Bluegrass Guitar Bluegrass Music

Tony Rice RIP

I received the tragic news last night that, on Christmas day, the world lost one of the greatest acoustic guitarists that the industry has ever known. Tony Rice was 69 years old, influenced thousands of artists, and truly defined the role of bluegrass guitar in bluegrass music.

There were others who played the guitar as a lead instrument before Tony. Bill Napier and George Shuffler performed crosspicking on guitar with The Stanley Brothers. Doc Watson gave acoustic lead guitar notice. Clarence White placed lead guitar into a bluegrass band setting. Dan Crary highlighted the bluegrass lead guitarist persona. However, it was Tony Rice that not only defined the role, he gave it an image, and that image was badass cool!

Unlike those before him, who were reproducing fiddle or mandolin lines on acoustic guitar, Tony was creating guitar lines that stood out on their own. There was a lot of pop, rock, and jazz influence in his bluegrass picking, which knocked a lot of traditionalists on their butts, whether they liked it or not. And while he performed in many different bands, one could tell from the first three or four notes that it was a Tony Rice lead.

There are plenty of albums that one could listen to in order to truly understand Toney’s playing. His signature work is definitely Manzanita, which showcases his guitar in a slightly progressive bluegrass setting. To hear what he was initially trying to get across with guitar as a true bluegrass workhorse, secure a copy of the debut self-titled album by J.D. Crowe and the New South on Rounder Records, affectionately known in the bluegrass fold by its issue number, “0044.” In his later years, he did two fantastic guitar-centric bluegrass albums with Peter Rowan as the Rowan & Rice Quartet. He also joined up with a number of other bluegrass stars to record a bunch of albums under the moniker The Bluegrass Album Band. Of course, anything under his own band The Tony Rice Unit should be considered.

While many bluegrassers cite his duet album Skaggs & Rice (with Ricky Skaggs) as his best work with bluegrass guitar and Monroe Brothers style of singing, I prefer the two albums he recorded with Norman Blake. Blake & Rice has some of the best textbook examples of bluegrass guitar lead work, and Blake & Rice 2 should be grabbed if only for the three songs that include Doc Watson performing to create bluegrass guitar powerhouse.

He was also a fantastic soulful baritone singer in the bluegrass vein. His work with Bluegrass Alliance and The New South atone to this. He was an avid fan of Gordon Lightfoot, and recorded many of the folksinger’s songs, either solo or with his family band The Rice Brothers. In 1994 he was diagnosed with muscle tension dysphonia, which put an end to his singing. In an interview I did with him in the early 2000’s, he talked about it, and said that if he were forced to lose one of his two talents, he would rather it be his voice. At his induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2013, he lamented on this, and provided a promising result to therapy on his vocal work.

(watch at around 11:30)

He continued to play guitar with Rowan, as well as with Alison Krauss & Union Station and other bands that paid tribute to his work. In 2014, he developed lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) which made guitar playing painful. He decided to go into retirement until he could come back and perform as he used to. Unfortunately, that did not come about. However, we are blessed to have so many recordings of his amazing six-string work, and his sound and style will live on through so many young guitarists that were influenced by Tony, whether they realize it or not. You can definitely hear his work in the performing of Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Josh Williams, Chris Eldridge, and so many others. One of my favorite photographs of him is when he is in a room with Bill Monroe and he has Monroe play on the famous Clarence White Martin D-28.

If you have any doubts, get on YouTube and search out Tony Rice videos. You will not be disappointed.

Tony, I am truly glad that I got to meet you and speak with you on a few occasions regarding bluegrass guitar and music. You are now with the Angel Band. Take it easy on them with your licks.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music Christmas

Christmas in Luegra Land

Christmas 2020. What a lousy year. Unemployed since April, job prospects suck, and bluegrass shows were practically nonexistent!

Thank God that some of my favorite artists were able to do some performances over the internet. Many thanks to Hawktail, Mile Twelve, April Verch, and my web buddy in Missouri, Jerry Rosa from Rosa String Works! They kept my sanity in place. Festivals were a bust, as well as music conferences, although some were held virtually. Appreciated, but not the same as seeing old friends and networking with new ones face-to-face. Here is Jerry Rosa and his friends doing a bluegrass Christmas jam.

