Vernon Dalhart

Rural Roots of Bluegrass

By Wayne Erbsen

His name was Marion Try Slaughter, but he took the name Vernon Dalhart from two Texas towns where he had worked as a cowhand when he was a boy. Born in Jefferson, Texas, on April 6, 1883, before he died on September 14, 1948, he had used at least 100 pseudonyms. His grandfather, Marion Try Slaughter I, had been a Confederate soldier who joined the KKK after the Civil War. Dalhart’s father was killed in a barroom knife fight with his brother-in-law, Bob Castleberry, while Dalhart was still a boy. By the time he was 12 or

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Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers

Rural Roots of Bluegrass

By Wayne Erbsen

There are so many stories about Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers, that it’s hard to know where to begin. As one of nine kids, Charlie dropped out of school so early that he only learned to read and write as an adult. Growing up in the Haw River area of North Carolina, he was known as a prankster and a scrapper who never shied away from a fight. He was arrested so many times for his wild drinking and fighting that he was on a first-name basis with the local police. Many times when the

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Eck Robertson, Master Fiddler

Rural Roots of Bluegrass

By Wayne Erbsen

Eck Robertson was a true fiddle master. Fortunately, he was unafraid to step up to the plate and say so.

The story begins shortly after the turn of the twentieth century when Amarillo, Texas, fiddler Eck Robertson honed his fiddle chops enough to start winning fiddler’s conventions. Competition at Texas fiddle contests was notoriously fierce, and winning any of them was no mean trick. One story has Robertson in a showdown playoff with the father of legendary fiddler Bob Wills. In a last-ditch effort to give himself an edge, legend has it that he broke off a

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Log Cabin Songs

By Wayne Erbsen

I have a thing for log cabins. Always have. To me, they symbolize almost everything I’m trying to say when I play old-time mountain and bluegrass music. In fact, that’s why I named the band of students I work with the “Log Cabin Band.” 

Log cabins have long been a symbol of frontier America. Their sturdy construction of handhewn logs are a true representation of the tough and independent pioneers who built them.

One of the strongest and most enduring themes of traditional bluegrass music has been the lost son who wanders back to the old log

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It’s the Melody, Stupid!

In 1992, Bill Clinton grabbed headlines with the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid,” and used it to unseat George Bush as President. I’m not trying to stir up old political feuds or throw a hissy fit, but my point here should be as plain as the nose on your face. In playing traditional bluegrass, the melody should be considered almost sacred.

Bluegrass music is the delicate balance between tradition and innovation. In order to maintain the traditional side of bluegrass music, the melodies as well as the lyrics must be kept more or less intact. The hot licks we all

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Tips for Figuring Out Chords

By Wayne Erbsen

Shindig. To people in western North Carolina where I live, “Shindig” is short for Shindig on the Green, which is an outdoor bluegrass music festival held on the courthouse steps in Asheville, North Carolina. The Shindig is a unique summer festival, drawing regional bluegrass and old-time musicians who just want to get together to pick and socialize and strut their musical stuff on stage. For the musicians, it’s not a paid gig, just a big music party with a large audience. Only the house band, The Stoney Creek Boys, get paid.

On Labor Day, I attended the

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Lovesick Blues + Lyrics

By Wayne Erbsen

It was Saturday night, June 11, 1949, when 25-year-old Hank Williams walked onto the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for the first time and began singing Lovesick Blues. The audience was electrified. No other performer had ever been brought back to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry for six encores, as Williams was that night. With his debut of Lovesick Blues, a triumphant Hank Williams basked in the glow of his newfound fame. Meanwhile, Emmett Miller, who first recorded Lovesick Blues, sat at home, completely forgotten and down on his luck.

Turning

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Civil War Music

As we approach the 150th or sesquicentennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War, let’s pause to remember an aspect of this tragic period beyond the roar of the cannons and the movement of soldiers across the battlefield. For soldiers on both sides of this conflict, it was the music that helped them carry on. No less an authority than General Robert E. Lee said “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”

Music touched practically every aspect of soldiers’ lives. They were awakened in the morning with the first call of the bugle, riveted into step

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The West Virginia Coon Hunters

Coon Hunters 2

The West Virginia Coon Hunters-On the Trail of a Lost String Band by John Lilly

Not long ago, two men from West Virginia — both fine guitarists — were enjoying a visit to Nashville. During part of their stay, they browsed some of the big record stores in Music City, marveling at the wealth of country music LP’s, CD’s, and cassettes offered for sale — recordings that they could never find in the stores back home.

Robert Shafer, a national champion flatpicker from Elkview, casually picked up a release of vintage old-time music. On the back of the jacket,

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Walter Davis – Fisk & Skull Banjo

Rural Roots of Bluegrass

One of the most fascinating of all the two finger pickers is a gentleman by the name of Walter Davis. Residing in Black Mountain, North Carolina, Walter, in his 75 years, has come to know most of the western Carolina banjo players such as Samantha Bumgarner, Mack Crow, Clarence Ashley and Dock Walsh. He was also acquainted with Jimmy Rodgers, who once lived in Old Fort, North Carolina, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, who played on the streets of nearby Johnson City, Tennessee. He also knew Jimmy Davis, who came to visit his mother in a hospital in Morganton, North Carolina,

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