Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection- In the Pines

One of my favorite pseudo-bluegrass songs is “In the Pines”.  As is the case with many songs like this, it isn’t a bluegrass song at all though, it is one of those songs of “indeterminate origin”.  Over the years it has been a blues song, a folk song, a country song, a bluegrass song and a rock song.  Rumor has it the song dates back to the mid-to-late 1800s.

Blues artist Lead Belly recorded the song under the titles “Black Girl” and “Where did you Sleep Last Night” various times in the 1940s.

Bill Monroe recorded it at least two times, once in 1941 and once in 1952.

Jimmy Martin recorded it in 1965.

Nirvana even recorded it in a live album in 1993 under the title “Where Did you Sleep Last Night”.  They interpreted the song more as a blues number and certainly inject passion into the vocal!  The song clearly speaks to a lot of people.

My favorite version of the song isn’t on any record or CD, I heard it late one night standing in the dark around a campfire.  It was at Ed Allen’s Campground in Chickahominy, Virginia in either the late 1970s or very early 1980s.  A friend and I had been to a Bluegrass Festival there and it was late, it had rained that day on us, and it was foggy.   We had stayed though until the end of the on-stage music and had picked a little bit in the parking lot afterwards with various folks and had finally decided it was time to go back home for the night- there was still another day of the festival coming in the morning after all. Things were mostly all quiet as we made our way through the cars and campsites to get to our car, as I said, it was late and kind of damp and most folks had turned in by then.

Somewhere out in the night though someone was still at it and we could hear faintly a fellow singing and playing guitar.  We kept trudging along to the car and luckily the singer was on the way and it wasn’t too awful long before I saw him and could hear better.  I’ll tell you, it was a poetic sight to see, one lone man standing between us and his campfire so that all we could see was his silhouette.   He wasn’t singing with anyone, his friends were there but they were not playing, or watching for that matter.  They were either asleep or just sitting and staring into the fire.  It was late as I mentioned. I remember stopping when I was close enough to hear well and just standing there in the dark watching him.  It was clear he was not singing to or for anyone but himself.  Just standing there feeling the music and letting it take his mind wherever it wanted to go.  His rhythm playing was sparse and thoughtful and his singing injected more blues into the song than I had ever heard.  It was almost like at that moment I could feel the emotion in the words.  Honestly, before then I had considered this particular song nothing special, almost like a throw-away cookie cutter one.  Standing there in the dark watching the silhouetted guitar player sing that song that night changed all that though.  It was like I understood what lonesome felt like for the first time.

The longest train I ever saw

Went down that Georgia line

The engine passed at six o’clock

And the cab passed by at nine

In the pines, in the pines

Where the sun never shines

And we shiver when the cold wind blows

I asked my captain for the time of day

He said he throwed his watch away

A long steel rail and a short cross tie

I’m on my way back home

Little girl, little girl, what have I done

That makes you treat me so

You caused me to weep, you caused me to mourn

You caused me to leave my home

So give the song a listen or two and maybe take the time to track down the Nirvana version too.  I have to say, the Nirvana version is very high on my list of favorites!


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The True Story of Molly and Tenbrooks

Bill Monroe had a big hit in 1949 with the song Molly and Tenbrooks.  It was the B side of a record he cut in 1947 (the A side was I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky) for Columbia Records.  The song is one of that I have always identified with Monroe, but recently I learned that he was not the first to record it nor did he write it.  The song apparently dates back to the late 1800s and was actually first recorded in 1929 under the name “Tim Brook” by a band called the Carver Boys.

The Stanley Brothers recorded a version of the song in 1948.

And then in 1949 Bill Monroe’s version was released.

In addition to the fact that there were at least two recordings of the song before the Monroe one was released is that there was actually a horse race between a Kentucky horse named Ten Broeck and a California horse named Molly McCarthy and the song pretty well tells the story of the race.  Somehow I had never thought that the song was telling a true story.

What happened is that in the 1870s there was a wonder horse in Kentucky.  This horse was a champion and and a record setter and Kentuckians loved him.  They loved him so much that they bragged about him every chance they got.  In the horse racing world, this apparently got a little old because there were a group of Californians who also had a champion race horse that they loved and bragged on.  As will happen, one side got tired of hearing the other side brag and so it was arranged by the owners that the Kentucky horse Ten Broeck would race the California horse Molly McCarthy at Churchill Downs on July 4, 1878.

