Mountains of Songs © 2012 by Wayne Erbsen

Hank Williams was once quoted as saying, “You got to have smelt a lot of mule manure before you can sing like a hillbilly.” If Hank was right, then what I did today puts me over the top into the ranks of genuine hillbillies. It all started when I got back from a week of fiddling and singing at the Appalachian Stringband Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia. After I barely had a chance to settle into my normal routine at home, my wife, Barbara, said she had a “honey do” list for me. The good news was that there was only one thing on the list. The bad news was that I needed to move an enormous truckload of manure. Armed only with a shovel and a wheelbarrow, I began moving the manure mountain. To pass the time, of course, I started singing. But I couldn’t think of a single song about manure. With its deep roots in rural America, you would think they’d be lots of bluegrass songs about this meaningful subject. If only I knew a song about manure, I was convinced I could sing it now with real feeling!

When I came up short of manure songs, I realized that I knew a pile of songs that contained the words “mountain” or “hills.” Here’s some of songs that I thought of as I shoveled.

Bear Tracks
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Black Mountain Rag
Bluebirds Singing in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Blue Ridge Cabin Home
Blue Ridge Mountain Home
Cabin in Caroline
Cabin on a Mountain
Fire on the Mountain
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Foggy Mountain Top
High on a Mountain
How Mountain Girls Can Love
I Like Mountain Music
Life is Like a Mountain Railroad
Little Mountain Church House
Little Georgia Rose
Living on the Mountain
Looking For a Stone
Medicine Springs
Meet Me Out on a Mountain
Mole in the Ground
Mountain Laurel
Mountain House
Mountain Rosa Lee
Mountain Girl
Mountain Dew
Mountain Boy
Mountain Folk
My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains
Rank Strangers
Sawing on the Strings
Smoky Mountain Memories
Tall Pines
The Hills of Roan County
White Dove

After I finished moving the mountain of manure, I started wondering if the legendary musicians who picked and sang bluegrass and old-time mountain music actually lived in the mountains. I compiled two lists, one of bluegrass musicians, and a second one of old-time musicians. Under each entry, I included where they were born, and the elevation. Interestingly enough, Bill Monroe ranks second from the bottom in terms of elevation, right above Don Reno. Raymond Fairchild gets the prize for living at the highest elevation, 3020′. The average elevation for these particular bluegrass musicians is 1354′.

For the old-time musicians, Charlie Poole lived at the lowest elevation at 591′, and Albert Hash gets the blue ribbon for having lived at the highest elevation, 3638′. When I tallied up the average elevation of these old-time musicians I came up with 1655′.

What valid conclusions can we draw from this non-scientific survey? None, probably. But we did learn that the old-time mountain musicians did live more in the mountains than did the bluegrass musicians. Either way, we did learn that this ain’t no flatlander music.

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Bluegrass Musicians

Bill Monroe, Rosine, KY, 459′
Don Reno, Spartanburg, SC, 246′
Earl Scruggs, Boiling Springs, NC, 912′
Hylo Brown, River, Kentucky, 670′
Jim & Jesse Coeburn, VA, 1995′
Jimmy Martin in Sneedville, TN, 1171′
Lester Flatt, Sparta, TN, 885′
Lilly Brothers, Clear Creek, WVa, 1467′
Osborne Brothers, Roark, KY, 1464′
Raymond Fairchild, Maggie Valley, NC, 3020′
Red Rector, Walnut, NC, 1942′
Red Smiley, Asheville, NC 2134
Stanley Brothers, McClure, VA, 1476′
Vern Williams, Newton County, AR, 760′
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Valley Head, Wva,, 2372′

Old-Time Musicians

Albert Hash, Whitetop, VA, 3638′
Baird Ray, Sodom, NC, 2182′
Bascom Lamar Lunsford, South Turkey Creek, NC, 2100′
Beachard Smith, Scott County, VA, 1916′
Blue Sky Boys, Hickory, NC, 1163
Carter Family, Maces Springs, Va, 1858′
Charlie Poole, Eden, NC, 591′
Eva Davis, Gastonia, NC, 797′
Frank Profitt, Reese, NC, 3041′
Fred Cockerham, Surry County, NC, 1000′
Kyle Creed, Surry County, NC, 1000′
Lilly Mae Ledford, Powell County, KY, 685′
Roscoe Holcomb, Daisy, KY, 965′
Samantha Bumgarner, Dillsboro, NC, 2051′
Tommy Jarrell, Toast, NC, 1063′
Uncle Dave Macon, McMinnville, TN, 968′
Wade & JE Mainer, Stony Knob, NC, 2080′
Wade Ward, Independence, VA, 2689′
Wilson Douglas, Rush Fork, WVa, 814′

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Wayne Erbsen was born in Los Angeles, California, elevation 105′. In 1977 he moved to Asheville, NC, elevation 2134′. In 1999 he purchased a get-away log cabin near Big Pine, NC, with an elevation of 3800′. When he’s not measuring elevation, Wayne teaches old-time and bluegrass instruments and singing and writes books for his company, Native Ground Books & Music. Contact him for a free catalog: (828) 299-7031, banjo[at]nativeground.com.

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