My wish for Christmas (along with world peace, a job, and life back to normal) is to be a better fiddle player, good enough to jam with some people and not sound like a schlep. I try to practice every day, but the last week has been difficult due to getting things taken care of for my mom for the holidays. One thing that I have found myself doing is more research on the history of the violin and fiddle music during the 19th century in America. Interesting stuff that I hope to share in a future blog.

I also need to get back into doing more songwriting. That requires inspiration, and with the pandemic, I haven’t gotten much of that. I need to look harder.

I am not much for the partying and gift-giving with Christmas. I prefer to spend quality time on my own (which upsets the rest of my family). I like to spend time at midnight mass at my church, an old Polish-American Roman Catholic parish where they sing Polish carols (koledy) that echos throughout the building. It is amazing to hear, even if you don’t understand Polish.

I’ll keep this short, so stay safe, and let’s hope for a better 2021. In the meantime, here is the beautiful and talented Sierra Hull, along with the amazing musicians Michael Cleveland and Billy Strings, performing “Santa’s Train.”

Chew on it and comment.

Consumer Electronics News

Olson Electronics / Greg Gutfeld

After last week’s nostalgic rant about Radio Shack (, I got to thinking a bit more about my younger days in building my own electronics projects for my bass guitar and stereo.

Then I remembered Olson Electronics. They were more of a surplus store than RS, and seemed to only be marketing in the Michigan/Ohio area. But man, that was a cool store! There was only one in my area, and I was at it every chance that I got.

When I mean surplus, I am talking about radios, stereos, car electronics, alarm systems, speakers, and CB radios that were usually reconditioned or purchased from a wholesale place. My first stereo was from there, a AM/FM/8-track receiver with no cabinet. I got it really cheap and built my own cabinet. I remember the cool small VU meters that would move to the beat of the music and though that I was the coolest guy out! I also must have gotten a dozen replacement speakers for either my stereo cabinets or my bass guitar cab.

The place was much more disorganized than RS, but it was a lot more fun because you were always hoping to score a bargain. They didn’t have a catalog like RS, but instead sent out monthly flyers like RS that showed what was on sale or what was available on clearance at selected stores.

Olson went out of business long ago, and I really miss that place. Going there was weird in a cool way. It had its regular stock of CB radio equipment and alarm systems, but then there were the boxes of surplus stuff and a few shelves of used, reconditioned, or discontinued radios and amplifiers that would be in the back of the store. I felt like Mike and Frank on “American Pickers” sometimes, just digging through the boxes hoping to find that unique part that I could make a fuzz pedal for a guitar.

There is a lot from that period of my life (1980-1990-ish) that I miss regarding electronics. There were a number of magazines like Popular Electronics that would have decent articles on DIY projects, although most seemed to be for ham radio and early home computer fanatics. They would also put out supplements once each year that may have 100 or so schematics of simple projects that you could build in an hour or so. Then there were the other lesser-known electronics surplus houses that you would request a catalog and see if they had any old guitar parts like cheap pickups or knobs that you could use.

There are a few electronics surplus places still around on the internet, and I do occasionally order parts from them. However, as a kid, being in contact with these places was like being in another world, one that people around you didn’t understand. You could buy strange and hard-to-find parts and create something that had your personal stamp on it. Yes, these days it’s cheaper to buy the effects pedals made in China than it is to build one. But lost is the education, the personal reward, and the satisfaction that one would have in building it on your own.

To get an idea of how cool it was back then, someone posted a video on YouTube showing an old Olson Electronics catalog and its contents. I had forgotten how much stuff they sold! Enjoy.

If you don’t know who Greg Gutfeld is, you definitely need to check him out. He’s a commentator on the Fox News Network, but his style is completely his own. He’s sarcastic, resentful, mean, funny, and extremely intelligent. Listening to him is like listening to one of the regulars at your local dive that isn’t afraid to give out his opinion on something, especially political, but does it in a smart and hilarious way.

