Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hillbilly Boogie On The Rails

The jazzy, upbeat sounds of swing made its way to the mountains and the combination of old-time rural rhythm and infectious swing tempo make it nearly impossible to keep from dancing!

Trains have been the subject of old-time music since the first rails were laid through the mountains to the coal mines and rural communities. The tradition continued with the addition of an appropriate boogie rhythm.

The Delmore Brothers - Midnight Train.mp3

Tommy Scott - Rockin' And Rollin'.mp3

Shorty Long - Goodnight Cincinnatti, Good Morning Tennessee.mp3

Johnny Tyler - Freight Train Boogie.mp3

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Work Your Fingers To The Bone...

The W-2s and 1099s are all in so I thought I’d pour myself a stiff drink and get started on the dreaded tax return. I’ve sorted through piles of receipts, forms, and documents, and entered all of the required numbers. My bottle is just about empty and the forms are complete.

The good news is that we will be getting a refund for the first in many years, but I won’t be planning that long overdue vacation just yet. Our refund may just pay for a tank of gas, if I stop at the discount station in town.

I remember when I lived comfortably on the same amount of money I now pay in taxes. Of course, that was thirty years ago and I realize that inflation has taken its toll, but there is something unsettling about paying so much of my hard earned wages and seeing so little in return.

Tom Paxton - Times A-Getting Hard, Boys.mp3

Hoyt Axton - Boney Fingers.mp3

Monday, January 28, 2008

Eastern Swing?

I suppose I should have continued last week’s look at western swing, I was enjoying our look at the good time music that developed in the American Southwest. Let's get back to swingin' again.

The post war popularity of Big Bands and swing music was felt throughout the American musical landscape, not just the dusty plains. Back East, along the Piedmont and Appalachian regions, swing music was finding its way into the music of the hill folk. Although nowhere near as popular (or remembered) as its western cousin, the swing-influenced country music of the Southern Mountains was a unique style all its own.

In contrast to western swing, eastern swing was based on an already established musical style with a long history, so the influences were a bit more subtle. I hear a lot more of Memphis in these tunes as apposed to the New Orleans sound that made its way into western swing. The Hawaiian influence is deeply rooted in both styles as the slide and steel guitar had been popular nationwide since the turn of the 20th century. The German, Polish and Czech influence of western swing was not a big influence on eastern swing, but the Moravian influences (minus the brass) so prevalent in the music of North Carolina are surely present in these tunes.

By the late 1940s radio was having a major impact on regional musical styles. As radio stations began to broadcast more music from records with fewer live radio shows, recorded music from far off regions of the country were replacing live local performers. The lines between distinctive style was becoming blurred. Many of these regional styles would be folded into the mix that would become rockabilly and early rock’n’roll.

Cecil Campbell - I Get The Blues.mp3

Billy Stickland - Hillbilly Wolf.mp3

Harry Fowler - Carolina Swing.mp3

Tommy Little - High Geared Daddy.mp3

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Tennessee Plowboy

A few weeks ago we had a lively conversation on the Bus about the definitive country music song. The whole discussion was instigated by Paul over at Setting The Woods On Fire when he posted his choices for the definitive song to represent country music.

This past weekend Paul sent me a link to a few comments at Nashville Scene (scroll down to “WHAT IS COUNTRY MUSIC?:”) I didn’t read the original article that spurred these comments, but I see that the commenters echoed the comments made by riders on the Bus.

I did not set out to rekindle the discussion, but came across some interesting commercial statistics that I thought I would share. But first I must divulge a few secrets.

Aside from being an avid record collector and history buff, I am also a collector of books. My library is filled with books that are harmonious with my other interests (music, history, sociology...) I often refer to these volumes for inspiration and facts when preparing a post for the Bus.

Whenever I need to know commercial information about a song or artist, such as how long a song remained on the charts or how many records a particular artist sold in a certain year, I rely on Whitburn. Joel Whitburn founded Record Research Inc., with a staff of researchers that document, in full detail, all of Billboard’s various popular music (and now video) charts from the first issue in 1894 up to the current issue. Joel Whitburn is an avid record collector with one of the world’s largest record collections. His collection includes nearly every 78 rpm record, 45 rpm single, LP, and compact disc to appear on the Billboard charts dating back to the late 1890s.

According to Whitburn, George Jones (who’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today” was Paul’s choice as the most representative country song) has had more individual hits on the country charts than anyone else. The fact that Jones has had more hits on the charts during (most of) our lifetime would bias our opinion of what country music is.

