Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bottle It Up and Go

I’m not sure who first wrote or recorded the song “Bottle (Step) It Up and Go.” The details of the song's origins seem to have been lost to time. For many decades the standard practice of record producers was to claim the copyright credit for artist’s works. This makes tracking a popular song such as “Bottle (Step) It Up and Go” difficult. Perhaps one of the riders on the Bus can shed some light on the song’s origin.

The song probably originated from the Yazoo delta region, but it traveled well across political boundaries as well as musical genres. The title and lyrics may have changed along the way, but the basic, foot-tappin', rhythm remained.

Tommy McClennan - Bottle It Up and Go.mp3

Leadbelly - Uncle Sam Says (Bottle Up and Go).mp3

Sonny Terry - Touch It Up and Go.mp3

Charlie Burse & His Memphis Mudcats - Oil It Up and Go.mp3

The Maddox Brothers and Rose - New Step It Up and Go.mp3

Ike Turner - Shake It Up And Go.mp3
please excuse the poor quality, my copy is well worn.

Kenny Baker & Josh Graves - Step It Up and Go.mp3
with special thanks to frequent rider, Laurel, for this beautiful version

Chris Smither & Jorma Kaukonen - Step It Up and Go.mp3
from the fabulous True Folk CD. I highly recommend that you purchase a copy of this great collection at CD Baby or your local record store.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A gentle ocean breeze would be nice about now

I spent a little free time on the Outer Banks this past week, paddling Albemarle Sound and camping on a few of the many islands. The sunsets on the Sound are always spectacular. One evening we climbed the soft sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park to enjoy a sunset from the heights of the dunes.

The loose, warm sand, gentle ocean breeze and wonderful sunset conjured visions of hula dancers, ukuleles, and slack key guitars. The only thing missing was a cool tropical drink, which I had back at camp, minus the paper umbrella.

Hawaiian music made its way to American shores around the turn of the last century. The exotic sound from a faraway paradise was just what folks needed. It was the beginning of the Progressive Age and all things old were rethought, while all things new were embraced. Hawaiian bands formed in hotel ballrooms across the country. From San Francisco to New York, even Little Rock, Arkansas boasted two Hawaiian bands.

One would think that this fervor over Steel Guitars and tropical rhythms was nothing more than a passing fad, but Hawaiian music had staying power. The sound of the slide guitar found its way into a wide variety of music from blues to old time to modern country.

I have posted about the influence of Hawaiian music on old time music before. I have also posted on the influence of Sol Hoopii and other Hawaiian guitarists on some of the earliest country music pioneers such as Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarlton, and once on the development of the resonator guitar.

The thing that intrigues me about Hawaiian music is how it has remained a part of American music for the past century. After its introduction to the American public in the early 1910s and popularity throughout the 1920s, its influence remained in the blues, old time, bluegrass, and country music. Of course, like many up beat musical styles, Hawaiian music fell from popularity during the Great Depression, but it returned in full force after WWII and remained popular well into the 1950s.

Pop/Country artist, Marty Robbins released a collection of beautifully recorded Hawaiian music in 1963 entitled Hawaii's Calling Me and in 1965, Jim Kweskin included “Ukelele Lady” on the now classic Jug Band Music LP.

I’ve gathered a few of the more obscure Hawaiian cuts from my collection for today’s post including; some Pop/Hawaiian from the 1920s by Eddy’s Hawaiian Serenaders, a strange combination of Hawaiian and yodeling in Spanish from Bezo’s Hawaiian Orchestra, and the amazing slide guitar on Patt Patterson’s “The Cat’s Whiskers”.

Eddy's Hawaiian Serenaders - Down In Waikiki.mp3

Patt Patterson And His Champion Pep Riders - The Cat's Whiskers.mp3

Bezos Hawaiian Orchestra - Pame Sti Honoloulou.mp3

Annie Kerr - I've Gone Native Now.mp3

Marty Robbins - Lovely Hula Hands.mp3

Jim Kweskin & the Jug Band - Ukelele Lady.mp3

Aloha, y'all!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New Gilded Age

During the Gilded Age of the last quarter of the 19th century, the country saw economic growth, industrial expansion, and unprecedented immigration. It was the period that gave rise to a new breed of super-rich industrialists and financiers. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Henry Flagler all made their vast fortunes during the relatively brief twenty year period. They were collectively known as “Robber Barons” for their ruthless business deals and flamboyant lifestyles.

