Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sounds of Virginia: Fiddlin' Powers and Family

This week the Bus will not be straying far from home. Several weeks ago, management at the plant where I work decided that we each can't do the work of three people if we only work regular eight hour shifts, so we are back on overtime. Hell, we’ve had three weeks of working regular hours; we ought to be rested up. The latter half of last week I pulled some extra long hours. Along with the return of overtime, I have come down with an early autumn cold. The combination has left little time for writing and I’ve had to leave the Bus idling for a few days. As I am still feeling under the weather, the Bus will be staying close to home this week. Fortunately, my home state of Virginia has a rich musical heritage to explore.

The mountains of southwestern Virginia are a perfect place to start an exploration of Virginia music. After all, it was in the border town of Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee that the first commercial recordings of rural mountain music were made. Artist recorded at those famous first Bristol sessions included: The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest (Pop) Stoneman, J.P. Nestor, Blind Alfred Reed, and Uncle Eck Dunford, to name a few.
Russell County, Virginia was the home of a great fiddler by the name of Cowan Powers, known to all as Fiddlin’ Powers. Raising his own band members, Fiddlin’ Powers' band consisted of his three daughters, Ada played ukulele, Opha Lou played mandolin and Carrie Belle played guitar, and his son, Charlie, played banjo and sang for the group. Talented musicians, all. In addition to Powers' fine, clean fiddle, give a listen to Carrie Belle's lively guitar. And yes, Miss Ada's ukulele in a mountain family string band of the 1920s is proof of how influential the Hawiaain music craze at the turn of the century was.

Fiddlin’ Powers and Family – Did You Ever See The Devil Uncle Joe.mp3

Fiddlin’ Powers and Family – Old Virginia Reel - Part 1.mp3

Fiddlin’ Powers and Family – Callahan’s Reel.mp3

Fiddlin’ Powers and Family – Cluck Old Hen.mp3

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Make It Count

“If I had my life to live over...”

How many times have you heard someone express that lament? I suppose most of us have fantasized about being able to return to some point in our lives at least once. How would your life be different if you had taken the other path at a crossroads in your life? And, wouldn’t it be grand to relive some wonderful time long past?

Of course, time and life continue their irreversible flow and going upstream isn’t possible, so we each must make the most of the present.

Kat Eggleston - Home.mp3
More about the wonderful music of singer-songwriter Kat Eggleston here. All of Kat’s recordings are available from one of my long time favorite independent labels. Visit Waterbug and check out their $5 samplers.

Doc Watson – Childhood Play.mp3

Steve Goodman – Video Tape.mp3
Another classic from the late great Steve Goodman. This is from his Say It In Private album.

Monday, September 24, 2007

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times As These

"In every one of those little stucco boxes there's some poor bastard who's never free except when he's fast asleep and dreaming that he's got the boss down the bottom of a well and is bunging lumps of coal at him."
- George Orwell

The plight of working folk has never been an easy one, but for the past few decades we have been losing what little progress our parents made. For many years now wages have lagged behind inflation. Our purchasing power has declined while the elite are enjoying record profits and enormous tax breaks. Corporations have gone multi-national and exported our jobs in return for cheap junk coated in lead paint and poisoned toothpaste.

Our country has been sold off to those who now have the money and jobs. China holds 40% of the eight trillion dollars of outstanding Treasury Notes. Record numbers of homeowners are defaulting on their mortgages. The value of the US dollar, and the purchasing power of those of us who are paid in US dollars, is lower than it has been for a generation and continues to drop.

The bargaining power of the unions has declined as manufacturing jobs sailed to cheap labor on foreign soil. This week the United Auto Workers have ordered a nationwide strike against General Motors for the first time in thirty years. Loggers and sawmill workers in British Columbia, including our good friend Mr. Beer N. Hockey, have been on the picket line for over two months over safety issues, long shifts and irregular work hours.

37 million Americans (12.6%) live in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005"). According to the USDA, an estimated 12.4 million children under the age of 18 go to bed hungry (USDA/ERS, "Household Food Security in the United States: 2005"). Nearly half of all non-elderly low-income families that used a food pantry in 2001 consisted of working families with children. (Urban Institute, "Many Families Turn to Food Pantries for Help", November 2003).

