Thursday, June 28, 2007

Leavin' home for good pay

As long as I can remember, the older folks in rural areas have lamented the fact that the young folks all move away from their hometown to find work in places far away. More often than not those destinations where the work is are less than ideal settings. I don’t know when this migration of young folks started; my guess would be with the development of the railroads, perhaps even earlier.

In the South it probably started with the construction of the large textile mills after the Civil War. Young folks left the familiarity of the homestead for the money and company towns of the mills. The Second World War saw a mass migration of people from the Appalachians to the factories of the Northern cities. Today the residents of small, rural farming communities are watching their young leave the farm for the promise of big money and adventure in the city.

I am one of those that left home for a job in places I never would consider living had it not been for the pay. I have traveled across America in pursuit of my chosen career, and while I have enjoyed the people and cultures I have encountered, I've often longed for a cabin on a mountain stream, far from the sound of a gas flare. As my wife puts it, “They don’t build chemical plants and refineries in nice places.”

I chose these two songs about leaving home for two reasons: First, of course, they suit the theme of today’s topic. Secondly, both songs are from outstanding Canadian artists, and this is the start of the long Canada Day Weekend. Happy Canada Day to all of those folks north of the border that stop in for a ride on the Bus.

Stan Rogers – The Idiot.mp3
Stan Roger’s ”The Idiot” is as close to an anthem for folks in my line of work as you’ll likely find.

Prairie Oyster – One Way Track.mp3

Y’all have a good weekend, eh?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Learnin' to play those fancy licks

As a young boy I wanted desperately to learn to play the electric guitar like those guys I heard on the radio. My grandmother was very supportive of my musical interests, and gave me an electric guitar for Christmas one year. After a few months of strange, aurally abusive noise, she signed me up for some classes with a local teacher. Three months later I had nearly mastered half a dozen chords that I was incapable of putting together to make music. It was determined that, perhaps, I should try another instrument. The next year in grade school I decided to take an orchestra class. The instructor thought I could be molded into a cellist, so a cello as large as me was rented and I began the long process of extracting the most horrible sounds that a cello shouldn’t even be capable of producing. At the end of the school year I wasn’t asked to sign up for the next year.

My grandmother had played an old pump organ in her younger years and thought that if she bought an organ and played it, that I may find an interest there. I did enjoy her playing and with lots of practice I could at least play simple, recognizable songs on my own. Unfortunately, I had just entered that stage in life when one takes an interest in the other gender. At social gatherings I noticed that the guys that played an instrument were always surrounded by girls, but it was not easy to tote an organ to a bon fire at the lake. My grandmother suggested I try the accordion; after all, it is basically a portable pump organ. So, an accordion was acquired and the lessons started.

I actually enjoyed the accordion, and found it suited my well. But I was entering high school, and the music from the Lawrence Welk show was just not going to cut it. Besides, “Smoke on the Water” on accordion was not quite “Smoke on the Water”. I set the accordion aside and have never returned.

In the early 1970s my interests in the traditional music of the Appalachians was growing. I bought myself a dulcimer and taught myself to play by ear and from books such as “In Search of the Wild Dulcimer.” Finally, an instrument I could play and enjoy. Not long after that I took up the Autoharp. Both have been good friends for many years now.

Those of you who play an instrument may know the frustration of finding “your” instrument. I’d be willing to bet that a more than a few of you have, like me, tried a few until you found the one that suits you. I’d also bet that there are a few riders on the Bus that have not found their instrument yet. Don’t give up! Whether it be as simple as playing the spoons or washboard, or drumming your fingers on the arm of a chair, there is music in each of us.

Chet Atkins & Tommy Emmanuel - Ode To Mel Bay.mp3

John Hartford - My Rag.mp3

Bryan Bowers - Battle Hymn of the Republic.mp3

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Old Time Fiddle

I'm still working my way through those wonderful old 78s that our friend Walt loaned to me. I’ve been taking some extra time with them to clean up the surface noise and enhance the dynamic range a bit, without altering the original music. With the overtime at the plant continuing, I haven’t had much time to tend to other things. I have been invited to enter two of our antique Volvos (mine and my son’s) in a local July 4hth parade, but both cars have been neglected these past few months and are in need of a little TLC.

I will probably keep the posts short for the rest of the week and spend my time on transferring these old 78s, which I will start to share with the riders on the Bus next week.

