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:

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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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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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Ralph Stanley’s ‘I’ve Just Seen the Rock of Ages’ – Bluegrass Banjo Tab

By Wayne Erbsen

Ralph Stanley Photo by Jim Scancarelli

Cold chills. That’s what I get when I hear the eerie voice of Ralph Stanley. You can say that I’ve been a true blue Stanley Brothers nut since I first heard them in 1962. Just thumbing through my collection of LPs, I count 58 Stanley Brothers or Ralph Stanley albums, and that doesn’t include several bootleg CDs of live shows. Most of the albums have been played half to death.

When I heard that Ralph had passed away, I felt a deep sense of sadness. Of course, I started to think of all the Stanley Brothers songs

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‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’ – Clawhammer Banjo Tab

Clawhammer Banjo CoverI recently published my newest clawhammer banjo book-Clawhammer Banjo~ Tunes, Tips & Jamming. Among the forty four tunes in the book, I included “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” I always wondered about the origin for the tune, so I took this opportunity to do some research. Here’s what I found.

Chasing down the history of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is about as easy as finding the Rosetta Stone at a flea market. Thanks to the painstaking research by Andrew Kuntz and Vivian Williams, we can start to get an idea of the origins of this great old tune. There are a

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A Different Approach to Learning Bluegrass Banjo + Tab for ‘Katie Kline’

Kindle the dogThere are certainly as many ways to learn to play bluegrass style banjo as my dog has fleas, bless his heart. After playing and teaching banjo for many years, I came up with an approach that is different from any banjo books that I’ve seen. Let me explain.

The most common way to teach a beginner the fundamentals of playing bluegrass banjo is to sit them down and show them the basic rolls. Then the teacher often show the student a tune like “Cripple Creek” or “Bile Em Cabbage Down,” using those rolls. We’ll call this approach the “Roll Method.”

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‘Fall On My Knees’ – Clawhammer Banjo Tab + Lyrics

Clawhammer Banjo CoverMore than forty years ago I wrote my first banjo book, Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus. About five years ago I decided it was time for a follow up, so I started working on it. Recently we received delivery of the new book – Clawhammer Banjo ~ Tunes, Tips & Jamming. To make it easy to use, the new book has coil binding and contains 44 tunes not included in the Ignoramus. I’ve also loaded it with playing and jamming tips as well as information to help people join jams and improvise plus almost 200 vintage photos

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‘I Wish I Was A Mole in the Ground’ – Clawhammer Banjo Tab

“I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” was the very first tune recorded on the banjo in the style that would eventually be known as old-time music. Playing banjo and singing on this song was Bascom Lamar Lunsford.

Lunsford, who famously called himself “The Squire of South Turkey Creek,” was the first to record “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” on March 15, 1924. This recording marked the first time that anyone had recorded on the 5-string banjo in what would later be called country music. For that, we tip our hat to Mr. Lunsford.

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