Conversely, the average CEO of an S&P500 company received $14.78 million in total compensation in 2006 (AFL-CIO, "2006 Trends in CEO Pay").

I came across these numbers awhile back after telling one of my sons about the first new car I bought when I was his age. I went to the dealer and ordered it with the sport package and fancy interior. The total cost of the car was $2000 and I had to take out a two year loan to manage the payments. My son, not one to pass up an opportunity to make Dad look foolish, took those numbers and, accounting for inflation, brought them up to 2007 dollars. As he proved, most items such as cars, gas, and food are right in line with today’s prices once inflation is added in. The eye opener came when he applied that same rate of inflation to my earnings from those good old days. After accounting for inflation, my actual income worked out to be nearly 20% less than his inflation adjusted number would indicate.

Now that he knows the truth, those stories of hard times and having to walk to school barefoot in the snow, just don’t have the same impact.

Now, get off my lawn!

Jim Smoak & the Louisiana Honeydrippers - Poor Man.mp3

Doyle Lawson - Poor Boy Working Blues.mp3

The Weavers - The Banks of Marble.mp3

Cheryl Wheeler - The Bank.mp3
Hidden track on her 1995 Circles & Arrows CD. Visit

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

“For globalization to work for America, it must work for working people. We should measure the success of our economy by the breadth of our middle class, and the scope of opportunity offered to the poorest child to climb into that middle class.” - John J. Sweeney

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Two Years On

It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since the Old Blue Bus hit the road.

“Did you used to live in an old blue bus?” I was asked when I answered the phone. It was the voice of a friend that I had lost track of twenty some years earlier. He had tracked down a few other long lost friends from those nomadic days and we all set out to get reacquainted.

The original old blue bus was a gathering place for good friends, good food, and good music. It was an escape from the workaday world where friends could meet and share some good times. It was a base camp for canoe trips, a mobile sound studio, and a friendly stop along the road, but most of all it was my home.

This virtual Old Blue Bus hit the cyber backroads not long after that first phone call from an old friend. The idea was to rekindle those old friendships and share the good times with other like minded folk. Along the way a number of good people have hopped on the Bus. Many have become regular riders and their contributions have added greatly to the sense of community that has prevailed in this space.

My wife and I once owned a small record shop and produced a monthly concert series in Hobe Sound, Florida. At one of the concerts I was interviewed by a reporter from the Palm Beach Post. The reporter could not get over the diverse crowds that turned out for the concerts. There were retirees, young families, college students, beach bums, business owners, and local government officials all swaying, tapping their toes, dancing, and clapping as if all was well with the world. The young reporter asked what we did to draw such a diverse crowd. I suppose I looked a bit bewildered at his question as I replied “Why, it’s the music, of course.”

The music. Of course. Over the years I have noticed that the appreciation and enjoyment of good music is a universal joy. It doesn’t matter where you are from, your political or religious beliefs, the color of your skin, or any of the other superficial ways humans tend to categorize themselves. When we share good music all of those excuses and defenses fall away.

During these past two years my faith in the good in people has been reinforced by the wonderful folks that have joined this Old Blue Bus on its journey. Had it not been for you, dear riders, I would have parked this old Bus long ago.

Guy Carawan - Jubilee.mp3

Bill Staines - Jubilee.mp3

For those who have asked, that is me on the roof of the original Old Blue Bus with old friends, Dean on the fender, and Denny behind the car. The photo was taken by our anonymous friend twenty-five years ago. The same anonymous friend who reminded me of this anniversary in a comment Friday past. And it was he who made that phone call two years ago. Thank you, friend, for your encouragement, support and friendship over all of these years and miles gone by.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fiddlin' Around: Texas

The last region that we will visit on our quick tour of American fiddle music is Texas. Just as there were overlaps between the fiddle playing of the Ozarks and the Appalachians, there are a few similarities between the fiddle music of Texas and Oklahoma and that of the Ozarks. But, there are plenty of differences as well.

The music of Texas doesn’t contain the very strong influences of English folk music that is so prevalent in the Appalachians or the Ozarks. Oh, it’s still there, just diluted a bit. It’s more of a big ol’ Texas fiddle salad with a bit of everything thrown into the bowl.