Old Time and early Hillbilly music is a favorite of mine, and we haven’t had much on the Bus lately. While I get these 78s wound up, let’s listen to a couple of more contemporary artists that have kept the Old Time tradition alive and vibrant. A small sampling of two of my favorite modern fiddlers.

Ralph Blizard – Hell Among the Yearlings.mp3
Ralph Blizard passed away in 2004, but he left a treasure of wonderful fiddle tunes for us to enjoy.

Kirk Sutphin – Old Time Back Step Cindy.mp3
visit Kirk Sutphin for more info and to purchase recordings.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Here in the sunny southland, the festival season really kicks into gear later in the year, after the hot and humid days of summer are past. I’ve been pouring over the festival schedules, trying to plan the rest of the summer events to attend. The overtime at the plant should begin winding down in the next month, and I’m overdue for an extended road trip. I’ll be marking my calendar and checking the maps this evening while I transfer some more of 78s.

While I’m planning my getaway, I’ll leave you with a couple of nice tunes.

The Ritchey Brothers - Sand Mountain Blues.mp3

Earl Taylor & Jim McCall - Ragtime Annie.mp3

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Little Voice

Whoa! I hope y’all had a good weekend. The Bayou Boogaloo in Norfolk was great!

The music was outstanding, the food was nearly as good as being back in Louisiana, the weather was just what the Chamber of Commerce had ordered. There was only one flaw in a perfect day. I have noticed that the past few local festivals I have attended have all had the same flaw. I don’t know if it is because they are sponsors or if it’s because of their large presence in Williamsburg, but the only beer available came straight from a Clydesdale. I had anticipated this lack of quaffable refreshments and brought along my trusty old hip flask, filled with Bacardi 151. In fact, I have become wiser with age, and this time I carried a second flask so that my wife would have her own to mix with whatever fruit juice, lemonade, or smoothies she desired.

I had heard little voice as I was filling my flask for the day ahead, “That flask won’t do you both the whole day, better fill another, my friend.” I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone else had heard. Nope. It must have been my own, personal Jiminy Cricket. Just like the Jiminy Cricket that tried to keep Pinocchio along the right path, mine was offering some good advice and I was wise to heed his word.

How could Pinocchio not follow the advice of Jiminy Cricket? That was the voice of a caring friend, putting his concern for your well being above all else. That was the voice of a man twice divorced, on the brink of bankruptcy, and often at the bottom of a bottle, but always looking on the bright side of life. That voice was Ukulele Ike. Cliff Edwards was a vaudeville singer/musician/actor, who had worked a string of odd jobs before he bought a ukulele and taught himself to play by ear. Around 1918 Edwards took the stage name Ukulele Ike and started touring on the vaudeville circuit throughout the Midwest. His trademark falsetto scat singing and strange impression of a kazoo became well known by the mid 1920s, as he had hit after hit on the charts. By the 1930s Edwards had a few small acting parts in the movies. But all of this success was lost to divorce, alimony, gambling debt, cocaine and alcohol. But the work kept coming, he appeared in nearly one hundred films, including a small part in Gone with the Wind. Walt Disney took a liking to the always joyful, Edwards. He provided the voice of Jiminy Cricket for Disney’s Pinocchio.

Cliff Edwards died broke and alone in a nursing home at the age of 76. Through all the hard times, Cliff Edwards kept a sunny disposition and enjoyed life to its fullest.

Cliff Edwards – I’m A Bear In A Lady’s Boudoir.mp3

Cliff Edwards –
Nobody Knows What A Red Head Mama Can Do.mp3

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lagniappe Friday

It’s Friday!
This weekend I’m heading downriver to Norfolk, Virginia for the 18th Annual Bayou Boogaloo & Cajun Food Festival. It will be a weekend filled with Cajun and Zydeco music, crawfish, andouille, étouffée, and cold liquid refreshments along the waterfront.

Recently, I've taken to posting a bunch of music on Fridays. It's not something I consciously set out to do, but I kinda like it. Fridays on the Bus are special, so why shouldn’t we kick off the weekend with an extra helping of good music? Lagniappe Friday. Since the Old Blue Bus was my home in Louisiana for some good years, it’s only fitting that we kick this weekend off with some great music from Bayou Country.

It has been awhile since I’ve posted any music from Louisiana. Here are a few classic Cajun tunes and a jumpin’ number by Buckwheat Zydeco, who will be performing at the Bayou Boogaloo this weekend.

