September 30, 2022 The IBMA Awards

The excellent bluegrass site Bluegrass Today has the full list of IBMA awards winners from last night.

Congratulations to all winners and nominees!

Country fans who don’t follow bluegrass closely will quickly notice the couple of wins for Dolly Parton for her collaboration with Jerry Salley, Carl Jackson, Larry Cordle, and Bradley Walker. I will see Salley, Jackson, and Cordle as a trio at the Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival in Texas in a couple of weeks. IBMA male vocalist of the year Del McCoury will be there, too.

Béla Fleck had the most IBMA wins with four.

Billy Strings won IBMA Entertainer of the Year for the second straight year. He also recently won the Americana Music Association Artist of the Year.

In April, I saw Billy Strings in Austin and in June, I saw him perform at Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium. Here’s my phone video from April (blurry picture, but pretty good sound):

Moody Amphitheater near the Texas State Capitol

September 25, 2022 Kazoo History

Unfortunately, most online results when searching for the history of the kazoo appear to be some quite fanciful fiction by the comedy act Kaminsky International Kazoo Quartet in the late 1970s. The simple truth of the matter is that various instruments with kazoo-like membranes have been known for hundreds of years or more on multiple continents, whether it’s the African horn mirliton or the Chinese dizi or the various onion flutes and eunuch flutes of Europe. The idea that anyone “invented” this way to make sound in the 1840s (hundreds of years after it was well documented on multiple continents) is laughably stupid, yet somehow widely treated as gospel fact by those who prefer “narratives” to facts, which is all too common in modern society. Facts are facts.

The site Kazoologist hasn’t been updated in years, but the site looked up the actual kazoo patents (follow the given link). The most familiar “submarine” kazoo design wasn’t patented until 1902, with commercial production over a decade later. The first patent that referenced the word “kazoo” was in 1883. A company called Knobtown Kazoos makes handmade versions of kazoos based on this patent and other patents that soon followed. The Kazoologist found a patent from 1879 that appears to be a kazoo instrument. This patent often gets overlooked because the term “kazoo” wasn’t used.

However, the very earliest patent for a kazoo-related instrument on the Kazoologist site is from 1877. This instrument design does not have a membrane as such. Rather, the frame itself of the round instrument provides the sound effect. Later patents such as the 1917 Buchler patent followed the same basic idea. I know of no common name for this sort of instrument. The Hum-A-Tune was so popular in the 1930s that a special souvenir version was sold for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The excellent Nose Flute blog even found a silent film clip of someone playing one at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. I could not find a single audio clip anywhere of anyone playing one of these things, but I found one cheap and posted a video myself: Robert plays 1930s Hum-A-Tune instrument,. This whole classification of “frame-type instruments that sound akin to kazoos” was patented before the familiar kazoo itself and is largely unknown today despite enjoying considerable popularity in the 1930s. There were other related designs in the 1940s-1950s, but they’re mostly forgotten now, in favor of the much more common kazoos with membranes. The South American instrument matofono appears related.

In the early 1940s (patent filed in 1941 and approved in 1942), there was an instrument called a Sing-A-Tina which is some sort of kazoo relative. The only video online of this instrument is by Poorness Studios, so be sure to check it out. It is hard to tell without seeing one in person exactly what is going on inside the device. Of particular interest to country music, Zeke Manners of the Beverly Hillbillies (the 1930s country group, not the 1960s-70s television show by that name), sold the Sing-A-Tina by mail order. He called himself the Jewish Hillbilly and had a very long career.

The Early Sports and Pop Culture History blog published an outstanding article in 2017 about the etymology of the kazoo and bazooka. One might recall the Bob Burns bazooka instrument that was popular during WWII. Especially interesting is the bit about Thomas Edison drawing inspiration from the comb-and-paper when designing the phonograph.

September 24, 2022 Current Update: Pech & Schwefel, etc.

There’s a ton of new music out in the last couple of weeks, including albums by Dailey and Vincent, Sunny Sweeney, Kendell Marvel, and Gene Watson.

The Lowdown Drifters have an album coming out next week and they have a couple of shows in central Texas coming up, so be sure to check them out when they come through your town. The band was formed in Washington state, but is now based in Texas.

