Cliffwagner's Blog

November 6, 2011

Grammy, Shmammy

Filed under: banjo — Cliff Wagner @ 11:28 pm

I did not see the PBS  special, ” Give Me The Banjo” because my DVR  fucked up and did not record it.  I was really bummed when I got home from my gig and could not watch it.  I’m sure I will be able to catch it on-line somewhere but since I have played banjo for 30+ years and make a living playing it I was very excited to watch it.  So I went to the PBS website to catch some clips.  Then I watched the whole show when it was posted.  I liked it.  I learned some stuff about the minstrel era that I didn’t know before,  I saw some performances by guys doing really innovative stuff on the 4 string banjo I hadn’t seen before.  They touched on some of my favorite banjo players like Bill Keith, they ignored Don Reno and talked a little about Ralph Stanley, and the show starts and ends with Steve Martin.


Steve Martin wrote an all original banjo album.  It won a Grammy.  He tours the country filling concert halls.  No arrow through his head or clown nose and balloon animal for a hat, just Steve in a suit playing banjo.  How fucking boring.  Of all the banjo players featured on this show he is the worst.  His album was neither inventive or offensive.  It was plain mediocre.  Just fucking boring.


I’m not naive enough not to know why he fills concert halls or won that Grammy.  But does it piss anyone off besides me?  He sells out concerts cause he’s Steve Martin.  Iwonder if he realizes it?  Does he have the arrogance to think he’s that good of a Banjo player?  Hey I think I’ll quit making jokes and become a respectable Banjo player and make an album and go one tour. Good for you Steve.  You did it.  Now go put the clown suit on and write some more joke songs about King Tut because that’s what your good at.  Not playing Banjo.

August 2, 2010

social networking is a scam!

Filed under: music,Uncategorized — Cliff Wagner @ 8:52 pm

If you are reading this, I have deleted my facebook, myspace, and twitter accounts. Social networking websites are a life sucking waste of time.  The idea that runs these websites for the general public is meeting new people,old friends etc. for musicians, we are told it is a free place to promote your music or band.

what a pile of horse shit

Social networks do everything they can to promote their website, to increase traffic to sell ad space.  I don’t know this, but I’m sure celebrities, and  any DIY music online blog or website gets paid to use the site and tell all us saps how useful it is to promote your band.  They love to give us tips on how to “maximize” our page.  How many friends do you have? How many fans do you have? followers? douchebags?  It’s like being in high school again. who’s the most popular?

These are’nt your friends.  They aren’t your fans.  they won’t come to your shows.  I used to spent more than a day posting gigs to all my social websites, posting pics, posting comments,  it was like having 4 websites at once and they all have to be constantly updated.  I have my own website.  Why don’t I update just that one and direct everyone to it?  Seems simple but it toke me a long time to figure it out.  Because everyone on tv and online was telling me what a great thing it was to twitter, or facebook or myspace.  Musicians will fall for any free advertising they can find.  Some people feel if you put something up on the internet on a site that has millions of hits everyday that all those people are looking at your page.  After a awhile it becomes apparent they are not.  So then you start promoting it.  Hours on the computer trying to find friends.  multiply that by 4 and there’s not much time left to make music.  I find playing shows and getting people to sign your email list is the best way to promote your self.  A real person that you get to meet that likes your band so much they give you an email because they want to know where your playing and what your doing.  A true fan.  nothing beats a live show and meeting real people.  You should have a website.  The internet is a great tool.  I also remember before the internet trying to find music I liked and half the fun was hunting it down and finding it.  If someone really digs what you do, they will find you!  But they don’t need to know what I’m doing every minute of every day!  Nor do I want to tell them.  It’s non of your damn business!


Instead of posting a song for this blog, I want to post a link to my download page here.  This is a new feature on my website that is another way to stick to the man.  Itunes and cdbaby take a cut of any downloads from their site.  Here that $00.99 is going straight to me.  It has all the songs from my current albums listed individually so you can download your favorites and create your own Cliff Wagner mix tape to give to your girlfriend!  check it out and let me know what your think!


you lookin' at me?

April 23, 2010

why is old better?/ castleneck lyrics

Filed under: bluegrass,music,Uncategorized — Cliff Wagner @ 11:23 pm

Jimmy! all the good times are past and gone!

I have gotten my share of flak for the past 2 years for adding a drummer to my bluegrass band.  I’ve lost gigs over it, and probably some fans but I think we are doing something that gives us a unique style and sound.  We’re trying something new.