The owner of Ten Broeck bet the owner of Molly McCarthy $5,000 that his horse would win best two heats out of three in a 4 mile race.  They both agreed though that if one horse beat the other in a very significant way that the other races didn’t need to be run and that one would take the prize.  Both were confident they would win and neither thought there would be three races run that day.

On the day of the race it rained.  Now apparently some horses run well in rain and some don’t.  Ten Broeck liked rain and the Kentuckians were even more sure they were going to win because Molly liked to run in sun.  The race started and for the first mile the two horses were neck and neck.  The second mile flew by and they were still neck and neck.  By the end of the third mile though, Molly had taken a healthy lead.  Ten Broeck’s jockey did what he could but the Kentucky horse just seemed to have no more to give and Molly and her Californian friends seemed to have it all wrapped up.

As the story goes, when Ten Broeck rounded the bend for the homestretch of the third mile, he suddenly turned on the gas as it were.  He overtook Molly and did not look back.  At the end of mile three he was a good ten lengths in front.  All through the fourth mile, Ten Broeck ran like there was no tomorrow.  Molly on the other hand had run out of gas and by the end of the race, Molly could barely stand.  The distance between horses was so great that there was no question who won.  There was no question that Molly could not run another race that day either.  Frank B. Harper, owner of Ten Broeck got his $5,000 and bragging rights and that is the end of the story.

Here are the lyrics for Monroe’s version of the song.  The Stanley version is a little different but not much.  The Carver Boy’s version is different as well but generally, they are all the same story.

Run O Molly run, run O Molly run
Tenbrooks gonna beat you to the bright shinin’ sun.
To the bright shinin’ sun O Lord to the bright shinin’ sun

Tenbrooks was a big bay horse he wore that shaggy mane
He run all around Memphis he beat the Memphis train
Beat the Memphis train O Lord beat the Memphis train

See that train a-comin’ it’s comin’ round the curve
See old Tenbrooks runnin’ he’s strainin’ every nerve
Strainin’ every nerve O Lord strainin’ every nerve

Tenbrooks said to Molly what makes your head so red?
Runnin’ in the hot sun puts fever in my head
Fever in my head O Lord fever in my head

Molly said to Tenbrooks you’re lookin’ mighty squirrel
Tenbrooks said to Molly I’m a-leavin’ this old world
Leavin’ this old world O Lord leavin’ this old world

Out in California where Molly done as she pleased
Come back to old Kentucky got beat with all ease
Beat with all ease O Lord beat with all ease

The women all a-laughin’ the child’n all a cryin’
The men all a-hollerin’ old Tenbrooks a-flyin’
Old Tenbrooks a-flyin’ O Lord old Tenbrooks a-flyin’

Kyper Kyper you’re not A-ridin’ right
Molly’s beatin’ old Tenbrooks clear out sight
Clear out of sight O Lord clear out of sight

Kyper Kyper Kyper my son
Give old Tenbrooks the bridle let old Tenbrooks run
Let old Tenbrooks run O Lord let old Tenbrooks run

Go and catch old Tenbrooks and hitch him in the shade
We’re gonna bury old Molly in a coffin ready made
Coffin ready made O Lord coffin ready made

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Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection- The Bristol Sessions

In 1927, Texas fiddlers Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland recorded a record for the Victor Talking Machine Company.  This was the first “country” record made and it ended up being very important, only the company dubbed the genre “hillbilly” music.  Side one was Sally Gooden and side two was Arkansas Traveller and it sold enough copies to make the budding recording industry sit up and take notice.

By 1927, the industry had developed a more refined system for recording music, the original system was known as “acoustic” and the new system was “electronic”.  Being proud of their efforts, they even included “Electrically Recorded” on many of their records around this time.  Country and hillbilly records were selling so well that careers were made for Eck Robertson, Ernest Stoneman, Uncle Dave Macon and several others in the genre.  Hillbilly music was honest, easy to understand and the public was hungry for more.  The Victor company knew that they had a goldmine on their hands with this new genre and sent talent scouts out to sign up new acts and make new records (translate that as: and make more money for Victor!).  One of these talent scouts was a man named Ralph Peer.

