Early on in the life of this column, I wrote a series on naming your bluegrass band, offering various ideas depending on what kind of band you were seeking to name, and even suggesting some band-naming formulas. This week, my intention was to explore the concept of the band name “subtitle,” and it still is, but there’s been some breaking news on the band-naming front that may affect how you approach this important first step in establishing your band’s identity.
The band that had been known as “The Rambling Rooks,” a new band made up of former Lonesome River Band members, has changed their name to “A Band of Ruhks,” coinciding with the release of their self-titled debut album next month (101 Ranch Records).
On the one hand, this appears to violate a vital band-naming principle, one which I have advocated strict adherence to: don’t ever give your band a name that’s likely to be mispronounced by D.J.s or M.C.s (why bluegrass M.C.s treat asking a band how they pronounce their name the way the average male treats asking directions is one of the enduring mysteries of our music).
Ronnie Bowman explained in Bluegrass Today, though, that the spelling of “Rooks” was changed to “Ruhks” because it was the original spelling of the chess piece (you know, the one that looks like a castle and moves in straight lines, or is lost under your couch somewhere), derived from ancient Persian. He also said that “Rambling Rooks” was just a temporary name: “we knew that when the record came out we needed to define the name, and a brand.”
There are a few things I like about this whole concept, beginning with the idea of the band name as merely a starting point. And why not? Band leaders change the names of their bands all the time, like Peter Rowan and the Green Grass Gringos to Peter Rowan and Crucial Country, so why not a full band? Few remember that Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver was originally Doyle Lawson and Foxfire (Doyle Lawson and Witch Hazel was rejected in the first round of balloting).
Many forget, too, that Rhonda Vincent and the Rage was initially Rhonda Vincent and the Raje. “Raje” was not the ancient Persian spelling of “rage” but a customized spelling, with each letter representing the first name of each of her band members at the time.
This violates another important band-naming principle: never name your band based on the current personnel, unless you all are partners with joint ownership of all assets, and a pre-nuptial agreement.
Rhonda quickly found “raje” to be too confusing for the bluegrass press, and changed the name’s spelling to the conventional “rage,” and everyone lived happily (and slightly enraged) ever after.
On a side note, if Doyle Lawson had gone with Rhonda’s first idea, his first band name would have been Doyle Lawson and Tlj (pronounced “tilge”). After Randy Graham replaced Lou Reid, it could easily have been converted to Doyle Lawson and Trj (pronounced “turj”).
Truthfully, I wish I’d caught on to this kind of flexibility years ago after the first ten times that The Night Drivers were introduced as the “The Night Riders” (thereby associating us either with the Klan or a talking car). I always just assumed that you had to stick with whatever choice you had made.
The other thing I like about the Band of Ruhks choice is that it opens up both chess pieces and ancient Persian words as a whole new source for bluegrass band names, and didn’t we need more choices, having pretty much exhausted English words like “blue,” “mountain,” and “dryve”? (that last one might be Persian, or maybe Welsh).
We all know, too, that success breeds imitation, and we all expect lots of success for the Ruhks given the impressive personnel lineup. Remember that the Seldom Scene spawned related names like The Rarely Herd and The Seldom Paid.
For that reason, I expect a whole new crop of band names based on chess pieces: The Bluegrass Bishops, The String Kings, etc. Or, if your band feels like it’s being manipulated by record labels and management, The Band of Pawns might not be a bad idea. I would recommend caution before using “queens” in your band name, but that all depends on your personnel (see band naming principle #2, above).
Add in Persian, or some other obscure language, and our options start to really open up. I read, for example, that the persian word for “knight” is “pil,” which turn out to mean either “knight” or “war elephant.” That immediately made me inclined to drop the Persian, and just call a band “The War Elephants.” You could easily add a more traditional adjective to get “The Blue War Elephants” or “The Lonesome War Elephants.”
Enjoy coming up with your new and improved band name. As for mine, from this point forward, we’d like to be referred to as “Chris Jones and the Shoferët e Natës,” which is Albanian for “Night Drivers,” but please don’t call us “Pasagjerët e Natës” because that’s Albanian for members of the Klan or talking cars, and David Hasselhoff is extremely popular in Albania.