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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Roll On Buddy

While doing some research on one of the songs for my book Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin, I uncovered some interesting things about the song “Roll On Buddy,” which is considered a bluegrass standard as recorded by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. On May 17, 1924 Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters recorded “Baby Your Time Ain’t Long” with Charlie Bowman on fiddle. Four years later, Charlie Bowman & His Brothers used this exact same melody on a song they called “Roll On Buddy.” Although usually thought to be a traditional song, “Roll on Buddy” was apparently composed by

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Otto Wood the Bandit

By Wayne Erbsen

July 10th isn’t a day to watch the fireworks, have a picnic, wave a flag, or sing The Star Spangled Banner. Nope. July 10th is the anniversary of the day in 1931 that the famed outlaw Otto Wood made his tenth and final escape from Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Central Prison was not a place to have a tea party on the lawn. Completed at a cost of $1.25 million in December, 1884, it was the first prison built in North Carolina. They say it took inmates 14 years to construct the original castle-like

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Fox on the Run

Cliff Waldren

By Wayne Erbsen

In the early 1970s, Fox on the Run was among the most requested bluegrass songs. Along with Rocky Top — a bluegrass band could scarcely play a show without fans yelling for Rocky Top or Fox on the Run.” The song was written in 1968 by an Englishman named Tony Hazzard and first recorded as a rock song by Manfred Mann in February, 1969.

The first bluegrass band to record Fox on the Run was Cliff Waldren and the New Shades of Grass. Listening to this bluegrass recording, a lot of people were puzzled by one

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Is It Hard to Play the Mandolin?

By Wayne Erbsen

Heck no! It’s easy as eating pie if you approach learning the mandolin in the right way. Of course, there is no shortage of free information, tab, and musical notation of mandolin music on the web. The challenge is finding information that’s geared to your style of learning.

A lot of the music for mandolin is written out in a system called “tab.” Numbers on lines represent the fret that you play on a string. This might be OK at first, but it’s actually a ridiculous way to learn. Why? Because learning from tab will insure that

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How Hard Is It to Learn to Play the Guitar?

The quick answer to this question is “it’s pretty easy,” IF you have the right instructor or instructional materials (ie books or videos). After teaching guitar since 1962, I’ve had a wide variety of students walk through the door. The vast majority have learned to play and, as far as I know, have kept playing for years. The small number of people who didn’t get cozy with the guitar probably were missing one essential ingredient: determination. If you really want to play the guitar, neither hell nor high water can stop you.

As I indicated above, your success at learning

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Man of Constant Sorrow – Guitar Tab & Lyrics

By Wayne Erbsen

dick-burnettKentucky-born, blind street singer Dick Burnett had every reason to compose I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow. An orphan by the time he was 12, Burnett was almost murdered in 1907 when he was robbed and shot in the face with a shotgun. Though he survived, Burnett was now a blind man. To earn a livelihood for his wife and child, he took to the streets with a banjo, a fiddle, and a tin cup tied to his leg. To add to his income, he produced little song books, which he later called “song ballets.”

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Short Life of Trouble ~ Music, Lyrics, and the Joy of Sad Music

By Wayne Erbsen

This is an excerpt from Rural Roots of Bluegrass.

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

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How Difficult is it to Play the Fiddle/ Violin? 

Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus! instruction book by Wayne Erbsen

Among the many stringed instruments, the fiddle or violin has long been revered but also feared. Somewhere along the line, it got the reputation of being the most difficult instrument to play. Let’s look this question right in the eye and answer it right here and now, once and for all.

What do I say when someone says that the fiddle is the most difficult instrument to learn? “Hogwash.

A more detailed answer would go like this. “It depends on several things.

  1.  Talent. Some people have more natural ability to learn musical instruments more than
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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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