Author: Campbell, Bruce

Tips for Achieving Bluegrass Cred

Last week, Peter Barnato sent me a funny little story about what is, and what isn’t “The Blues”, and I thought similar tips would be helpful for those of you wanting to be Bluegrass stars, or songwriters.
Good names for Bluegrass performers are Vern, Del, Audie, Frank and Bill. Lance, Graham, Mario and Trevor are not very good Bluegrass names.
If you’re going to sing about a place in a Bluegrass song, it should nearly always be a cabin, preferably “up in the hills”, or “down in the hollow”. The cabin may also be situated in a “glen”, or perhaps a “glade”. If the cabin in your song is located downtown, this will hurt your song’s credibility severely. And singing about a condo won’t work, even if the condo is up in the hills in a wooded area.
As in the Blues, the best mode of transportation in a Bluegrass song is a train, especially a freight train. Points off if your train is an Amtrak luxury car, with tinted windows. A Greyhound bus is also appropriate transportation, especially if you try and board without any money. Horses are another good mode of transportation, and you can come off VERY Bluegrass is you use pithy terms like “mare”, “roan” and “stud”. “Gelding” is not quite as Bluegrass. Every horse in a Bluegrass song must be the best horse that ever was, and the same goes for any dogs you mention too (although using a dog as a form of transportation is not even a little Bluegrass – it’s just plain weird) Examples of decidedly NON-Bluegrass forms of transportation would be HumVees, rickshaws, Lear jets and Segways.
Good things to sing about in a Bluegrass songs are missing your cabin, missing your girl, missing your parents, missing being out of prison, and wanting more whiskey. Reducing your credit card debt, dealing with Restless Leg Syndrome, or taking equity out of your (non-cabin) home is not very Bluegrassy. If you are singing about missing your girl, you may want to consider singing about wandering the countryside, or maybe even the whole planet, looking for her. You can spend valuable time, too, wondering where she could be. This is normal, and completely acceptable.
If you’re going to sing believable Bluegrass, you want to look the part, but there is a lot of leeway. You can go VERY rural, with overalls and a gingham shirt, or affect a more music-biz look with a fancy Nudie suit and an expensive hat. In general, “bling” is not very Bluegrass, although a lapel pin or even a pinkie ring might fly. But Mercedes –Benz hood ornaments dangling in your chest hairs will not work. Sporting a diamond studded “grill” is also NOT Bluegrass.
Your band should also have an appropriate Bluegrass name. In general, you cannot go wrong with a Bluegrass band name that follows this format:
“The [place name] [mountain, creek, valley, hollow or river] [boys, rounders, brothers, drifters, ramblers or band]”.
I hope these tips clear up a lot of confusion among CBA members.

Posted:  7/25/2007

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