Ralph Peer is not a household name by any means, but two of the things he accomplished in life were certainly important enough to make him one.  Peer was one of the first, if not the first agent to pay royalties to recording artists, and he was the first to record Jimmy Rodgers and The Carter Family.  So confident was Peer in his efforts at discovering new talent that his arrangement with Victor stipulated only a $1 per year salary!  Instead of a real salary, Peer chose to own copyrights to recordings he made and be paid through royalties on those recordings. It was basically a no-risk opportunity for Victor.

The recording industry had recently become a viable business because new electronic recording practices proved to increase the sound quality of records in a very noticeable way over the traditional recording methods.  This new electronic recording process was also a lot more portable than earlier methods and this allowed the studio to come to the artists and so bands that were not financially able to travel to big cities like New York to record were suddenly “discovered” by the industry and so by the public.

While on his search for new artists, Ralph Peer asked the advice of his friend Ernest Stoneman and was told to visit the town of Bristol, Virginia which straddled Virginia and Tennessee to look for talent.  Stoneman suggested there were many artists in the area and the town was a crossroads of sorts and would be easy for folks to get to. Peer took his advice and then put a notice in local newspapers saying he would be in Bristol for ten days recording musical acts.





The response was not overwhelming though until Ernest Stoneman started talking about the $50 per side plus royalties he was making for recording with Peer.  Once word got out that real money was to be made, bands started coming in and Peer was able to record between July 25-August 5, 1927 ,  76 songs by 19 different bands.

Of the bands that recorded in the Bristol Sessions, two became most famous, Jimmy Rodgers and The Carter Family.  There was a third band that recorded there that I would like to mention also- The Shelor Family.

The reason we might know that third band these days is because of a fellow named Sammy Shelor, of Meadows of Dan, VA.  Sammy is a descendant of Joe Blackard who recorded four sides for Peer on August 3, 1927 as part of the bands The Shelor Family and also Dad Blackard’s Moonshiners.  These bands were made up of Joe Blackard, his daughter Clarice, Jesse Shelor and Pyrhus Shelor.  The Shelor Family, as the band became known, left Bristol after their sessions and made their way back to Meadows of Dan.  They were contacted again several months later to return to the recording studio to do more but they had to decline.  Joe Blackard had become ill with cancer and could not make the trip.  The family continued playing music in their homes and community, as they always had, not as professional musicians, but as neighbors and friends.

Sammy Shelor had other musical relatives since Joe Blackard (who was also a banjo player) and he has made a big and well-respected name for himself nationally as a banjo player.  Sam has headed the Lonesome River Band for many years, has won numerous “Banjo Player of the Year” and “Banjo Performer of the Year” as well as the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass.  He has remained faithful to and a resident of Meadows of Dan where his musical and family roots run deep.  I imagine Joe Blackard would be proud to know that.


To learn more and to hear actual recordings made at The Bristol Sessions, check out (be sure to get the CD that goes along with it too!):

The Bristol sessions : writings about the big bang of country music / edited by Charles K. Wolfe and Ted Olson
BOOK BOOK | McFarland | c2005
 Available at Main Collection – Level 4
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Rest in Peace Pete Seeger

While driving to work this morning I heard the news that Pete Seeger died yesterday at the ripe old age of 94.  Pete Seeger was called a lot of things in life – among them musician, author, peace advocate, teacher, environmentalist, political activist and through them all he remained true to who he was and what he believed in.    As a teacher he introduced his style of banjo playing to the nation in a groundbreaking instructional book he wrote in the early 1960s- How to Play the 5 String Banjo.  As a musician he recorded more than 50 albums and either wrote or co-wrote many songs you are sure to have heard- Where Have all the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, Turn Turn Turn etc.  As an environmentalist, he had a boat built (called the Clearwater )that sailed up and down the Hudson River to bring attention to the amount of pollution people and industry were dumping into it.  As a political activist he found himself in front of Congress being questioned about his political ideas (and he refused to answer those questions too), and was well known as a labor advocate and a civil rights advocate.  To say that he led a fascinating life would be a great understatement.

Pete was known as a folk musician and not an Appalachian musician, but I am including him here today because when he published How to Play the 5 String Banjo, he created and inspired a massive number of banjo players.  Even if a person does not today play his style (frailing) there is a very good chance that person started out with Pete’s book.  Why?  Because there  was not any other book to start out with for many years!  Pete’s style of playing, is still used today and though it is maybe not the most popular style in old-time music, it is present and is a definite base that many players start with.

