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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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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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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Bluegrass or Clawhammer Banjo – Which One is Easier to Learn?

You’ve got your heart set on learning to play the banjo. Come to find out, there are currently two popular styles of banjo playing: bluegrass or clawhammer banjo. Which one should you choose? And most important, which style is easier?

First, let me explain each style and then we’ll talk about which one is easier to learn.

Earl Scruggs 2Bluegrass banjo was more or less “invented” by Earl Scruggs who first showcased it on the Grand Ole Opry in December, 1945 when he joined Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. Earl’s way of playing was partly influenced by his brother Junie Scruggs, along with

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My Apple-Picking Gizmo and the Song ‘June Apple’ + Banjo Tab

By Wayne Erbsen

Why is it that when you drop a slice of bread that you’ve just slathered with peanut butter, it always lands peanut- butter-side down?  Maybe it’s the same cosmic forces at work that cause the best apples to be at the very top of the tree. That’s the predicament I found myself in yesterday as I contemplated how I was going to get some juicy apples down from 35 feet up a tree that was too skinny to climb.


But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself. It all started this fall weekend when I was up at

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Bigfoot’s Gone Away (+tab for banjo,fiddle & mandolin)

bigfoot Bigfoot. Sasquatch. Abominable Snowman. Whatever name you want to call him, this mythical creature has crept into our collective imaginations as far back as 1811. That year, just outside what is now the town of Jasper, Canada, a trader by the name of David Thompson discovered footprints in the snow that made him stop in his tracks. He swore that the impression left in the snow had four toes, was fourteen inches long and eight inches wide. Word quickly spread and imaginations ran wild about the existence of a huge hairy ape-like creature that walked upright on two legs. Of

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Doc Watson’s ‘Your Lone Journey’ + tab for fiddle, mandolin & banjo

Doc Watson c 1969Whenever two old-time musicians get together to sing, there is one special song that is always held in high esteem: “Your Lone Journey.” I’d always heard that Doc Watson’s wife, Rosa Lee, wrote it, but often wondered about how she came to write it.

Recently, I asked my friend, David Holt, what he knew about the song. Of course, David and Doc played together for years.  Here’s how David explained the origins of the song:

Rosa Lee told me she was sweeping the house one day and thinking about people in her family who had passed on. She

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