Once again, there is an African influence. I hear the influence Tin Pan Alley in many Texas fiddle tunes. I also hear something else that wasn’t in the blends we have sampled so far; an Eastern European influence. Now we know that the German, Polish, and Czech immigrants added their unique signature on the music of Texas, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that influence in the fiddle music.

Then there’s the unmistakable sound of jazz that makes its way into much of the Texas string band tradition. It was this blend of folk music from the UK, Eastern European, jazz (mostly swing), and blues that brought forth western swing. The fiddle played the lead role in early western swing bands, just as it did with the music of the music of the Piedmont, Appalachian, and Ozark regions.

The fiddle was the lead instrument across much of America until the invention of amplification. The amplifier was the catalyst that moved the guitar from the rhythm section into melodic lead. For most of this continent’s history that spot had been held firmly by the expressive voice of the fiddle.

Oscar & Doc Harper - Dallas Bound.mp3

Fort Worth Doughboys - Nancy Jane.mp3

The Nettles Brothers String Band - Dan the Banana Man.mp3

Quebe Sisters Band - Goldmine In The Sky.mp3
I first saw the Quebe Sisters Band at last year's National Folk Festival. These three young ladies sure can pull some bow! Learn more and order a CD at

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fiddlin' Around: The Ozarks

The fiddle played a large role in the music of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. There are a lot of similarities between the fiddle music of the Appalachians and the Ozarks, but there are significant differences as well. The style is somewhat similar to that of western Kentucky and Tennessee, which makes some sense since the regions are fairly close. Now, I’m no expert on fiddle finesse, but even my untrained ears can hear a bit of African-American influence, perhaps a touch of early jazz and a bit of popular music thrown in. I also detect a taste of Texas/Oklahoma in the mix.

The music of the Ozarks has always played second fiddle (pun intended) to that of the Appalachians. During the great Folk Scare of the 1950s and ‘60s, most of the emphasis was on the Appalachians and the Delta. The Ozarks received not much more than a sidebar mention.

I am not as well versed in Ozark tradition as I am with the Appalachians. Of all the places in North America that I have lived, I have never spent any time in the Ozarks. Sure, I’ve driven through plenty of times, even spent a couple nights in North Arkansas, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am not as familiar with the music as I would like to be. Perhaps I should plan a trip to the Ozark Folk Center.

I have gathered a few examples of Ozark fiddling. Give them a listen and see if you hear the same influences I do.

Pope’s Arkansas Mountaineers – Hog Eye.mp3

Fiddlin’ Sam Long – Sandy Land.mp3

Ted Sharp, Hinman & Sharp – Pike’s Peak.mp3

Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers – Goin’ Down The River.mp3
Dr. Henry Harlin Smith was a surgeon for the Missouri Pacific Railroad who lived in Calico Rock, Arkansas. On his travels with the railroad he encountered plenty of people who had a backward view of his home region. To counter the negative image and promote tourism, Dr. Smith held a fiddle contest in Calico Rock. From the winners of that 1926 contest, he organized a band and took them to the popular resorts at Hot Springs. Dr. Smith deserves to be remembered for his promotion of the Ozarks, and for coming up with the most whimsical, yet appropriate, name for his band of champion fiddlers.

Update - Audio links fixed. Thanks Lynne.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fiddlin’ Around: The Southeast

I hadn’t planned on posting more fiddle music, but as most of you know I am particularly fond of Old Time music. I thought we’d spend a few days looking at fiddle music from different regions and influences.

The first fiddle music in America was mostly English folk songs and that influence found a home amongst the rural white population of the South. The southern fiddle tradition is a long and varied one. The fiddle music of the Appalachians remained firmly rooted in English tradition while the fiddlers of the Piedmont region were exposed to a much wider range of influences. Perhaps it was a combination of these varied influences that caused the totally wild fiddle music that swept through Georgia during the 1920s. During this wild period, string bands were creating a breeze in the hot Georgia nights with some frantic bow work.

From 1913 to 1935 the old Atlanta City Auditorium at the corner of Courtland and Gilmer streets was home to the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention and the competition there was hot. The list of winners at these competitions reads like a history of Old Time fiddle music. Fiddlin' John Carson, A. A. Gray, Gid Tanner, Shorty Harper, Earl Johnson, and Clayton McMichen are a few of the names that crossed that stage into musical history. The frantic fiddling style that was prevalent at the time and the fierce competition in Georgia added fuel to the fire.

