Blue Yodel #14 – Ask Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

| January 12, 2012 | 10 Comments

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

How come you didn’t call this column Blue Yodel #13? Did you skip a number?

—Lucky 13

Dear Lucky 13,

Yes, I made that mistake once in high school when I took number 13 on the baseball team and my batting average immediately went south of the Mendoza line—my inability to hit a curveball also being a factor.

The real reason, though, is out of respect for the work of Jimmie Rodgers, whom this column is named after. Rodgers wrote 13 blue yodels, all of which are numbered except the last one. He recorded the 13th, Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Blue Yodel on May 18, 1933, in New York City. It’s the one also known as The Women Make a Fool Out of Me. Rodgers died eight days later.

 

Guest Artist Question and Prize

This month’s guest artist is the mandolin player’s mandolin player: John Reischman. A correct answer to his question will get you an autographed CD of John Reischman & the Jaybirds’ newest release, Vintage Unique. Warning: this is a tough one (the question, not the album).

John asks:

Name three pre-1960 tenor singers who played a Gibson F-model with a round sound hole (F2 or F4) mandolin rather than the standard F5.

And as a Bonus Question:

Name two pre-1960 instrumentals on which Bill Monroe played an F4 mandolin.

Place your answer to either question in the comments section below and the first to get it right will win the John Reischman & the Jaybirds Vintage Unique autographed CD.

The first person to answer incorrectly either question will receive a standing ovation and signed photo of Mr. BGSP—current eBay value: $0.00.

 

Reader Question

This month’s Reader Question comes from Gary Kennedy of San Diego, California, who asks, “Who was, or is, the tallest Blue Grass musician of all time?”

Dear Gary,

No records have been kept on the height and weight of Blue Grass musicians. However, IBMA directive 1429A-12, the Weight Watcher’s Rule, now requires that all bands list physical descriptions of band members on promo materials.

My first guess at tallest Blue Grass musician was Bill Emerson, but I consulted MBGSP’s Secret Posse of Know-It-Alls (their first names start with Jon and Ira) who did some quick calculations and came up with a few additional contenders: Chris Jones, Mike Feagan, Brent Truitt, and Steve Huber.

I have direct confirmation from Chris Jones that he is 6’4” but he believes Steve Huber is more like 6’6” or taller. Also, John Pennell and Barry Bales are in the running. If anyone knows for sure, please let us know in the comments section below.

Actually, the All-Tall Band is a darn good band. If anyone would like to hire them, please contact Chris Jones and offer him a lot of money.

Late addition via email from Ira “Ari” Gitlin:

The tallest bluegrass picker I recall hearing about, BTW, was Jimmy Driskell, who played bass with my buddy Dede Wyland in the Milwaukee-based band Grass, Food & Lodging in the 1970s. IIRC, he was 6’7″. He drove a Mustang; he’d removed the driver’s seat, and sat instead on the little jump seat in the back so he could stretch his legs.

 

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Among the many interesting things you can learn from Marty Godbey’s magnum opus, Crowe on the Banjo: The Music Life of J.D. Crowe, is this from p. 25, talking about the effect of Earl Scruggs on banjo sales: “Shipments to dealers of Gibson 5-string banjos went from 2 in 1948 to 236 in 1949 after Earl Scruggs’s appearances on the Opry with Bill Monroe.” That says it all.

 

You Can Make This Stuff Up

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

As someone who, on occasion, enjoys dressing up as a large white rabbit, I was shocked to run across so many disparaging songs in Blue Grass concerning bunnies: Rabbit in the Log, Run Rabbit Run, and the regrettable Hey Little Rabbit Where’s Your Mammy? Why isn’t there a more balanced representation of Lagomorpha leporidae in Blue Grass?

—Brian in Briarwood, TN

Dear Brian,

Point well taken. Unfortunately, no rabbit answer-songs seem to exist. Why not be the first to write one? Or, reinterpret the old songs from the point of view of the rabbit. I would suggest slowing Rabbit in the Log down, move it to a minor key, and frame it from the rabbit’s point of view. Here’s a suggestion:

I’m the rabbit in the log and I hear that old dog.

How will they get me? I knoooooooow.

They’ll get them a briar and twist it in my hair.

Thataway they’ll get me, I knoooooooow.

Not sure what you can do with the second verse about roasting him in the fire, but at least it’s a start. Let me know what you come up with. My label, Smarty Pants Records, is looking for a new project and we were already thinking of Revenge of Blue Grass Roadkill, Vol. II, so if you have any new material, please send it to us.

 

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

Who were the first Blue Grass singers to harmonize and how did it come about?

—Barry in Roughneck, MT

Dear Barry,

Credit for the first to harmonize Blue Grass style goes to Charlie and Bill Monroe. It apparently arose out of an argument between the brothers when both wanted to sing lead. Bill refused to sing the same note as his brother and harmony singing was born. When a competition broke out over who could sing the highest, the high lonesome sound was born. The brothers broke up when Elvis Presley was born, Bill going on to invent the bass-powered touring car and Blue Grass music.

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

As a fledgling Blue Grass emcee I tend to run out of material after I tell all my banjo jokes and bald jokes. What can I do to add a little excitement to my introductions?

—Cousin Kevin in Duluth

Dear Cousin Kevin in Duluth,

I think it’s time to start introducing bands onto the stage one player at a time, like an NBA announcer. Example:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! NOW PLAYING MANDOLIN FOR ERNST ANKLEBENDER & WIDE LOAD—AT 5’8”, 240 POUNDS, THE ROUND MOUND OF SOUND, THE BAMBINO OF BLOOMING ONIONS, THE FELLINI OF FUNNEL CAKES, PLEASE WELCOME FROM PLANET MICRO-MANDO—ELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLGIN BUTTERWORTH!!!!

Hope this helps.

Thanks,

Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

***

Be sure to make a guess at John Reischman’s question above and let us know of any questions you may have (real or imagined) in the Comments section below. See you next time and remember:

Keep your Smarty Pants On!

Chris Stuart

Chris Stuart is a writer and songwriter living in San Diego. He was the 2008 recipient of the IBMA Print Media Person of the Year award, co-writer of the 2009 IBMA Song of the Year, and past winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting contest in bluegrass and gospel categories. You can follow him on Twitter @cvstuart, on Facebook, and at www.chrisstuart.com. On Tuesdays you can find him having fish tacos at Roberto’s in Del Mar.

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