In the musical section of his life, Pete was a member of The Weavers, an important folk group, friends and musical partners with Woody Guthrie, started and wrote for Sing Out magazine.  He won a Grammy in 1996 and that year he was also inducted in the Rock and Roll hall of fame.  He was honored in the Kennedy Center.

Another musical job Pete Seeger had in his lifetime was to work at the Library of Congress in the American Folklife Center with musicologist Alan Lomax.  While there he listened to and collected folk songs for the national collection.  Alan Lomax had a radio show at the time and Pete was a frequent musical guest on it.  This was in the 1940 timeframe and helped pave the way for his musical career.

The political section of his life is a complicated one.  In his younger years, Pete Seeger was a member of the Communist Party but later renounced it when he became disenchanted with Stalin.  He and many of his friends were blacklisted in the McCarthy era.  He fought all his life, even to the end for civil rights and equality.  He was among those participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Not everyone will agree with his politics, but I think we can all respect his dedication and commitment to his beliefs.  I think the fact that he went from being blacklisted in the McCarthy Era to being honored in the Kennedy Center speaks volumes.

But none of that is what I thought of when I heard the news.  My first thought was of why my own children probably know his name.  Abiyoyo.

One of the Pete Seeger albums I have is “Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”.  I hadn’t listened to it too many times but on this particular day I needed something to entertain them and so I pulled that record out and put it on the turntable.  When the song Abiyoyo came on, we all became interested and all sat and listened.  We listened again too.

Over the years, we listened to that old record many times.  Many times we read the book at bedtime.  Many times I would walk around the house humming the melody and thinking about the giant dancing and swirling around.  I have a lot of fond memories that grew from that record and book.  So thank you Pete Seeger for all that you did in your fascinating life but most of all thank you for telling us all about Abiyoyo.

In honor of Pete Seeger, I am recommending you read this book.  It won’t take long.  I think it is a very fitting tribute to the man, it is the story of plain folk fighting a giant through music and dance.  Seems fitting to me.  Rest in peace Pete.

Pete Seeger May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014.

Abiyoyo : based on a South African lullaby and folk story / text by Pete Seeger ; illustrations by Michael Hays
Seeger, Pete, 1919-
BOOK BOOK | Collier Macmillan | c1986
Available at Juvenile/Easy – Level 4 (PZ7.S4517 Ac 1986)


Location Call No. Status
Juvenile/Easy – Level 4 PZ7.S4517 Ac 1986 AVAILABLE
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Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection- Tony Rice

Anybody who listens to acoustic music knows the name Tony Rice.  For many years Tony has been a guitar icon to players of all ages and musical styles.  He has also written and/or sang songs that are firmly entrenched in the musical memory of generations of acoustic music fans.  Among others, he has played with Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Peter Rowan and JD Crowe; he created and fronted his own jazz-oriented acoustic band The Tony Rice Unit and spent a few years in musical collaboration with Peter Rowan.

Born in 1951 in Danville, Virginia, Tony etal were soon moved to California by his semi-professional musician father, Herb Rice.  In California, he was attracted to and inspired by two musical giants, Roland and Clarence White.  (Clarence White later was a member of the rock band The Byrds.  He is also known for being one of the folks who started New Grass.) It was probably because of Tony’s exposure and friendship with Clarence White that led him to Kentucky in the early 1970s to play with a group called The Bluegrass Alliance.

The Bluegrass Alliance was one of the first bands to push the boundaries of blue grass music and its members included Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson and Vince Gill.  When the Bluegrass Alliance broke up, Sam Bush and Courtney Johnson went on to form New Grass Revival and they forged an amazing path into the acoustic music scene like few other bands.

Tony Rice did not go along with Sam and Courtney though,  he ended up playing with another acoustic music visionary, J.D. Crowe.   Crowe had put together a super-group of Tony Rice (guitar), Ricky Scaggs (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), and Bobby Sloan (bass) and would record one of my favorite albums and bands ever. Their album “J.D. Crowe and the New South” was one of the most influential albums of that genre and that band was and remains one of the most talked about collections of musicians in acoustic music.

Bluegrass Album Band- copyright Jim Stripling

JD (center) with Doyle Lawson (left) and Tony Rice (right) from the Bluegrass Album Band(Used with permission from Jim Stripling, photographer)

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Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection- Carolina Chocolate Drops

I just heard that Dena Epstein died last week (11/14/13) at the age of 96.  I am going to assume that her name was not necessarily recognizeable to most people but I am pretty sure that the fruits of her life’s work are.  Since Dena was a librarian and a banjo history researcher, it seems appropriate to mention her on this webpage.