A Las Vegas sister duo to watch is “The Pretty Wild,” who recently signed with the Sony partnership Records Co. They recorded for years as “Jill and Julia.” I do not use the description “pop country” as a pejorative, but simply to describe an act that plays both country and all-genre festivals.

Yesterday, I saw Austrian band Pech & Schwefel at Krause’s Cafe in New Braunfels, Texas. The band has been around a long time, but they don’t play very many dates in the US, so catch them if you get the chance during this US Oktoberfest tour. Krause’s is one of my favorite venues in Texas. The food is very good and there’s a good variety of musical acts. Polka bands are especially well represented at Krause’s, but there are country and other bands, too. The most viewed post in the history of Robert’s Country Blog is from a charity event at Krause’s that featured many of the top names in the Texas/Red Dirt Scene: Evan Felker, Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers, Cody Canada, etc.

Pech & Schwefel were a lot of fun yesterday. The four-man band mostly sang in German, but the lead singer mentioned that his father is Croatian, so they also did a Croatian song. They sprinkled in a few songs in English, like “Sweet Caroline,” “(Is This The Way To) Amarillo,” “(Simply) The Best,” “Proud Mary,” and “Achy Breaky Heart.” Yes, the Austrian polka band covered “Achy Breaky Heart.” They did an accordion version of the classic “Clarinet Polka.” When you listen to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, notice the fiddle version of “Clarinet Polka” at commercial breaks.

September 15, 2022 The 100 Sounds Series and Slideshows

I’ll go “off topic” for today’s post. I’m not a proper musician or performer. I simply like making noise. To celebrate 100 subscribers on my YouTube channel, I decided on a whim to create the

100 Sounds Series

No, this isn’t “country music.” It’s just me goofing around on as many noisemakers as I could find, even tin cans and other kitchen items. I doubted that I could even think of a hundred things. It took me nearly a month to put together this collection of about 100 minutes of action. I have a lot of fun with it, even if nobody else enjoys what I do.

I’ve taken thousands of phone photos over the years, so I have also begun assembling some of these into slideshows. With the exception of the Country Slideshow, I also made the backing tracks. For the Country Slideshow, I used William McEwan’s version of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and Bentley Ball’s version of “Dying Cowboy.” These are very old, very scratchy records, but there’s such great history to these songs. I have made seven slideshows so far and I have plans to make more in coming weeks. Here’s my slideshow playlist:

In other news, I am looking forward to the Bloomin’ Bluegrass Festival in Farmers Branch, Texas next month. This is easily the biggest annual bluegrass event in the Lone Star State. My brother and I had a great time there last year. This weekend also kicks off Oktoberfest season, so we plan to see Alex Meixner this weekend. Alex was recently inducted into the International Polka Hall of Fame. He collaborated with area country artists Walt Wilkins and Jade Marie Patek at shows this summer. I had also planned to go to the Lockhart Western Swing Festival next week, but it was cancelled. As always, thanks for reading!

I do still keep up somewhat with current country music, and my 2022 Country Videos list is up to 65 entries. I limit this playlist to one video per artist. The video must have been released during the calendar year 2022 and must include some visual component (not just an audio file). This is not meant to be a “best of” or “most traditional,” but rather somewhat of a cross section of releases, like a time capsule. I have been making YouTube country lists of this sort since 2015. There are traditional artists, but also modern. There is a good bit of bluegrass, too. If I could find more cowboy and western swing entries, I’d include them, too.

September 7, 2022 Award Nominees

There are so many awards that it’s hard to keep up with them all, but we’ll look at a few today:

The Academy of Western Artists 26th awards will be October 13th.

2023 Ameripolitan Awards will be February 17-19th.

The CMA Awards will be November 9th. Nominees were announced this morning. Lainey Wilson has the most nominations with six. The first time I saw her was in 2016 when she was an independent artist opening a show for Frank Foster. Morgan Wallen has dominated the charts the last couple of years and he is up for three awards including entertainer. The eligibility for the “New Artist” category is the head scratcher every year. Hardy was also a “new artist” nominee last year and Cody Johnson three years ago. Cody Johnson released his first independent album in 2006. Walker Hayes released his first single in 2010.

The Dove Awards will be October 18th.

The IBMA awards will be September 29th.

The Grand Master Fiddler Championship was September 3-4th.

The IWMA awards will be November 12th.

The Josie Awards will be October 23rd.

