame.

You’ll hear Clark’s classical training on these tunes. The tunes are definitely Old Time, but Clark’s playing is much more cosmopolitan, more refined, than most rural fiddlers.

Update: links fixed.
Kessinger Brothers - Johnny Bring The Jug Round The Hill.mp3

Kessinger Brothers - Kanawha March.mp3

Kessinger Brothers - Tug Boat.mp3

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mountain Fever

Mid-week and I’m already looking forward to the weekend. I’ve been putting in 10-12 hour days at the plant since February and it looks as if the overtime will continue through June. I’m in need of a fast moving mountain stream to dip a paddle in.

I started wasting my time on rivers as a young boy with a fishin’ pole. The Patuxent River was just a short walk down a lonely country road from my childhood home and many a summer day of my youth was spent along the riverbank. At the age of fourteen I traded some of my hard earned paper route money for my first kayak. Not willing to risk my new craft on the swift waters of the river, I walked a mile of railroad track with my new boat on my shoulder to one of my favorite small lakes. There I practiced making that pointed little craft go in the direction I desired and perfected my “wet exit.” A wet exit is an emergency move to get out of an overturned kayak. It was on that lake, down the tracks and deep in the woods, where I successfully completed my first Eskimo roll. A sweep of the paddle and a quick snap of my hips, and I was sitting upright again. Now I was ready for that river!

Over the years I have owned dozens of small watercraft. The time I spend on the water is some of my most precious. Whether a peaceful paddle along a glassy lake, parting reeds in a marsh or swamp, or dancing amongst the foam of a lively whitewater river, few things can renew and relax as just “messing about in small boats.”

We have several challenging whitewater rivers just a few miles from my current home and I plan to be on one of them this weekend, but I’m really ready for a road trip to the mountains, and the cool, fast moving waters that renew the spirit.

Roy Ross - Blue Ridge Breakdown.mp3

Bill Harrell & The Virginians - I Want To Go Back To The Mountains.mp3

Jim Greer - My Home's Across The Blue Ridge Mountains.mp3

The Delmore Brothers - Going Back To The Blue Ridge Mountains.mp3

Monday, May 07, 2007

Not the same old song and dance

Politicians have always been a source of entertainment. All too often their antics are not intended to amuse, but every once in a while we are blessed with a professional entertainer who rises above harmless entertainment and is unleashed on a once honorable public office.

Pat Paulsen used to say that every four years we elect another amateur comedian to the White House, and it was about time the American people put a professional, like him, in office. I used to love Pat Paulsen’s editorial comments on the Smothers Brothers Show. You have to wonder where we’d be if he had been elected.

Of course, the people have elected professional entertainers to represent them many times in the past and will surely elect many more in the future. California’s got the Governator. Sonny Bono was once the mayor of Palm Springs. Ronald Reagan was the 33rd Governor of California and the 40th President of the US. The folks of Minnesota handed their statehouse over to professional wrestler, Jesse (The Body) Ventura. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, has represented West Virginia since 1959 and recorded an album in 1978 earning the nickname Fiddlin’ Senator Byrd.

Louisiana has long had a history of colorful, flamboyant politicians. Jimmie Davis was Louisiana’s Singing Governor, twice.

Jimmie Davis was born into a poor family of sharecroppers near Quitman, Louisiana in 1899. Despite being born into poverty, Davis finished high school and went on to attend Soule Business College in New Orleans. He received his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana College and a master’s degree from LSU.

Davis gained success as a singer during the 1920s. His early music was patterned after the great Jimmie Rodgers, a soulful country blues, complete with some fine yodeling. He also performed and recorded some blues numbers accompanied by the African-American Texas bluesman, Oscar Woods that included some risqué numbers. As a life-long Baptist, he balanced the raunchy blues numbers with several recordings of southern gospels.

Best known for “You Are My Sunshine”, which Davis claimed to have written while at graduate school at LSU, Jimmie Davis had a very successful recording career before he turned to politics. Davis won his bid for governor against Lewis L. Morgan not by making great speeches or having a popular platform. Jimmie Davis won the votes of Louisiana voters by playing his most popular tunes at campaign stops. He summed up his campaign strategy with one sentence: “It’s better in politics to give folks very little talking and a whole lot of songs.”

As governor (1944-1948) he managed to stay out of trouble with the law, a rarity in Louisiana gubernatorial politics. In fact, he managed to stay out of Louisiana for a good portion of his term, spending plenty of time in Hollywood where he starred in several B westerns. He also continued to perform and tour.

In 1959, driven by the national move toward segregation, Jimmie Davis decided to run for the governor’s office again. This time he ran on a pro-segregation platform and won. His second term (1960-1964) was nearly as uneventful as his first, except he did have a number one hit with "There's A New Moon Over My Shoulder."

Jimmie Davis - Red Nightgown Blues.mp3
early recording with Oscar Woods on slide guitar.

Jimmie Davis - There's A New Moon Over My Shoulder.mp3
Davis wrote and recorded this during his second term.