It was also a time of corrupt politics from City Hall to the federal branches. There were accusations of deals made in smoky back rooms, falsified ballots, and other shady dealings. The favoritism, bribery, kickbacks, inefficiency, waste and corruption were generally accepted as normal business. The negativity of the political scene brought about the sensationalized newspaper stories known as “Yellow Journalism”, which told of wild exploits by the famous and displaced real, factual news.

People came from all over the world for the opportunities those jobs in the big factories held. Nearly 10 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island, which was built in 1892 to accommodate the influx of humanity.

Fast forward one hundred years or so... The average annual compensation for a CEO of a S&P 500 company is $14.78 million, while the median annual household income in the U.S. is $46,326. So far, 257 companies have announced internal reviews, SEC inquiries, or Justice Department subpoenas related to stock option backdating. The richest Americans have seen their household income increase over 200%, while the middle income family saw a 15% increase (more info on the income gap.)

Favoritism, bribery, kickbacks, inefficiency, waste and corruption, once again describes our political system, while Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan dominate the news. Americans are in hock up to their eyeballs thanks to deceptive lending practices. The housing market and sub-prime mortgage meltdown may have longer term affects on the financial markets. Only time will tell.

It seems to me that we are living in a New Gilded Age.

You'll recall from your eighth grade American History class, the Gilded age was followed by the Progressive Era, which brought such “enlightenments” as Prohibition and income tax.

Ernest Stoneman - All I Got's Gone.mp3

Jim Smoak & the Louisiana Honeydrippers - My Last Dollar Is Gone.mp3

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver - Poor Boy Working Blues.mp3

Doye O'Dell - Lookin' Poor, But Feelin' Rich.mp3

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana (1863–1952), U.S. philosopher and poet

A warm welcome to the many new riders on the Bus, and a humble "Thank You" to the folks at Blogger for selecting Old Blue Bus as a Blog of Note.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: This Is Somewhere

One of the points that I have tried to make with the music that I feature on the Bus, is the incredibly diverse musical roots that have intermingled to form the better music of today. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have made that same journey, only they have compressed decades of musical growth into just a few short years.

A few months ago I posted a video of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (GPTN) performing ”Stop the Bus” live at Red Rocks. At that time I had the following to say:

“The band seems to be paralleling the development of the music they play and love. Their first CD, Original Soul, was deeply rooted in the blues with soulful songs and sparse but powerful instrumentation, as was the classic rock music itself. The second CD, Nothing But The Water, built on the basis of Original Soul and blended in some of the sounds, feeling, and awe that was present in those classic albums of Led Zepplin, Traffic, King Crimson, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, et al., that defined a generation. Grace and the Nocturnals have continued to evolve in the nearly two years since their last studio release. Their skills as songwriters and arrangers, already sharp and mature beyond their years, are being honed to a fine edge.”

After two years of nearly continuous touring, GPTN have completed their new release. This Is Somewhere continues the journey as these young folks continue to build upon their sturdy foundation. The recording opens with the political call to action, "Ah, Mary” and is immediately followed by the hard driving Stop The Bus”. ”Apologies” is a piano lament with the love-as-war theme, and reminds me that GPTN were once the darlings of the modern jazz and blues scene. ”Ain’t No Time” is a beautiful paean to the plight of New Orleans. The acoustic, folksy, jazz-blues of ”You May See Me” and ”Lose Some Time” showcase Grace Potter’s superb songwriting as well as her voice, that has drawn comparisons to Nora Jones, Lucinda Williams, and Bonnie Raitt. With the soulful, horn-accented ”Mastermind” GPTN rival anything to come out of Memphis or Muscle Shoals. “Here’s To The Meantime” is hardcore, electric guitar-driven, roadhouse blues. The CD closes with ”Big White Gate”, an incredible testament to Potter’s powerful songwriting, bound to draw comparisons to Bonnie Raitt and Rory Block.