Some bluegrass fans say to me,”you don’t need a drummer” and I say to them yes, I don’t need a drummer, I want a drummer.  I like to remind people that Bill Monroe was an innovator, and a maverick.  To honor his memory you should try to be as innovative as he was, take chances.  Don’t just sit and listen to his records and copy his style note for note.  But as progressive as I think I am,  I still prefer old stuff over new stuff.  I like old Monroe and Stanley brothers.  I like old cars.  I like old wood. ( stop snickering).  I noticed at the Grammies this year the best rock album winner was Green day, for an album they made  20 years ago.  Are there no rock bands putting out anything new that even deserve a nomination?  I can’t remember for sure but I believe the other bands in the category were Eric Clapton and Santana.  Tribute bands have bigger followings and get better gigs than original bands.  Kids on American Idle that are 16 are singing songs that were hits 30 years ago.  I personally don’t buy that much new music so I am part of my own problem.  this may go back to an earlier blog I did about autotune.  I find the old recordings I like tend to have great performances, and less recording quality.  I don’t think you can duplicate it by recording with a bunch of old mikes and recording your stuff live to tape or things like that.  it has to come down to performance and the digital age has helped less talented people sound better.  I seem to be repeating sort of what I said in the autotune blog but somehow we need to start helping musicians who are out there creating new stuff to be heard over the din of freebird and stairway to heaven.  I still like the way old wood feels in my hand though. ( stop it!)

This weeks song is an older version of “Carrol County Blues”  Which I recorded on my Hobo’s lullaby cd.  I did it on a four track and I think the performance turned out well( by accident).  I am doing some Travis picking on the guitar and half way through I recorded myself rubbing a dirty sock on the head of my banjo to get a snare with brushes sound.  I found the dirty sock had better tone than a clean one.  You can download it for free on my website.  Grab your old wood and dance around the room! oh yes! for those who want them, the lyrics to castlneck are on the bottom of the page.


01 carrol county blues


the furnace of hell glows with an erie light

stoked by the hearts that are black as coal of men who hated life

the demons are laughing, dancing in a row

the fire glows brighter as the evil begins to grow

there’s an angel on the sidewalk sticky sweet blood in her hair

her last breath was taken away by a man who did’nt care

satan sits on his left shoulder with fire on his breath

he whispers to him softly, put your evil soul to rest


when the grim reaper cut him down

and drove him to the sky

there was no one else around

no one said goodbye

they were just glad to see him die

his daddy was the judge, his momma was the state

they put clothes on his back, they put food on his plate

they taught him about the law, they told him he could’nt escape

when they put him in a prison cell they taught him how to hate

there’s a castle on his neck, hell fire in his eye’s

gun in his hand, and his girlfriend in his sights

she loved him too much to put him away

he loved her so much, that he put her in the grave





April 13, 2010

what makes a good song?

Filed under: music — Cliff Wagner @ 7:45 pm

Hello pickers!

I haven’t blogged in a while and I missed you. I have been busy writing a play called “paradise lost”. More on that in future posts. I have been writing some songs too and as always, you ask yourself: ” is this song any good?”” what makes a good song? some songs are great because they make you pound your fist on the dashboard of your car and yell like an idiot. other songs have lyrics that tear your heart out. other songs just make you feel good. Other songs are wildly popular and everybody knows the song. So what is it? First of all it’s not popularity. It doesn’t take a good song to sell a million copies. You could record Taylor Swift taking a dump and sell a million copies. The thing I do is ask my self if I like it AND how excited am I to play it for other people. I think if you are excited enough to call up your friends and turn the phone on its side and say “Listen to this!!” and proceed to bang on your guitar and sing your heart out, you’ve got a good song.  If you believe in it, you can convince others to believe in it too.  Which brings up another point.  You can’t please everybody all the time.  so don’t try.  Write what you know and you will find your audience.  What if I want to write a big hit?  Is there a formula I can follow?  Sure there is and you probably can figure it out for your self.  If it’s country, pick up some brooks and dunn records and take notes.  If it’s pop you want just mash some hip hop  with some rock guitar and club beats and sing about all the money you have and whores your bangin’.  If you can do that and still look at yourself in the mirror, more power to you.  You will be a rich man.  I will stay outside, concentrate on writing great lyrics and melody in music from an angle that people haven’t heard before and finish out my time on earth broke and bitter.  HA! I WIN! ( where’d my drink go?)

The song for this blog is called ” Vincent BLack Lightning 1952″  written by Richard Thompson.  I think it is one of the greatest songs ever written.  Great lyrics, great melody and music.  This is a recording of my friend Nathan Phillips and I off our lost recording Public Domain.  This goes out to Robin, Jennifer, and Jack who have been bugging me to post this song.  You can download it for free at my website. I also noticed that some people have been looking for the lyrics to Castleneck.  Leave me a comment on this blog and I will post them for you on the next blog if you want a copy.


shop cocktails

What the hell er you lookin' at!?

04 vincent black lightning 1952

March 23, 2010


Filed under: country music — Cliff Wagner @ 11:23 pm

Well, next week the boys and I are gonna be on TV again.  We have a cameo as the prison band on the new show “Justified” on the FX network.  They are using my song “Castleneck” as the tune that the band plays.  This tune is about a guy that worked at my favorite bar in Allston Mass. called Bunratty’s.  Everyone called him Castleneck because he had a medieval castle tattooed on his neck.   I didn’t know his real name until they printed it in the paper after he shot his girlfriend to death in front of Bunratty’s and then went home and shot himself.  So the song is sort of a murder ballad telling the whole sad story.  When I recorded this song I thought it sounded like a country crossover. Something that could help us expand our audience.  Someone suggested to me that it wasn’t a country crossover because the song didn’t  have a positive message.  I was listening to a Brad Paisley cd the other day and I’ll be damned if every song had a positive message.   Also included in every song was a mention of living in the country, your truck or car, some outdoor activity i.e. fishing, camping, and the sentimental ones were about happy marriages and the cute little tiffs they get into but love each other anyway.

