The Dark History of ‘Hangman’s Reel’ + Clawhammer Banjo Tab

By Wayne Erbsen

Albert Hash and Emily SpencerHangman’s Reel always reminds me of my old friend and mentor, Albert Hash. I first met Albert at the Grayson County Fiddlers Convention in the summer of 1972, and took an instant liking to him. Not only was he a great old-time fiddler, but I was drawn to him by his plainspoken ways and his humble spirit. He spoke in an old-time Southwest Virginia dialect, and I hung on his every word. The man was wise from his head to his toes, and I spent a lot of time hanging out and playing music with him at

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‘I’ve Been All Around This World’ + Clawhammer Banjo Tab

By Wayne Erbsen

Of all the many kinds of songs there are to sing, by far my favorites are what I call “real songs.” These were not written in an air conditioned office on the fourteenth floor by fancy pants professional songwriters. Instead, they were written about events that really happened, by real people who were there to witness it.

Judge Parker “I’ve Been All Around This World” could not be any more real if it tried. The outlaw captured in this song was reportedly hanged for murder in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in the 1870s. If this is true, the chances are

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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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Bluegrass vs Clawhammer Banjo + ‘Things in Life’ Tab

Don Stover on StageApproximately 99.99%  of all banjo players fall squarely in one camp or the other: Clawhammer or bluegrass. It’s kind of like the Hatfields and the McCoys; you’re either with us, or you’re against us. This silly notion has lingered for too long. Let’s do our part in poking holes in this crazy idea by looking at the life of a renowned banjo player who played both styles extremely well: the late Don Stover.

Don grew up in the coalfields of West Virginia, and spent much of his teenage and young adult life working down in the mines. He originally learned

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Playing Bluegrass Backup on Fiddle, Mandolin & Banjo

banjo player with gunBy Wayne Erbsen

As you might guess, there are numerous differences between old-time and bluegrass music, although they share a lot of similarities too. In old-time music, the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin generally play the melody all at the same time. During an old-time tune, the guitar generally refrains from playing the melody and concentrates on providing the rhythm and an occasional bass run. In bluegrass music, on the other hand, only one instrument plays the melody at a time. Everyone else plays backup. So let’s explore what playing backup means in bluegrass music.

First off, it’s good to remember

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Dock Boggs – Only Remembered For What He Has Done

By Jack Wright

Originally published in The Old-Time Herald, Volume 6, Number 5, 1998 


Dock Boggs’ 1927 recordings of raw, powerful singing and distinctive banjo-playing have moved and influenced musicians, fans and scholars ever since their release. His songs that became especially well known include Country Blues, Sugar Baby, Oh Death, Prodigal Son, and Wise County Jail. With the release this year of the CD of Dock’s material, and the planned release on Smithsonian Folkways, his music is crossing new lines and reaching larger audiences.

DocBoggsANDwoman_editedDock was a coal miner in southwestern Virginia and

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Bluegrass Banjo Lesson: Take Me Home, Country Roads


I remember back In the seventies and eighties, it was neigh on impossible to do a bluegrass show without performing “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” better known as just “Country Roads.” The audience would practically take us out to the nearest tree and hang us by our toes if we didn’t play it. And when we finally did play it, the audience would sing along, swaying back and forth and having a genuine feel-good “Kumbaya moment.”

John Denver“Country Roads” was actually written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, who was the first to record it in 1971. It

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