Saturday Matinee: Uncle Pen, Randy Lynne Rag, Dooley, Steam Powered Aeroplane


Bluegrass has its roots in northern Britain according to my ear. The chord patterns of early country music from Appalachia follow those of Scottish and Irish reels. In the immigration wave of the early 1800’s, the Scottish and Irish tended to venture southward, away from the constrictions of the north, to where they could work their own land. No wonder that early southern recordings sound similar to those of Ireland and Scotland.

Bill Monroe & his Bluegrass Boys popularized it and gave the style it’s moniker: Bluegrass. This song (video from 1956) is a tribute to Pendleton Vandiver, Monroe’s uncle. Monroe joined his uncle Pen’s band as a kid; his sound dates back to the turn of the century.

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs put Bluegrass on the popular map as pickin’ speed demons.

The Dillards were the Darlings clan on the Andy Griffith show. The Dillards decided that L.A. had more to offer than the Missouri Ozarks, and advertised themselves on the streets in the early 1960’s.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were influenced by the Dillards, and took Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr. BoJangles” for a ride.

What I was really looking for when all this linkyness began was New Grass Revival‘s version of “Steam Powered Aeroplane,” one of the prettiest bluegrass songs I ever heard:

"Well I went away on a Steam Powered Aeroplane.
Well I went and I stayed and damn near didn't come back again.
Didn't go very fast on a steam powered aeroplane,
The wheels went around, up and down, and inside and then back again.

 Sittin' on a 747 just watching them clouds roll by,
Can't tell if it's sunshine, if it's rain.
Rather be sittin' in a deck chair high up over Kansas City,
On a genuine old fashioned oil finish Steam Powered Aeroplane.

 Well I'd could be PILOT on the Steam Powered Aeroplane.
I'd pull that pilot wheel 'round, then back again.
And I'd wear a blue hat, YEAH, on the Steam Powered Aeroplane,
With letters go 'round the brim and then back again.

Sittin' on a 747 just watching them clouds roll by,
Can't tell if it's sunshine or if it's rain.
Rather be sittin' in a deck chair high up over Kansas City,
On a genuine old fashioned oil finish Steam Powered Aeroplane."

Here’s the songwriter, John Hartford, with Tony Rice, Vassar Clements and others. (Yeah, his vocals don’t do justice for the song.)

Great pre-sunrise morning roadtrip music, just like Pat Metheny’s “New Chataqua Highway,” or anything by Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli.

[Bunk’s compiling his roadtrip list for next month. Lemme know your favorites.]

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8 Responses to “Saturday Matinee: Uncle Pen, Randy Lynne Rag, Dooley, Steam Powered Aeroplane”

  1. phil Cordery Says:

    G’day Bunk
    Great choice of clips
    Just love Blue grass music
    Enjoyed the Dillards
    More of the same plaese


  2. wheels Says:

    Good stuff. For the Dillards, there’s a CD retrospective called “There Is A Time,” which has some great music on it. “Copperfields” and “Old Man at the Wheel” (I think I remembered the title properly) are pretty good from it.

    My favorite Tony Rice song has always been “California Autumn,” which can be found on a CD called “Cold on the Shoulder.” It’s got a number of Gordon Lightfoot covers on it.

    Bela Fleck’s “Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Volume 2: The Bluegrass Sessions” is pretty good. And Tony Furtado does some good work, too … I really like his Celtic medley “Jenny’s Wedding/Rakish Paddy.”

    Never got to see John Hartford, but Vassar Clements and John Hickman came through with Mason WIlliams a few years ago. Great concert, and I got signatures: John Hickman in my copy of “Masters of the Five-String Banjo” and Mason WIlliams on my copies of “The Mason WIlliams Reading Matter” and the sheet music for “Classical Gas,” which he said was originally written for the banjo.


  3. Bunk Strutts Says:



    I’d forgotten about Mason Williams… “Classical Gas” lost me after the violins kicked in, but I guess that’s what made it “Classical.”

    Got that Dillards compilation somewhere. Good stuff, including “Ebo Walker.”

    Pure Prairie League and the Marshall Tucker Band were two from the ’70s that I followed, although they were more pop than country. At least they had a little pickin’ talent. Marshall Tucker’s “Last of the Singing Cowboys” was excellent; PPL’s “Amie” was overplayed, but they had some others that I remember liking but can’t name.

    Dickie Betts (Allman Bros. Band) had a pretty good solo album. “Kissimee Kid” was one song I remember that I’ve forgotten.

    Thanx a wad for the list. (You payin’ ‘tention to this Phil?)


  4. wheels Says:

    Yep. One of the reasons I like bluegrass is the pure virtuosity that gets shown on the instruments.

    I remembered better about the Dillards’ song … it’s “Old Man at the Mill” … “Same old man, sittin’ at the mill. The mill turns around of its own free will. Hand on the hopper and the other on the sack. The ladies step forward and the men step back.”

    I meant to say in my original comment that I hadn’t been aware of any covers of “Steam-powered Aeroplane.” I’ll have to try to find that one. I do remember one humorous thing that happened the first time I attended one of Pete Wernick’s banjo camps. Pete was playing various songs for us, mostly showing us how different keys and tunings affected the music, and asked if anyone had any requests. One guy asked for “A Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas.”

    If you like hammered dulcimer, one person to look for is Tony Elman. “Shaking Down the Acorns” has at least two volumes out. Good folk music and fiddle tunes. He’s also got a CD of original compositions called “Earth Tones,” IIRC.

    Something else to look for is a CD called something like “The Great Dobro Sessions.” Various players, all great.


  5. Bunk Strutts Says:

    Funny how one comment or post kinda knocks everything off the shelf.

    I’ve kinda been partial to mandolin, although I never played one; could never hold a pick. Ricky Skaggs is in my top ten.

    My grampa Pop Strutts played fiddle, actually made ’em too, out of gourds. One of the earliest songs I remember was “Turkey In the Straw.” Although he sent me outside once to practice a fiddlin’ lesson, I never followed up.

    I can play a mean “Turkey in the Straw” on harmonica, though.

    P.S. The cover of “Steam Powered Aeroplane” by the New Grass Revival is on their “Commonwealth” album. Their 1977 album “When the Storm is Over” is a better collection, including “Vamp in the Middle” and “Collie Davis.” The latter is right up there with the creepy folk song “Knoxville Girl.”

    I gotta figger an easy way to post some of these classics.


  6. wheels Says:

    That (“can’t hold a pick”) is why I’ve never made progress with my mandollin to date. Of course, it took me 20 years before I got anywhere on 5-string banjo, and now I’m doing more with ukulele than anything else. Do you have the “Masters of the Mandolin” CD by Bobby Osborne and Jesse MacReynolds? It’s got some good stuff on it.

    I keep thinking I need to spend more time trying to accomplish something with a didgeridoo, because one study has shown that it helps alleviate sleep apnea, which I have. Never could get the resonance going for more than a few seconds, though.


  7. Bunk Strutts Says:

    As far as the sleep apnea goes, it’s intuitively obvious to the casual observer that one cannot sleep while playing a didgeridoo, let alone listening to one. I hear that they’re easier to pick, though.


  8. Saturday Matinee: Ebo Walker & Black Napkins & Sticky Notes « Tacky Raccoons Says:

    […] [Related Post here.] […]


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