Author: Cornish, Rick

New Standards

This past June marked my 34th year practicing, being aggressively in search of and generally adoring bluegrass jams. Oh, and I’m just plain interested in them, too. Interested in the dynamics, the rules (or lack there of), life cycle of jams and, most especially, the songs that have been played over the years. In three plus decades, you can believe I’ve seen a lot of favorites come and go…..and, of course, a lot of favorites that have never left—these would be called ‘standards’. I’ve made it sort of a hobby to mentally catalogue the songs that come and go and stay in bluegrass jams, and that’s why I was particularly interested in a Bluegrass-L discussion a couple days ago started by Joe Ross, a frequent record reviewer for the CBA…..I’ve presented some of it below. Note, do not despair at its length—you can quite reading any time you want


Bluegrassers are familiar with all the "standards" that came into the repertoire from Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley Bros, etc. What are some of the new bluegrass "standards" that have come along in the last 10-20 years that we're now hearing regularly on albums and at festivals & concerts?

Joe Ross

Well, there's ....ummm...and then there's unnnhhhh....

I think one of the problems here may be that the more popular
bluegrass songs of today are more musically sophisticated than a
generation ago, and they're just harder to cover. Many of them would
be considered jam busters.

Are you saying there aren't any songs good enough today that are as good as
the standards of the 50's etc?

There are a few basic factors that play into this:

1. In the early days of bluegrass it was not uncommon for one band to have a "HIT" on a song and within the next 6 months or sooner all the other top bands would jump on the bandwagon and record their versions of that song. Not unusual to have the same song recorded by Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, The Osborne Bros, Jimmy Martin etc. This does NOT happen anymore. If one band has a "hit" on a song it isn't gonna get recorded by another "top" band. Now it may get recorded by smaller regional bands and local bands but to have say Doyle Lawson, IIIrd Tyme Out, Blue Highway and say Jr. Sisk record the SAME newer tune within a few months of each other just doesn't happen any more. Therefore right away you have less exposure to any one tune.

2. Most bluegrassers cut their teeth jamming on the old warhorses. Heck I love em too!!! There is a reluctance to learn new material for jamming. So many times you have to teach the tune to the group and they don't want any part of it. Let's just play what we know!!! Songs that are jammed and passed down become standards.

3. There are many songs that can equal the quality of the old standards and many being written each year by some GREAT bluegrass writers. These writers don't take a back seat to any of the original writers of this music.

4. I guess time will tell as the younger crowd matures and we'll see what
songs they will jam as "standards". I'll be it will include songs like:

In the Gravel Yard
Tennessee 1949
The Dream
Stray Dogs & Alley Cats
Black Diamond Strings
Lonesome Dove
The Old Coal Mine (SSP)
Lonesome Pine
Hard Rock Mountain Prison
The Mark
All American Bluegrass Girl
Georgia Girl
West Virginia Girl
Colleen Malone

And I could 100's more.

You might say....hey....I don't know many of them songs. WHY NOT!!!!!?????? Probably because folks are stuck in their same old, same old and comfortable that way and just don't take the time to learn new tunes. Nothing wrong with that but.....there is a HUGE world of new standards being written every year. Ask yourself...when was the last time I sat down and learned 5 new tunes???? Heck even 1 new tune????? If you can't name 5 or 10 new "standards" shame on y'all. :) Explore it and you'll have a BLAST.
Just my 2 cents,

Just a thought, but don't I recall a thread sometime ago about the "dangers" of jamming with "new bluegrass songs" at Uncle Dave's Country Store. That to do so, could cause the "copyright patrol" to come calling on Uncle Dave if he sold a pepsi during the jam and had not purchased the appropriate license to cover these copyrights. Just wondering!

Hate to tell you but the "Old bluegrass" standards are mostly still under
the same "copyright" laws as the new ones. Very few are in the 'public domain'. Maybe some of the old time fiddle tunes etc but anything written in the 40s/50s still are under copyright. I'm not a lawyer but I think the copyright lasts for the life of the writer + 75 years. But I'm sure someone will correct me on that as I know there have been some changes there.


Colleen Malone certainly rates as a standard. Playable, good tune, good jam tune. Hot Rize is the source of many of today's new standards. I actually don't recognize most of the songs on your list, so either I'm an ignoramus or those songs aren't standards yet (take your pick!) Another good source of new standards, IMHO, are the recordings of Laurie Lewis, e.g. Val's Cabin, Tall Pines, Black Waters, Who Will Watch the Home Place? How about Man of Constant Sorrow (OBWAT) and some of the goodies from the DFTM album?

Agree with you about Tennessee 1949, Colleen Malone, and In The Gravel Yard ... I'd say those are already standards ... and will endure. Are you speaking of "Lonesome Pines" recorded by Blue Highway? And "By The Mark" recorded by Gillian Welch? I'd put some of the others on your list in a "potential standard" category; they certainly could endure, but only time will tell for sure. You did get me thinking about more recent songs that I regularly hear in jams. I would add a few to the list (& hope I have all the credits right off the top of my head):

Red Clay Halo - Gillian Welch / Nashville Bluegrass Band
Blue Virginia Blues - written by Pete Gobel and Leroy Drumm
Walk The Way The Wind Blows - written by Tim O'Brien for Hot Rize
Radio Boogie - Hot Rize
Love Grown Cold - Lynn Morris
Train Carrying Jimmie Rogers Home - Nashville Bluegrass Band
Old Devil's Dream - Nashville Bluegrass Band
Tear My Stillhouse Down - Nashville Bluegrass Band
Highway 40 Blues - written by Larry Cordle? recorded by Lonesome Standard
Time, Ricky Skaggs and others
Steel Rails - written by Louisa Branscomb, right? recorded by Alison Krauss
I've Got That Old Feeling - Alison Krauss
Is The Grass Any Bluer? - Rhonda Vincent

I've always been fond of songs from Gobel and Drumm .... and quite a few of Randall Hylton's too.

I am somewhat guilty for not learning many new bluegrass "standards" in recent years. No excuses except that I'm learning more of the old classics, writing my own, or playing music in other genres.

I did learn "I'm Gonna Love You Like There's No Tomorrow" and "D-18" several years back, and there are a number of songs recorded by Longview, James King, Larry Sparks, Del McCoury and others I'd like to eventually imprint into my gray matter. They have several I think will become "standards" if they aren't already.

Back in May 1996, B.U. started showing how many months a song had been in the Natl. Bluegrass Survey. Some songs lasted in their "top 30" for 12 months or more. I'm not sure which songs hold the records since they started the survey. Do you think a song's endurance there in the BU Survey might help it become a "standard" in the long term? Think there's any correlation with that?

Glad you mentioned Laurie Lewis. She does have some good ones, and I agree some are destined to become standards. I always enjoy the song "Texas Bluebonnets" when they do that one.

I was surprised, and pleased, to hear a jam group at Dumplin' Valley singing The Gibson Brothers' "Ring the Bell," a catchy, easy to learn song. Standards become standard when they've been around long enough to sink into the public consciousness. I think that Daniel Levitin (http://tedleh
Posted:  10/29/2010

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email