BLUEGRASS SOURCES (4th Edition: 9/14/2010)

by David E. Wunsch

[Note: This material is copyrighted by David E. Wunsch, and may not be reproduced without his permission. If you have any corrections or comments, contact David at or me at]

Bluegrass began in about 1938, when Bill Monroe organized the Bluegrass Boys. Bluegrass music as a genre didn’t yet exist, because it wasn’t yet named. Older songs and tunes couldn’t have been “Bluegrass” when they were written; there was yet no Bluegrass. We have come to call songs and tunes “Bluegrass” if they are, or have been, recorded by a “major” bluegrass band (say Bill Monroe or the Stanley Brothers or Reno and Smiley). This poses the question: What is a “major” Bluegrass band? It is my opinion that a “major” bluegrass band should meet the following criteria:

1. The band must use approximately Bill Monroe's instrumentation. Which is: 5-string banjo, picked Scruggs style, fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and upright bass, all acoustic. No keyboard, no drum, no electrics, no brass, no woodwinds, and no accordion.
2. No less than 4 players nor more than 6.
3. The band should have used the same name for more than 3 years.
4. The band should have recorded, released and sold more than 3 CDs (or equivalent) or more than 30 songs and tunes. (No, I don't know how to check on this.)
5. The band should have total CD (or equivalent) sales of more than 25,000. (No, I don't know how to check. There is probably a way.)
6. Band should have been paid for live performances in at least 4 states. (Nor this either.)

There is much room for argument about the proper criteria. There are probably other equally serviceable (or better) lists of criteria than this.

Below is a short list of songs, randomly picked from my memory. It is probably less than 1% of today’s still growing list of Bluegrass songs and tunes, but I think it’s more or less typical. For each song in this list, I looked up some major bluegrass band that has recorded the song, and listed the band here. Most of the tunes listed have also been played and recorded by other major bluegrass bands (sometimes dozens or more), as well.

In the column headed “Original Type of Music” usually I put how I would classify the original type of music, using today’s classifications. In some cases I have shown both how I would classify it today, and how I would have classified it when it was written.

Quite a few of the songs I’ve listed were recorded by the Carter Family in their era, 1927-1941. The Carter Family was NOT a bluegrass band; for one thing bluegrass hadn’t yet been invented nor named, nor did the Carters use what has come to be the proper bluegrass instrumentation. Most of the Carter Family songs were NOT written by A. P. Carter (even though he copyrighted them)! A. P. (or Ralph Peer} apparently knew the value of copyrights, even if many of his hillbilly contemporaries didn’t. Most Carter Family songs are listed (for example) in the book Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, (copyright 1940) by H. M. Belden (ed.), and were collected in about 1909, by Prof. Belden and his students at the University of Missouri, 10 to 18 years before the Carters started to record in 1927. I have a copy of this book.

Several web sites list every song the Carter Family recorded (282 total). See, for example,  and The recorded Carter Family songs were a favorite source of Bill Monroe, The Stanley Bros, Flatt and Scruggs, Reno and Smiley, and other early bluegrass bands.

