Bluegrass Jam Standards
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Let me know if you are confused or if you want me to cover something specific during this class. I'll try to accommodate the request if I can.
Jam Along Recordings
I will post recordings of the songs we cover in class here on this page, along with lyrics and charts for each song. The key will be listed in the title. Each recording is just me playing and singing the song by myself. I just play rhythm in the breaks, so the solos are all yours.
Working on Solos
I'm an advocate for pickers trying to play the melody of the song. It is very hard to play the melody accurately on a song you have never heard before, but it is a skill you can improve with practice. With each of these recordings, it would be a worthwhile endeavor to try to find a "simple" melody, meaning playing the melody as close as possible with quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes. Don't over-complicate it, just do the best you can. If you need, stop the recording, hum the melody slowly and try to pick it out on your instrument.
Even if you don't consider yourself a good singer, it's good to get into the practice of trying to hum the melody of the tune. It's often difficult to remember repertoire, and if you need your instrument to think about your music, that severely inhibits your practice time. If you can get the song in your head, you can practice it anywhere when you have a free moment. Though you may not be able to work on your technical licks, and specific picking techniques, having the song in your head allows you to think about song structure, phrasing, groove, feeling, etc. A lot of the artistry of playing music is in the way you approach the song, so learning to sing it will help you in other ways.
"Uncle Pen" by Bill Monroe - 1965 This is a classis bluegrass song, but it's often too difficult to call in a jam session. It requires everyone to know all the trick timing and the stops in the correct places. At the end the fiddle plays the fiddle tune "Jenny Lynn" so other pickers need to know that as well. Sometimes everyone knows it, but not always. I would never call it unless I knew the fiddler and the bassist knew what was going on. However, this is probably one of the greatest bluegrass songs ever recorded. Great lyrics, great instrumental sections, wonderful harmony vocals, and an intricate arrangement make it a showstopper for any band that can do it "right". This video is a classic. Bill Monroe sings lead and plays mandolin, and a young Peter Rowan is playing guitar.
"Salty Dog Blues" by Flatt & Scruggs Flatt & Scruggs Had a weekly show that aired on television thanks to the Grand Ol' Opry. So, from 1955 until 1969, bluegrass enthusiasts could watch Lester, Earl and the boys play their genre defining songs. Many of the recordings from these shows were lost, but we still have quite a few. Here's a fantastic recording where you can see Flatt & Scruggs ease and virtuosity combined to demonstrate what bluegrass is. Earl's effortless drive and melodic sense combined with Lester's lazy vocal style and perfect harmony on the choruses. It never got much better than Flatt & Scruggs.
"How Mountain Girls Can Love" - Stanley Brothers The Stanley Brothers were the real deal. They were from Smith Ridge near Blacksburg in southern Virginia not that far from where the Carter Family originated. They grew up singing shape note hymns in the Primitive Baptist congregation, and playing music with their family members. They started playing music regionally and were huge fans of Bill Monroe. Carter's natural charisma, Ralph's unique ancient voice, and their stellar harmonies propelled them to regional fame. Their undeniable authenticity led them to stardom during the folk revival in the 1950s and 1960s. Carter died of alcoholism in 1966, but Ralph went on to a successful and iconic solo career. Notably he sang "Oh, Death" in the film "Oh Brother, Where art Thou" for which he won a Grammy. Listen to the Stanley Brothers' drive and harmonies in this song. Bluegrass at its finest.
"A Face in the Crowd" - Larry Sparks Larry Sparks played with Ralph Stanley after Cartter Stanley passed away. He was one of the first bluegrass guitarists to really "flatpick" guitar solos on songs. However, he is probably more noted for his fantastic singing and unbelievably good repertoire. This performance is amazing. Standing in a field with a band full of players who aren't well-known. The groove is perfect, the vocal sense is spot on, the song lives as the song and isn't overshadowed by flowery picking or aggressive licks. Larry Sparks is still playing and touring. He's just as good now as ever. You can never go wrong calling a Larry Sparks song in a jam.
"Mama's Hands" - Hazel Dickens Hazel Dickens was a singer, songwriter, activist, and musician from West Virginia. She was the first woman to get a recording contract in bluegrass music. Her collaborations with Alice Gerrard became must have records for any bluegrass lover. Her songs told the stories of hardships and labor issues facing the mining communities in West Virginia like the one she grew up in. They were often autobiographical like this song. This song is a master class in how a simple folk song can communicate the deep feelings of transitional moments in life. It is a demonstration of how music can often express feelings that are hard to access. I encourage you to listen to Hazel Dickens's whole catalogue of music. You will understand a lot more about Appalachia, and bluegrass if you do.
"Nellie Kane" - Hot Rize Hot Rize blazed onto the bluegrass music scene in the 1980s with great vocals, songwriting, and unique sense of humor. Their combination of traditional music and a progressive style appelaed to both the new and old generations of bluegrass enthusiasts. Pete Wernick's authentic banjo style blended with Charles Sawtelle's textured and driving rhythm guitar to lay a foundation of a traditional sound. Combined with Tim O'Brien's fluid high lonesome vocals, and Nick Forster's slick bass lines, Hot Rize had asound that brought a lot of people to bluegrass who had never appreciated it before. This song was on their first album and was one of the first songs Tim O'Brien ever wrote. It's a must know song for any Colorado bluegrass musician, but it has also become a standard in Bluegrass. You should check out the band that toured with Hot Rize, Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers. They play country and western music, and look surprisingly like the guys in Hot Rize.
"Walls of Time" & "Black Eyed Suzie" - Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder Holy cow, it doesn't get much better than Ricky Skaggs singing and playing bluegrass. He grew up in it and is perhaps the finest curator of the style ever since his return from country music with the album "Bluegrass Rules" in 1997. "Walls of Time" is a song by Bill Monroe and Peter Rowan that has come into bluegrass mythology. "Blackeyed Suzie" is a traditional bluegrass song that was recorded by all the greats. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder burn it in this video.
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"Blueridge Cabin Home" - Flatt & Scruggs - G
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"I'll Remember You Love in my Prayers" - Stanley Brothers - G
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J.D. Crowe & the New South (1975) There is perhaps no more iconic band than J.D. Crowe's 1975 lineup of his band The New South. The band included Ricky Skaggs on mandolin, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Bobby Sloan on bass, Tony Rice on guitar, and J.D. on banjo. J.D Crowe (or just Crowe in the bluegrass world) came up playing with Jimmy Martin and others. While Earl Scruggs invented the bluegrass banjo style, J.D. Crowe perhaps perfected it. Ricky Skaggs still plays with his unbelievably amazing band Kentucky Thunder. He is a member of the Grand Ol' Opry and has performed with almost every bluegrass legend. Jerry Douglass is an instrument defining musician. There are many other people in the world who play the dobro, but Jerry Douglas, like Erla Scuggs with the banjo, has come to be the face most closely associated with the instrument. He has more than a dozen Grammys, has produced some of the greatest bluegrass albums in history, plays with Alison Krauss & Union Station, and many many others. Tony Rice was regarded as one of bluegrass music's finest musicians. His singing and guitar style became the defining style of the genre. He was the guitarist and singer on some of bluegrass music's most important records including "JD Crowe & the New South", "The David Grisman Quintet", "Manzanita", "The Bluegrass Albums Vol. 1-6", and Bela Fleck's album "Drive". This is a short documentary of one of the legendary bands in bluegrass. It's worth watching, and it's worth getting the record. "J.D. Crowe & the New South" (1975).