But Whitburn uses a complex formula for ranking hits and the amount of time they spend on the charts. Whitburn’s formula gives the title of all-time leader in hits and their time on the country charts to Eddy Arnold! Whitburn lists 145 songs by Arnold that reached the charts, with 28 hitting the top at #1.

So, as the top ranking country artist (as defined by the most top hits on the charts for the longest time, per Whitburn), is the Tennessee Plowboy the most representative country artist?

Never mind, let’s not even go there again. Let’s just listen to a couple of great songs from another old 78 loaned to us by Walt’s Cousin Wes.

Eddy Arnold [The Tennessee Plowboy] - Enclosed, One Broken Heart.mp3

Eddy Arnold [The Tennessee Plowboy] - Cuddle Buggin' Baby.mp3

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Swinging into the Weekend

“If I owned Hell and Texas I would rent out Texas and live in Hell”
- Philip Henry Sheridan

“Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me.”
- George W. Bush

No long commentary today, just a few great western swing tunes to kick off the weekend.

Bob Wills - New San Antonio Rose.mp3

Tex Williams - Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette).mp3

Rod Morris - I'm Coming Over Tonight.mp3

Alvin Crow & the Pleasant Valley Boys - Yes She Do, No She Don't (I'm Satisfied With My Gal).mp3
Buy Alvin Crow’s music here

Y'all have a good weekend!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dallas Bound

The roots of western swing run deep in the music of the American Southwest. As settlers moved westward their cultures intertwined, including music. The fiddle music that had its roots in the Southeast and Appalachian regions had picked up a decidedly African influence as settlers reached the Ozarks. That African influence was already in the mix as people moved west into Texas where they encountered German, Czech, and Polish immigrants who had settled central Texas. The music, like the people, intermingled and some elements of polka, including the accordion, entered the evolving string band music of the Southwest.

Along the southern route the sounds of jazz carried across the bayous from New Orleans to the east Texas cities of Houston and Beaumont and blended into the mix. Clarinets and saxophones helped add just the right sound.

Although the era of the American cowboy was a relatively short period, cowboy culture was firmly implanted in the arid lands of the Southwest. The music of the hardworking and solitary cowboy naturally entered the repertoire of the string bands at Saturday night dances from the ranch house to the stockyards of Dallas.

Of course no discussion of western swing would be complete without mention of the steel guitar. The steel guitar was introduced to America with the nationwide popularity of Hawaiian music that first came ashore in the late 1890s and enjoyed several resurgent waves in the pop culture of the 1920s. Although several other genres of American music had dabbled with the steel guitar, western swing took it to heart.

During the war years swing music performed by the great Big Bands was becoming popular and the little string bands of Texas and Oklahoma, having already grown to include drums, accordion, woodwinds, brass, and steel guitars, were starting to equal the energy and volume of the Big Bands.

Oscar & Doc Harper - Beaumont Rag.mp3

Idaho Cal & His Sun Valley Cowboys - I've Loved, Lived and Learned.mp3

Jimmie Widener - Come a Little Bit Closer.mp3

Adolph Hofner & His Texans - Am I Happy.mp3

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Can't Get Enough of That Ah-Ha

When I first heard the music of Bob Wills playing on my grandmother’s big old Magnavox Hi-Fi cabinet, I couldn’t help but add a little bounce to my walk.

Western swing came into being during the 1920s and ‘30s as the string bands of the Southwest blended a bit of cowboy, polka, pop, and jazz with their regular repertoire of old-time dance music. The string bands of Texas and Oklahoma added pianos, saxophones, drums, and most importantly, the steel guitar to get that full, rich sound popular with the Big Bands of the late ‘30s and pre-war ‘40s.

The popularity of western swing started to wane following the war, but its influence could still be heard in the country music of performers such as Moon Mullican, the bebop of Hank Penny, and the early rock-n-roll of Bill Haley. Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen revived the style in the 1970s.

The latest stack of old 78s from our friend Walt’s Cousin Wes was just jam-packed with some great swinging tunes. Giving them a spin of my turntable had me recalling those days of my youth and dancing with my grandmother across the living room floor.

Everyone up on your feet! Let’s get the Bus rockin’.

Johnny Hicks and his Troubadours - I Can't Get Enough of That Ah-Ha.mp3

Hank Penny - Jersey Bounce.mp3

Red Foley and the Dixie Dons - M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.mp3

Tex Williams - Birmingham Bounce.mp3

Thanks go out once again to Walt’s Cousin Wes for sharing his wonderful collection.