North Georgia may have had a bumper crop of frantic fiddlers, but it wasn’t the only place producing some fierce fiddle competition. Fiddle contests had sprung up in every state. This competition allowed for the exchange of ideas and styles amongst musicians and pushed fiddlers to hone their skills.

Reese Jarvis & Dick Justice - Muskrat Rag.mp3

Clayton McMichen & Riley Puckett - Old Molly Hare.mp3
I chose these first two songs for their wonderful fiddle, but also because they both feature some great guitar work by two of my favorite Old Time guitarists.

Corn Cob Crushers - Ragtime Annie.mp3

Arthur Smith & the Delmore Brothers - Blackberry Blossom.mp3

Monday, September 17, 2007

Old Time Fiddle

If the settlement of North America by Europeans had a soundtrack it would be a fiddle tune. Of all the instruments that come to mind when thinking about American music, the fiddle has held the lead position far longer than any other. The fiddle accompanied the first Europeans that landed on these shores. It provided entertainment at the first settlements and traveled west as the country expanded. I’d venture to say that no other instrument has had the long lasting affect on American music as that of the fiddle.

Many of the early fiddle tunes have been lost to time since most rural tunes were passed on by ear and recording wasn’t developed until the closing years of the 1800s. Fortunately for us, many fine fiddle tunes remained in circulation into the 1920s, long enough to have been recorded once the record companies realized there was a market for such rural music.

Roll back the rug and grab your partner.

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

Oscar Ford & Dewey Grace - Kiss Me Cindy.mp3

Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers - Cotton Baggin'.mp3

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Festival Addition

Thanks to Lisa H. for letting us know about this years Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. The lineup is incredible and the price can’t be beat: it’s free!

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
San Francisco, California
October 5-7

Also on the festival front: I learned this weekend that Bryan Bowers will be one of the entertainers at this year's National Folk Festival here in Richmond, October 12-14.

Let's get back to the work week with a couple of great bluegrass instrumentals.

Don Reno - Skyline Drive.mp3

Benny Martin - Down in Union County.mp3

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hawaiian Charms

Well, you didn’t think I’d let all this talk about Hawaiian music slip by without posting some island tunes, did you?

All of this Hawaiian inspired music has put me in high spirits. Even watching the Decider give his endless rerun speech last night couldn’t dampen my tropical mood.

My daughter is off to paddle some whitewater on the Ocoee River in Tennessee, leaving Mama and me home alone all weekend.

I hope that you’ll understand if I keep my rambling short today.

Pat Patterson & his Champion Rep Riders - The Cat's Whiskers.mp3

Jules Ah See - Maui Chimes.mp3

Master's Hawaiians - Hawaiian Stormy Weather.mp3

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - Pili Me Ka'u Manu.mp3
While Hawaiian music has left an imprint on American music, the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole has led the resurgance of Hawaiian music for the past decade and on into the future.

Y’all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Poor White Boys and the Slide

Yesterday’s pedal steel guitar post sure got my feet moving.

Once again the influence of Hawaiian music has shown up on the Bus. It got me to thinking about another genre of American music that was influenced by the slide guitar of Hawaii. I have often mentioned the influence of the Hawaiian slide guitar style on two seemingly different genres, country and the blues. The two are much more closely related than most folks think and neither would sound as they do today if it were not for the interchange of ideas, licks, and influences of early musicians.

I have discussed the popularity of Hawaiian music in this space so many times before that I’m sure some of you riders are rolling your eyes and thinking “There he goes, wondering off to Hawaii again.” Don’t fret, I’ll skip the Hawaiian lecture today, you all know the routine by now. I just wanted to point out that the rural white country musicians picked up a thing or two from the waves of Hawaiian music that rolled across America during the first few decades of the twentieth century.

On the drive home from the plant I thought about what music I would post. The first artists that came to mind were Darby & Tarlton, Frank Hutchison, and Riley Puckett. When I got home, I searched through my collection for other early white country musicians that had picked up the slide guitar. I found plenty of examples; in fact, I was surprised at how many I found with just a quick pass through. After pulling out many records and listening, I decided to go with my first thought. All were from the rural South, all worked for a living (Riley Puckett, blinded shortly after birth, played on street corners in Atlanta for change, Darby & Tarlton worked at a textile mill in South Carolina, and Frank Hutchison was a coal miner from West Virginia), and all were early pioneers in country music that had been influenced by both Hawaiian music and by their black musician neighbors.

