Friday, December 23, 2005

Kin of the Carter Family ... The Carter Brothers

Guitarist Tim and banjoist Danny are keeping up the family tradition with country music influenced by Bill Monroe to the Byrds. Get more from their official web site.
Bluegrass Blogs You're Likely To Enjoy
  1. Cybergrass - "The Internet's Bluegrass Magazine Since 1992" has many forums and discussions going on.
  2. Bluegrass Preservation Society - A non-profit organization "dedicated to the preservation of Bluegrass," the BPS has an online musical instrument store, a streaming radio show and, of course, lots of bulletin boards.
  3. Dr. Berlin's Bluegrass Audio Guide - A fan site that lists streaming audio shows for each day of the week.
  4. Old Surber Station - This site's podcast is also available via iTunes. There's a blog, too. And you can even stay awhile at the OSS bed and breakfast.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Xmas Eve Morning at the Buzz Café
If you haven't seen it, check out this week's Wednesday Journal newspaper for a photo of Joe Hammon peering enigmatically into Ben Stark's guitar along with an announcement of our Saturday morning Xmas Eve Morning gig at the Buzz.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Compendium of Fiddle Tune Lyrics
This online resource was compiled by The Bluegrass Messengers.
It's quite extensive. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More "Ballin' The Jack" Trivia
Thanks to Jim Polaski
2. A railroad signal indicating full speed ahead.
In railroad terms, there was a time when signals were done with "Balls" on a tall stand. When the track was clear, the ball was hoisted to the top indicating a "high ball" or the train could move at high, or track speed. A derivation was "balling."
"The Highball Signals ... " were thirty (30) feet high and located about three miles apart. The first signal used black and white flags but they did not unfurl properly all the time. Bell-shaped peach baskets were suspended from masts thirty (30) feet high, located about three (3) miles apart. They were later replaced with large metal spheres. They were known as ball signals."

Monday, December 19, 2005

Free Online Music Theory Lessons
This site is a great supplement for students of all ages. It certainly does NOT work as a substitute for taking real lessons with a real, live teacher. But it's got great content. Check it out.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Ballin' The Jack"
Sure, But What Does It Mean?!?

Mike Casey raised an interesting question the other day. What's "Ballin' the Jack" mean? We've heard it and sung it in tunes from the traditional "Wanderin'" to the Grateful Dead's "Easy Wind." Well ... here's a long-winded answer found via a Google search:

1 - origin: balling the jack is a phrase from the jargon of railroadsmen in the beginning of [the 20th] century in America and simply means going at top speed (highballing). The "jack" is the locomotive [a carry-over from when a "jackass" pulled the freight] and "ballin'" means to work fast or get rollin' [from the 19th century slang "highballin'"].

Balling the jack (and variants like balling or having a ball) later acquired other, non-railroad related meanings like having a wild good time (drinking), to move quickly, going flat out, dancing, having sexual relations in a vigorous way and in gambling circles of risking everything on a single throw of the dice or turn of a card and in general use risking everything on one attempt or effort.

2 - metaphor for having sex, see also balling the jack and grinding. Dave Vanderslice says: "Means literally: use a jack hammer, but also to have sex." Thanks to Dave Vanderslice for his contribution to the list;

3 - name of a once popular dance, dancestep. Gray "Grayotis" Martin writes: "Ball the Jack---also likely a juke joint dance, with a reference to the act of sexual intercourse. "Ball" in verb form, is a slang word for sex, in white and black lingo. [One post claims the dance pre-dates the railroad metaphor.]

3.1 - Southern Louisiana's John "JohnnyB" Bradford says: "The "eagle rock" and "ball and the jack" are 1940's dance moves. "First you put your two knees close up tight, then you sway 'em to the left. Then you sway 'em to the right, step around the floor kind of nice and light. Then you twist around and twist around with all your might, Stretch your lovin' arms straight out into space, Then you do the Eagle Rock with style and grace. Swing your foot way 'round then bring it back. Now that's what I call Ballin' the Jack."