Monday, January 21, 2008

So Long Lonesome Picker

Photo courtesy All Music Guide

I learned of the passing of John Stewart late last night, too late to post. John Stewart helped to define the role of the singer/songwriter during the unsettled 1960s and ‘70s. John Stewart first gained recognition when his songs were recorded by the Kingston Trio. He formed the Cumberland Three in 1960 and they recorded three albums. Their two records, Civil War Almanac Vol. 1 (the Yankees) and Vol. 2 (the Rebels) were well received, but the band broke up before one year was up. Stewart was invited to join his mentors, the Kingston Trio, in 1961. His fresh writing kept the Trio on the charts through the ’60s.

In 1969 John Stewart released his first true solo album, California Bloodlines. The album didn’t achieve the success that it warranted until years later. Rolling Stone magazine included California Bloodlines in its list of the 200 best albums of all time. Although his songs have been recorded by as various a group of artists as Anne Murray. Rosanne Cash, Nanci Griffith, Joan Baez, The Beat Farmers, The Four Tops and others His biggest hit as a songwriter was “Daydream Believer” which the Monkees had a number 1 hit with.

Perhaps John Stewart’s most popular album was Bombs Away Dream Baby recorded with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.

John Stewart suffered a fatal stroke Saturday. The Los Angeles Times has a complete and touching obituary. Read it here.

John Stewart - Lonesome Picker.mp3
Buy California Bloodlines at

YouTube video of John Stewart performing “Gold” Live at the Birchmere in 2001

Rest in peace, Lonesome Picker.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Footprints in the Snow

Photo courtesy of Forest Wander

This past weekend has brought the first snow of the season to the central Piedmont. We don’t get much snow here in south-central Virginia, so it’s good that this snow came on a weekend. Snow on the roads brings everything to a stand still as the folks around here do not get much chance to practice driving in the snow.

A warm fire inside and no place to go. I enjoyed watching the wintry scene outside my window from my comfortable spot on the couch, hot totty in hand, and football on the TV.

Today we take for granted a warm home at the flip of a switch or twist of a dial. If we need to venture out into the cold to stock up on beer and snacks before the big game, our cars are heated as is the brightly lit store packed with neighbors stocking up on milk and bread.

No matter how tough our winters may seem, for the rural folks of days past, winter was a test of endurance. As I searched my collection for songs about winter and snow it soon became clear that the majority of songs were sad tales of loss and hard times.

Molly O'Day - At The First Fall Of Snow.mp3

IIIrd Tyme Out - Snow Angel.mp3

Jody Stecher & Kate Brislin - Walking Through Your Town In The Snow.mp3
Buy it at CD Baby

Bill Monroe - Footprints in the Snow.mp3

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fork in the Road

photo: Colin Gregory Palmer

The DOW closed down 277 points yesterday. One week after the brokerage house of Merrill-Lynch announced a $5 billon bailout from the government of Singapore and say they are talking with China and the Saudis for more money, Citigroup has accepted a bailout by Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal, making the prince Citi’s largest individual shareholder.

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a ruling preventing shareholders from suing for damages, banks, brokers, or other third parties along with companies that deceive investors, a concept known as "scheme liability." Thereby placing a major roadblock in the way of employees and other investors who lost their live savings in the Enron sham.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its ruling calling meat and milk from cloned animals as "Indistinguishable" from that of naturally bred animals, paving the way for sale of cloned milk and meat. Two U.S. companies, Viagen Inc. and Trans Ova Genetics, have already produced more than 600 cloned animals for U.S. breeders.

Our president is touring the Middle East begging for more oil and reassuring his Arab friends that he doesn’t believe the latest intelligence report on Iran.

I had planned to post another look at the history of American music, but the evening news preempted all other thought. Thankfully it is an election year.

Josh White - The House I Live In (That's America to Me).mp3

James McMurtry - We Can't Make It Here.mp3
buy it: here

Update: to keep things balanced I have added the the following:

Frank Sinatra - The House I Live In.mp3
Thanks for the tip, Paul.

Thanks to my friend, Virgil, for the inspiration for today’s post.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Black and White Covers

Before the days of mass marketing, music was a regional affair. Most music on the radio was performed live by local musicians. Many small record labels kept the local markets supplied with the latest tunes performed by local artists.

When a song proved to be popular in one area, record companies would rush to issue the same song performed by one
of their local artists. As royalties, when paid, were due to the copyright owner (usually the record producer), not the song’s writer or original performer, this arrangement worked perfectly well for many years.