D. L. Menard - The Back Door.mp3

D. L. Menard - Lacassine Special.mp3

LeJeune, Menard, & Smith - J'Etais au Bal.mp3

Lesa Cormier & The Sundown Playboys - Saturday Night Special.mp3

Buckwheat Zydeco - Zydeco Boogaloo.mp3

Y’all have a good weekend!

78 rpm Technical Data

Yesterday’s post of 78s generated lots of interest and a few inquiries about the process I use to record old 78 rpm records. For those of you interested in the equipment and process, I’ll run through it...

Turntable – Denon DP-60L (no, the DP-60L does not play at 78, more about this later)
Cartridge – Ortofon Super OM-30 (I replace the stylus with an Ortofon 78 stylus on this cartridge when recording from 78s)
Pre Amplifier – Carver C-1 (serial number 00014)Output to sound card through external processor loop
Software – Audacity Digital Audio Editor
Cleaning and preservation Fluids – L.A.S.T. (Liquid Archival Sound Treatment)
Tracking Force Gauge - AcousTech Stylus Force Gauge

Over the years I have owned several turntables. My favorite that was capable of 78 playback was an old Dual by United Audio. I used that Dual to record many 78s to open reel tape, but alas, that old record player is long gone. My current (that sounds strange to say about something I’ve owned for over twenty-five years!) is a direct-drive Denon DP-60L mounted with the straight tonearm and lightweight headshell. Before each use I clean the stylus using a short, dense fiber brush and LAST stylus cleaner. Twice a year I immerse the stylus in an ultrasonic cleaner for an hour or so. A standard 100x student’s microscope is essential to check stylus condition during cleaning. Once the stylus is clean and replaced, I set the tonearm tracking force using an AcousTech Stylus Force Gauge. I usually run the tracking force at 1.25 grams for LPs and 2.1 grams for 78s. The new Ortofon 78 replacement stylus that I got just this week has made a tremendous difference in quality. I believe that the thinline elliptical stylus of the Ortofon Super OM-30, while great for getting into the untouched portion of the grooves on LPs, was getting lost in the wider grooves of the 78s.

Now that the turntable is ready, we move on to the records. Many years ago, I almost bought a Discwasher automated record cleaner, but I continue to clean records by hand. If a record has not been previously cleaned and treated, I pre-wash with a mild surfactant-type dishwashing liquid (such as Dawn) and a soft synthetic sponge. After a thought rinse and air drying, I clean with LAST Power Cleaner. Vinyl LPs then receive a treatment with LAST Record Preservative. I have used this on 78s that are in really bad condition, such as the Bill Monroe I posted yesterday. LAST Maintenance Cleaner is used before each play. I have tried Bluenote Kymyas Record Conditioning liquids before and was impressed, but I’ve been using LAST for over twenty years. Why change now?

As I mentioned above, my turntable does not play at 78. Fortunately, the editing software that I use has an option to change the speed after the recording is made. I usually record at 45 rpm unless the record is in extremely bad condition, in which case recording at 33 1/3 rpm seems to reduce some ticks and pops. Audacity Audio Editor is a great open source program. It does include a noise reduction add-on, but I have found that it clips too much music even at the lowest settings, so I do not use it. I do use the equalizer when a lot of surface noise is present. The equalizer includes several pre-sets for the most popular 78s (Decca, Columbia, RCA Victor, etc.) or is user adjustable. The “Tick Removal” tool is useful as well as the pitch adjustment and fade in/out. Files may be exported as mp3, ogg or many other formats.

Each 78 rpm record takes an average of one to one-and-a-half hours from start to finish. Before I post the files, I drop the bitrate down to 112k bps using Switch software from NCH Swift Sound.

For those that inquired, I hope that this has helped. Most of the records in my personal collection (over 3000 LPs and 100 78s) are in generally good condition, but some are less-than-perfect treasures found in used record shops. All are treated with care and stored in archival sleeves. Of all the different equiptment and technics I have experimented with over the years, I find that the replacement stylus has made the most dramatic improvement in quality. I do not expect to get good quality results with lesser quality equipment, a high quality cartridge and stylus are essential, as are the alignment and tracking forces.

I purchase most of my record cleaning supplies from Jerry Raskin’s Needle Doctor
Audacity software is available for free download at Audacity
The audio file conversion software I use is Switch Plus Sound File Conversion Software

Those riders that transfer old 78s and LPs to digital and want to exchange tips and tools, drop a note or leave a comment. I'd love to hear from others who are preserving their old shellac and vinyl.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

78 Transfer Progress Report

The new stylus has made an enormous difference in the quality of the recordings I’ve been able to get from these old 78 rpm records.
They don’t require nearly as much digital manipulation as they did with my LP stylus.

