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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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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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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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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Happy Songs of Sunshine and Light, and ‘Short Life of Trouble’

A while back I was invited to bring an instrument to a potluck party of some friends of mine in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. I brought along my fiddle in the hopes of finding some bluegrass musicians to jam with.

When I arrived at the converted barn where the party was being held, I saw a guitar learning up against the corner, so I sidled up to the guitar’s owner and introduced myself. As I shook howdy with him I asked him what kind of music he played, so I’d know whether our styles would be compatible. But

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The Truth About the Lester Flatt G Run

By Wayne Erbsen

Bluegrass hero Lester Flatt had a lot to be proud of. One of his most lasting achievements was the G Run that bears his name. You can hear this distinctive guitar run in practically every traditional bluegrass song that can be played on the guitar using a G-shape chord. In its original form, it is basically a two-note run that is played at the end of a verse or chorus. It consists of playing the D string of the guitar at the second fret followed by the G string open. It more or less punctuates the song

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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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Gussie L. Davis – Tin Pan Alley/Bluegrass Songwriter

Some of the greatest traditional bluegrass songs were apparently written by someone named “Public Domain” or “Traditional.” What kind of decent mother or father would name their child that? In this article I’m going to acquaint you with a songwriter named Gussie Lord Davis, who has seldom been credited as the composer of such well-known folk and bluegrass songs as “Maple on the Hill” (1880), “Goodnight Irene” (1899),“One Little Word” (1899), “Just Set a Light” aka “Red and Green Signal Lights”(1897), “In the Baggage Coach Ahead” (1896), “He’s Coming to Us Dead” (1899), and “Make Up and Be Lovers Again”

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The Big Bang Theory of Bluegrass

By Wayne Erbsen

If the “big bang theory” helps to explain the origin of the universe, perhaps “the big bang theory of bluegrass” will shed some light on the origin of the bluegrass music universe.

There are two schools of thought as to the origins of bluegrass music. One has Bill Monroe singlehandedly inventing bluegrass music around 1945. The other takes a more evolutionary approach, with a number of musicians and bands contributing to the sound we now call “bluegrass.” In particular, this approach points to Wade and JE Mainer’s Mountaineers as the first band that had all the ingredients

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