September 5, 2022 Steve n Seagulls

Steve n Seagulls is a band from Finland that covers rock and metal songs (especially 70s-90s) with bluegrass instruments and an accordion. On Friday, my brother and I saw them perform in Austin at a venue called Come And Take It Live. The five-piece band kept the energy high throughout their 90-minute set. They also brought their own sound guy and their tour manager.

The accordion player also played keyboard, flute, and mandolin. The lead singer played mostly mandolin and guitar. The bass player played fiddle on one song. The banjo player sang lead on some songs and also played acoustic and slide guitar. The drummer drummed. There was plenty of musicianship on display.

August 13, 2022 Concerts Last Week

My YouTube channel just passed 100 subscribers. I’m glad people are enjoying it. I’ve had the channel for over seven years, so it’s been a slow climb.

Last Sunday, we saw Rye Mountain Revelry at Gruene Hall. This Austin-based act combines bluegrass, country, and rock. Their first full length album is forthcoming. The five piece band is fronted by the husband-and-wife team of Eric and Anna Madden. Eric is originally from eastern Kentucky. He plays acoustic guitar and sings lead. Anna plays fiddle and sings harmony vocals. The other members of the band play drums, electric bass, and one musician splits time between mandolin and electric guitar. In addition to their original songs, they covered classic country like Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash and classic rock like the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead. They even did a bluegrassy cover of Bob Marley.

On Wednesday, we saw Der Klein Steins at Krause’s in New Braunfels. This band has been a fixture in central Texas for decades at Oktoberfests. The Swingin’ Dutchmen formed in 1965. Der Klein Steins are a subset of that larger group, formed in 1989 to play smaller shows than the full group. The five-piece band specializes in the music of central Europe: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic,etc. They do a good job introducing and explaining the songs in English before singing in German or Czech. As is most often the case with American polka bands, a few American country songs also show up in the set, such as “Crazy,” “Fraulein,” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).”

On Thursday, we saw Jake Shimabukuro and Andrea Magee at the 04 Center in Austin. The venue is an old Methodist church with a very high ceiling. This was our first time to visit this venue, but it was very nice. It was weird to see so many of the people in the audience in Austin still wearing masks, because thirty miles away in San Marcos, most everyone was done with that crap a long time ago.

Anyway, the opening act was Andrea Magee, who was accompanied by guitar player Dave Scher. We had seen her a couple of times with Beat Root Revival, but she is currently working on her solo career. She is best described as an “Irish singer-songwriter,” as her music doesn’t neatly fit in any popular American genre. She played guitar, bodhrán, flute, and tin whistle and all of the songs she performed were originals. She will have an album release concert at the 04 Center next month and Dave Scher will also release an EP the same date. Andrea Magee frequently plays shows in the Austin area as a solo artist, but also with groups Beat Root Revival, Ulla (group of Irish artists in the Austin area), and PAACK (group of Austin-area women songwriters).

Jake Shimabukuro is a true master of the ukulele. The Hawaiian has collaborated with top artists from every genre over the years, and the album he released last year, “Jake and Friends” is definitely worth your time. Although it’s not a “country” album, it does feature Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel, Billy Strings, and Vince Gill. Jake’s music feels young and fresh, so it might come as a surprise when digging into his musical catalog to find out how long he has been doing this. Although Jake is especially known for his rock influences, he has toured and collaborated with such artists as Bela Fleck and Jimmy Buffett, so you get a bit of everything. “Orange World” is his bluegrass-inspired tribute to Bela Fleck. He recorded the song in 2003 and it is still a fixture in his set. If you’re a fan of great musicianship, regardless of genre, be sure to see Jake Shimabukuro in concert. It was just him and an electric bass player, but they brought it. I’ll also mention that I saw Jake talking to fans outside the venue an hour or so before the show and he patiently waited for a little boy and his mother to go back to their car to bring back the child’s ukulele to sign. There was no “VIP level-only meet and greet” business like you see with so many of today’s country and pop music stars. It was just an artist being a good guy and appreciating every fan, without regard for what “level” they paid for tickets. Both Jake Shimabukuro and Andrea Magee stayed after the show to talk to fans, too.

August 4, 2022 What CMA Fest Didn’t Show On TV

Although my musical tastes are mostly more old fashioned, I did go to Nashville for CMA week. Last night, ABC aired a three hour CMA Fest show. Of course, the three hours that they chose to show is generally the “poppiest” material from the stadium. There are multiple stages during the day all four days. Including the many “unofficial” stages during the week, there are literally hundreds of artists to choose from.