I liked him since I first watched him on an old show called “Red Eye.” Now he has his own show on Satruday evenings as well as serves as a regular commentator on the Fox discussion show “The Five.” Besides his views and attitude, I like him for his taste in music. It runs totally in line with mine. He is into the bands that I have always loved from my days doing punk, new wave, and alt-country/Americana. When other hosts use filler music from today’s pop artists, Gutfeld defies the norm and uses songs from The Clash, The Ramones, X, Iggy Pop, and The Melvins.

I subscribe to his weblog, called The Gutter, and love the fact that he reviews albums that he loves, whether they came out yesterday or 40 years ago. This particular one made my week, as it is of a compilation album of Detroit bands from the1960s and 70s. I had a cassette of this album, and I miss it dearly.

Chew on it and comment.

Consumer Electronics

I Miss Radio Shack

I was recording some background vocals to a demo a few days ago, and it hit me: I miss Radio Shack!

I was using a small-diaphragm condenser microphone sold by RS. I actually have three of these buggers, and they have never let me down. Rather than a phantom power supply, they run on a 1.5-volt AA battery, which when I bought them about 20-25 years ago was a life saver, considering that I couldn’t afford a studio condenser mic and elaborate mixing board with built-in phantom power supply.

RS was the perfect store for a guy like me, a musician who liked to tinker with electronics. It had tons of electronic components, including integrated circuits to build early non-spring reverb units. I remember that IC chip was expensive, around 50 bucks, and if you zapped it with static electricity, then you killed it. I built one, and while it was a bit noisy, it sufficed instead of purchasing a music store model for five times the price (it also marketed a reverb unit that was meant for connecting into your stereo system, but with adapters, worked with a guitar amp as well) I also built headphone amps and distortion effects from the RS parts, and I learned a lot about musical instrument electronics back then.

Besides components, RS sold guitar and mic cables, mic stands, mixers, small PA systems, amplifier tubes and microphones. I am not even going to go into the radios, stereo systems, computers, and alarm systems that were available. As for microphones, RS’s higher-end mics were actually made by Shure, so you got a good quality dynamic mic that was comparable to the SM48 but cost a lot less. Just before the company’s downfall, it did sell actual Shure mics on its shelves. They also had books on electronics, either general instruction and theory or how-to booklets to build simple circuits.

RS was my second home. I knew a bunch of the sales people by first names. I even dated a sales girl (unfortunately, that was 18 of the worst months of my life, but I digress). The print catalog was a pseudo-bible, and I remember having a card to get a free battery every month. There was a store about two miles away from my boyhood home, and another three stores within a short drive. Today, the closest store (and that is just an authorized outlet store) is over 30 miles away.

Times changed, and RS did not change with them. Probably half of the people that I knew growing up had a Tandy computer as their first PC (including me), but the company never bothered to pursue expanding on that product sales. The same with televisions, radios, and other consumer electronic equipment. Best Buy beat them to it, and RS basically became a cell phone store and not much else.

Today, I do a lot less electronics tinkering. I can make some simple repairs and part replacements to electric guitars and amplifiers, but technology has overwhelmed me. To secure the parts to build a decent distortion pedal for a guitar from electronics outlets will cost you two- to three-times more than buying a mass-produced one from Guitar Center or Sweetwater. The educational experience of building something like that does not exist with today’s young musicians. Even those that are choosing to use vintage equipment shy away from learning something about the circuitry.

RS was a great resource for me, it was the right place at the right time. Perhaps I should have forced myself to delve deeper into the technology, but I looked at it more as a hobby than as a career. That was probably the situation for thousands of others like me. And that was what may have put some of the nails into Radio Shack’s coffin.

