It’s Halloween, and all of the little ghosts and goblins are going to be knocking on neighborhood doors with a list of demands which we so easily meet. Most costumes these days require a lack of effort or creativity. There’s too many Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus costumes and not enough bluegrass star costumes. Anyone can wear a t-shirt and too-tight jeans and say they’re Luke Bryan, but dressing up as a bluegrass signer requires a much more extensive costume. The first kids to knock on my door wearing a Larry Sparks powder blue suit, a pair of Doyle Lawson’s fancy boots, or Del McCoury’s hair gets every piece of candy I can find: no question!
Bluegrass music is not often associated with a Happy Halloween, but it definitely should be. No other genre of music celebrates death the way bluegrass does. Heck, we even have our own subcategory of songs focused on killing – Bluegrass Murder Ballads (which I unapologetically wrote a final paper on for a Christian Worldview Integration class. Needless to say, eyebrows were raised.)
To help get you in the Halloween spirit, here is a list of the 13 Essential Halloween “BOO!-grass” Tunes. Let’s get in the holiday spirit with some great songs of spirits and spooks, death and destruction, with this all treat no trick collection of the most frightening bluegrass tunes!
1. It’s Just The Night – The Del McCoury Band
You can’t get much more “Halloween-y” than this one. Del & The Boys had to have been trying to scare us out of our wits with this one. Flying bats, hoot owls, full moons, evil spells – this is as spooky as it gets, from one of my favorite Del albums.
2. The Midnight Call – Don Rigsby
What says bluegrass Halloween like a midnight visit from your dead mother in a dream at a train station that was already torn down? Great song, and one of Don’s best vocal performances. Speaking of Don, who thinks he should dress up as Justin Bieber for Halloween after Letterman’s comment on Tuesday night? Or better yet, who thinks Bieber should dress up like Don!? I don’t which sounds scarier: Don singing Eenie Meenie (Miny Mo Lover) or JB singing Hillbilly Heartache.
3. Blackadder’s Cove – Newfound Road
What originally began as a lullaby for Josh Miller’s son, took a sharp left turn somewhere along the way. A hard-working man from the mountains has his heart crushed by a woman who betrays him for his brother! So what does he do? Well, this is Halloween, so see if you can guess… And the rain it did pour and the wind it blew cold, as I dug her a grave in Blackadder’s Cove.
4. Lady Margaret – Cassie Franklin
This solo a cappella performance appeared on the bluegrass-influenced Cold Mountain soundtrack. The song tells the story of Lady Margaret, who sees young William and his new bride on their wedding day. That night, she comes to see young William after he has went to sleep. William confesses his true love for Margaret and kisses her. He wakes up the next morning to find Lady Margaret is dead. He kisses her corpse and dies. A hauntingly beautiful song, Franklin’s vocal performance is captivating.
5. Shallow Grave – The Steeldrivers
The opening track of their IBMA-nominated album, Shallow Grave showcases the great soulful, rootsy sound The Steeldrivers have become known for over the years. For being a song about a guy who is torn up about burying his true love, this one sure is a lot of fun!
6. The Ghost of Eli Renfro – Nashville Bluegrass Band
Can you get scarier than the story about a man who kills his wife with a Bowie knife and then haunts the whole town after his execution? The version by Del McCoury is killer (pun intended) as well.
7. Sad Wind Sighs – Boys From Indiana
This song is absolutely miserable, and I love it! A man can’t get over the death of his wife, and can’t wait to die so he can be next to her again. The Boys From Indiana are some of are music’s overlooked heroes, and this is one of their best. Who knew being so sad could sound so good?
8. The Grave Robber – Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice
As the title suggests, this is the story of a grave robber. No one with common sense or a conscience would adopt this as a way of life, but leave it to Tom T. Hall to write a song about it. It makes for one of the most creepily captivating songs in the bluegrass canon. “The Storyteller” will get you every time.
9. Brown Mountain Light – Tony Rice
It’s frightening to think about running into the ghost of a former slave who is wandering around the woods carrying a lantern searching for his lost master, right? Okay, I was hoping I wasn’t the only one who is terrified by that idea.
10. Knoxville Girl – The Louvin Brothers
You knew this one was going to be here. Don’t make me explain it. Sidenote: This is one of the most requested tunes at our radio station, and the people who call in to request it on a regular basis frighten me. I love the song, but I question the people who want to hear it during the Gospel hour.
11. My Last Days On Earth – Bill Monroe
One of Monroe’s absolute masterpieces. Monroe’s picking demands control of your entire body as you stop whatever you’re doing as soon as he begins playing. The howling winds and sound effects make this song spooky, but never before did I know something so scary could be so beautiful.
12. Walls Of Time – Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Another Monroe tune, I prefer Ricky’s version for a Halloween party. I don’t know if it’s Ricky’s unique arrangement or John Cowan’s other-wordly harmony vocals on the chorus which make this version the scariest, but it definitely is. One of my favorite tracks from one of my favorite Skaggs albums. There are many great renditions of this song though: The Johnson Mountain Boys, Peter Rowan, and (of course) Bill Monroe.
13. Bringing Mary Home – Country Gentlemen
Hands down, the greatest bluegrass ghost song of all time. I can still remember being absolutely freaked out listening to this song as a kid! I still get freaked out a little bit every time I hear it, and I’m sure if you’re all honest with yourselves, you are too. Regardless, it’s still a classic. No Halloween is complete without bringing Mary home one more time.
Well, there you have it: the 13 Best Halloween “BOO!-grass” Tunes!
“Why 13?” you may ask. Because it’s the unluckiest number? NO! Because Charlie Waller was the 13th man to bring Mary home! Get with the program.
From the “It’s Not Bluegrass, But It’s Not Bad” files, here are 13 other songs to get you in the Halloween spirit.
- Phantom 309 – Red Sovine
- Die, Die, Die –The Avett Brothers
- The Caretaker – Johnny Cash
- Ghosts That We Knew – Mumford & Sons
- The Ride – David Allan Coe
- Angel of Death – New Country Rehab
- Midnight In Montgomery – Alan Jackson
- Dig Gravedigger Dig – Corb Lund
- Porter Wagoner’s Grave – Marty Stuart
- I Put A Spell On You – Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Rose In Paradise – Waylon Jennings
- Ballad of Hollis Brown – Bob Dylan
- (Ghost) Riders In The Sky – Johnny Cash
What’s some of your favorite “BOO!-grass” tunes? There’s so many good ones. It was hard to trim it to thirteen. Let me know what you’ll be listening to on this October 31st.
photo by LuAnn Adams
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