I made a solemn promise last week to wrap up this series-within-a-series on the naming of bluegrass bands, and I fully intend to keep my word. I was even tempted to move on to the next subject in the band self-management series: “How to Book Your Band from Prison,” but we do have some important unfinished business, namely the last two categories of band names on our list: “The Intentionally Over-generic,” and “The Misspelled Words.”
Let’s work backwards and start with misspelled words first, because I’ve been doing things forward all day and could use a change. And, that happens to fit nicely with the spirit of misspelling words in your band name; it’s an attempt to change patterns, break molds, and avoid the use of the letter “i.”
The misspelling of words to help arrive at a band name is familiar to us all by now, exemplified by numerous bands, from the recent “Nu-Blu” to the now classic “IIIrd Tyme Out.” This is a technique of band-naming that goes back to the ‘70s or earlier (some in the southern Ohio area may remember the “Nu-Grass Pickers” — a great band, incidentally), so it’s safe to say that the hip hop guys stole it from us, long before they thought of sampling Kentucky Mandolin without paying royalties. Other examples, past and present, that come to mind are the gospel band “All 4 Hym,” and the bands “Perfect Tyming”, and “Lymyted Horyzyn” (okay, the last one is made up).
The purpose of the misspelled words in a band name is to give a name that might otherwise seem ordinary some instant distinctiveness. This is the up side of this device. The down side is the fact that no one will ever be able to find your web site as long as you live. IIIrd Tyme Out’s addition of roman numerals naturally compounded this problem, but their band was formed before the use of the internet in bluegrass music, so that would have been impossible to predict. Plus, at this point it’s okay because it’s IIIrd Tyme Out; one of bluegrass music’s most consistent and respected bands of the last 2 decades. They hardly need the internet, and everyone knows how to say their name. But for your new band, it’s something worth considering. And, don’t forget my caution to you about band names that MCs can mangle: You can repeat your name over and over to the MC before you go on stage, but that same MC is still capable of reading it off of his or her notes on stage and destroying it.
If you feel you must go this route, though, here are some suggestions that may give you some alternatives to the already-used extra “e” or the “y” substituting for “i” (and I’ve even thrown in a few “y” for “i” words you may not have thought of). These words can stand alone, be combined, or be used to substitute for column A, B or C words from the band-naming kit discussed in previous articles:
Ten O’Sea (don’t even bother having a web site with this one)
I’m glad to say that the use of gratuitous European accents, so popular with the ’80s hair bands, has never gained traction in the bluegrass world, otherwise we’d start to see words like “Lønesome,” “Rämblers” and “Blué.”
In sharp contrast to the misspelling of words as a technique for arriving at an original band name is the final category on our list, the method I’ve called “The Intentionally Over-generic,” and it requires a whole other way of thinking about the task. Rather than even trying to be original or creative, you can choose to embrace bluegrass music’s long-standing love affair with the generic and the simple statement of fact: “This is a bluegrass band.”
We need look no further than “The Bluegrass Album” series to find examples of bluegrass’s generic tradition. The tradition didn’t start there, though. We can go back to the early ‘70s to find bold statements of the obvious in album titles, such as Dan Crary’s first album, Bluegrass Guitar. Not to be outdone, a few years later Tony Rice released his first album and took the concept one step further, calling the album just Guitar. Bryan Sutton paid homage to this not long ago when he deliberately recycled Crary’s Bluegrass Guitar, while his friend Aubrey Haynie countered with The Bluegrass Fiddle Album. Jim Lauderdale recently released an album called Bluegrass, so no one need worry about this tradition dying any time soon.
It was in the 1980s when a group of Nashville musicians, which included Butch Robbins and Alan O’Bryant, set the gold standard for genericism in band names by calling their band “The Bluegrass Band” (I believe “Bluegrass” was added because the name “The Band” had already been taken by Levon Helm and some Canadian guys). O’Bryant later became a founding member of “The Nashville Bluegrass Band.” Having to settle for the specific regional reference took away some of the name’s generic punch, but it was still firmly in the tradition. They were not the first, though: The NBB followed some less-known regional band names that had been in existence since the ‘70s, like “The Greater Chicago Bluegrass Band” and Colombia’s short-lived “Bogota Bluegrass Band” (or “BBB”).
Needless to say, this takes away a lot of guess work and band arguments. Just take your region or town, add “Bluegrass Band” to it, and there you go. You’re ready to move on to deciding on the interior decor of your band vehicle and other important issues for a new band.
But just in case you’re searching for an original way to be generic (now you’re just being difficult!), here are some possible options, though I admit that some of these are a little awkward sounding:
Guys Playing Bluegrass
Girls Playing Bluegrass
Some People With Stringed Instruments
A Group of Bluegrass Musicians
The Acoustic Band (not bad, eh?)
A Bluegrass Singer and Some Other People
The Latest Bluegrass Band (caution: this one has limited shelf life as a band name)
The Band with the Banjo
Some Musicians Trying To Get Gigs
Personally, though I respect the generic tradition in bluegrass, I’d rather start a new trend in band-naming, one which incorporates both the abstract and the generic, whereby you use an abstract one-word name, using a generic name as a kind of subtitle. It’s something along the lines of these trendy restaurant names that popped up for a while that used a pretentious subtitle to help explain their virtually meaningless one-word name, e.g. “Bread: An American Bistro”…
… or “Noodle: A Very Italian Cafe” (the fact that they use the word “very,” by the way, is usually a sign that the rest of the statement isn’t true).
Why can’t we use this concept when naming a bluegrass band? We can use an abstract word like “Rain,” then add “An American Bluegrass Band,” or “Headstock: A Bluegrass Quartet.” Or, drawing from the list above and pairing it with our “open the fridge” source for abstract names (see last week), we get names like “Milk: Some Musicians Trying to get Gigs,” or “Sausage: a Very Acoustic Band.”
“Larry and Them” is also a good name.
Next week: Having a fictitious manager, landing frozen food endorsement deals, and using the capo for self-defense.