The Carter Scratch

By Wayne Erbsen

They didn’t call her Mother Maybelle for nuthin.’ Nope. In addition to being the mother of three girls (Helen, June, and Anita), Maybelle Carter was nothing less than the mother of flatpicking guitar. Starting in 1927, her lead and rhythm guitar playing laid the foundation of what would later be known as bluegrass guitar. Her signature lick on the guitar has been referred to as the Carter Scratch, the Carter Family Scratch, or the Maybelle Carter Scratch. That’s because of her way of playing the melody notes on the bass strings of the guitar while vigorously going

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Yes, There Were Cowboys in Bluegrass Music

Hopalong CassidyBy Wayne Erbsen

As a kid, I desperately wanted to be a cowboy.  I dreamed of owning a horse, riding the range, and doing what cowboys did. And why wouldn’t I? Every night I slept under a cowboy blanket and my lunch box was fully decorated with a decal of a handsome cowboy twirling his lariat. Growing up at the dawn of the age of television, all my heroes were cowboys: Hopalong Cassidy, Shane, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. I watched Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, and Bonanza while eating my TV dinner.

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Rattlesnake Fangs, Fiddles, Mandolins & Folklore

By Wayne Erbsen

Jarrell & Cockerham Archives of Appalachia, ETSU +People have always had a strange fascination with rattlesnakes. As one of America’s most poisonous snakes, they are both feared and hated, and yet their rattles are prized for their mythical and magical properties.

While doing research for this article, I ran across an amazing number of stories, some true, some pure myth, about rattlesnakes or “rattlers,” as they are sometimes called. One old timer personally told me the following story as the gospel truth, but I have since found versions of it that were collected both in the Southern Appalachians, and in Western Europe.

It seemed

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Rural Black String Band Music

By Charles Wolfe

Originally published in Black Music Research Newsletter 4, No. 2 (Fall 1980). Used by permission of Mary Dean Wolfe.

“The first time I think I ever seen Arnold Schultz … this square dance was at Rosine, Kentucky, and Arnold and two more colored fellows come up there and played for the dance. They had a guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Ar­nold played the guitar but he could play the fiddle-numbers like Sally Goodin. People loved Arnold so well all through Kentucky there; if he was playing a guitar they’d go gang up around him till he would

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Gospel Boogie: White Southern Gospel Music in Transition, 1945-55

It has become a truism to say that most forms of traditional music in the American South were to some extent ‘commercialized’ by the end of the 1920s; certainly this is true of fiddle and instrumental traditions, country singing, the blues and jazz. By the middle of the Depression most of these musics had gained access to the mass media, either through phonograph records or radio. Throughout the Depression amateur musicians gave way to semi-professional, and then fully professional, musicians who spent most of their time playing music. While these changes meant erosion of regional styles and dilution of tradition,

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Emmett Miller – The Vaudeville Star Who Helped Shape Country Music

By Charles Wolfe

Emmett-Miller-photo

There are dozens of unsung heroes in the annals of country music; some are instrumentalists, like the legendary Georgia fiddler Joe Lee, who introduced the “long bow” style to greats like Clayton McMichen; some are songwriters, like the gospel singer Grady Cole, who wrote Tramp on the Street; others were promoters and radio personalities like the late Eddie Hill, who helped introduce the music of the Louvin Broth­ers to a wide audience. But one of the most unsung, and one of the most mysterious, was a remarkable blackface come­dian and singer named Emmett Miller. He flourished

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Industrial Strength Bluegrass from Ohio

By Neil V. Rosenberg

From an essay published in a booklet distributed at the Dayton Bluegrass Reunion (“An All-Star Salute to Dayton’s 40 Year Bluegrass Legacy”) on April 22, 1989. Performers included Paul “Moon” Mullins and Traditional Grass, Noah Crase, The Hotmud Family, The Allen Brothers, Red Allen, Porter Church, Red Spurlock, The Dry Branch Fire Squad, Larry Sparks, Frank Wakefield, David Harvey and the Osborne Brothers. Used by permission.

Tonight’s concert honors two generations of Dayton musicians who played major roles in creating and popularizing urban bluegrass music.  Cityfolk hopes that this evening, Daytonians will rediscover an important facet

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Tommy Jackson – King of the 1950s Fiddlers

By Charles Wolf

The first great Nashville session fid­dler, Tommy Jackson has probably been heard on more country records than any other musician. Through out the 1950s and 1960s, he dominated .the field, appearing: on records by every major star of the era, from Hank Williams to Bill Monroe, from Ray Price to George Jones. He virtually invented the standard country fiddle back-up style, and in the early 1950s had a string of hit albums of his own that both reflected and stimulated the square dance craze.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 31, 1926, Jackson and his family moved

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In Praise of Banjo Picking Women by Mike Seeger

When one thinks of the banjo today what generally comes to mind is a picture of a man in an ensemble playing serious, often jazz-like music based on a style initiated by the most influential and widely imitated banjoist of all time, Earl Scruggs. This style is barely 50 years old and has involved a long evolution since the gourd instrument that came here from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. That instrument was handmade from whatever organic materials would be available. The sound was quiet often solo but soon after Africans were brought here as slaves they no

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Grandpa Jones

By Charles Wolf

It was a hot night at the Grand Ole Opry in the summer of 1995. Out frontthe crowd in the Opry house was stocking up on Cokes and trying to explain to northern visitors what Goo ­Goos were. Backstage the talk was about whether or not the Houston Oilers were serious about moving to Nashville. An­nouncer Kyle Cantrell was checking over his schedule and getting ready to intro­duce the host for the 8:30 P.M. segment of the world’s longest running radio show. He smiled when he saw who was up next.­

Bradley-Kincaid,-Joe-Troyan-and-Grandpa-JonesAccompanied by his back-up band of

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