Charles Mitchell's Orchestra - You Are My Sunshine.mp3
The song he is most remebered for, recorded here by Charles Mitchell, one of over 300 recordings of "You Are My Sunshine."

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Tumblin' Tumbleweeds

Leonard Slye was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1911. His father played mandolin and guitar and encouraged young Leonard toward a career in music. By the early 1920s Leonard Slye was playing guitar at local functions around Cincinnati.

As the Great Depression hit, work in Cincinnati was getting hard to find and by 1931 Slye picked up and headed to California. Like so many others, Leonard Slye thought he’d find better times in the fertile fields of California. He worked for a while driving a gravel truck and then found work picking fruit for the DelMonte Company in California's Central Valley.

On a lark, he entered a singing contest on a Los Angeles radio show called Midnight Frolics. A few days after his appearance on the radio he got an invitation to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers. Slye played guitar, sang and yodeled for the group. The group had some minor gigs but wasn’t having much success. After a while they determined they needed to expand their vocal abilities and added a bass player and singer from New Brunswick, Canada by the name of Bob Nolan. Nolan had been working in the bars and clubs of Tucson, Arizona before moving to the Los Angeles area and working as a lifeguard. After a few months Nolan left the band, upset with the lack of any success. He was replaced with Tim Spencer, a worker at the local Safeway warehouse who had migrated from Webb City, Missouri.

By 1933 Leonard Slye was also feeling that the Rocky Mountaineers were going nowhere. He convinced Spencer to quit the band with him and looked up Nolan, who was working as a caddie at a golf course in Bel Air. The three formed a new group, calling themselves the Pioneer Trio. Their combination of close harmony, yodeling, and good, spirited songs won them a job on KFWB radio. To fill out their sound the trio added a fiddler from Plano, Texas by the name of Hugh Farr. KFWB was getting so much fan mail for the Pioneers that they gave them their own show. The show was recorded and replayed across the country on affiliated radio stations. During one of the early broadcasts the announcer introduced them as the “Sons of the Pioneers” claiming that they were too young to have been pioneers. The name stuck and the band quickly gained a large following nationwide.

The band went through a few more personnel changes and started playing to a new venue. They provided the musical soundtrack for the Oswald the Rabbit cartoon that was played in theaters before the headline movie. The next move was to play for full leangth feature films including Gene Autry’s The Old Corral at Republic. In 1938 Autry had a dispute with the studio and refused to show up for the filming. Leonard Slye auditioned for and won the lead part in the cheesy western entitled Under Western Stars. Of course Leonard Slye wasn’t a memorable name for a cowboy hero, so Slye starred in the movie under his new screen name: Roy Rogers.

Sons Of The Pioneers - Tumbling Tumbleweeds.mp3

Sons Of The Pioneers - Pecos Bill.mp3

Sons Of The Pioneers - Cool Water.mp3

Thursday, May 03, 2007


I did not set out to be so political on the Bus this week, but I offer no apologies. Every year on this date for the past 37 years I have paused to remember the massacre at Kent State. This year in particular, with the disclosure just last month that there is an audio recording that appears to include the order to open fire.

On the 4th of May 1970, a group of students gathered for the fourth day to peacefully protest Richard Nixon’s announcement of the escalation of US troops in Vietnam and the invasion of Cambodia.

It breaks my heart to think that we have not learned anything from those turbulent times.

It is Friday though, so I'll lighten up a bit on the music.

Rod McKuen with the Horizon Singers - Folk Music.mp3

The Halifax Three - The Man Who Wouldn't Sing Along With Mitch.mp3

Chad Mitchell Trio - The Sound Of Protest.mp3

Peter, Paul & Mary - Kumbaya.mp3
Kumbaya (Come by Here) is an old Gullah hymn. The Gullah are African-American inhabitants of the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina & Georgia.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Strange Days

What started out as a strange week has just gotten weirder.

Tuesday was the fourth anniversary of “the end of major combat operations in Iraq.” Also on Tuesday, in Los Angeles the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters, clubbing and kicking people in the crowd, including a news crew. The president, after weeks of claiming Congress is endangering our troops by not funding his war spending bill, vetoes the bill when it is delivered. It has been a week filled with scandal and tragedy. Thursday’s Republican debate should be an interesting addition to the week. To top of this already sad week, Friday is the 37th anniversary of the Kent State Massacre. The photo above is from Tuesday’s Los Angeles rally. It is eerily all too familiar.

Woody Guthrie - Sally Don't You Grieve.mp3

Phil Ochs - I Ain't Marching Anymore.mp3

Buffy Sainte-Marie - The Universal Soldier.mp3

Peter, Paul & Mary - Down by the Riverside (Study War No More).mp3

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Comfort food for the ears

Forty years ago we thought we could change the world. Now, the music of our revolution is used to sell cars on TV.

I often find that the music of my youth brings a certain comfort. This week I could use a little soothing.

Dave Van Ronk - Green Rocky Road.mp3

Ramblin' Jack Elliott - Talking Fishing Blues.mp3