Nine Pound Hammer on Bluegrass Banjo

Today I got into splitting some firewood for my log cabin’s wood stove and ran into some especially gnarly oak butts that were still waiting to be split and stacked on the woodpile. Since one particular round was putting up a pretty good fight, I brought out my favorite steel wedge and my heaviest maul, an 8-pounder. As I was slamming the maul into the wedge, I got to thinking that the maul was pretty dang heavy. As I was pounding away, I started singing that old bluegrass song, “Nine Pound Hammer.” The first verse suddenly became very real:

“Nine 
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Roll On Buddy

While doing some research on one of the songs for my book Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin, I uncovered some interesting things about the song “Roll On Buddy,” which is considered a bluegrass standard as recorded by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. On May 17, 1924 Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters recorded “Baby Your Time Ain’t Long” with Charlie Bowman on fiddle. Four years later, Charlie Bowman & His Brothers used this exact same melody on a song they called “Roll On Buddy.” Although usually thought to be a traditional song, “Roll on Buddy” was apparently composed by

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Jimmie Brown The Newsboy

“Jimmie Brown, the Newsboy” has long been a favorite of mine, as recorded by Flatt & Scruggs and Mac Wiseman. Recently, I got to pondering its origins. After some digging, I discovered that the song was composed in 1875 by William S. Hays. Over the years, Hays’ name has largely been forgotten and now people either refer to “Jimmie Brown, the Newsboy” as a Carter Family song, a Flatt & Scruggs song or even a Mac Wiseman song. Let’s go back to an earlier time and look at where the song came from and discover some startling controversies

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Diamond Joe

Gene Autry with an acoustic guitar

By Wayne Erbsen

I’ve always been a sucker for a good ole cowboy song. This isn’t because I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Texas; I’m actually a native of southern California. Growing up in the late ’40s and early ’50s, I was raised on a diet of TV westerns like Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Maverick, Rawhide, The Rifleman, Bonanza, and Have Gun – Will Travel. Actually, I was listening to The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke on the radio before they became popular TV shows. My favorite movies were Shane

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Otto Wood the Bandit

By Wayne Erbsen

July 10th isn’t a day to watch the fireworks, have a picnic, wave a flag, or sing The Star Spangled Banner. Nope. July 10th is the anniversary of the day in 1931 that the famed outlaw Otto Wood made his tenth and final escape from Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Central Prison was not a place to have a tea party on the lawn. Completed at a cost of $1.25 million in December, 1884, it was the first prison built in North Carolina. They say it took inmates 14 years to construct the original castle-like

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Fox on the Run

Cliff Waldren

By Wayne Erbsen

In the early 1970s, Fox on the Run was among the most requested bluegrass songs. Along with Rocky Top — a bluegrass band could scarcely play a show without fans yelling for Rocky Top or Fox on the Run.” The song was written in 1968 by an Englishman named Tony Hazzard and first recorded as a rock song by Manfred Mann in February, 1969.

The first bluegrass band to record Fox on the Run was Cliff Waldren and the New Shades of Grass. Listening to this bluegrass recording, a lot of people were puzzled by one

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I’ll Fly Away on Banjo

By Wayne Erbsen

There are many ways to close out a bluegrass show, but I always favor ending an evening’s entertainment with a rousing version of I’ll Fly Away. This song is the perfect choice because everybody knows it and they love to sing along. Recently, I started digging into the origins of I’ll Fly Away, and here’s what I found.

I’ll Fly Away was among the earliest compositions of Albert Edward Brumley, who was born in Indian Territory near Spiro, Oklahoma on October 29, 1905. Growing up in a family of sharecroppers, Brumley knew from an early

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Things to Say When Tuning a Banjo

By Wayne Erbsen

Banjo PlayerDid you hear about the guitarist that was so far out of tune that the banjo player noticed?

Q: What does a banjo sound like when it’s completely in-tune?
A: No one knows.

You can tune a banjo, but you can’t tuna fish.

It was in tune when I bought it.

Q: How can you tell if a banjo player is sitting in a level spot?
A: The drool drips out of both sides of his mouth.

I can’t remember – do I have to have the pegs in line with the strings or at right angles?

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What Kind of Guitar Should I Get?

By Wayne Erbsen

Following is an excerpt from the book Easy Two-Chord Songs for Guitar.

As you set out on your guitar-playing adventure, you might be wondering what kind of guitar to get. There are four main kinds of guitars, so if you find yourself in a pickle and don’t yet have a guitar, this is for you.

Before you figure out what kind of guitar to buy, you’ll need to decide what kind of music you intend to play. This will make deciding what kind of guitar to get as easy as falling out of bed.

Hank Thompson

Electric guitars

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