13 Essential Halloween “BOO!-grass” Tunes

James King rendered in Jack-O-Lantern style - photo by Julie KingIt’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.

Happy Halloween!

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About the Author

Daniel Mullins

Daniel is from southwestern Ohio and has been around bluegrass his entire life. He manages the Classic Country Connection, a music store in southern Ohio which specializes in bluegrass, classic country, gospel, and Americana music. He is the host of the Bending The Strings radio program, which plays a variety of bluegrass, newgrass, and Americana music. He also maintains the website for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers.

photo by LuAnn Adams

  • David Smith

    I’d like to suggest these additions:

    Steep Canyon Rangers – Ghost of Norma Jean – One Dime at a Time

    Country Gentlemen – River Bottom – River Bottom (because it’s the burliest murder ballad out there. What in the world is going on in this song???)

  • David McCarty

    Can’t leave this one out!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqOenbynBO0

    Sarah Jarosz doing Shankill Butchers

  • Peter Thompson

    I’ve been doing the occasional Halloween radio show for many years, and have a few suggestions to add to those songs already mentioned.

    THE SELDOM SCENE: I’ve Come To Take You Home/Like We Used To Be (Sugar Hill/94) – the sequel to “Bringing Mary Home”
    WALTER HENSLEY: Ghost Riders/Pickin’ On New Grass (Rebel/69)
    WAYNE HENDERSON: Ghost Riders In the Sky/Made & Played (Tucker Road/05)
    KATHY KALLICK: Burying Ground/Call Me a Taxi (Sugar Hill/96)
    DREADFUL SNAKES: Who’s That Knockin’ At My Door?/Snakes Alive! (Rounder/84) – also recorded by GOOD OL’ PERSONS: Good N’ Live (Sugar Hill/95)
    HAZEL DICKENS & ALICE GERRARD: Long Black Veil/Pioneering Women Of Bluegrass (Smithsonian-Folkways/65) – also recorded by may others
    DAVID DAVIS & THE WARRIOR RIVER BOYS: The Ballad of Sarah Malone/Troubled Times (Rebel)
    LONGVIEW: The Ballad of Maudie Dawson/High Lonesome (Rounder)
    THE RARELY HERD: Simon Crutchfield’s Grave/Midnight Loneliness (Pinecastle/92)
    JAMES REAMS & THE BARNSTORMERS: Cold Statesville Ground/Troubled Times (Mountain Redbird/05)
    DON RIGSBY: Bluestone Mountain/Empty Old Mailbox (Sugar Hill/00)
    EAST VIRGINIA: The Legend of Grace Sherwood/The Major Years (Major/00)
    LARRY STEPHENSON: Clinch Mountain Mystery/Clinch Mountain Mystery (Pinecastle/04)
    RUAL YARBROUGH & THE DIXIEMEN: Secret Of The Waterfall/Secret Of the Waterfall (Od Homestead/72)
    RICE, RICE ET AL: The Mystery That Won’t Go Away/Running Wild (Rounder/01)
    FRONT RANGE: Silent Ground/Silent Ground (Sugar Hill/00)
    FRONT RANGE: The Lantern/Ramblin’ On My Mind (Sugar Hill/96)
    KAY JUSTICE & GINNY HAWKER: The Unquiet Grave/Come All You Tenderhearted (June Appal/93)
    DONE GONE: Quiet Grave/The Done Gone Band (self/79)
    DONE GONE: The Ghost Of Eli Renfro/Done Gone Band (self/79)
    EARL TAYLOR & JIM McCALL: Ghost Train/24 Bluegrass Favorites (Rural Rhythm/71)
    DALE ANN BRADLEY: Ghost Bound Train/Don’t Turn Back (Compass)
    DAVID PARMLEY: The Silver Ghost/Southern Heritage (Rebel/93)
    TONY HOLT & THE WILDWOD VALLEY BOYS: The Silver Ghost/Daylight’s Burnin’ (Rebel/05)
    BIG COUNTRY BLUEGRASS: Ghost Of a Love/Open For Business (Mountain Roads/08)
    LARRY SPARKS: Ghost Stories/Special Delivery (Rebel/00)
    RHONDA VINCENT & THE RAGE: Ghost Of a Chance/Ragin’ Live (Rounder/05)
    ALISON KRAUSS: Ghost In This House/Forget About It (Rounder/99)
    HOT RIZE: Shadows In My Room/So Long Of A Journey (Sugar Hill/96)
    HOT RIZE: Footsteps So Near/Traditional Ties (Sugar Hill/85)
    STANLEY BROTHERS: Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Me/The King Years 1961-1965 (King/62)
    RALPH STANLEY & RALPH STANLEY II: Haunted House/Like Father Like Son (Copper Creek/00)
    PETER ROWAN: Deal With the Devil/All On a Rising Day (Sugar Hill/91)
    DAN CRARY: Devil Played the Fiddle/Sweet Southern Girl (Sugar Hill/79)
    Not really bluegrass, but still classics …
    ROBIN & LINDA WILLIAMS: At the Crossroads Again/Devil Of a Dream (Sugar Hill/98)
    AUSTIN LOUNGE LIZARDS: Hillbillies In a Haunted House/Never An Adult Moment (Sugar Hill/00)

    – Peter Thompson
    “Bluegrass Signal”
    http://www.kalw.org
    http://www.bluegrasscountry.org

  • Dick Bowden

    “It Rained a Mist” by Ted Lundy & Bob Paisley!

    “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” by Del

    “Henry Walker” written by Mike O’Reilly done by Del

    “That Beautiful Woman” by Ralph Stanley

    “Jake Satterfield” by Bill & James Monroe

    “Ghost Chickens in the Sky” by Leroy Troy & the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band

    Great topic!

  • AnnettePK

    Seldom Scene – I’ve Come to Take You Home (sequel to Bringing Mary Home)
    Country Gentlemen – Long Black Veil
    McPeak Brothers – Simon Crutchfield’s Grave