Awhile back Laurel wrote to ask if I had a copy of Bill Monroe’s ”The Old Fiddler”. Now I thought I had a good collection of Bill Monroe, but I wasn’t familiar with that song. I contacted a few friends and not one had a copy. I did an online search and found little information. I finally found some good information in Tom Ewing's "The Bill Monroe Reader" (2000, University of Illinois Press). According to Ewing, the song was written and first released by Hugh Ashley. Monroe had just left Columbia and signed with Decca. His first Decca release ("New Mule Skinner Blues" / "My Little Georgia Rose") was a flop. Looking for a more pop-styled hit, Paul Cohen of Decca convinced Monroe to record Ashley's "The Old Fiddler" the following month (April 8, 1950), with Hank Williams' "Alabama Waltz" on the B side. This record was an instant flop also. Monroe thought he could write a better tune about an old fiddler. Monroe went home and wrote a song about his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, who was a well known (and by then, old) fiddler. The following month Monroe recorded "Uncle Pen", and Decca finally had the hit they were looking for.

Here are a few of the gems in the first batch of 78s from Walt’s cousin in the mountains, including Bill Monroe’s ”The Old Fiddler”.

Bill Monroe - The Old Fiddler.mp3

Hank Snow - I'm Moving On.mp3

Don Whitney - Red Hot Boogie.mp3

Little Jimmy Dickens - Walk, Chicken Walk.mp3

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Good Life, The Country Life

There was a parcel on the porch when I walked up to the door this evening. I’ve been putting off recording the 78s that Walt brought by until I got a replacement stylus for my turntable. The stylus that I have been using for the past few years is specifically designed for use on LPs and is much too narrow for the wider grooves of the 78 rpm records. Fortunately, the maker of my cartridge, Ortofon, makes a replacement stylus just for the transfer and playback of 78s. Also in the package are a few bottles of cleaning and preservation fluids.

I’m anxious to get started on transferring these 78s, so I’ll keep this post short. Here are a few mountain classics that I was enjoying as I set up the new stylus and made a few adjustments to the tonearm. Y’all enjoy these while I get busy with Walt’s first batch of 78s.

Carter Family - Sow 'Em On The Mountain.mp3

Jimmy Renfro & His Memory Valley Boys - The Life We Live.mp3

Hylo Brown - The Preacher and The Bear.mp3

Monday, June 18, 2007

Fast Talkin'

Snake Oil Salesman?

Without knowing what he’s selling, the fellow in the picture could be any of these traditional fast talkers.

I’ve always admired folks that can speak fast, yet clearly. When we were first married, my wife and I furnished our home with treasures from country auctions. I loved listening to the auctioneer call the bids. Sometimes it was difficult to resist getting caught up in the frenzy as the auctioneer worked the crowd. When he would really get it rolling, his calls had a lyrical, almost musical sound to them.

Some folks have a natural talent for fast talk, and a few have made a career of it. Leroy Van Dyke started out as an auctioneer in 1951. Upon his return from Korea in 1956, Van Dyke, an amateur musician, penned a song about his start as an auctioneer. Within weeks the recording sold over a million copies.

Another career-switcher, Jonathan Eberhart was a magazine science writer living in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. His interest in the sea shanties and maritime music of the Chesapeake Bay and Eastern waterways prompted him to form a group by the name of the Boarding Party. The Boarding Party released several LPs of great maritime music. Jonathan Eberhart also released a solo LP featuring his deft guitar work and his wonderful, melodic voice. Eberhart was blessed with the talent to sing fast, complex lyrics at breakneck speed with perfect articulation. His “Winnie the Pooh Rag” is the best example of this that I have heard. I chose to post his version of “Methodist Pie” only because it fit the theme of today’s post better.

Fiddler “Hash House” Harvey Ellington honed his craft on the medicine show circuit during the Depression in North Carolina. In 1937 he hooked up with guitarist Ray Williams, vocalist Charlie “Dunk” Poole Jr., banjo player Garfield Hammonds, and guitarist “Starving” Sam Pridgen. They played together on Raleigh’s WPTF radio as the Swingbillies and later on Richmond’s WRVA as the Tobacco Tags. This cut, a take on Frankie and Johnny, is a great example of the kind of antics that would draw the crowds to the wagon for the old medicine shows.

