Diamond in the Rough

BLUEGRASS MUSIC for your listening pleasure.


Recorded live at Pete Szkolka Studio, Columbia, MO. April 2008

Pippa¬† & Friends: Mark Borzillo, mandolin–Kyle Brown, dobro–Jim Higgins, banjo–Kevin Schults, bass–special guests (not pictured), Dan McKown, Terry McKown, Ken Stroker (photo credit: Greetings-from-Earth)

I had such a blast making the Three Songs for Sally CD, I thought I could maybe go for a full-length CD, and see how that turned out. So…

I asked some friends (among the finest bluegrass pickers in the state) if they’d help. They said yes. We spent one day in Pete’s studio and recorded fifteen songs on the fly (as Kevin put it, “all in one pile like that”), and thirteen of them made it to the final CD.

The original title was “Barefoot Nellie: Songs from the Bluegrass Colonies.” The concept was to center a group of songs around the old convict songs from the Georgia and Australia colonies–and show the folk process in action. I wanted to record two songs from opposite ends of the world that have exactly the same verse (though the words in fact are a little bit different, see the liner notes). But the concept and the title just would not fly.

One song refused to get recorded. This was the Australian song, “Botany Bay,” and with it went the whole concept of the album. Two more songs insisted on getting on the disk. These were the ones with the McKowns, and one of them was “River Cowboy,” written by the River Cowboy himself, Jerome Wheeler. Then I was working with the recordings we had, and there were glitches we just couldn’t fix, so it’s ROUGH, and I was wondering, “What the blank am I doing? I can’t sing!” and then the second title “Diamond in the Rough Bluegrass” took hold. And that one flew. This is the “blue” CD, being as it is a blue diamond, and it is recorded live and somewhat rough.

Now for some of the songs…


Sweet Heaven when I Die. I’ve searched the Web for the authoring info. on this song, and somewhere it says it’s Norman Blake wrote it, but elsewhere Doc Watson recorded it on a Smithsonian Institution recording, and there it is labeled as traditional (that is, public domain). For some reason, this is the song that jumps up when I’m starting up a show, when sometimes all the lyrics fly out the window and I cannot remember one dang thing! This song just comes up in the fingers on the guitar, and in my mind it says, “You can catch the words of this one, OK? Let’s go!” So it’s only natural this is the first song on the CD as well. It starts abrupt, but the music catches on pretty quick. And I hope you enjoy.

Columbus Stockade Blues. This is a regular old Public Domain song of woe, imprisonment, and unrequited love, totally fitting the bluegrass genre. Folks who aren’t so keen on bluegrass ask me, “Why do you like to sing such miserable songs all the time? How depressing!” but you know, if you sing about someone in much worse circumstances than yourself, then you can get to feeling a whole lot better about your own situation. It’s called catharsis, and I’ve had folks tell me it works… also this song is just great, that true old high lonesome sound!

River Cowboy–You can watch me mess up on the words, right here! (No mess up on the CD, I promise!) This was one of the songs that insisted on getting recorded. It’s by Jerome Wheeler, and the name of his last band was the River Cowboy Tour. I had the honor to play doghouse bass in that band for the last eighteen months of Jerome’s life, and it’s through Jerome that I made friends with Mike at Cooper’s Landing, who provides a great place for local musicians to perform. “River Cowboy” is the title song of Jerome’s last CD, which is made up of live and studio recordings of Jerome from the final years of his life. Twelve songs on there feature the band, and I get to sing lead on two songs. Jerome and Mike also developed the idea of the Missouri River Cultural Conservancy (MoRivCC) in the attempt to document, record, and archive the local singer-songwriters of the mid-Missouri River region. There are lots of MoRivCC recordings up on YouTube, even some of Jerome and the Catnip Mouse Band from 1983. So the title song of his CD just plain insisted to be on this CD, and how could I refuse? Sometimes I get to play this song with The Strawmen.