Riley Puckett - A Darkies Wall.mp3

Frank Hutchinson - KC Blues.mp3

Tom Darby & Jimmie Tarlton - Lonesome Frisco Line.mp3

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Pedal Steel Guitar

The pedal steel guitar is an awkward looking instrument with an assortment of rods, levers, and pedals suspended below a small TV dinner tray with several cut off guitar necks on top. It may look ungainly, but all of those strings, pedals, and levers can make some sweet music in skilled hands. Actually, it takes skilled hands, feet, and knees to play a pedal steel.

The pedal steel guitar is an evolution of the Hawaiian lap steel guitar. We’ve featured plenty of examples of Hawaiian steel guitar on the Bus and its influence on American music. While the steel guitar had a tremendous impact on many styles of music including pop songs from Tin Pan Alley, old time, blues, and country, but it was in the jazzy string bands of western swing that the steel guitar began its evolution. Artists such as Leon McAuliffe were pushing the steel to its limits and needed more chords to keep up with the expanding repertoire of their jazz and swing inspired bands.

The 1930s were a time of experimentation with various ways of making the steel guitar more versatile. During this period some instrument makers added a second neck to the standard lap steel, allowing the player to have quick access to two tunings. This arrangement is often referred to as a console steel guitar. Around the same time, other makers added levers to make changing the tuning much easier and quicker. The advent of the pedal to change a string’s tone is credited to Alvino Rey in the mid-1930s. He preferred to make the tone changes with his feet, leaving his hands free to play.

While many steel players adopted pedals or levers to change the tuning of their guitar quickly between songs, it was Bud Isaacs that first used the pedals to shift the pitch of the strings as he played. The technique was a hit and was soon imitated by nearly every steel guitar player. The pedals or knee levers pulled or pushed the anchor of a string to raise or lower its tone. To add even more versatility, a second and even third neck was added to the pedal steel. The most common configuration nowadays is two ten-string necks.

Over the years many different pedal and lever arrangements were developed, mostly by the players themselves. In 1957, Buddy Emmons teamed up with Shot Jackson and began building pedal steel guitars in Jackson’s garage. The guitar that they developed was sold as the Sho-Bud and was a tremendous advance in the evolution of the pedal steel. Emmons would later, around 1963, start building his own guitars and selling them under the Emmons Guitar Company brand. These new guitars were much lighter and more compact than anything on the market. Some still consider the Emmons Legrande model to be the best sounding pedal steel guitar ever made.

The pedal steel guitar is most often associated with the honky tonk country music of the late 1950s and began to fall from use in the 1970s. It was used in the beginnings of rock and roll also. Elvis Presley often had a pedal steel player and even Bill Haley had a pedal steel guitar player in the Comets. By the 1970s the pedal steel was being replaced with orchestral strings on many commercial country music records, but its popularity with a new breed of musical artists was just beginning. Bob Dylan used pedal steel guitarist, Pete Drake, on his Nahville Skyline album. The Byrds classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo featured the steel guitar of Lloyd Green and Jay Dee Maness. The doors were opened and lots of pop bands began adding the sweet sound of the pedal steel. Give a listen to some of your old albums from the 1970s: the Flying Burrito Brothers (Sneaky Pete), Commander Cody, Asleep At The Wheel, Herb Pedersen, Poco (Rusty Young), the Byrds, The Carpenters, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Dire Straits, and nearly all of the country-rock bands used pedal steel guitar on some of their recordings. Jerry Garcia even added a nice pedal steel accompaniment to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s now classic ”Teach Your Children Well”.

To my ear, the pedal steel adds a wonderful, flowing harmony to a song with an occasional flourishing run at just the right moment , similar to the role of the dobro, but with it own unique voice and character. In skilled hands (and feet and knees) the pedal steel guitar is much more than just a harmony instrument. Last week I featured the steel guitar of Leon McAuliffe. Today we’ll have a listen to two of the most important and influential masters of the pedal steel guitar.

