Ages ago—I believe it was pre-iPhone 5—I offered up an advice column about coming up with band names. In it I provided a band-naming “kit” that involved taking an adjective or geographical location from column A and combining it with a noun from column B. These were examples:
For the more traditional band, you can add a column C:
It should be noted that a recently formed band, Authentic Unlimited, made the bold move of choosing two adjectives (i.e. two words from column A) and leaving it at that. These rules are meant to be broken.
It occurred to me, while spinning some country records during the morning Willie’s Roadhouse show, that I’d forgotten about the whole concept of naming your band after your most successful or most recognizable song.
At one time in the 1960s, while experimenting with a few band names, Willie Nelson called his band The Record Men after his song Mr. Record Man. Charlie Louvin had a big hit with See the Big Man Cry so it became Charlie Louvin & The Big Men. Mel Tillis named his band The Statesiders after his song Stateside, though for a while he changed it to The Coca-Cola Cowboys after his 1980s hit of the same name, before changing it back.
This is something we might consider doing more of in bluegrass music. A couple of artists already did: Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys were named after Sunny Side of the Mountain. There’s now Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top Xpress, and Flatt & Scruggs, using some brilliant intuition, named the band The Foggy Mountain Boys decades before Foggy Mountain Breakdown became the standard that it is.
There’s something to keep in mind, by the way, if you’re a brand new band with no hits to your credit: you’ll need to anticipate what your biggest song is going to be. With any luck it might become a self-fulfilling prophesy. As Mel Tillis did, you can always change the name later.
What if Bill Monroe had gone with this system, instead of choosing The Blue Grass Boys? An obvious choice would have been Bill Monroe & The Mule Skinners, but he could also have gone with Bill Monroe & The Blue Moons of Kentucky, Bill Monroe & The Uncle Pens, or possibly Bill Monroe & The Little Cabin Homes.
Bill Monroe & The Dreadful Snakes would have worked, too, taking a future band name away from Pat Enright, Roland White, Jerry Douglas, and company. And by the way, those guys deserve special mention because by naming their band The Dreadful Snakes, they charted a whole new course in this area by naming their band after a song they didn’t even record.
Here are some other re-naming options for bands, using the “biggest song” system:
Del McCoury & the 1952 Vincents
Reno & Smiley and The Emotions (has a Motown flavor to it); Alternates: Reno & Smiley and The Mind-Changers or Reno & Smiley and The Roadmaps
Doyle Lawson & the Mis’ry Rivers; Alternate: Doyle Lawson & the Yellow Rivers
J.D. Crowe & The Old Home Places; Alternate: J.D. Crowe & The Sin Cities
Alison Krauss & Nothing At All
Red Allen & The Loves Gone Cold
Emerson and Waldron & The Foxes on the Run
Claire Lynch & The Alabama States of Mind
Ralph Stanley & The Men of Constant Sorrow; Alternate (less preferable): Ralph Stanley & The Pigs in a Pen
Laurie Lewis & The Home Place Watchers
Larry Sparks & The John Deere Tractors; Alternate: Larry Sparks & The Faces in the Crowd
Jim & Jesse & The Diesels on My Tail
Dave Evans & The Loaves of Bread
Tony Rice & The Old Trains; Alternate: Tony Rice & The Cold Shoulders
Bill Harrell & The Hand-eaters
James King & The Beds By the Window (or maybe just James King & The Beds)
Mac Wiseman & The Sweet Rememberers; Alternate: Mac Wiseman & The Old Folks at Home
Finally, slightly more obscure, but a personal favorite:
Earl Taylor & The Crying Children