As with the first two releases from GPTN, This Is Somewhere has earned a place in permanent rotation on my CD player.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - Ah Mary.mp3

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are scheduled to appear on West Virginia Public Radio's "Mountain Stage", June 24th. Check your local NPR station for air time.

This Is Somewhere is scheduled to be on your local record store’s shelves August 7th. You can pre-order a signed copy at www.gracepotterandthenocturnals.com.
Mark your calendar. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals This Is Somewhere is an essential addition to any roots-rock, jazz, blues, and jam band collection.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A little Autoharp to regain the balance

Life, nowadays, can be hectic. The computer and the cell phone can be a leash that ties one to work, and can become a noose if one let’s them. Recently, I have found myself more entangled in this unhealthy web. Seemingly endless overtime, nearly impossible deadlines, and other commitments have become nearly overwhelming.

There is a lot of truth in the tired old adage: ‘Life is a balancing act.’ It’s important to keep work separate from the things that are truly important in life, such as family, friends, and music. I have been feeling a bit out of balance lately, as my postings here on the Bus must attest. In fact, I have considered parking the Bus for awhile, since I don’t feel I have been able to devote the time necessary to write reasonably literate posts.

I haven’t even picked up an instrument in so long, that I can not remember the last time. Tonight after supper, I tuned up my favorite Autoharp and took it out to my rocking chair to get reacquainted. I am happy to say that we are still good friends despite the neglect. It’s amazing how just a few moments of peaceful, musical reflection can bring one back to what is really important.

Work and the money it provides, are not as necessary as we are led to believe. I have been without work many times in the past. I have been homeless, with a wife and three young children living in tents at a county park. When I first met my wife, we were living in the bus that has lent its name to this space on the web. A high-powered job and a big, fancy house have never been important, in fact, I find them to be distractions.

Nothing enriches life more than family, friends, and (of course) music. When you find yourself overwhelmed with the responsibilities and commitments of daily life, as I have recently, play a few of your favorite tunes, sit back and close your eyes, and reflect on the things that really matter in your life.

A little Old Time Autoharp usually does it for me.

Ernest Stoneman - Sweet Sunny South.mp3

Kenneth Benfield - Shortening Bread.mp3

Kilby Snow - Flop-eared Mule.mp3

Mother Maybelle Carter - Black Mountain Rag.mp3

Please bear with me for the next few weeks. Until things settle down at work, I will be posting only as I get a chance.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Ode to the common man

Those long, hot, and lazy days, known as the dog days of summer, are here with a vengeance. For those of us that have to spend at least part of the day working outdoors, the heat and humidity can just plain drain a body of energy. I’ll keep today’s post short, as I am just plum worn out. After six months of working 12 hour days, and a month more to go, I’ve got nothing left.

Kate McDonnell - Ordinary Man.mp3

Hardrock Gunter - I Put My Britches On Just Like Everybody Else.mp3

Faron Young - Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young.mp3

Thursday, July 12, 2007


It has been a long week, but the weekend is within sight.

Everybody boogie!

J. B. Lenoir - Give Me One More Shot.mp3

Jack Guthrie - Oakie Boogie.mp3

Red Foley - Freight Train Boogie.mp3

Clarence (Gatemouth) Brown - Choo Choo Boogie.mp3

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Black banjo

"Banjo Lesson" by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Nowadays, the banjo is most often associated with bluegrass music, but its roots are firmly embedded in Africa. The banjo, as we know it today, was first made on these shores by African slaves and was an adaptation of a type of instrument found throughout Africa and the Middle East. Thomas Jefferson noted in 1781, "The instrument proper to them (the slaves) is the Banjar, which they brought hither from Africa."