Bud Isaacs made what can be considered one of the most immediate changes that would affect nearly every pedal steel player since. As I have described above, the pedals and levers that had been added to the console steel guitar were there to make changing quicker chord changes. In 1953, Web Pierce hired Isaacs for the remake of his earlier hit ”Slowly”. It was during that recording session that Bud Isaacs used his pedals to shift chords while sustaining a chord. The fluid shift that happened mid-chord had an immediate impact on all pedal steel players and has become the signature sound of the instrument.

Buddy Emmons was not only an influential steel guitar player, taking the pedal steel guitar into new musical territory; he was also one of the instruments most important developers. Buddy Emmons was born in Mishawaka, Indiana and received his first lap steel guitar at the age of 11. His parents enrolled him at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend (how often have I mentioned the popularity of Hawaiian music throughout the last century.) By the age of 16 he was playing professionally in Chicago. In 1956, Emmons traveled to Detroit to sit in for Walter Haynes with Little Jimmy Dickens. He was asked to join Dickens’ Country Boys and first appeared on the Grand Old Opry stage as a member of Dickens’ band. During the late 1950s, Emmons played with Ernest Tubb and in 1963 joined Ray Price and his Cherokee Cowboys. As a musician Emmons was in constant demand as a recording session player. As noted above, Buddy Emmons is also a tinkerer, his advancements made on the Sho-Bud and Emmons guitars changed every instrument built since. Buddy Emmons toured with the Everly Brothers in 1993 and continued to do session work throughout the 1990s.

Bud Isaacs - Bud's Steel Guitar Stomp.mp3

Bud Isaacs - Bud's Bounce.mp3

Buddy Emmons - Nothing Was Delivered.mp3

Buddy Emmons - Top Heavy.mp3
Buddy Emmons has taken the pedal steel to many other genres of music as you can hear in his Top Heavy. He has played with country, jazz, pop, and orchestral groups. lists 19 of Buddy Emmons' recordings. Click here for their offerings.
You can’t go wrong adding any of these fine recordings to your collection. Any of the collaborations with Ray Pennington are excellent choices as are Buddy Emmons – Steel Guitar and Amazing Steel Guitar: The Buddy Emmons Collection.
I am pleased to see that the late master of the Stratocaster, Danny Gatton’s Redneck Jazz has been re-released. Buddy Emmons adds so much to this incredibe record. I treasure my original red vinyl pressing that I bought at one of their shows in 1978.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Festival Update

I was a bit surprised that this season’s festival listing post didn’t get a bunch of comments telling of festivals that I neglected to list. Either I am getting better at finding and listing festivals or you riders are getting a bit slack.

Thanks to Bruce for letting us know of a fairly new festival. The line up for this festival looks great! Long time riders on the Bus will remember Mark Rubin of the Bing Bang Boys sharing some of the great old time music that Austin is enjoying (original post here.)
Mark your calendar.

Austin String Band Festival
Austin, Texas
October 19-20
Austin Friends of Traditional Music -

I have reposted the two songs from the August 2006 post.
Just try to keep your feet still!

Bing Bang Boys - Over In The Gloryland.mp3

Bing Bang Boys - Crazy 'Bout My Chevrolet.mp3

Visit their website for more info about the appropriately titled CD "I'm Feelin' Good". Or listen to clips and buy a copy at CD Baby or iTunes.

Get out and see some live music real soon.
You’ll have a great time and your attendance will let club owners and promoters know that there is an audience for good music.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Easin' Back to Work: River of Life

It has been awhile since I started the work week with an “Easin’ Back To Work” post. It used to be a regular feature on the Bus. With the Easin’ Back To Work series I tried to make a gentle transition from the relaxation of the weekend back to the workaday world. Our dear friend Lucy once told me that those were her favorite posts. I must admit that I enjoy them also.

The river has always been my favorite way to unwind and lose all of the daily concerns that can clutter an otherwise peaceful mind. I have read many writers use natural objects as a metaphor for life; tree of life, thread of life, ... For me, nothing symbolizes life more than a river.

We travel as the river. Starting small and peaceful, growing in knowledge and strength as we continue along our course. The river passes along quietly for most of its journey, yet can be full of fury and turmoil at times, only to emerge and continue its journey.