This was also a profitable way for the record companies to sell the same song (which they already owned the rights to) to a wider audience. One of the most common ways that record companies would make money from the same song was to take a popular song from one category of their catalog and have it recorded by an artist from another category. Songs from the record company’s popular songs catalog were often recorded by hillbilly artists and race artists and released under the appropriate section of the catalog. The most commonly covered songs were from the race record section of the catalogs. These songs were reworked to appeal to a different audience and recorded by the top selling artists from the hillbilly or country catalog.

Today being the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, I thought we’d take a look at a few of the records that were hits as either race or hillbilly records and were covered by artists from another style, providing the record label with twice the sales, and unwittingly helped to mix the various styles that would eventually lead to rock-n-roll.

The Dominoes - Sixty Minute Man.mp3

Roberta Lee & Hardrock Gunter - Sixty Minute Man.mp3

Hank Williams - My Bucket's Got A Hole In It.mp3

Fat Man Robinson - My Bucket's Got A Hole In It.mp3

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Patchwork of American Music

Last week’s exercise in futility of trying to determine the most representative song in a genre, in this case country music, seems to have proved what I have been preaching on the Bus for going on three years now: Music, the music of North America in particular, is a beautiful quilt sewn from many different scraps of cloth.

I believe the trouble starts when we try to define any music into a neat little square. Country music is a relatively new musical genre, created through the interweaving of many other styles, many of which are hybrids in there own right. Country music as a commercial art form came about in the 1920s as rural musical styles were spread via radio and records. Many would classify the music of Fiddlin’ John Carson as Old-Time, but wasn’t one of the foundations of country music the style we know as old-time? And wasn’t old-time music a blend of traditional English ballads, minstrel, and vaudeville, with an additional African influence? As rural music showed a commercial viability on radio and records the popular songwriting factories of New York known as Tin Pan Alley began turning out sheet music with a down-home feel.

For example, Stephen Foster was one of the pre-eminent songwriters of the 19th century and although he only visited the South once during his life, many of his songs are considered standards in the old-time, country, and bluegrass styles. "My Old Kentucky Home", "Old Black Joe", and "Old Folks at Home" ("Swanee River") were all written by Foster in his native city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Foster was a professional songwriter, he earned his living writing and publishing his music. His inspirations included the popular, but often risqué, music of the blackface minstrel performers, but Foster wrote lyrics more suitable to be sung as the popular parlor songs of the day.

The colors in our quilt overlap. English ballads, blues, minstrel, and popular music became the early country music. Regional differences blended country with other styles to form new sub-styles. Country blended with the blues and a bit of jazz in Kentucky formed the beginnings of bluegrass. The string bands of the Southwest blended country, western (or cowboy), polka, and the jazz-based swing music of the Big Bands to create western swing.

It was a two way street, though, with ideas and influences flowing freely between genres and sub-genres. Although western swing was born of country music, it gave one of its most recognizable features, the wail of the peddle steel guitar, back to country music. During the Great Dust Bowl many musicians followed displaced farmers to California, where the guitar styles and peddle steel of western swing were transformed in the honky-tonks into a style that would become the Bakersfield sound of the 1950s.

In Memphis, country music (aka hillbilly) was intermingling with the blues of the juke joints and the jazz sounds from New Orleans to form the beginnings of rock and roll. Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison hit the stage with songs that were either covers of blues records or covers of country records played in a style that combined the two and threw in a dash of jazz to boot.

Where does one begin to draw the lines? I suppose I got caught up in the challenge without thinking about the futility of the task. After all, I have been writing about the crazy quilt of American music for going on three years now. I dedicated an entire week of posts to the influences on the music of America – the “Into The Flow” series (Part 1 - England, Part 2 - Spain, Part 3 – Germany & Eastern Europe, Part 4 – France, Part 5 – Africa). This discussion could have been about any American musical genre, not just country music. One of the main purposes of theses daily ramblings on the Bus is to discover the interconnectivity of American musical styles.

Today I have posted a few songs that were all recorded earlier last century and each one has been covered by an artist in our lifetime. Sometimes the newer recording remained true to the original style, while others were adapted to suit a later audience or musical style. Each of these songs was a hit for the original artist as well as for the later remake.

Roy Hogsed - Cocaine Blues.mp3

Roy Acuff - Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.mp3

Nick Lucas - Tip Toe Through The Tulips.mp3

Cannon's Jug Stompers - Walk Right In.mp3

Memphis Jug Band - Stealin'.mp3

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mail Order Mountain Music

Bluegrass music has always been ‘down-home’ music whether home is a cabin in the hills or a city row house. Bluegrass music developed along with the migration of rural families to jobs in the factories in the big cities after WWII. The music combined elements of the old-time, country, and hillbilly ballads of their homes in the hills with a sprinkling of popular music, and a dash of jazz from their adopted environs.