Today’s Song or Tune Title
Writers of Words & Music,
and Date.(As well as I can say.)
Original type
of music
Recorded by major
Bluegrass band(s)
Ain’t Nobody Gonna Miss Me
When I’m Gone
Jimmy Martin(?) Bluegrass Jimmy Martin
Are You Tired of Me My Darling Cook and Roland, 1877 Carter Family Del McCoury
Arkansas Traveler S.C. Faulkner, about 1846 Folk Byron Berline
Beaumont Rag Possibly George Peacock
of Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band,
Dallas, Texas, about 1928
Fiddle Rag Bill Monroe
(with Richard Greene)
Beautiful Life, A William Golden1918 Gospel Bill Monroe
Big Sandy River Bill Monroe and Kenny Baker Bluegrass Bill Monroe;
Reno & Smiley
Billy in the Low Ground Trad before 1800;
in the Gow Collection, 1790,
under two other titles
Scottish Fiddle tune Flatt and Scruggs
Blackberry Blossom
(unrelated to Irish tune of same name.)
Trad, before 1900.
Was signature tune of the great
old-time fiddler (blind) Ed Haley
Fiddle tune Tony Rice Unit
Black Mountain Rag
(Curly Fox’s 1947 record
sold more than 600,000 copies.)
Based on Scottish tune,
The Lost Child.
Fiddle tune Dixie Travelers;
Clarence White
Blue Moon of Kentucky Bill Monroe Bluegrass Bill Monroe
Buffalo Gals J. C. Hodges, about 1844 Christy Minstrel song Reno and Smiley
Bury Me Beneath the Willow based on trad. song, per Belden Carter Family Stanley Bros.
By the Mark Gillian Welch, about 2006 modern Folk Daily and Vincent
Carry Me Back to Old Virginia James Bland, 1875 old pop song Reno and Smiley
Chinese Breakdown Widely played traditional
American Fiddle tune before 1900
Trad. Fiddle tune Reno and Smiley, 1965
Colored Aristocracy Gus Bernard, 1899;
Not to be confused with
1911 song of same title.
Then, a cakewalk,
a form of Negro dance.
Now, Bluegrass fiddle tune
Richard Greene
Columbus Stockade Blues
[Not a blues.]
Thomas Darby & Jimmy Tarlton, 1927 Country Bill Monroe
Darlin Corey Trad. thought to be of English origin Folk Bluegrass Cardinals
Devil’s Dream Trad. Scots before 1800 Scots fiddle tune Bill Monroe
Done Gone Matt Brown (?) Dallas, Texas,
 about 1914
Fiddle tune Don Stover; M. Lynch;
1960s Monroe radio
show (not recorded).
Don’t That Road Look Rough and Rocky
(Similar songs have other titles.)
Trad. before 1930.
Shares some common lyrics
with some other recorded songs
Folk song.
No known recordings
before 1930
Flatt and Scruggs
Down in the Willow Garden
(has many other titles).
Trad, before 1810 Now, old time.
Then, murder ballad
Osborne Bros;
Tim O’Brien.
Faded Love Bob and Johnnie Wills, 1950 Country Ballad Ronnie Reno,
w/Glenville State College
Bluegrass Band
Farewell Blues Paul Mares, about 1930 Dixieland Jazz Flatt and Scruggs
Fischer’s Hornpipe
(Fischer was a member of Handels Orch.)
Written by a German oboe player,
about 1700
Bluegrass Mike Marshal
and Chris Thile
Flop-Eared Mule Possibly Ukrainian Fiddle tune Kentucky Colonels
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss Trad. Appalachian before 1920 Old time Charley Moore
Foggy Mountaintop Trad., before 1916, Per Cecil Sharpe Carter Family song Vern Williams
Fraulien Lawton Williams 1957 Country Bill Monroe
Little Annie (Based on Steven
Foster’s Gentle Annie, 1856.)
Said to be based on Annie Laurie.
I don’t hear it.
Bluegrass Kathy Kallick
and Laurie Lewis
Get Along Home Cindy Possibly of Negro origin, before 1900 Folk Bill Monroe,
 with K. Baker
Goodby Lisa Jane Edward Fox, around 1900 Minstrel dance tune Reno and Smiley
Gold Watch and Chain Apparently based on 1879 song
Is There No Kiss for Me Tonight, per Belden
Carter Family Doug Dillard
Hello Stranger Trad. before 1900 Carter Family Flatt and Scruggs
Homestead on the Farm I Wonder How The
Old Folks Are At Home