BARF!  does Brad Paisley never have a bad day? has he never been dumped or cheated on his wife? or gotten drunk because he was so sad he couldn’t stay sober?

Save me Merle Haggard!

The bottom line is these songs lack any real emotion and I can’t listen to them.  But obviously lots of people do.  I love a good time foot stomper as much as the next guy but not a whole album of them.  All you Paisley fans feel free to chime in.

Anyway, the song for this week is a lost version of “Castleneck” that I recorded about 20 years ago on an album that never got released.  As a matter of fact, I think this is just a rough mix.  We never finished it. Some friends and I had a power trio southern rock band called 10W40 that was pretty good for a minete or two. You can download it from my website.  You can also see the video we made for the new version of the song here. Compare the two versions and let me know which one you like better.  It’s me on guitar and banjo, Scott Cormier on bass, and Slacker on drums.   Click on the link next to the picture below to listen.


Devitt, myself, and craig on the set of "Justified" in our prison outfits


March 13, 2010

to autotune, or not to autotune

Filed under: music — Cliff Wagner @ 1:49 am

My old kentucky home

Craig Ferguson

I recently had some long discussions with Craig Ferguson about this.  He plays guitar in my band and produced our latest album that will be coming out in a few months.  The producer of our last album used some autotune to brighten up our vocals and save some time with extra takes.  Craig said for this album he didn’t want to do that.  He wanted us to sound like us.  It’s not that we can’t sing our harmonies in tune or pull it off live, we can.  But it changes the tone of your voice.  It makes you sound like a synthesizer.  For those that don’t know, autotune can be used in a recording or live performance to automatically tune any notes you sing off-key.  When you hear rap stars or pop stars whose voices sound like robots,  that’s the sound man cranking up the autotune to get that effect.  My problem is with singers who use it to shine up their performance and the lay person in the audience doesn’t know.  And EVERYBODY uses it.  Bluegrass bands us it a lot for the three-part harmonies which I think sets an unrealistic bar for performances and looses the human element.  I have no respect for any performer who uses it live but it can be a time saver in the studio. So the question is: since it is an industry standard, do you cave in and use it because people are now becoming accustom to that sound and expect to hear it that way? Or do you stay true to your beliefs and hope to find an audience that is still out there that appreciates “real ” singing?

My song for this week is “my Old Kentucky Home”.  A traditional song with some new lyrics that were written by Randy Newman.  This is an old recording, that was saved from the last cassette that I had of this album.  The album is called “The Crazy Old Man’s Chorus” and features Nathan Phillips on lead vocal and rhythm guitar and myself on lead guitar, dobro and back up vocal. Nathan was about 22 years old when we recorded this and even then sounded like an 80 year old blues singer from the delta.  The studio burned down and the master with it so the cassette was the only version of the album I have.  Nathan and I played together in the subways of Boston for about 2 years in the mid 80’s. Though the recording quality is bad,  our performance is great.  Mainly because he and I played together for 5 or 6 hours a day, everyday.  No autotune needed.  you can download this song for free at my website.  If you like this song let me know and I will post more from that album in future blogs.


February 26, 2010

Old Time V. Bluegrass

Filed under: Uncategorized — Cliff Wagner @ 11:09 pm

Hello Pickers!

This is my first blog on the interweb tubes. I would like to know why old time fiddlers and or banjo players can’t seem to jam together with bluegrass fiddlers and or banjo players? I know the old standby argument: Bluegrass is kind of the bebop of old time, the old songs have been jazzed up by the bluegrass crowd and they don’t play it the way it’s supposed to be played, too many flashy solo’s and chord changes. The bluegrass folks don’t want to play the same melody over and over again for 10 minuets and don’t like playing in the key of D all night long. I think if people are open to playing together, they can learn from each other’s style. In my band I have strayed from the traditions of old time and Bluegrass but still use elements of both in my songs. I learned how to use open tunings from old time and I learned how to improvise by playing bluegrass. I enjoy playing both styles and wish people wouldn’t put their heads in the sand and say, “I’m an old time musician or a bluegrass musician and that’s it.” I guess you could apply that to any genre of music. There’s something to be learned from each one and you shouldn’t limit your self to just one. What do you think?

On all of my blogs I hope to post a song or two for you to listen to. and I am going to make them available for free download on my website. Just go to this link
At the top of the page you can save an mp3 of this weeks song right to your computer for FREE! This week’s song is called “Suwanee River Hoedown”. It’s an old fiddle tune I found on a Stanley compilation that combines old time fiddling and bluegrass banjo. The recording I made myself and I was going to put it on my “Take Me Back to the Delta” album but it never made it on. I play all the instruments on this recording and for you musicians out there the fiddle is tuned in open E and the banjo in open D with the capo at the 2nd fret. Dig it!


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