It was comforting, familiar music for a group of people far from the green rolling hillsides that had been their home for generations. Bluegrass also provided a common bond for people who had left small rural communities to find themselves crammed into the unfamiliar surroundings of tenement builds, overcrowded slums, and the dark, dirty factories that provided the better paying jobs they left home in search of.

It wasn’t long before other inhabitants of the city heard the banjo, mandolin, and fiddle of their new neighbors being played at picnics and weekend dances. At first the hillbilly music of these rural folk was met with giggles and snickers, but the upbeat tempo and good time melodies soon won over more than a few city-bred admirers. During the post war years bluegrass exploded across the country.

Bluegrass may have its roots in the mountains but its branches now spread around the globe. I was recently pointed to an article in the Orange County (California) Register by Julie Anne Ines. Ms. Ines writes of a lively bluegrass scene in Fountain Valley, California, being driven by four-time Southern California fiddle champion and teacher, Shelah Spiegel (MySpace). Although there are still a few folks who turn their noses up at bluegrass, its history owes as much to Baltimore and Chicago as it does to Berea, Kentucky and Clinch Mountain, Virginia. Read the article here.

Since we are on the subject of bluegrass let me tell you about the latest gem brought to us from our friend Walt’s Cousin Wes and his amazing collection from his home in the hills of southwest, Virginia.

Many riders on the Bus may be familiar with Rebel Records. Rebel may have fallen by the wayside as so many other local record companies did, but thanks to Charles R. Freeland and Bill Carroll and their dedication to bluegrass music, Rebel became one of the frontrunners in bluegrass music throughout much of the 1960s and ‘70s. The success of Rebel can be attributed to the resurgence of interest in bluegrass and the label’s ability to find great artists.

Rebel Records never did have a very wide distribution. Often the records were personally delivered to merchants and left on consignment. Later, as word about Rebel’s wonderful catalog of bluegrass music was passed by word of mouth, mail order sales became an important part of Rebel’s prosperity. When Rebel teamed up with County Sales of Floyd, Virginia sales and exposure increased measurably. County’s monthly newsletter was, and still is, read by bluegrass enthusiasts around the world, your humble driver included.

While still selling most of their catalog by mail order, Rebel Records put together a few “mail order only” records not available in stores. In 1965 Rebel offered a four LP compilation of 70 of their most popular and most requested 45s. The set, known as the "70 Song ‘Per-Inquiry’ Collection" was issued as catalog numbers R1473 through R1476. The records were not identified on the label besides a listing of the tracks and did not come with covers. The records were delivered by mail enclosed only in thin, white paper inner sleeves.

I don’t know for sure how many of these special mail order sets were sold, but there was only one run and when those were sold the catalog numbers were retired. Imagine my astonishment when I was loaned a set of these rare LPs by Walt’s Cousin Wes.

Buzz Busby - Your Red Wagon.mp3

Billy Baker - Shady Valley Special.mp3

King Brothers - Ripple on the Strings.mp3

Franklin County Boys - Dobro On The Ridge.mp3

The Country Gentlemen - The Gentlemen is Blue.mp3

Y’all have a good weekend.

The 'Perfect' Country Song - Part 2

Wow, what a response to Paul’s pursuit of the “perfect” country song! While I haven’t even thought about starting my own research (although I did note that I need to restock the ‘fridge with some cold inspiration), the riders on the Bus have already made some valid points, as I expected. I have received plenty of comments, emails, and phone calls with nominations for a wide variety of “perfect” country songs.

Our long-time friend, Mr. Beer N. Hockey, started the ball rolling with his nomination of Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.” Whoa, “Four Strong Winds” is most often considered a folk song, but it fits the required criteria and Ian Tyson is the personification of country music north of the 49th parallel. This was going to be much more involved and difficult than I had anticipated.

Just as I was pondering Beer’s comment our good friend and frequent contributor, Walt, walked up with his first suggestion, “Long Black Veil.” I countered with Gary Stewart’s “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles).” Within a minute we came up with a dozen songs to consider. All fit the requisite and yet the list was a varied one.

Perhaps it was rider Richard’s comment, “there'll be folks with their own ideas about what constitutes 'perfection’,” that made me realize that not only would it be a task to define “perfection”, but I wasn’t even sure if the it was possible to define “country.” By Paul’s choices I’d say that he had in mind the commercial honky-tonk sounds of the 1970s. But does this relatively short era really define country music more than the country music of any other period? Today’s country music differs in significant ways from the country music of previous eras. How would one decide what era best identifies country music as a genre?