The television show featured 25 artists, now listed on the CMA Fest app and web site. I planned to compare the list of 25 to the full list of stadium performers, but very curiously, the CMA erased the full list from both the app and web site.

The one omission that jumps out the most is Keith Urban, who was the closing act on Thursday. The television show ignored him completely, but aired multiple songs from several artists like Thomas Rhett (who did some awful attempt at rapping) and Lady A. Whatever you think of Keith Urban or his music, one must wonder why he was omitted from the ABC presentation.

Here are others who performed at Nissan Stadium who didn’t appear on the TV special: Deana Carter, Sara Evans, Everette, Randy Houser, Angie K, Kylie Morgan, Shenandoah, Priscilla Block, Madeline Edwards, Kat + Alex, Maddie & Tae, Frank Ray, Lily Rose, Dylan Scott, Brittney Spencer, Gabby Barrett, and Mitchell Tenpenny. Additionally, Zac Brown featured Marcus King on one song and King Calaway on another. Dierks Bentley featured Charlie Worsham on a song. That’s a whole lot of people we saw at the stadium who weren’t on the TV show.

I realize coverage of “pop country” isn’t likely to be very interesting to most who read my site, but I also believe that someone somewhere needed to write this article and I didn’t see anyone else doing so.

August 2, 2022 Early August Update

The Academy of Western Artists awards will be October 13. Here’s the list of nominees.

The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame will have its 52nd annual induction October 30. This year’s inductees are Shania Twain, Hillary Lindsey, Steve Wariner, Gary Nicholson, and David Malloy.

Marty Stuart posted a recap video today of his annual late night jam at the Ryman Auditorium in June, which I enjoyed attending: Marty Stuart’s 19th Late Night Jam .

Here’s a bit of history from The Tractors: “It was on this day in 1994 The Tractors released their debut album “The Tractors.” It sold over 2 million copies and received two Grammy nominations, won CMT Video of the Year for the hit single “Baby Likes to Rock It” and remains the top-selling record of all time recorded in Oklahoma! It was also the fastest-selling country group debut in music history.”

Here’s a video from 1995 of Vince Gill and The Tractors at the ACM Awards . Steve Ripley of The Tractors is credited for the naming “red dirt” music in the 1970s.

Last week, I saw the Eurofest Trio at Krause’s in New Braunfels, Texas. The group specializes in music from central and eastern Europe, but it’s worth noting that the leader of the group plays autoharp and won a national yodeling championship in 1976. I think Patsy Montana was one of the judges? Members of the group used to be in a group called The Sauerkrauts. It’s not “country music” as such, but there’s one guy yodeling and playing autoharp, one guy playing accordion, and one guy playing bass fiddle (though they often have a tuba player, instead). When’s the last time you heard an autoharp at a country concert? Yodeling?

I also saw Del Castillo last week at San Marcos Summer In The Park, a free concert series. Most of their music is in Spanish and I guess I’d call it Latin Rock. This band has been around since 2000, and they once did a collaboration with Willie Nelson. What stands out the most about this band is the rapid fire guitar picking by two very skilled players trading leads.

July 31, 2022 Garth at AT&T

I had never been to a concert in a domed stadium, so yesterday, I saw Garth Brooks at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Tickets were just under $100, which is a lot more reasonable than some of the young hot shots who haven’t accomplished nearly as much.

There were no opening acts announced ahead of time, but songwriter Matt Rossi was the opener. He sang one of his songs, plus a George Strait song, a David Allan Coe song, and closed with Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight.”

Trisha Yearwood was the second opener, and her hits were very well received by the stadium full of fans. Many fans sang along to every word.

Garth Brooks put on quite the show, with his early hits featured most prominently. He had a huge number of band members on stage (I didn’t count, but he introduced probably twenty or so), some of whom have been part of his touring band since the very beginning of his career. Additionally, there were several members of the “G Men,” studio musicians who played on his classic albums, but were not on the road with him then. Garth performed several audience requests. Trisha came back out and sang some duets with Garth. Garth said his performance was being taped for a live album. Garth also spoke highly of legends who influenced him, such as George Strait, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley.

Mini keytar?