Steve Goodman’s classic ”Talk Backwards”. I just couldn’t resist.

Leroy Van Dyke - Auctioneer.mp3

Jonathan Eberhart - Methodist Pie.mp3

The Swingbillies - Leavin' Home.mp3

Steve Goodman - Talk Backwards.mp3

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's gonna be a Great Day!

I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

Saturday we made another trip to Farmville, to trade in my younger son's kayak on a new one. He has had his old boat since he was 14, and now at 19 he doesn't fit in it any longer. We loaded everyone's boats on the car for the trip, and it's a good thing we did, because while we were in Farmville, we decided to slip into the Appomattox River for a short paddle.

Sunday we met up with some other old Volvo nuts and went for a cruise up to Louisa County to visit the Cooper Vineyards and taste some wonderful local wines. It was a lovely day for a cruise and for good wine with new friends.

It was a busy, but thoroughly enjoyable weekend. Unfortunately, I don’t have time for a proper musical post. Only one song has been playing in my head all weekend. I know I have posted this before, over a year ago, but it is such a fitting song, I must repost it. Hopefully this song’s message will carry us through another Monday and the return to work.

Suzanne McDermott - Great Day.mp3
Suzanne McDermott is an exceptionally talented singer/songwriter, and a favorite on the Bus. Visit her website for more info about Suzanne's music and to order CDs. She also has some great free mp3s, lyrics and sheet music available.

Y’all have a great day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Steel Guitars and Old Fashioneds

The sound of the Hawaiian guitar conjures up images of white sand beaches, palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze, and grass skirts swaying from the hips of graceful Hula dancers.

I have long enjoyed the sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar. My grandmother used to mix herself an Old Fashioned and dance to her old 78s of Hawaiian music on hot summer afternoons. My sister and I learned to love the sound of ukuleles and steel guitars. When she passed, I inherited my grandmother’s collection of 78 rpm records, including her treasured Hawaiian music. To this day, I love the sweet sound of Hawaiian music, I'm kinda fond of the Old Fashioned also.

That wonderful sound came to American shores around the turn of the 20th century and quickly became an exotic treat across the continent. Throughout the 1910s and ‘20s, many Hawaiian bands formed in such unlikely places as New York, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

The influence that the Hawaiian steel guitar craze had on American music is still being debated by ethnomusicologists and music historians. Some contend that the Hawaiian steel guitar was adapted by blues musicians; others argue that the styles developed concurrently and that neither played a large role in the development of the other.

Cliff Carlisle was a superb guitarist, singer, and songwriter from Taylorsville, Kentucky who was influenced by Hawaiian steel guitar, rural Black blues musicians, and the “Blue Yodel” style of Jimmie Rodgers. I’ve written about Cliff Carlisle before, but I failed to mention that he claimed that he was influenced as a child by the sounds of Hawaiian guitar on the radio. Carlisle was born in 1904, putting his early developmental years squarely at the peak of Hawaiian music popularity. During the 1930s he recorded several sides with the master of the Hawaiian Steel guitar, Sol Hoopii.

Dorsey and Howard Dixon were mill workers from South Carolina who turned to making a living at music late in life. The Dixon Brothers were influenced by their friend and fellow mill worker, Jimmy Tarleton. Tarleton had learned the Hawaiian style while he was in California. Find my previous post on Darby & Tarelton here.

Now, I am not qualified to enter into the academic debate about the influence of Hawaiian steel guitar and the blues, but my ears hear an unmistakable Hawaiian influence on these rural Southern artists of the 1920 and ‘30s. Give them a listen and make your own decision.

Sol Hoopii - Alekoki.mp3

Sol Hoopii – Sweet Lei Lehua.mp3

Cliff Carlisle – It Takes An Old Hen to Deliver The Goods.mp3

Cliff Carlisle – Sugar Cane Mama.mp3

The Dixon Brothers – Intoxicated Rat.mp3

The Dixon Brothers – My Girl In Sunny Tennessee.mp3

Sol Hoopii - My Hawaiian Queen.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Happy Man

It seems that I’ve entered some sort of time warp. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that the workdays seem to have gotten longer. Some days just drag by and the clock barely moves and yet the months just fly by.

Thankfully, time returns to its normal pace during the weekends. It’s not until Monday morning that the just past weekend seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye.