(Dena Epstein with The Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Photo by Jim Carrier)

Dena Epstein was born Nov 30, 1916 in Milwaukee, WI to Hilda and William Polacheck.  She earned a BA in music in 1937 and an MLS in 1943.  After several years working at both the Newark Public Library and the Library of Congress as a music librarian, she left her job to raise her two children in her New Jersey home.  She did not however stop researching and using libraries and it was through a trip to the New York Public Library to find something interesting to read that she stumbled upon an interesting item.  A reference to something from a Civil War diary caught her eye and so she used the Interlibrary Loan Department to borrow the diary from a library in….. Milwaukee WI.  (Say, do YOU know about McConnell Library’s Interlibrary Loan Office?)   While reading this diary, she became more and more interested in researching that interesting item, which was something not quite expected in a Civil War era diary, and something that would change her life- black folk music.  The diary spoke of slave life and music (among many other things) and in many cases included notation of the tunes of some of the songs mentioned in the diary. Being a musician herself (piano), Dena became fascinated and intrigued by what she was reading.

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Bill Monroe

September 13, 1911 – September 9, 1996

My Last Days on Earth

 copyright Kim Johnson

(photo courtesy of Kim Johnson and used with permission)

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Roger Sprung is Here

When I think back the many years to the time when I went to the Galax Fiddlers Convention for the first time, one memory stands out.  People were everywhere, walking, talking, playing music; venders were selling vintage instruments, food, t-shirts and anything else you can think of.  As my friends and I walked through the throng taking it all in, we all stopped and stared when we got to one particular booth.  A giant, beat-up panel truck sat behind an awning that covered tables of instruments, strings, and CDs.  Hanging over the entryway was a wooden sign that read “Roger Sprung is Here”.  My friends and I looked at the sign and then looked at each other.  “Roger Sprung?” we asked each other.  Since we had no clue who he was or why we would want to know he was here, we made our way under the awning to find out.  A man, we supposed it was Roger Sprung, stood behind his wooden tables talking to people about music and instruments and selling things right and left.  He wore a smart black hat, the kind you see people wearing on Mad Men and looked to be having a great time interacting with people who all seemed to know and love him.  Knowing little more than we did before we walked under the awning, my friends and I turned around and went our merry way to discover whatever else Galax had in store for us.

When we finally all got home from that week of music and mischief I started investigating so that I could know who Roger Sprung was.  It didn’t take me long to find the phrase “The Godfather of Newgrass Banjo”, which made me wish I had known that before I went to Galax that first time.

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Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection- Adam Hurt

I was sitting here minding my own business listening to some music.  A patron of mine walked into my office to take care of some library business and then stayed a while to chat.  I noticed her looking at my iPod  which was plugged into my computer but not actually playing at the time.  Gesturing at it, she asked what the last thing was that I had been listening to.  I had to think for a second because I had been alternating between my two favorite clawhammer banjo players- John Balch and Adam Hurt.  As I was humming Old Dangerfield, I figured it must have been Adam Hurt and so I said “Adam Hurt.” She didn’t know his music at all so I told her all that I could remember about him and sent her on her way to go check out one of his CDs from our collection.


Adam Hurt was born into a musical family in St Paul Minnesota.  As the son of classical musicians, Adam learned to read music and play piano at an early age.  It was not until he was in the fourth grade though that Adam first heard old time and bluegrass music.  (This should be a great example of why it is important to have music education in our schools!)  One of his teachers brought in several acoustic instruments to introduce acoustic music to the kids and lucky for us, these instruments really “struck a chord” with Adam.

Mandolin and clawhammer banjo seemed to resonate with him and in 1994 his parents bought him his first banjo and found him a teacher.  His teacher taught him how to play banjo, but more importantly taught him to listen and play what he heard inside.  In terms of playing style, Adam likes and is heavily influenced by the “round peak style” of Tommy Jarrel, Fred Cochrane and Kyle Creed but I don’t know that I would say he exactly plays in that style- you can definitely hear it in there though!

Adam Hurt has entered, competed and won at various fiddler conventions, most notably Galax, Clifftop and Mt Airy.  His attention and respect for tradition is obvious but it is his innovative ways of playing the old songs that really attracts me.  Earlier I mentioned that I was humming Old Dangerfield and I have never heard that song played by anyone else on clawhammer banjo, actually I have never heard anyone other than Bill Monroe play it.

