Author: Campbell, Bruce

What’s in a Name?
OK! You have practiced your bluegrass pickin’ and singin’ chops and honed them to near perfection. You have found 3 or 4 musical comrades whose skills complement your own, and have sweated and struggled to create a tight cohesive bluegrass unit. Your harmonies are exquisite, the act is READY! Time to hit the bricks and get some bookings!

Not so fast, there, Bucko. You have to have a name for your act. Sometimes, all the stuff described in the first paragraph is easier than choosing a name for the band. Remember, all the members of the band have to agree on this name. Good luck!

It’s so unfair, really. I don’t think Bill Monroe had to struggle to name his band. Of course it’s “Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys”. No brainer. Things were simpler in those days, I guess. A lot of bands were named after the star member, and then the backup band had some name, usually the [fill in the blank] Boys. The brother acts were even easier to name. If your act stars two brothers, whose last name is Louvin, what are you gonna call yourselves? If their last name is Stanley, what do you do?

I don’t know of ANY act, in ANY musical genre that failed solely because of the band’s name. If the Dead Kennedys and Hoobastank can make a living, it’s impossible to choose a name so bad that your career stalls in response.

There’s an easy way out, you know. Let me help you by showing you this ever-so-simple Bluegrass Band Naming Tool. It’s a little like algebra so pay close attention, and have your number 2 pencils ready. Here’s the formula: Your band name is “The [place name] [geographical feature] [boys/brothers/ramblers/rounders/family/band/drifters].

So, whip out a map of your home town. Surely there’s a creek, a river, a mountain, or a valley or a knob or something in the region. Find one that has a cool name, and you’re halfway there! (Hint: you can mix and match if you like. If you like the name of a nearby river, but want “creek” or “valley” in your name, it’s perfectly OK!) Next, just choose from the handy list I’ve provided, and you’re The Devil Mountain Ramblers, or the Mokelumne River Drifters, or the Round Valley Boys. It’s that easy!

Oh, but the urge to be clever is strong in you artistic types, and some wonderful band names that defy my handy formula abound. “Seldom Scene” is a wry pun, as is “Hoof Hearted” and “Past Due and Playable”. Obscure references are fun, too. “King Wilkie” seems like a bizarre name for a Bluegrass band until you find out it’s the name of one of Bill Monroe’s horses! How cool is that? How long did it take them to come up with that name, I wonder…

Other names have a quiet dignity: The “Country Gentlemen”, or “Lonesome Standard Time” are good examples of this type of name. No goofy puns or tongues-in-cheek here, and nothing to explain, (which is something Creedence Clearwater Revival had to deal with their whole short career.)

Naming the band is a lot of fun, and it’s also a pain. Naming your band will test your interpersonal compatibility as surely as choosing window treatments will test a marriage. Sometimes, a new band will actually break up over the band name decision-making process. In those cases, it’s probably just as well. How many potentially great bands fell by the wayside because they couldn’t find a name all the members could live with? We’ll never know….
Posted:  7/27/2005

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