Blue Yodel #56 – Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants

Our guest smarty pants this week has been called the Father of Bluegrass History—okay, I just called him that, but it’s apt. Neil Rosenberg is Professor Emeritus of Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland, a chair formerly held by Gandalf.

Neil is also one of the few banjo players to win a Grammy, which he did in 1997 for his contribution to the brochure for the Smithsonian/Folkways reissue of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.

Most of us in bluegrass know him as the author of Bluegrass: A History (1985), the definitive work on the first 40 years of bluegrass, and, with Charles Wolfe, The Music of Bill Monroe, a bio-discography published in 2007, in which there is a lot of very small type—Bill Monroe even wears glasses on the cover.

In 1981, he started the column Thirty Years Ago This Month in Bluegrass Unlimited, and wrote it until 1993, when a blog called Thirty Seconds Ago in Bluegrass made the column irrelevant.

When I asked Neil to contribute to this column, he rose (or fell) to the challenge with some doozies. This may be the toughest challenge of all time. Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants only got one of these right, so good luck!

Neil Rosenberg Smarty Pants Questions:

  1. When and where did Jerry Garcia play banjo in a Florida bluegrass gig?
  2. Who took Eddie Adcock’s place in the Country Gentlemen in 1961?
  3. What bluegrass banjo player worked in Brenda Lee’s first backup band, a bluegrass outfit?


The first person to correctly answer all three questions below will win a rare copy of Neil’s CD where he plays banjo with his band Crooked Stovepipe.


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

This month’s true trivia comes from the essential Bluegrass Bluesman: Josh Graves a Memoir, edited by the currently #2 ranked bluegrass historian in the world, Fred Bartenstein. If you haven’t read this book yet, put down those picks and go get it! It makes for a dandy dobro-case stuffer.

First correct answer below will win a Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants postcard and standing ovation.

Question: What band did Josh Graves think was the first real bluegrass band he ever heard?

Answer is at the end of this article.


You Can Make This Stuff Up

Mr. BGSP accepts questions relating to advice on the bluegrass lifestyle. Grammy awards are not guaranteed.

Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

With the holidays coming up, how can I celebrate a traditional bluegrass Christmas dinner?

—Turkeyed Out in Tuscaloosa


Dear Turkeyed Out in Tuscaloosa,

If you want to impress your guests with more than the usual funnel cakes, backstage vegetable tray, and blooming onions fare, I would go with my “You Can’t Hurt Ham” recipe, which calls for cooking a 10-pound ham on the engine block of a bus, preferably one with a Fuel Pincher Diesel V-8 engine. And, of course, Martha White biscuits.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Dear Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants,

How many banjo players does it take to cross the road?

—Frontman in Fontana


Dear Frontman in Fontana,

I can’t stress enough the importance of not doing banjo jokes on stage. We’ve moved far beyond that kind of humor. Farting and bathroom jokes are the cutting edge now. Plus, I think you’re confusing two different genres of jokes here, so I will confuse it even further by answering in two more. My answers are “Cross the Road who?” and “Gangnam Style!” Also, the answer to every banjo joke is either “A pizza feeds a family of four” or “You can tune a Harley.” You can use these interchangeably.

—Mr. Blue Grass Smarty Pants


Answer to Josh Graves question: The Callahan Brothers.

In Bluegrass Bluesman, Uncle Josh says, “…my daddy would have a little extra money, and he’d buy me a record, Jimmie Rodgers or the Carter Family. One day he bought me a Callahan Brothers record. The Callahans, to me, was the first ones that ever did bluegrass music, really.” (Bluegrass Bluesman, p. 9)

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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.