That famous recording session in Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia in July of 1927, when producer Ralph Peer solicited local musicians to play for the Victor Talking Machine Company, is considered the “Big Bang” of country music. The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and Ernest Stoneman were among the artists first recorded at that session. Their music was not the hillbilly tunes that had been recorded on earlier sessions further south. This music was a new sound that combined aspects of many different genres in a fresh new sound. That new sound would become known as country music.

Country music evolved and developed further in the 1930s and ‘40s. Peddle steel guitars were becoming common in the late ‘40s and by the 1950s electric instruments were common. Rockabilly and the honky-tonk sound played a major roll in the development of country music in the ‘50s. By the late ‘50s, the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, with its slick production techniques and use of string sections was making its mark on country music. In the 1960s and early ‘70s country music took on a new sound, one propagated by the CMA that was more palatable to a larger, more urban audience.

With such a long and varied amount of material to choose from, how would one begin to find a song that best represented the genre? Such a task would not be any easier to accomplish with any other genre of music, even one as young as rock. Could one be expected to find a song that best defines rock music? Would it be from the rockabilly era, the British invasion, the Woodstock era?

After giving it a bit of thought, I don’t believe it possible to find one song that can define an entire genre of music. Paul’s post leaned heavily toward the honky-tonk sound of the 1970s and as representatives of that era his choices were superb but, not representative of the whole of country music.

No one song can capture the variety and rich culture of country music, as these suggestions from riders on the Bus demonstrate. Thanks to Paul for posing the question and to the riders on the Bus for your thoughts and suggestions.

Ian & Sylvia - Four Strong Winds.mp3

Lefty Frizzell - Long Black Veil.mp3

Gary Stewart - She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles).mp3

Del McCoury - 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.mp3

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The "Perfect" Country Song?

A few weeks ago Paul, the proprietor of one of my favorite music blogs, Setting The Woods On Fire, posed the question of what would be the most representative country song, or, the “Perfect” country song.

As Paul mentioned in his post, in 1974, Steve Goodman and John Prine wrote what they considered to be the perfect country song. “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” was recorded by David Allan Coe after he suggested that Goodman include lyrics about “mama, trains, trucks, prison, and gettin' drunk” in order for it to be considered the “perfect” country song. I’ve included the song on the Bus for those of you who missed Paul’s original post.

I can’t argue with or add to Pauls’ four point (and two extra point) litmus test for the perfect country song. Clever lyrics, a regret-filled storyline, a “stalwart, but flawed, protagonist,” and a peddle steel guitar are the timeless ingredients that made the country music of the late ‘40s to the ‘70s such classics.

Although I may have made a few different selections for top contenders, the selections that Paul chose as runners up are all very deserving. Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams are all to be expected on any list of great country artists. As his selection for The “Perfect” Country Song, Paul selected George Jones’ ”He Stopped Loving Her Today”.

What would my choice for the “perfect” country song be? To be honest, I haven’t given it much thought. Perhaps I’ll open a 12-pack of inspiration one weekend, warm up the old turntable and give it some serious research. How about the riders on the Bus? What song would you nominate as the “perfect” country and western song?

Here are a couple tunes to get the gears moving.

David Allan Coe - You Never Even Called Me By My Name.mp3
D.A.C. website:
Buy it here:

Dave Landers - Draw Up The Papers, Lawyer.mp3
Yet another gem from our good friend Walt’s Cousin Wes and his amazing collection of 78s.
Dave Landers was a singer and impressionist. This record was released Jan. 1950.
Landers does impressions of all the greatest country artists of the time.

The Notorious Cherry Bombs (Vince Gill & Rodney Crowell) - It's Hard To Kiss The Lips At Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long
(YouTube video)
One couldn't make a list of "perfect" country songs without including this modern video classic.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Times is tight like that

photo: Nick Hardy

The American Dialect Society chose "subprime" as 2007's Word of the Year at its annual convention. In light of the effect that the credit industry’s reckless practices has had (or has yet to have) on our economy, I’d have to agree with their choice. A few of the other nominations that the society of word watchers considered were real estate or credit related as well, such as “Exploding ARM”, "liar's loan", and "NINJA" -- No Income, No Job or Assets.