4 - going fast, doing the best. Jesse Fowler adds: "I know that it meant going fast (especially on a freight train). Paul Simmons wrote: " Balling the jack can also be an early reference to having your hands (ball of your hands) on a Jackhammer and pushing down with a great effort. I've often heard the term used to mean that you're "working it hard" in whatever your doing. For example I've heard people working on road crews say, "you best be ballin' it and not just doggin' it"... or translated, "you should be working and not just doing the motions". Think of it more as an adjective rather than a verb."

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Jeremy's Dad Took Some Mighty Fine Photos
See the scene at the Buzz Café from last April. Click here for the slide show. You can even order prints for only $00.15. (I did!) Choose 4x6, 5x7, 8x10 and more sizes.

Update -- Jeremy has also posted these images on his own site. Click here to see them. Of course, you can't order prints. But you can download them and print them yourself!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Mighty Fine Pickers -- Dry Branch Fire Squad!

The line-up has changed fairly dramatically since the 1990s. But the music's still "mighty fine."

Here's their official Web site.
Here's their online store.
Here are 12 free downloads from

The Artists Den Volume One - Singer-Songwriter Compilation
- Get info and order CDs here

Culled from performances of The Artists Den, a traveling showcase for independent singer-songwriters who cross genres and expectations. This compilation, Volume One, includes songs by David Poe, Duncan Sheik, Emiliana Torrini, Jesse Harris and Tracey Bonham; many of whom have been written up in the Tribune, Paste and other publications.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

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There is a fantastic web site where you can download tons of free bluegrass music and listen to non-stop, commercial free bluegrass radio. It's got more bluegrass music that you'll probably ever want to hear.

It's They don't use mp3 files because they say they lose much too much information. So they have their files in different formats that convert to WAV (and/or AIF) files. In order to use this, people need to have some computer skills, such as using FTP software. Once you have the music on your computer, you can then burn CD's or just leave it on your hard drive.

Note: Most audio files are posted in Shorten format (*.shn) which requires a free application to decode and convert to WAV or other audio format. Get information on Shorten here.

Anyway, I thought others would want to know about this, so please pass it on. Thanks, Bob Althouse

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mighty Fine Bluegrass from Chatham County Line

This young band is awesome! Click here.
"Unauthorized" Tabs & Lyrics "Completely Illegal"?!?!
It seems the Music Publishers' Association is planning to be next into the fray, shutting down web sites that offer "unauthorized" tablature and lyrics. From BBC News online:

The music industry is to extend its copyright war by taking legal action against websites offering unlicensed song scores and lyrics.

The Music Publishers' Association (MPA), which represents US sheet music companies, will launch its first campaign against such sites in 2006. MPA president Lauren Keiser said he wanted site owners to be jailed. Guitar licks and song scores are widely available on the internet but are "completely illegal", he told the BBC.

Mr Keiser said he did not just want to shut websites and impose fines, saying if authorities can "throw in some jail time I think we'll be a little more effective".

Complete article here: BBC News

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sunday, December 11th

[ The following is reprinted with edits from a notice submitted by Jim Polaski, MHG ]

Featured this time will be one of the all time great Chicago singers and perennial favorite JIM CRAIG. As an artist, Jim has carried on, almost single-handedly, the belle epoque of the Chicago scene dating back to his first performances at the Wise Fools on Lincoln Avenue decades ago. His choice of material, arrangements, and masterful guitar accompaniment perfectly compliment his rich vocals.

Also appearing will be the great poet-songwriter JAMES McCANDLESS. Some years ago, James was force to limit his performing due to an illness which he has since defeated. This will be his first full concert in a long time. His work is incomparable.

Accompanying James will be JULIE MACARUS on the violin. Julie's taste
for melodic fills and solos that expand the song are as masterful in texture as they are rich in tone.

You'll find this to be an exceptional evening of warmth on a winter's night. I hope you can make it. The cammeraderie, as always, will be priceless.

Bill's Blues Club
1029 Davis Street
847 424 9800
7 PM
$10 cover, no minimum