Few bluegrass acts have dominated the Midwest, primarily the OKI (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana) region, as The Boys From Indiana did in the late seventies. Known for their lively stage shows and strong original songs, The Boys From Indiana were one of the top festival acts of their era. The “classic” lineup of the group featured brothers, Aubrey and Jerry Holt, alongside their uncle, Harley Gabbard, with Paul Mullins and Noah Crase.
Paul had been friends with Aubrey, Jerry, and Harley for a while. Paul would frequently have them come across the Indiana border to play various bluegrass events in the Miami Valley of Ohio, which he promoted on WPFB in Middletown. On the air, Paul would refer to “those wild boys from Indiana!” Well, the moniker stuck and when Aubrey, Jerry, and Harley recruited Paul and Noah to form an actual bluegrass band, they had a built-in name.
The band’s first major album release is revered as a bluegrass classic. Originally released by King Bluegrass and later re-issued by Rebel Records, the 1974 album, Atlanta Is Burning, introduced the powerful music of The Boys From Indiana to the rest of the bluegrass world.
The album kicks off with a rousing number, perfect for a Saturday night. In under two minutes, you will absolutely fall in love with this band. Aubrey Holt’s My Night To Howl is one of the best rowdy bluegrass songs you can find.
I’m gonna play loud music
Gonna drink hard liquor
Gonna chase wild women
Tonight’s my night to howl!
Yeah – you can’t beat that.
The album features another great “good time” tune: Good Time Blues. Also an Aubrey Holt original, Good Time Blues became the title track for their 2006 greatest hits collection on Rebel Records. It’s one of my favorite songs from The Boys From Indiana’s illustrious catalog. It kicks off with Harley Gabbard’s bluesy dobro, then Paul Mullins and Noah Crase’s grassy fiddle and banjo come in to get you steadily patting your foot and clapping your hands along with this fun little number. With lines such as “When I was just fifteen I ran away from home, wearing my daddy’s only pair of shoes,” and “I can’t go back cause I’m too ashamed. They can see me coming just like bad news,” we are reminded why Aubrey Holt is one the best songwriters bluegrass has ever had. Modern bluegrass fans may remember a latter rendition of this song, as it appeared on Blue Highway’s debut album.
Boudleaux Bryant once said that they key to writing a hit song was to include the word blue in it. Perhaps Aubrey Holt picked up that pointer when he penned Feeling Blue. Every good bluegrass band needs a sad song that sounds happy, and that’s exactly what Feeling Blue is. Later recorded by avid Boys From Indiana fans, the Grascals, as well as the band’s modern equivalents, The Wildwood Valley Boys, this song is 100% pure bluegrass.
The Atlanta Is Burning Album also features great songs such as Tom T. Hall’s Kentucky In The Morning, one of the best renditions of The Girl In The Blue Velvet Band, and another solid Aubrey Holt original, I Miss My Indiana (still waiting for The Grascals to cut this one *hint-hint*). However, without a doubt, the album’s crowning jewel is the title track.
Arguably one of the most well-written bluegrass songs ever, Atlanta Is Burning is nothing short of a masterpiece. The song tells the story of a rebel soldier longing for his Georgia home during the Civil War. Aubrey was inspired by the cinematic classic, Gone With The Wind when he wrote the song. “Some people can write without inspiration, but I need something to inspire me. I just write the way I feel. It’s a talent God gave me — I don’t write the songs, I just hold the pen,” said Aubrey.
You are instantly drawn into this soldier’s story, as he tells of the wife he married a week before leaving and of the child he has never seen. Roughly halfway through the song, Paul Mullins’ fiddle delivers one of the most recognizable transitions in bluegrass, as the scales tip in this soldier’s story. After being a solo vocal from Aubrey throughout the first half of the song, the song moves to a trio throughout, following Paul’s mournful fiddle. The trio of Aubrey, Jerry, and Harley is, unfortunately, one of the most underrated in bluegrass. This trio continues throughout the rest of the song as the soldier watches Atlanta burn to the ground, and we join the soldier as he dies on the battlefield. “My thoughts wander southward as I fall to sleep,” is one of the most haunting lines in bluegrass as the song ends and leaves you stunned.
If you haven’t dug out any of The Boys From Indiana’s music recently or if you are unfamiliar with this midwestern band, I strongly recommend that you fill that void in your life as quickly as possible. They had a sound all of their own, and their music has influenced many modern bluegrass bands including The Grascals, Blue Highway, Feller & Hill, and Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers.
Atlanta Is Burning was originally released by the King Bluegrass label in 1974, and later re-released by Rebel Records in 1980. In order to have the complete album, you may have to do some digging through old records. Thankfully though, half of the album was included on the 2006 Boys From Indiana collection on Rebel Records, Good Time Blues (REB-7514). Good Time Blues is available through County Sales, the Classic Country Connection, and can be downloaded through iTunes and AmazonMP3.
Be sure to check out this classic! As Harley Gabbard would say, “It’s a dandy!”
(Fun Fact: Brothers, Aubrey and Jerry Holt were both born this past weekend on August 15 – Aubrey in 1938 and Jerry in 1941. Happy Birthday!)