As I turned the pages of the newspaper, the next article that caught my eye was about the decline in charitable giving by the middle class. Charities, such as the Salvation Army and the Food Bank, that rely on gifts from everyday working folks are seeing a sharp decline in giving. The article went on to say that overall charitable donations were up slightly over this time last year. The difference this year is those whom are making the donations and the beneficiaries of their graciousness. While giving to food banks and homeless shelters has dropped off, charitable gifts to the arts is on the rise. Regional symphonies, ballet companies, and art museums are enjoying a bountiful year of donations.

These seemingly unrelated articles made me pause to wonder if there was a common thread in these stories. It seems to me that the working and middle class are starting to tighten their belts to cope with rising housing prices, increasing food costs, and more pain at the pump. On the other hand, the wealthier class is donating more of their disposable income to charities and causes that are largely a benefit to themselves.

From one coast to the other, Food Banks across North America are facing severe shortages. The Yarmouth County Vanguard (Nova Scotia) and The Daily Californian (Berkeley, California) both include articles of major shortages at local Food Banks and an increase in people requiring their services. America's Second Harvest, the national organization of local and regional Food Banks, anticipates “an immediate food shortage of 15 million pounds -- the equivalent of more than 400 truckloads or 11.7 million meals -- by the end of January.”

Cactus Pryor - Cry Of The Dying Duck In A Thunder Storm.mp3
Thanks, once again, to Walt’s cousin Wes for this1950 78 classic.

R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders - Get a Load of This.mp3
currently out-of-print.

Steve Goodman - Chicken Cordon Bleus.mp3
Buy it here.

No one should have to wish for food.
Learn more about how to end hunger.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Virginians With Influence Like No Other"

When the United States of America was just that, a somewhat loose confederation of states united for mutual benefit and defense, there was a very strong sense of state pride. Nowadays the Union is more powerful and a bit more all encompassing, yet there remains amongst its citizens a strong identification with and pride in one’s home state.

As Virginia celebrated it's 400th Anniversary last year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch challenged the citizens of the Old Dominion to nominate their fellow Virginians that have made a difference in the world. The series of articles that came from this inquiry, The Greatest Virginians, is an interesting look at the sons and daughters of the Commonwealth that helped to change the world in one way or another.

Virginia earned its nickname as the Mother of Presidents thanks to eight U.S. Presidents that were born within her borders. Starting with the first, George Washington (Westmoreland County), the list also includes Thomas Jefferson (Albermarle County), James Madison (Port Conway), James Monroe (Westmoreland County), William Henry Harrison (Charles City County), John Tyler (Greenway), Zachary Taylor (Barboursville), and Woodrow Wilson (Staunton).

Virginia’s proud heritage includes some other great names from the pages of American history. George Mason was the draftsman of first Constitution of Virginia and Virginia’s Declaration of Rights of 1776. Although he was a member of the Constitutional Convention, Mason opposed ratification of the United States Constitution partly because it included no Bill of Rights. He also feared that a strong federal government would undermine the purpose of the American Revolution.

Patrick Henry’s contribution to American independence still rings with "Give me liberty, or give me death." John Marshall, chief justice of the United States from 1801 until his death in 1835, almost single-handedly defined American constitutional law. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson were two Virginians who sided with their native state when it severed ties with the United States to form the Confederate States of America with her southern neighbors. As expected, these and other great Virginians were included in the nominations by historians and politicians in response to the inquiry from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Virginia’s current Governor Tim Kaine could have been expected to nominate an important lawyer, politician, or any number of movers and shakers as his choice for the Greatest Virginian, but Governor Kaine saw things a bit differently (one of the reasons he was elected).

Governor Tim Kaine nominated The Carter Family as the Most Influential Virginians. "There are many ways to influence others, one way is through artistic expression" Gov. Kaine wrote in his remarks. Read the Times-Dispatch article "Virginians With Influence Like No Other" here.

Kudos to Gov. Kaine, too bad Virginia law does not permit consecutive terms in the Governor’s office.

Carter Family - East Virginia Blues.mp3

Carter Family - Single Girl, Married Girl.mp3

The Carter Family - Bury Me Under The Weeping Will.mp3

Mother Maybelle Carter - Wildwood Flower (W-Dialogue).mp3

The Carter Family - Can The Circle Be Unbroken.mp3

The Carter Family tradition continues at The Carter Family Fold and on back porches, parking lots, and stages around the world.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Goodtimes Goodtimes - Glue

Photo: Chris Daffin

Good, honest folk music defies borders. Goodtimes Goodtimes is the band name used by singer/songwriter Franc Cinelli, an Italian raised in London who lists as his musical influences such diverse artists as Johnny Cash and Lucio Battisti. My ears hear the further influences of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, and the Band. Cinelli has molded these varied influences to create his own unique identity and distinctive sound.