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

The Hillbilly Thomists: More Bluegrass-Meets-Catholicism

Remember a few months back when I told you about the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word from Birmingham, Alabama that did a video of them performing the bluegrass standard “I’ll Fly Away”? If not, here’s a link:

Anyway, I bring them up again as they were the source for my latest bluegrass discovery. Through their website ( I learned about the Hillbilly Thomists. Taking their name from a comment made by author Flannery O’Connor, the group of Dominican friars, priests and brothers study intensely the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, some of them are also move by the lyrics of many folk and bluegrass gospel songs. Under the guidance of Father Thomas Joseph White, the rotating group of brethren perform on traditional folk and bluegrass instruments (guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, fiddle), as well as other traditional and ethnic instruments such as drums, piano, bodhran and accordion.

Seeing them on stage, you would think that you were to be serenaded by an age-old Gregorian chant. However, they pick up their stringed instruments and kick into a religious folk standard such as “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms” or “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” While it may look strange to the eye at first notice, it becomes apparent that these men of Catholic conviction also know how to jam!

YouTube is filled with videos of the Hillbilly Thomists, whether it be live performances or professionally created music videos. What comes across is that they are religious, but they are also human. They like to have fun. They crack jokes, become self-deprecating about their musical skills, and also love to play secular music (one of the many YT vids shows them jamming to “Whiskey In The Jar”). Take away their robes and dress them in suits and ties, and you would think that they were another great-sounding bluegrass band.

However, it is their conviction to the Lord that makes them special. Jesus and his disciples also loved to laugh, sing, and dance. I do believe that God is looking down on the Hillbilly Thomists and smiling, probably even tapping his foot. Catholicism has always gotten a bad rap when it comes to music. The images of friars walking slowly and chanting in Latin seems to many like a depressing drone. Yet if one really takes a step back, the drone can be enlightening, with fluctuations of tones that the heart reacts to.

The Hillbilly Thomists take this a few steps further. They know that music makes people feel better generally. Moreover, the messages that come across in the standard bluegrass gospel songs are ones of hope, not fear. They also show to others that even priests and brothers can have human fun without insulting God. Theirs is a life of devotion to God and Christ, and that devotion can include singing praises in a popular style of music such as bluegrass and folk.

I urge you to check out a few of the Hillbilly Thomists’ videos and, if moved, purchase the album they releases a few years ago ( It may help you, as Lucinda Williams says, “Get right with God.”

Chew on it and comment.

Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass Is In The Ear Of The Beholder

I hope that all of the readers are having a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving. I’m putting this blog out a bit early because I’m just sitting around lazily on this holiday. I had AMAZING pie from my friend Nik Sanches who owns Rock City Eatery in midtown Detroit. These pies are works of art. The chocolate pumpkin was pure Heaven. If you are in the Detroit area and want a pie for Christmas that will take you over the top, contact Rock City Eatery at the Facebook page:

OK, now down to business.

There will always be the continuing argument about “what is bluegrass.” Many will tell you that it isn’t bluegrass unless it has a banjo and upright bass. I will be the first to debate that, as I feel that bluegrass music is not a physical structure, but a structure of the heart and soul. Bluegrass is more about the feeling that it gives the listener, whether it be the lone guitar and vocals of Doc Watson, or a full-blown Flatt & Scruggs type ensemble.

This leads me to my feeling of what is “not” bluegrass, despite the physical structure. For the past dozen years or so, CMH Records out of California ( has put out a Pickin’ On series of recordings that cover various pop, rock, and country artists and put them in what it feels is a bluegrass format. At this time, CMH has 73 albums offered with this series, and a true bluegrass fans will definitely scratch their heads as to why the record company would waste the time and energy with most of the titles.

The series started with typical choices to cover, such as the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. However, it soon became what seemed to be an obsession. Albums covering Metallica (which became its second biggest seller), Creed (really?), John Mayer (you are kidding?), and Taylor Swift (Jeez, there’s even a volume 2!) have popped up. WTF?!?!? A bluegrass tribute to Swift? Who buys this stuff, let alone listens to it? I never heard any of these cuts when I had Bluegrass Junction on SiriusXM, nor on any of the bluegrass programs that I catch on the radio. In all honesty, it sounds more like a bluegrass ensemble (yes, banjo and upright bass) trying to be hip by showing off that they know all of these tunes.