The songs on this album are mostly familiar to me but Adam’s treatment of them makes them seem new and exciting.  I *really* like this album and think you will too.  A few highlights for me are:

Old Dangerfield– As I mentioned, I have only heard this done by Bill Monroe so Adam’s treatment of this song is very interesting and exciting to hear.

June Apple– I know this song very well but have never heard it played like this.  It is innovative and respectful of tradition.

Hell Among the Yearlings– A great old tune I always enjoy!

Give it a listen!

Insight [sound recording] / Adam Hurt

Recordings-CDs – Level 4   M1630.18.H87 I57 2006
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Highlights of the McConnell Library Appalachian Music Collection- Steve Martin

steve martin

(Used with permission from Roger Gupta, photographer)

“Do you love to…..get small?”

Back in the late 70s when anyone said that, most people in the room would start laughing and usually start reciting the entire comedy album called…. well it was called “Let’s Get Small”.  At the time, Steve Martin was mainly a stand-up comic- and he was very funny too.  The “Let’s Get Small” album was recorded live at one of his comedy shows and had a little bit of banjo on it, admittedly, it was mostly there as part of comedy bits but it was there nonetheless and he could obviously play it.  The album was produced by William McEuen, brother of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band banjoist John McEuen.  (William had once famously said to John “If the banjo were any good the Beatles would have used it.”)  Inside  the album, as sort of an “extra”,  there was a very nice photo included showing Steve in a three piece white suit.  He did have a giant fish sticking out of the jacket, but it was a great suit nonetheless.  I liked him so much that my parents had a three piece white suite made for me too. (Honest.  I can show you a picture if you don’t believe me!) Somehow I never felt it necessary to get the fish to stick out of the jacket.

I loved Steve Martin and pretty well memorized all of his comedy bits and some of his musical ones too.  In 1981 he released an album that was half comedy and half music- the album was called “The Steve Martin Brothers” and honestly I have no memory at all of the comedy side but the music side I listened to many many many times.  The songs had odd and amusing names but they were serious songs for sure.   Banana Banjo and Freddie’s Lilt were two of my favorite titles.  I listened to them and remembered them for many years.


The years were very good to Steve Martin and he has enjoyed not only a wonderful career in comedy but also is a respected actor, author, art collector and now is a very respected banjo player too.  Thanks to the combination of Steve’s love for the banjo and his very successful career, two important things have developed for us fans of Appalachian and Blue Grass music.  The first thing is that Steve has started recording music CDs of banjo and vocal music, and the second is that he has set up (and funds straight from his own pocket!) a special award for banjo players who show excellence in their field (which he dubbed with the catchy name of- The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass).

Just to be obtuse, I am going to talk about the second of those two things first.  In 2010, Steve Martin announced that he was going to give an annual award to banjo players who showed excellence in the field of banjo playing.  Because banjo players might not be getting rich off of their music, Steve decided to give an unrestricted cash prize of $50,000, and a bronze sculpture to one banjo player a year who he and his team of experts decided should get it.  Again, this is an award started by and funded by Steve Martin as a way of helping banjo players get a little recognition as actual musicians and to help them financially because professional grade banjos are very costly things and again, banjo players are probably not rolling in money.  The first recipient of this award was (one of my favorites!) Noam Pikelney who currently plays with the Punch Brothers.  The second recipient was another of my favorites, Sammy Shelor.  (When we heard that Sammy had won the prize, we told my daughter who said “Hey I’ve met him.  I’ve been in his corn maze.”  That’s something you don’t hear every day!) The third recipient was Mark Johnson who invented an interesting style of clawhammer-like playing.  Each year so far, Steve has announced the winner of the prize on the David Letterman show and accompanies the recipient on a song and often a comedy gag.

The other thing I mentioned above is that Steve has been recording music CDs for the past few years.  Steve has The Steep Canyon Rangers as his “backup” band and has released two very successful CDs with them and tours extensively with them also.  2009’s The Crow was the first of these CDs and it included several new songs (written by Steve Martin) as well as new recordings of the banjo songs that appeared on The Steve Martin Brothers album I mentioned above.  The second of these CDs is called Rare Bird Alert and again, the songs are written by Steve Martin and performed by Steve and the Steep Canyon Rangers.  Steve has JUST released a third CD with the Rangers and Edie Brickell.

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