The solution is to try to enjoy every minute. Not an easy task at work, I know, but when I put on my headphones and some good tunes, even the mundane workaday tasks become more bearable.

Alan Munde - Earl's Breakdown.mp3

Reno & Smiley - Cotton Eyed Joe.mp3

Ernie & Mack - Cindy.mp3

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Red Hot Mama and an Ice Cold Beer

Halfway through the week and I've got my sights on the weekend already. Lately, I’ve started counting down to the weekend just after I shut off the alarm on Monday morning.

Although the temperatures here in Virginia have taken a pleasant dip the past few days, the hot, sticky temperatures of summer are just around the corner. Soon it will be time to take my place in the rockin' chair on the porch, cooler by my side. On a hot day, there is nothing better than a shady spot to sit and rock, and a supply of cold beer within arms reach.

Beer, women and boogie, that ought to get us over the hump and onto the downhill slide to the weekend.

Paul Howard & his Cotton Pickers - Drinking All My Troubles Away.mp3

Andy Reynolds & his 101 Ranch Boys - Beer Bottle Mama.mp3

Smiley Maxedon - Give Me A Red Hot Mama And An Ice Cold Beer.mp3

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monroe's Wellspring

Bill Monroe’s band helped to launch the careers of many of bluegrass music’s greatest artists. A list of the musicians that were, at one time or another, members of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, reads like a list of genre’s greats.

Mac Wiseman, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise, Jimmy Martin, Charlie Cline, Sonny Osborne, David "Stringbean" Akeman, Del McCoury, Vassar Clements, Peter Rowan, Byron Berline, Kenny Baker, Bill Keith, Richard Greene, and Carter Stanley, all came to the listening public’s ears as Blue Grass Boys.

With such incredible talent, it’s no wonder that Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys set the standard for great bluegrass instrumentals.

Bill Monroe - Bugle Call Rag.mp3

Bill Monroe - Kentucky Mandolin.mp3

Bill Monroe - Shenandoah Breakdown.mp3

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Everything's Okay

What a great weekend that was!

Our good friend Walt has been a daily rider on the Bus since it hit the road again over a year and a half ago. Walt has often contributed music from his own collection to share with fellow riders. Last week Walt made a trip to the Blue Ridge to visit family and returned with a bunch of 78s. Once again, he offered to share them with us.

Over the next several weeks (or months) I’ll be posting some of Walt’s treasures. I managed to transfer a few to digital over the weekend and thought that this one, in particular, was a good one to start the week.

“Luke the Drifter” was the nom de plume used by Hank Williams (yes, that Hank Williams) for his more moralistic material. While Hank Williams sang songs of drinking and cheating, Luke the Drifter performed songs with a brighter message in the manner of a country preacher.

Luke the Drifter (Hank Williams) - Everything's Okay.mp3

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On the Sunny Side of Life

Everyone has had those days when there seems to be a dark cloud hanging over your head. Whether the cause is a major event or an accumulation of smaller troubles, at times even the sunniest disposition can get tarnished.

I’ve always found that music can play a substantial roll in parting the clouds to reveal the sun once again. A favorite song can have a healing effect. Master Autoharpist, Bryan Bowers, on his CD “Friend for Life”, states that once “you learn a song, you have a friend for life.” I have several favorite songs that I hum or sing to myself when I am in a particularly good mood, but I’ll also sing them when I find myself in a rut and need to chase the blues away.

Then there are those songs written to celebrate life and the good times. These songs have an infectious quality that makes it hard not to get caught up in the good feelings.

A few songs to roll away the clouds:
Hylo Brown - Clouds Gonna Roll Away.mp3

The Lost & Found - Sun's Gonna Shine in My Back Door Someday.mp3

The Country Gentlemen - The Sunny Side of Life.mp3

And a few favorite songs:
Foghorn String Band - Fine Times At Our House.mp3

East Virginia - Oak Grove.mp3

Grayson & Whitter - Shout Lula.mp3

J.E. Mainer & Red Smiley - Shady Grove.mp3

Don Reno & Red Smiley - Lee Highway Blues.mp3
Possibly my all-time favorite song, original (and best, IMHO) by Grayson & Whitter, but I posted that not too long ago.

The dog ate my homework:

Well now, doesn’t it figure? I had planned to continue our discussion of the ability of music to lift the spirits, but I didn’t get home last night until well after midnight, too beat to do much more than climb into bed. As always, my alarm went off at 4:30 this morning and I was on my way back to work. It wasn’t until lunchtime that I realized that I hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day.