Perhaps the biggest influence on his music has been the legendary New York coffeehouse scene of the '70s. For the past few years, Goodtimes Goodtimes has been playing to enthusiastic audiences in the pubs and clubs of New York as well as London. Strong, insightful lyrics that portray the full range of human emotions and catchy, melodic accompaniments have earned this talented young singer/songwriter a growing following of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

Goodtimes Goodtimes has plans to be on tour on this side of the pond with gigs in New York this February. If you are in the New York area be sure to take in one of his shows.

Download or order a copy of Glue, the solo debut CD by Goodtimes Goodtimes, and expect to hear lots more from this talented young singer/songwriter as word gets out.

Spread the word.

Goodtimes Goodtimes - Kids.mp3

Goodtimes Goodtimes - Sunshine Sunshine.mp3

Goodtimes Goodtimes - Desire.mp3

Artist: Goodtimes Goodtimes
Label: self produced

  • MySpace

  • Buy it from:
  • iTunes


  • Wednesday, January 02, 2008


    With a lively music scene to rival most college towns, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Area (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) is home to three thriving campuses (Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and an oversized music scene to match.

    From this rich sea of young musical talent was formed Polynya. The band, which includes several DJs from UNC-Chapel Hill’s WXYC radio station, takes their name from the geographical term for areas of open water surrounded by sea ice.

    Like their namesake, Durham’s Polynya is a rich, thriving environment in vast inhospitable surroundings.

    Polynya - Without a Trace.mp3

    Artist: Polynya
    Label: Childhood Pet Records

  • MySpace

  • Buy it from: DigStation

    Ridley Bent - Buckles & Boots

    Now that the holiday season is behind us I can get to the stack of new releases that have been piling up on the dashboard.

    If you’ve been riding the Bus for any time you know that I am a fan of country music, up to a point. That point would be around 1958 and the formation of the Country Music Association (CMA).

    The CMA was the first trade organization formed to promote a music genre; a chamber of commerce for country music, if you will. By the mid-1970s the CMA had succeeded at its goal of modeling country music into commercially viable pop music with a twang and a cowboy hat. By the 1980s the transition was complete. Stockbrokers on Wall Street were wearing cowboy hats and pointy-toed, high-heeled boots and line dancing to the latest hits carefully assembled in Nashville.

    Despite the CMA’s years of homogination and pasteurization, good country music is still flourishing in enclaves around North America. For the past few decades the western prairies of Alberta have been the center of country music in Canada thanks in part to the work and influence of Ian Tyson.

    Like so many mid-continent youth, Alberta’s latest generation of country artists are moving to the coast. Vancouver is becoming Canada’s new hotbed of country music with artists originally from Alberta such as Corb Lund, Kent McAlister, and Ridley Bent taking the music of the dusty prairies to the more cosmopolitan setting of Vancouver.

    Ridley Bent found his way to Vancouver and a job as a security guard. He passed the solitary hours lost in the pages of John Steinbeck and Louis L’Amour. These classic storytellers and an appreciation for the timeless country music of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams provided the inspiration for his own take on country music.

    Ridley Bent’s wild stories of desperados, fallen rodeo stars, a high school drug sting gone bad, and an assortment of society’s misfits are filled with humor and unexpected twists backed by a tight country band. Buckles & Boots is real country music for the real world times of today.

    Ridley Bent - Nine Inch Nails.mp3

    Artist: Ridley Bent
    Label: Open Road Recordings
  • Maple Music Artists

  • MySpace

  • Buy it from:
  • Maple Music

  • Tuesday, January 01, 2008

    New Beginnings

    Happy New Year, folks!

    It’s time to replace that tattered old calendar on the wall with the glossy new one. The New Year offers the promise of a fresh start and a new road to travel. The Bus is fueled up and ready for another year of exploring the back roads and side streets of American music. Welcome aboard! If you’re feelin’ a little green from last night’s celebration you might want to take a seat by an open window.

    The New Year, a symbolic new beginning, is traditionally a time to make resolutions. I usually refrain from making resolutions as most are left by the side of the road shortly after departure. Last year seems to have passed much too quickly. I didn’t make it to many of my favorite festivals or spend nearly as much time enjoying friends and family as I would prefer. So, breaking a long tradition of not making New Years resolutions, I plan to slow down and enjoy this New Year.

    Bob Wills - I've Got A New Road Under My Wheels.mp3

    Eldon Baker - Happy Cowboy.mp3