I’ve punished myself by listening to some of these tracks. About 10% could qualify as palpable bluegrass tunes. The remainder literally sound like bad experiments, or at best, acoustic interpretations of pop songs BUT NOT BLUEGRASS. The following is an example that led to this rant. A few weeks ago, I was on YouTube when this video came up as a recommendation:

A cover of the A-Ha pop hit “Take On Me.” Uh, OK. So it has the same instrumentation as one would find with a bluegrass ensemble. However, where is the theme that most bluegrass songs have (lonesome feeling, mother, coal mines, farming)? Where is either the 2/4 clogging tempo or the 3/4 country waltz? And if you are going to tell me that falsetto at the end of the chorus is the “high lonesome” sound, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I would like to sell you. Seriously, if a bluegrass band were to perform this to a traditional bluegrass audience, the best that they would get is stares, if not heckles. On the flip side, most jamgrass audiences would consider it a joke (I could be wrong, but try me).

In short, if one is going to put up the argument of “it ain’t bluegrass unless it has a banjo,” then one can easily offer up that “just because it has a banjo doesn’t automatically make it bluegrass.”

Chew on it and comment.

RIP Hal Ketchum.

Bluegrass Music Coronavirus Musicians

Enjoying Music Visually

With the COVID thing going on, most musicians and bands have had to cancel live performances. To make up for the lost income, the more industrious performers are either doing virtual concerts, stepping up to online teaching, or being creative on sellable swag.

So most of you know that I am a contributing writer for Fiddler. In my years of writing for the magazine, as well as my involvement with the bluegrass music scene, I have become friends with a lot of bluegrass fiddlers.

Two fiddlers that stand out in my friendship are Brittany Haas of Hawktail, and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes of Mile Twelve. Both are amazingly talented, as well as absolute sweethearts. They can call me any time if there is something that I can do for them, and are always there if I need a quick quote for an article. Something both of them have done (apart from each other) that I absolutely applaud can prove to be a great gift for the holidays.

Fans can only purchase so many CDs and T-shirts to keep bands afloat. A few months back, Hawktail made available 12-by-18-inch prints showing musical notation of songs from the albums Unless and Formations. Printed on parchment style paper, it looks as if it was taken from sheet music printed over a hundred years ago.

As for Bronwyn, she has recently released her solo album Fiddler’s Pastime. One of the more clever items available on her website is a handwritten page of musical notation from one of the songs on the album. Viewing it, you actually see what Bronwyn sees, hears, and thinks as the pen meets the paper.

Why do I bring up these two visual items up? Because they are awesome to say the least! Frame them, and you have a fantastic gift for someone into either or both artists. If you cannot find a fan, them get them for yourself!

Hanging a painting of a portrait or landscape on your wall is so typical. As I am a music aficionado, what hangs on my walls is mostly music-related, such as concert photographs and posters. Now, I will include framed music notation. There are a number of reasons why putting this on your wall is a plus. Here are just a few:

  • It is a lot more eye-catching than the typical painting.
  • As you look at it, you tend to create the shown melody in your head.
  • If you are not so competent on a musical instrument, you can at least follow what is written when you listen to the song.
  • You are getting inside the performers’ heads.

While some people do frame and hang old piano music, it is usually done as more of a historic representation, or perhaps enjoyment of the cover illustration. That type of printed music was meant to be read and performed, not framed. However, in the case of Hawktail and Bronwyn (and perhaps any other musician/band doing the same thing that I am not aware of), the music has already been presented in a listenable format. Now, these artists want to show you what the music looks like, perhaps even why they took it in a certain direction.

The most heartwarming thing about these printed notations to me is that the artists wanted the listener to be a part of their process and outcome. It makes the music more encompassing, just like reading liner notes of an album WHILE you are listening to it. There is so much more to soak in from the music as you look at the notation. I hope that others appreciate these personal connections like I do.

For more information on the music notations:
Hawktail –

Bronwyn Keith-Hynes –

Chew on it and comment.