by Lambert and Vandersloot. 1909
Carter Family Flatt and Scruggs
Home Sweet Home W. Howard Payne
M. Henry Bishop 1823
Then, Opera.
Now, Old ballad.
Flatt and Scruggs
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry Hank Williams, about 1949 Country Bill Monroe
I’m Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes Trad, before 1800 Carter Family Jimmie Martin
with J. D. Crowe
I Never Will Marry Based on 1864 song
Oh, My Love's Gone, per Belden
Carter Family song John Duffey
of Seldom Scene
I Saw The Light Hank Williams 1948 Country gospel Bill Monroe
I Still Miss Someone Johnny Cash 1958 Country ballad Earl Scruggs
I Wonder How the Old Folks Are at Home W. Lambert; M. Lincoln 1922 Now Bluegrass Kentucky Colonels
I’m Using My bible for a Roadmap Don Reno, about 1952 Bluegrass Gospel Reno and Smiley
Jimmy Brown the Newsboy William Shakespeare Hays 1875 Carter Family Flatt and Scruggs;
Bill Monroe
John Hardy (Was a Desperate Little Man ) John Hardy,
Eckman, W VA, 1893
Old-time ballad Bill Monroe;
Kentucky Colonels.
Keep on the Sunny Side Gospel song by Ada Blenkhorn
and J Howard Entwisle. 1899
Carter Family Flatt and Scruggs
Kentucky Waltz Bill Monroe, before 1945 Bluegrass Bill Monroe
Last Thing on My Mind, The
Tom Paxton 1963 modern Folk Kentucky Colonels.
Navy Bluegrass Band
Little Darlin' Pal of Mine Trad. lyrics. Melody is the spiritual,
When The World's On Fire. 1900s
Carter Family
Flatt and Scruggs
Long Black Veil, The
Danny Dill & Marijohn Wilkin,
 about 1960
Imitation folk Bill Monroe
Lorena Rev. H.D.L.D. Webster, 1856. Pop then, now Old time Seldom Scene
Louise Paul Siebel 1970 modern folk Goldrush Bluegrass Band
(You Tube).
My Dixie Darling Based on Gillispie and Weinrich
song, Dixie Darlings. 1907
Carter Family song Byron Berline
Nellie Kane Tim O’Brien 1989? Bluegrass Hot Rize
Old Home Place Albert Brumley Now, bluegrass.
Then, Country
Reno and Smiley.
On the Rock Where Moses Stood.
(AKA Crying Holy Unto The Lord)
Based on Trad spiritual,
before 1800s.
Carter Family
Flatt and Scruggs
Ragtime Annie Trad. American, before 1900 Trad fiddle tune Frank Wakefield
Rank Strangers To Me Albert Brumley, about 1937 Now, Bluegrass
or Old time.
Then, Country
Stanley Bros
Red Clay Halo Gillian Welch, about 2000 modern folk The Nashville Bluegrass Band
Remington Ride Herb Remington, about 1950 Today, bluegrass.
Then, country
Reno and Smiley
Rosin the Beau
(More than a dozen other titles and lyrics,
including Old Settler’s Song, and Lincoln
and Liberty Too
Trad. Irish melody, can be
traced back to before 1760
Fiddle tune.
Also folksong.
Bluegrass Messengers
St. Anne’s Reel Trad in Quebec before 1937 Fiddle reel Country Gazettes
Soldier’s Joy (More than
a dozen titles and sets of lyrics)
Trad. Earliest mention I found in print is 1778.
Also has French and Swedish names.
Fiddle tune song Bill Monroe
Some Old Day John Duffey Bluegrass J. D. Crowe
& New South.
Time Changes Everything Tommy Duncan 1941 Country Bill Monroe
Under the Double Eagle Josef Wagner, about 1882.
Don’t confuse with Richard Wagner
Austrian March Reno and Smiley
Wayfaring Stranger Traditional black? spiritual Bill Monroe
Wheels Think I got it from a Danish guitar player in the 50s ? Chet Atkins 1950s
When the Roses Bloom In Dixieland  George "Honeyboy" Evans. 1913 Carter Family Osborne Bros
When You and I
Were Young Maggie
Words, 1864, G. W. Washington
Music, about 1890, James Butterfield
Ballad Bluegrass Patriots
Whiskey Before Breakfast Trad. Trad. Irish Fiddle Tune Tony Rice
Whistling Rufus. Recorded on wax cylinder in 1899 by
Vess Ossman, on 5 string banjo. He got it from ?
Then Cakewalk.
Now Bluegrass
New South
with Ron Stewart
Wildwood Flower
(Original title was
I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets)
Copyright by W. Maude Irving &
 M. J. P. Webster 1859.
Then, pop ballad,
then Carter Family song.
Now, Bluegrass or Old Time
Flatt and Scruggs;
Sonny Osborne
Will the Circle be Unbroken W. Ruth Habershon & M. Charles Gabriel 1907 First Gospel,
then Carter Family
Bill Monroe
Will You Miss me When I’m Gone H. P. Danksabout 1864 Gospel,
then Carter Family
Stanley Bros
You Are My Flower A. P. Carter 1938 Carter Family song Flatt and Scruggs