I had hoped to write two separate posts, one on “Sunny” songs and the other on favorite songs. Since I didn’t get a chance to write a post yesterday, and I’m looking forward to hitting the sack tonight, I have combined the two and kept my rambling to a minimum.

I will not be working this weekend. I plan to be on the water at the Super Demo Day at Appomattox River Company. My wife and youngest son both need new kayaks, and I may test paddle a few myself. As much as music, the water has the power to set one’s mind back on the right path.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Choose Your Path Well

There are times during our short journey through life that we become disillusioned, unhappy with the direction that we are headed. Each of us has the ability, if not the courage, to change direction, to take another path if we so choose.

When I find myself starting to feel dissatisfied with a part of my life, I try to step back and put it all in perspective. More often than not, it boils down to attitude. If you let something bother you and don’t take steps to alleviate the trouble, it can slowly grow to affect other aspects of life.

I once had a friend who was a preacher, and his favorite axiom was to “Live with an attitude of gratitude.” My preacher friend and I may have had our differences, but on that matter we were in total agreement. An appreciation for the things in your life that make it worthwhile can you help to see how meaningless many of the small irritations are. As I get older, I believe I am becoming a more patient person. It’s either that or I just don’t give a damn about as many inconsequential troubles. I’m happy with my lot in life. Sure, this road I have chosen has a few potholes, they all do, but with some good tunes and good companions one hardly notices the bumps in the road.

Music has a profound effect on one’s attitude. The psychological effect of music has been known for several millenniums. There is truth in the old adage that “music soothes the savage beast.” Muzak founded an entire industry based on the power of music to persuade.

As most of you know, I have been working very long hours for the past six months. I enjoy what I do for a living, but I abhor that it is occupying so much of my life right now. I need an attitude adjustment, so for the rest of the week I’ll try to post a few of songs that have a way of smoothing the path and lifting the clouds.

The Carter Family collected a few songs from the mountains that are just what the doctor ordered.

The Carter Family - Give Me The Roses While I Live.mp3

The Carter Family - Keep On The Sunny Side.mp3

“How can a poor man stand such times as these?”

I stopped on the way home tonight to fill the old car with gas. Prices are inching up again; even regular grade is over $3/gallon. Unfortunately, that 40 year old car of mine doesn’t run right with anything less than high-test in the tank. At least it gets 26 mpg and it’s only 12 miles from the house to the industrial wasteland where I earn my living.

On the news tonight they estimate that milk is expected to rise above $5/gallon this summer. I’ll stick with beer, but I hear that the price of beer is expected to rise also, due to farmers growing less barley and more corn in order to cash in on the ethanol craze.

Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers - On Tanner's Farm.mp3

Blind Alfred Reed - How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times As These.mp3

Sunday, June 03, 2007


The history of the American cowboy was a relatively short period, and yet to most of the world and our current president, the cowboy embodies the American spirit.

Settlers from the eastern US started to arrive in Texas in the early 1820s. The first settlers brought with them the livestock handling traditions of the east, which was based on the English system. They soon realized that these methods were not as efficient as those used by the Spanish vaqueros in Mexico, of which Texas was a territory. The settlers adopted the dress, and supplemented their livestock techniques with those of the Mexican vaqueros. After Texas won it’s independence from Mexico in 1836, the flow of immigrants from the east increased and the size of cattle herds grew as well. To get the cattle to the population centers of the east, the large herds were driven to the railheads in Kansas and Nebraska.

By the 1890s, the railroads had extended their reach with a web of short lines and spurs, all connected to the main lines. Around the same time, invention of barbed wire allowed a rancher to have more control over his herd. The need to drive herds of cattle long distances to reach the railroad was over and the cowboy’s role became that of a ranch hand.

Starting in the 1930s, Hollywood started to rewrite history with adventurous films of cowboys and lawless gunslingers riding the plains together, sharing drinks in the saloon, and gunfights in the street. The days of the cowboy were long and filled with hard work, leaving little time for carousing, but that reality doesn’t make a good movie.

Arkansas Woodchopper - I'm a Texas Cowboy.mp3

Harry McClintock - Goodbye Old Paint.mp3

Patsy Montana & the Prairie Ramblers - Montana Plains.mp3

Woody Guthrie & Cisco Houston - Woopie-Ti-Yi-Yo, Get Along Little Dogies.mp3