“Take everything as it comes; the wave passes, deal with the next one.” - Tom Thomson, 1877-1917

“Voyage upon life's sea, To yourself be true, And, whatever your lot may be, Paddle your own canoe” - Sarah Bolton

“Christopher Robin came down from the Forest to the Bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn't matter a bit, as it didn't on such a happy afternoon, and he though that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be known.” - A. A. Milne

Bill Staines - The River.mp3
Bill Staines is a long time favorite and required listening here on the Bus.

John Hartford - Gum Tree Canoe.mp3

Shelley Posen - S'Mores.mp3
A little bit of fun. Shelley Posen is a canoeist/singer/songwriter from Ontario. Visit to hear more and order CDs.

"Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe." -unknown

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Weekend Already?

This has been the longest four days at work that I can remember. It may have been a short work week, but that doesn’t diminish the anticipation I feel for the coming weekend.

On the other hand, the evenings this week have passed much too quickly. I have been busy transferring more records and enjoying the music while the house was filled with the aroma of apples and peaches baking in the kitchen. I’ve got a whole new batch of gems from Walt’s cousin Wes’ 78 collection converted to mp3s and a few from my own collection as well.

There is some sad news to report from Wes’ collection. I was elated to see a small stack of 78s by Riley Puckett, the records are pretty rough, but didn’t show any deep scratches. Unfortunately, the surface noise nearly drowns out the music. I have tried every trick I know of to clean up the sound including using a different stylus on the tonearm, adjusting the tracking force, chemical treatment, and even digital enhancement. Alas, I believe they are just too far gone to revive. I have one more trick up my sleeve and I’ll give it another try this weekend.

Let’s start the weekend early with some classic bluegrass. My interest in bluegrass began in the early 1970s. I grew up in what was farm country between Baltimore and D.C. The Baltimore/Washington area was the center of the bluegrass music world during those times. The Seldom Scene were Wednesday night regulars at the Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, and all of the big names stopped in the Pickin’ Parlor at Baltimore Bluegrass to jam with anyone who stopped by. Red Smiley and Bill Harrell were regulars at the Pickin' Parlor. The New River Ranch, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, near Rising Sun, Maryland was the first of many bluegrass festivals I have attended over the years.

This was in the days before bluegrass bands started playing everything at break-neck speed. I’m sure many of the riders on the Bus remember those sad days in bluegrass history. All too many bands thought that speed was where it was at and played as if they were in a race to the end of each song. I refer to the era, and the music it produced as acid-grass. Accuracy and technical or artistic ability was abandoned for pure speed. It was a shame, for it drove a lot of fans, like me, away from the genre. Fortunately, the madness didn’t last more than a few years and the artistry and simple beauty returned.

We won’t be hearing any acid-grass on the Bus, just that wonderful combination of old time country, blues, jazz, and pop that make bluegrass so unique. Here are a few old favorite instrumentals that mix some speed with tight, accurate, musical artistry.

Mac Martin & the Dixie Travellers - Black Mountain Blues.mp3

Red Smiley - Big Sandy.mp3

Earl Taylor & Jim McCall - Ragtime Annie.mp3

Y’all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Apple Pickin' Time

Nothing signals the last days of summer like fresh picked apples. Many of the apples we picked last weekend are now baked into pies and in the freezer to brighten some cold winter evening.

I’ll be taking a break from peeling and slicing tonight to transfer a few more of the 78s that Walt’s cousin Wes loaned us.

Jim Lauderdale with the Clinch Mountain Boys - The Apples Are Just Turning Ripe.mp3

Bob Devlin - The Apple Picker's Reel.mp3

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

On The Bum

If you are having a hard time getting back into the daily grind after the long holiday weekend you’re not alone. All day long my mind wandered to that relaxing island on the river.

I have always admired the freedom represented by the hobo. The songs of Harry McClintock have been a regular part of my repertoire for many a year. Harry McClintock (October 8, 1882 - April 24, 1957), was a songwriter and union organizer. A lifelong Wobblie, as the Industrial Workers of the World were known, Harry is credited as the first person to record fellow Wobblie and folk hero, Joe Hill's "The Preacher and the Slave". McClintock's radio and recording career took off when he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he hosted a daily children's program on KFRC called "Mac and his Gang" calling himself "Haywire Mac". He also had a novelty cowboy band called Mac and his Haywire Orchestry.

