What Kind of Mandolin Should I Get?

By Wayne Erbsen

Unless a free mandolin just falls in your lap, you’ll need to purchase one. When you go shopping for a mandolin, I strongly suggest that you don’t buy a cheap one off the Internet. Most of these cheapo instruments will sound like a tin can strung with barbed wire. Instead, you should visit your local music store and get the expert advice of a knowledgeable sales person. Be sure to stress that you’re a beginner and that you need a mandolin that’s set up so it’s easy to play.

Mandolin stylesEven before you make a trip to a

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Drifting Too Far From the Shore

Charles E. Moody was not your average gospel songwriter. He alone wrote both the words and the melody of two of the bedrock classics of country and bluegrass gospel, “Kneel at the Cross” and “Drifting Too Far From the Shore.” To get a handle on this man and the songs he wrote, let’s go back to Moody’s beginnings in rural Georgia.

One of eight children, Moody was born in a log cabin on October 8, 1891, near Tifton, Georgia. In this rural farming community, music was a favorite pastime, and as a young man Moody learned to play the harmonica

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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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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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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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Frank Smith, Andrew Jenkins, and Early Commercial Gospel Music

In 1923 two forces were working in the South to transform the face of American music: the radio and the phonograph record. As the various forms of traditional and grass roots music encountered these new mass media, a curious and complex chemistry developed that gradually changed the nature of the music, the musi­cians, and the role music played in people’s lives. Music once designed for the parlor, the back porch, the barn dance, or the church was now the creature of the radio studio, the Victrola, the fiddling contest, or the vaudeville theater. Musicians used to playing for a local

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Hank Williams’ Lost Charleston Show By John Lilly

When he left his Alabama home on December 30, 1952, Hank Williams had his sights set on West Virginia. He was billed as the headline act for a gala “Western Style Revue” at Charleston’s Municipal Auditorium and was scheduled to perform two shows here on New Year’s Eve night. Sadly, he never arrived.

Little has been written about this Charleston engagement. Most authors, researchers, and fans have shifted their attention instead to Canton, Ohio, where Hank was expected to perform the following day. On January 1, 1953, in Canton, the first public announcement was made about the passing of this

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The Secret Signals of Musicians

By Wayne Erbsen

It’s Saturday night. Instead of relaxing safe at home plopped comfortably in front of your big screen TV, you’ve got your hind quarters parked squarely on a hard folding chair. If that’s the case, chances are you’re either at a festival watching your favorite bluegrass band, or perhaps you’re huddled under a tarp in the pouring rain jamming with friends or total strangers at a fiddlers convention. Either way, you often witness secret or not-so-secret signals or cues from one musician to the rest of the group to alert them that a song or tune is about

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Clarence White and the Roots of Bluegrass Guitar in Southern California

By Wayne Erbsen

In the early sixties I lived within earshot of the Ash Grove, a legendary folk club on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. As I recall, Monday night was called “hoot night,” and the house band was “The Country Boys.” When I first heard the band in mid-1962, it consisted of Clarence White on guitar, Billy Ray Lathum on banjo, LeRoy Mack on Dobro, and playing bass was Roger Bush.

In the fall of 1962 the band got the opportunity to record their first album for Briar International. At that time the founder of the band, Roland White,

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