It was during the minstrel era, in the early 19th century, that white men performing in blackface began using the banjo as a prop in their acts. By the mid-1840s blackface minstrel bands such as Joel Walker Sweeney and his Sweeney Minstrels and The Virginia Minstrels were playing banjos to white urban audiences from New York to San Francisco. Many soldiers on both sides of the War Between the States entertained themselves with this newly popular instrument. Between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century the banjo made the transition from minstrel stage to parlor, due in part to soldiers returning from the war with their new found instruments.

The banjo was adapted to many popular musical styles during the height of its popularity. Symphony orchestras added banjo soloists, dance bands and solo entertainers alike used the popular banjo in their performances. It has been speculated that the Great Depression brought about the decline in the banjo’s popularity, its bright, cheerful sound not fitting the somber mood of the country.

The First World War brought about a renewed interest in “American” music and in the banjo. A banjo was a common instrument in the new jazz bands that formed following the war. In Southern culture, the banjo found a new life, as blues, jazz, and country music were blended into the exciting new sound that would become bluegrass.

Today I thought we’d take a listen to an earlier style of banjo music.

Dink Roberts - High Sheriff.mp3

John Snipes - Going Away from Home.mp3

Etta Baker & Cora Phillips - Jaybird March.mp3

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

When the train comes along

Photo courtesty of CCPhotos CPD (Creative Commons, Attribution 2.5)

Wednesday. The middle of the workweek. Last weekend seems a distant memory and the coming weekend a far off goal.

There are over twenty six miles of railroad tracks at the industrial wasteland where I spend my workdays. I often watch as long lines of freight cars are assembled into trains bound for places far away. Trains can stir a nostalgic yearning for the freedom of the open country. The great hobo era of the Depression and Dust Bowl holds a certain romance for many, me included. The train is a symbol of freedom and a means of escape, as much as the river is. Work when you want, travel where you want, the hobo life has a certain appeal. I grew up along the rails and often hopped a slow moving freight to get into town and back. Spotting an open boxcar, I am often tempted to hop aboard and let it take me where it may, but I know that any train leaving this plant is only bound for another stinking, belching industrial plant.

C’est la vie!

Brownie McGhee - Freight Train Blues.mp3

Henry Thomas - When The Train Comes Along.mp3

Jim & Jesse - I Like Trains.mp3

Red Foley - Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy.mp3

Monday, July 09, 2007

Down to the river

Whether it’s to escape the heat, or recover from a lousy day at work, I’ve always found the river can wash all of one’s troubles away. Lately, I have been spending a fair amount of time on the river.

Songsters have sung of the healing effect of water nearly as long as there has been song. The symbolism of the river, washing and carrying one’s troubles away, is a powerful image. For several religions, Christianity and Hinduism in particular, the river holds a particularly important place as a symbol of renewal.

Rivers also played a major part in the colonization of North America by Europeans. Most major cities in the eastern half of the continent were established as either deep water ports along the coast (Boston, New York, Halifax, St. Augustine) or at the limit of navigation, where ships encountered rapids or shallow waters and trade goods had to be carried further by wagon (Richmond, Philadelphia, Baltimore). Of course, many of these trade routes were well established long before the first European arrived on these shores.

For me the river offers an escape. The journey doesn’t matter so much, nor does the destination, just to be on the water is enough. On these sweltering days, I can think of no place I’d prefer to be, than on the river.

"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."
-from: Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Riverside Ramblers - Drifting Along.mp3

John Hartford - Watching The River Go By.mp3

Sam Bush - Same Ol' River.mp3

Bill Staines - So Sang the River.mp3

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Too Damn Hot

It’s just too damn hot! The whole continent is experiencing a powerful heat wave. The thermometer on the back porch has climbed over 100°F (38°C) for the past several days and the weather service says there is more to come.

Try to keep cool, kids.

Erica Wheeler - Hot.mp3
From The Harvest. Hear more and purchase Erica Wheeler's music at ericawheeler.com.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Happy 231st, America

John McCutcheon - Our Flag Was Still There.mp3