Music Stores Musical Instruments

YouTube Find: Casino Guitars

Although I’m not the guitar nut that I was, say, 20 years ago, I still like to pick up different guitars, be they acoustic or electric, and strum away! Some things only a guitar enthusiast would understand goes on during this ritual, like the feel of the neck, the tone coming off of the body, and a few dozen other actions. Whether it is cars, motorcycles, beer cans, baseball memorabilia, or guitars, enthusiasts have a passion about something that the people around him do not quite understand.

That’s why I like these guys. Casino Guitars is a music store in North Carolina that is not just another Guitar Center. They treat the buying and selling of guitars like an adoption agency, which means that they REALLY love and care about guitars. The store has a YouTube page that is absolute entertainment. Two of the employees/owners(?) of the store (Baxter Clement and Jonathan Robinson) post a video about once a week to discuss guitars or rock/pop music in general.

When I first watched one of their videos, I thought that it looked like someone from Duck Dynasty talking guitar smack with Robert Smith from The Cure. They both look like guitar geeks somewhat, but also look like they would NEVER be in the same room together. However, as I got to listening to them, they were a lot like me. Not in looks or in presentation, but in passion for the guitar.

What is more likeable about Baxter and Jonathan is that they totally respect their fan base viewers. I’ve commented a number of times on their vlogs, whether it be praise, disagreement, or just to swipe a humorous insult. Sure enough, within a day or two, one of them will reply with a comeback or even a simple thanks for the suggestion. In short, they actually READ the comments, which 99% of YouTube vloggers do not. They make you feel like you are part of the conversation, and know that the people watching them are just like them – guitar enthusiasts.

Watching Baxter and Jonathan is like sitting in with them and talking guitars as well. Think of sitting around a music store that is welcoming, not a big-box place, and being able to BS about stuff we all love. The only thing missing is the bottle of bourbon to pass around (although I do have a rocks glass of Makers Mark close by).

Enough of the talk! I recommend that if you are into talking about guitars and guitar-oriented music, then check the Casino Guitars YT page and enjoy.

Chew on it and comment.

PS: Rest in Peace Alex Trebek and Sean Connery.

Bluegrass Music

The New Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine: Some Thoughts

I received my November 2020 issue of Bluegrass Unlimited yesterday. Now that it is being published by the Bluegrass Hall of Fame & Museum, one could expect a few changes in the appearance. Well, a lot has changed visually, and here’s my take on it.

A first glance at the cover tells you that there is a new sheriff in town. Gone is the laid-back look of a sit-down magazine. Instead, we are treated to a more in-your-face look. The use of multiple fonts can give your eyes a workout, to say the least. The design leans more toward a fashion magazine. Instead of simply stating who or what will be covered within the pages, the cover shouts what is ahead with subtitles.

Opening the magazine, one can see that larger advertisements for instruments and accessories seem to remain the same, although there seems to be a lot less of them than before. This could be due to the Coronavirus (lack of festivals scheduled for 2021) or an editorial choice. There are also a lot less half- and quarter-page ads. The departments in the early pages (General Store, Notes & Queries) are still there, although it is a bit confusing to read with all of the new fonts on text and titles. Also, before N&Q, there is a new column called The Tradition that seems to be an op-ed style essay on a specific time/date in bluegrass (in this case, it is about one of Bill Monroe’s quotes and how it originated).

Featured articles are now each part of a section. Before, there seemed to be a flow of the cover story, a few other artists’ stories, an article on a popular festival, then concluding with a bluegrass gospel artist profile. Now, there are sections on The Artists, The Sound (apparently covering instrument makers and dealers) and The Venue (covering festivals and concert halls). As for the artists, there are the usual A-list articles, but there is also an article on Lindsay Lou, a performer more in line with the jamgrass and progressive grass culture – something not usually found in the previous incarnation of the magazine. Personally, I like seeing a more diverse listing of artists. I was finding the previous coverage a bit tedious, with some artists being interviewed only a year or two after an earlier article. However, I do see the possibility of some traditionalists complaining.

