Blue Yodel #38 – Ask Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

In Good Company - Bill EvansGuest Trivia Master – Bill Evans

This month’s guest is banjo maven Bill Evans, who again received second-place in the Most Famous Bill Evans in the World contest at the People Named Bill Evans conference held annually in Evansville, Indiana.

(There is some reason for hope that next year he’ll take top prize. When the winners were announced, a contingent of banjo players rushed the stage playing Remington Ride and chanting “Bill Evans.”)

In the world of bluegrass, Bill Evans is a master-level player, teacher, entertainer, and expert on band names. He charges $3,000 for band naming—well worth the money as his last band name, Bangers and Grass, recently sold at auction for $12K.

Bill is also the author of the popular instruction book Banjos for Dummies, which the San Rafael Mid-Afternoon News called “330 pages.”

His just-released album, In Good Company, features Bill whistling Beatles tunes at a frequency only his dog, Julie, can hear. If you play track 10 backwards you can distinctly hear the words, “I am my own grandpa, coo-coo-ca-choo.”


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Bill Evans asks:

1. What was the first tune that a young Earl Scruggs worked out in three-finger style?

2. Which Osborne brother played the banjo first, Sonny or Bobby?

3. Who was the first American bluegrass banjo player to play in Russia/the Soviet Union?


The first person to answer all three questions correctly will receive an In Good Company CD signed by Bill and his dog. And a standing ovation and signed postcard from Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants.


You Can Make This Stuff Up

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

With the success of the novel 50 Shades of Grey I’m writing 50 Shades of Bluegrass. My question is, have bluegrass and sex ever met?

—Tied Up in Terra Haute

Dear Tied Up,

Article XI, section 32 of the Bluegrass Code stipulates, “There shall be no reference in bluegrass to sex, nor shall the subject ever be discussed on stage, at the record table, in print, or in recorded performance. This also applies to dancing.”

I suspect, however, there is sex in bluegrass, otherwise how has bluegrass music perpetuated itself all these years?

And there is some evidence that there was a shake and howdy between bluegrass and sex at a midnight jam several years ago at an IBMA conference where bluegrass admitted in a vulnerable moment that newgrass was indeed its offspring.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

With the Summer Olympics coming up, I’m hoping to cash in with a bluegrass Olympics tie-in. Will there be any reference to bluegrass at the London Olympics?

—Mac Spitz & the Foggy Goggle Boys

Dear Mac,

You’ve obviously missed out on a lot of the pre-summer-games excitement in the bluegrass community. Several new events have been added to highlight the bluegrass connection to the Olympics:

  • Banjo Throw – World record of 43 feet currently held by Inez Johnson of Crooked Leg, Oregon, who tired of her husband’s version of Down Yonder.
  • Six-Man Bus Push – The four-man bluegrass band bobsled team of the winter games proved so popular that this team event was added to the summer games. Six-member bands must push a bus ten miles up a mountain to a bluegrass festival.
  • 100 Meter Empty Lawn Chair Hurdles – Athletes must leap over empty lawn chairs with their instruments to a record table, sell a CD and t-shirt, eat a blooming onion, find an empty port-a-potty, and make it back on stage before the end of Sally Goodin.
  • Synchronized Complaining – Another team event in which conversations in band vans will be recorded and judged for complaining about other bands, events, food, driving, and what is or isn’t bluegrass.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

I have been unjustly criticized by my opponent for tying a dog-house bass to the top of my touring car. I admit one time I did tie the bass player with it. But it was just one time. How can I answer these job-killing allegations?

—Gritt Hominy, Bluegrass Candidate for President, 2012

Dear Gritt,

Point out that it’s common practice to tie the bass to the top of the vehicle—with or without the bass player—and that your elitist opponent doesn’t even know the difference between a fiddle and a violin. I would not mention the record table elevator, though.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

I know it’s a pride of lions and a murder of crows, but what would you call the collective players of various bluegrass instruments?

—Dangler in Des Moines

Dear Dangler,

While it’s generally accepted that the collective noun for a group of bluegrass players is a “band,” these are less well known:

  • A flange of banjo players
  • A tremolo of mandolin players
  • A G-run of guitar players
  • A scrape of fiddle players
  • A slouch of dobro players
  • A lug of bass players

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Be sure to take a guess at Bill Evans’ questions above and let us know of any questions you have—real or imagined.

Until next time, remember: Keep your Smarty Pants On!

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About the Author

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 On Tuesdays you can find him having fish tacos at Roberto’s in Del Mar.

  • Alvin Blaine

    1. What was the first tune that a young Earl Scruggs worked out in three-finger style?

    “Ruben’s Train”

    2. Which Osborne brother played the banjo first, Sonny or Bobby?

    Bobby, and they did some twin banjo work in the early day like on “Ruby” and a couple of other cuts.

    3. Who was the first American bluegrass banjo player to play in Russia/the Soviet Union?

    Pete Wernick claims to be the first “Bluegrass Act” to tour Russia in 2010, but Eric Weissberg did shows there with Judy Collins in 1965.

    • Hey Alvin,

      The first two are correct, but there is some debate about question #3. John McEuen is who we had in mind as it’s a question about whether Weissberg actually played banjo on that tour with Collins in 1965. We could contact them, but that would mean actual follow-up work. I’m more inclined simply to proclaim you winner.

      But if anyone else has insights into the debate, please let us know.

      —Mr. BGSP

      • Alvin Blaine

        The 1977 NGDB tour, I think I saw them that tour. Not in Russia, I think it was either Ventura or Santa Barbara.
        I don’t know if Eric Weissberg played banjo with Judy Collins on his ’65 tour of Russia, but the question didn’t ask who played banjo in Russia.

        • A subtle, but valid point, Alvin. Send me your email address privately so I can have Bill Evans contact you and send you the signed CD and I’ll send you my postcard and give you a standing ovation.


          -Mr. BGSP

  • Jon Weisberger

    Sorry, but the correct term for a big group of five-strings is “a terror of banjos.”

    • Maybe we should downgrade that to a “threat of banjos.”

      —Mr. BGSP

  • Ivor Trueman

    With reference to the “Bluegrass Olympics”… The UK Yorkshire Dales Bluegrass Festival(*) used to hold a “Banjo Olympics”, sometimes consisting of contestants playing “Old Joe Clark” in a bouncy castle, or two contestants sharing a banjo in a 3 legged-race, again playing “Old Joe Clark”…

    There was one legendary year, where the poor weather meant the event was held indoors. This time, the challenge was to play “OJC” with the banjo being taken behind a screen & having a random string de-tuned… One guy, who had a NEW very expensive banjo, looked on aghast as having handed his instrument over to the organiser heard hammering & sawing from behind the screen! His banjo was of course not harmed…

    I don’t expect there’ll be any banjos at the London ‘lympics… but I think there’ll be some sheep!


    * sadly now down-rated to a picking weekend.

    • Hey Ivor,

      That definitely comes under the category of “There will always be an England.”

      One of my favorite podcasts is The Bugle with British comics John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman. They’ve been talking about the big sheep extravaganza at the Olympics opener. Can’t wait to see that! And who’s going to clean up?

      -Mr. BGSP

  • Danny “Hootenanny” Clark

    In regards to the question about the banjo player in Russia. I believe Raymond Mclain of the Mclain Family Band was the first non Russian musician to play banjo in Russia. The band was considered musical ambassadors by the U.S. State Department. Through their close association with the govt they were able to book and tour in over 60 international countries throughout the 1970s. Russia being one of them.