Harry McClintock worked all of his life in a variety of occupations. At various times he was a seamen, muleskinner, railroader, cowboy, sheep herder, and union organizer. It's ironic that he is most often remembered for his songs about folks who do not work. Perhaps, like me, he looks upon these folks with a bit of envy.

Let’s dedicate this post-Labor Day week to those whose mornings aren't interrupted by an alarm clock.

Harry McClintock – Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.mp3

Almoth Hodges – The Hobo From The T&P Line – Part 2.mp3
Not one of Harry McClintock’s songs. I just like it and it fits today’s theme.

Fred Holstein – Hobo Songs.mp3
Harry McClintock recorded several versions of the Hobo Song. Chicago songster and co-owner of the legendary Earl of Old Towne, the late Fred Holstein combined the verses of several of Harry’s recordings and called it Hobo Songs.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Fall Festivals

I trust y’all had a good Labour/Labor Day weekend. If there is one thing I take away from each Labor Day, it is that working for a living sucks.

We spent most of the weekend in the mountains of Virginia. Our youngest child, and only daughter, is beginning her senior year in high school today. She had arranged for visits to several colleges this past weekend and we made a family trip out of it. Of course, no trip through the Shenandoah Valley would be complete without several side trips to pick apples and peaches. We brought a couple bushels of each home with us. I’m looking forward to pies, cobblers, and fritters in the coming weeks. It’s not quite cider season yet, so we’ll have to make another trip up Carter Mountain in a few weeks.

To enjoy our Labor day we paddled the upper James River. Cool, clear water and a swift current helped wash away any thoughts of the looming return to work. My wife has six classrooms of new students and I will return to the noise, heat, and stench of the plant. The peace of the mountains and rivers will be treasured memories until our next chance to escape.

The temperatures are starting to cool off a bit, a sure sign that the second round of festivals is about to begin. It has become a tradition on the Bus to list some of the upcoming festivals around the U.S. and Canada twice a year. Thanks to rider Katie for reminding me to get the fall festival listing posted. As always, if I missed your favorite festival, leave a comment and tell us about it, especially our Canadian friends. I could not find much happening in Canada this season.

To help get you through the return to work or school, here is the Fall Festival list. Mark your calendars and get out to see some live music.

Here are a few classic bluegrass gems to get things rolling as you plan your trips.

The McCormick Brothers - The Mad Banjo.mp3

Buzz Busby - Talking Banjo.mp3

Sonny Osborne - Sunny Mountain Chimes.mp3

Upcoming Festivals
(Links open in new window.)

Wheatland Music Festival
Remus, Michigan
September 7-9

Clarksville Riverfest Celebration
Clarksville, Tennessee
September 7–9

Walnut Valley Festival
Winfield, Kansas
September 12-16

Laurel Lakes Fall Bluegrass Festival
Salemburg, North Carolina
September 13-15

Berkley Old Time Music Convention
Berkley, California
September 13-16

Strawberry Park Folk Music & Dance Festival
Preston, Connecticut
September 13-16

Dumplin Valley Bluegrass Festival
Kodak, Tennessee
September 13-15

Bristol's Rhythm and Roots Reunion
Bristol, Virginia
September 14-16

The FOOTMAD (Friends of Old Time Music and Dance) Fall Festival
Beckwith, West Virginia,
September 14-16

Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Uncle Pen Days
Bean Blossom, Indiana
September 19-22

The Big Spring Jam
Huntsville, Alabama
September 28-30

Arkansas State Fiddle Championship
The Ozark Folk Center, Mountain View, Arkansas
September 28–29

IBMA Bluegrass Fan Fest
Nashville, TN
October 1-7

Moonshiners Reunion and Mountain Music Festival
Campobello, South Carolina
October 5-6

Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention
Athens, Alabama
October 5-6

Sharlot Hall Museum Folk Music Festival
Prescott, Arizona
October 6-7

The John Stuart Harvest Jam
Collinsville Alabama
October 12-14

Riverbend Bluegrass Festival
Ocilla, Georgia
October 12-14

69th Annual National Folk Festival
Richmond, Virginia
October 12-14