The rear of the magazine contains the stalwart inclusions of reviews and the national survey. As for the reviews, there seems to be a lot less included, with only the more outstanding albums appearing. The old BU used to have a good handful of mini-reviews that were helpful to interested parties. Also there are no book reviews, only announcements.

This issue includes the yearly Talent Directory. In previous years, the directory was about a dozen pages of small print listings of artists that sent in their particulars. This year, the print is bigger, there are a lot less artists listed (deadline concerns?), and a few of the more popular bands have photos along with their listing. My listing is in there (actually, it is in there twice due to a printer error), but I do not remember an offering of publishing a photo for payment (the listings are free).

There is one big amateur slip-up here. An article in the Tradition section covering a tribute to guitar luthier Preston Thompson was incomplete, with no “continued on page XX” or conclusion. Given that it’s the premier issue from the HOF, one can understand, but the managing editor Dan Miller has handled print magazines in the past and should have caught this before sending it to printer. He does have an editorial introduction at the front of the magazine outlining the intent of the publication. These op-eds rarely appeared in the previous incarnation of BU, so it will be interesting if this continues.

Overall, one could see that the magazine is looking to get more readers, especially ones outside of the normal bluegrass scene. One thing is for sure, it does not look anything like the old style. In fact, one could easily mistake it for American Songwriter Magazine, as the look is nearly identical. The editorial slant also seems to lean more toward its Americana counterparts than the magazine ever did previously.

Only time will tell how BU will weather the future. As it is the only true print magazine covering bluegrass exclusively, readership should not change much. They may gain some hipster types but lose some hard-nosed traditionalists. If they are trying to be more like AS, I do hope that they don’t follow its editorial path and become a lot more politically liberal based. That is the reason I stopped subscribing to AS. I wanted to read about music in a music magazine, not politics.

Chew on it and comment.

Americana Music Songwriting

Billy Joe Shaver RIP / YouTube Channel

Last week it was Jerry Jeff Walker. This week it was Billy Joe Shaver.

My buddy texted me Wednesday with the sad new that Billy Joe Shaver had passed away after complications from a stroke. He was one of the true outlaws of country music. His songs were never hokey. They had grit. He wasn’t in the spotlight like Waylon Jennings or Willie Nelson, but everyone close to the outlaw movement loved him and his songs.

His memorable songs are endless. “Old Five and Dimers Like Me,” “Honky Tonk Heroes,” and the classic “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train.” How can one not laugh and nod his/her head to the religious yet sarcastic “If You Don’t Love Jesus”? The greats covered his songs. Johnny Cash, Waylon, Willie, and yes, Elvis. Dylan held him in high esteem. So did so many Americana music fans.

Shaver lived the “outlaw” lifestyle. Not in the way of Jesse James or Billy the Kid, but in his own way. He served in the Navy, married and divorced the same woman several times, lost two fingers in a sawmill accident (yet still earned to play guitar), lost his wife and mother to cancer, and lost his son/bandmate to a heroin overdose. Yet he still carried on, writing amazing songs that will stand the test of time.

My big Billy Joe moment was in 2002. The Americana Music Association was still in its infancy, and they decided to hand out Lifetime Achievement Awards beginning that year. The award for Songwriting went to Shaver. Well deserved, and it was presented to him by The Flatlanders. I ran into Shaver a few minutes afterwards. I had seen his shows many times, but it was the first time that I ever met him face-to-face. I told him, “Billy Joe, a handshake just won’t do” and proceeded to hug him. Well, he hugged me back so hard I had to catch my breath. You could tell that he was humbled to receive the award, but more moved by the fact that people really knew and admired him.

He will be truly missed, not just by me, but by thousands of songwriters, performers, and fans. I could put “Slim Chance and the Can’t Hardly Playboys” on Repeat and not be disappointed.

Just a quick note: I put up a few beginner bass guitar videos on my YouTube page, and will be doing some more in the near future. I also have some videos of me performing my own songs. I would appreciate any feedback that you can give.

Chew on it and comment.