Author: Daniel, Bert


If you’re gonna be a Bluegrass fan, you gotta have a nickname. It’s as simple as that. Fortunately for me, I was reared in the Southeast, (where Bluegrass was born). Colorful nicknames are the rule there. My mom called me “Bert Boy” almost before I was born. I kid you not. Years before there was a Waltons TV show with “John Boy”, I was “Bert Boy”. He stole my nickname! (well, sort of).

Yes, the same South that gave birth to Bluegrass is also full of characters with colorful nicknames. So I figure if you have a nickname, your credibility in the Bluegrass world will be much more secure. Nicknames are easy. You can make up a nickname for yourself, but it’s usually better if your friends do it for you. At one point in my life I figured I needed a new nickname, so I adopted a nickname from a friend my brother used to talk about. The nickname I liked was “Cool Breeze” (accent on the “Cool”). Whenever I got the chance, I’d introduce myself to strangers by saying: “Hi. I’m Cool Breeze.” I named my bike Cool Breeze too. One day my then four year old daughter, Juliet, had a play date with a friend. On their way up to Juliet’s room she referred to me in passing: “That’s my dad. He likes to call himself Cool Breeze.” That sort of put an end to the Cool Breeze thing. Like I said, it’s usually better if your friends give you your nickname. Even when you end up with a name like Peahead; if it sticks, it’s you and you should wear it with pride.

So here are some of my favorite nicknames, with an explanation (if I know one) of what they mean and whom they might “stick” to.

“Oil Can” This name refers to someone who drinks a lot of beer. Some of you baseball fans might remember a pitcher named Oil Can Boyd, who pitched for the Red Sox. Down South, beer is often sold in large cans that look like oil cans. I once avoided the Blue Laws (laws which prohibit the sale of alcohol on a Sunday), in Charleston, SC, by simply purchasing five large cans of beer along with an ordinary oil filter. I got all of the items at a local supermarket called Piggly Wiggly (We used to call it the Hoggly Woggly-see, I told you, nicknames are everywhere in the South). The beer trick was a piece of cake, but I only tried it that one time. I must say, from my experience, “Oil Can” might be a very popular nickname in some Bluegrass circles.

“Spud” refers to someone who can eat a lot of potatoes (or a lot of anything). Northern California Bluegrass fans will remember that Jerry Garcia, of Old & in the Way, was nicknamed Spud.. I think a “Hoss” and “Dawg” and “Mule” also played in that band.

If your nickname is “Bubba” you probably have a younger brother who had difficulty with pronunciation when you were growing up. Lots of people use this as a synonym for uncultured rubes from the South (like me), but the meaning is actually more specific.

People who happen to have a W as the first letter of their first and middle, or first and last names, are called “Dubdub”. This is a popular nickname in my home state of South Carolina because some parents there named their kids after Woodrow Wilson, who had spent some time down there.

Lots of nicknames refer to physical attributes. “Pinky” is someone who’s hair is (or used to be) red. “Stick” is a name for someone tall and thin. “Puddinhead”, “Peahead” and “Punkinhead” may refer to cranial size or shape but have an implication toward cephalic vacuity. I actually once knew a guy named “Bubblehead”. He did have a big head, but lived up to his name in other ways as well.

If your nickname is “Buck”, you might be a skilled deer hunter. Then again, you might be someone who needs braces (if your teeth don’t fall out first from listening to too much Bluegrass).

“Slick” can either mean that you comb your hair straight back or that you chewed tobacco at one time in your life. Hopefully, you have abandoned this awful habit by now.

“Four Eyes” means that your spectacle prescription is two pages or more.

These are all established nicknames, but who says we can’t make up our own? After all, we’re Bluegrass fans and, like I said, we all need nicknames. I challenge you all to devise nicknames for all of your friends. Let’s greet each other in Grass Valley with creative noms de musique. But we have be the ones to make up good nicknames for our friends. They can’t just name themselves or else it won’t stick. To get you started, here are some ideas.

A gal named Ann could be “Annie”. If she’s small it’s even better. “Little Annie”. “Bascom” might mean that you can show up at any jam and play at least ten tunes that nobody else has ever heard before. “Hammer” could mean you play the Appalachian dulcimer and you don’t mind that almost everyone you know refers to it as the hammered dulcimer. “Squeeze Box”- You play the concertina (other slang applications I’ll leave to your imagination). “Maggie”, “Fern”, “Ida Red”. Bluegrass is full of names that could stick to someone you know. Let’s all find nicknames for each other, ‘cause ya gotta have one.
Posted:  5/24/2010

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