Author: Zuniga, Henry

The Perfect Song

Every now and then, we find ourselves in jams that are so much fun that we stay in them for hours. The weatherís great, you have a compatible bunch of pickers, the perfect mix of instruments, and a blissful vibe. These kind of jams canít be planned or concocted. Thatís what makes them so special. You donít see them coming. You arenít expecting too much, and you have no idea what the person next to you is going come out with. The beauty of a good jam is its spontaneity.

Iím always impressed by people who have a seemingly endless store of songs memorized. They can go to from jam to jam and not only do they fit right in, they are able to pick songs that fit the moment. I know several people who can start the day playing gospel songs, jump from that to anything from traditional, to newgrass, and even an occasional original tune or two. I canít begin to come close. Although I heard a little bluegrass when I was growing up, it was rare. Mostly I heard Spanish music. Dad used to set his alarm and always had it cranked up. My mornings often included the shrill sounds of mariachi horns with the neighborhood roosters adding to the daybreaking noise.

For relatively beginning bluegrass pickers, there is much to learn. Itís much more than simply learning some songs and jam etiquette. For instance, I quickly learned that there are many bluegrass standards that are so played out that you donít dare call them. Songs like Rocky Top, The Wildwood Flower, Man of Constant Sorrow are often scorned as being ďover done.Ē I can understand this. You can get sick of hearing the same thing over and over again. But, you should always remember that for many aspiring pickers, these are often the songs that caught our ears and got us hooked on bluegrass. My personal feeling is that if the song seems over played, itís because it is a great song. But, thatís a different fight, best saved for another day.

Iím 53 ears old. My mind isnít as sharp as it once was. Heck, I often forget my train of thought; in mid sentence! This presents a challenge when it comes to picking new songs. I find that many of the words get blurred and Iíve been known to make hybrid versions of well known standards. Kind of like Dr. Frankenstein, I mix parts and pray that it will come out okay. Some songs are very long and there are those that are too short. Because Iím a relative newcomer to this music, I have had to learn as many songs as possible, very quickly. I should have learned a good deal more bluegrass by now, but I also continue to play my Spanish repertoire and continue to add other songs to my list of eclectic offerings. I have to devote a great deal of time to ďotherĒ music and it makes learning new bluegrass songs a little tough.

So, I go through my days listening to Cds, trying to find songs that I like and that I hope are good jam songs. Part of my personal musical philosophy is that if I canít feel it, I shouldnít play it. This isnít to say that I would walk away from a jam because someone else picks a song that isnít suited to my tastes. It might be perfect for the person who picked it.

And, then there are a few songs that on the surface seem great, but fall short. Iím talking about songs that have few lyrics. I have a couple of songs to which I have had the audacity, the gumption, the unmitigated gall, to add my own lyrics! My question now is this: is it alright to take literary license with, and, add new lyrics to, songs that are standards? There are two very old, very traditional songs to which I recently added another verse. I did so because I feel that the songs are good but that they needed at least one more verse to make them better jam songs. One of the songs is ďCabin on a MountainĒ by Vern Williams, and the other is ďStanding on a MountainĒ by the Delmore Bros.

So, what do you think? Is it okay to be a sideline author and change a song by adding to it.? What about adding to a song so that it has an entirely different ending? Let the debate begin! Oh, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day too!!!!!!!!!
Posted:  11/21/2009

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