Life's Railway to Heaven

Lifes Railway to Heaven
For today's Pickin and Grinnin in the Kitchen Spot I'm sharing the second video from our Month of the Train Series over on our Youtube Channel. I'll let Paul give you the details about this one.


Life's Railway to Heaven is a classic hymn and the second video in our train song series. We are holding to our 1-take rule in this video. My friend, Josh, knew the song but had not played it before, so this is without rehearsal, showing what a great musician he is, one of the few pianists I know who plays without sheet music.

Josh's walk into the low chord at the end of the chorus on the piano was a great touch, but with no rehearsing, he hadn't quite worked out the timing. Still, I like this take because as with all first takes, there's a spontaneity of in-the-moment creation or response. Plus, when Josh requests a second take at the very end, you can briefly here his spot-on Bill Clinton impersonation.

We hope you enjoy this 2nd installment.

Song Info: According to, this song was written by Eliza R. Snow and M.E. Abbey. Abbey is said to have been a minister in Georgia in the 1890's. Hymnary credits him with three other hymns, which I have not heard. They provide no info on Snow.


Life is like a mountain railway With an engineer that's brave We must make the run successful From the cradle to the grave Watch for curves and hills and tunnels Never falter never fail keep your hand upon the throttle And your eye upon the rail

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us Till we reach that blissful shore Where the angels wait to join us In our praise forevermore

As you roll across the trestle Spanning Jordan's swelling tide There you'll see the the Union Depot Into which the train will glide There you'll meet the superintendent God, the Father, God, the Son With a hearty joyous greeting Weary pilgrim, welcome home

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us Till we reach that blissful shore Where the angels wait to join us In our praise forevermore



I hope you enjoyed Paul and Josh's video of the old song. I like the one take rule Paul came up with-he's right that first take captures some of the realness of the moment.


p.s. The winner of the book "Dorie Woman of the Mountains" is...Jo who said: This sounds like an exciting and interesting book to read. Thanks for offering the opportunity to win this book. I really enjoy reading your blog every day.

Jo send your mailing address to me at and I'll send you the book. 

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It's Train Month on the Blind Pig and The Acorn Youtube Channel!

Blind Pig and The Acorn - Month of Train Songs

Today's post was written by Paul.


We are declaring November to be Train Month on our Blind Pig and The Acorn Youtube Channel. There is no national train month that we could ascertain. Once upon a time, Amtrack designated May as National Train Month, but they discontinued the designation after a few years.

We got the idea of doing a video series from Gary Chapman, who does a hymn per week on his Youtube channel. I didn't want to copy him completely by doing hymns, although I know enough hymns to keep me busy for years. I asked myself, what's another subject that is widely covered in Appalachian music? I soon thought of trains.

I quickly realized after doing a count, that I probably know at least 30 or 40 train songs. Originally, I wanted to do one a day for an entire month. I then realized that even though I have enough material for that, I don't have enough time to film and upload every day. We decided to just do one per week, and that way, we can do the train series annually.

We also decided that every song would be filmed and uploaded in just one take. This would leave some mistakes, but would save time and might lead to performances that were spontaneous. We also decided it would be fun to feature some of our other musical friends and acquaintances, having them join us on songs that they knew of but perhaps had never played before.

Tipper and Chatter had never heard this song before. I told them the chord pattern and the number of beats in each chord and they took right off on it.

We hope you like the series. If you're not a member of Youtube its free to join. Once you have an account on Youtube you can subscribe to all manner of channels, including the Blind Pig and The Acorn Youtube Channel for free. 

Here's info on the first Train Song - The Wreck of Old Number Nine

Performed with one half of the Pressley Girls (Chatter) on guitar, and her mom Tipper on Bass in E flat.

I heard Doc Watson do this song in the mid 90's on Wayne Erbsen's "Country Roots" radio program on WCQS in Asheville, NC. It is one of my favorite train songs, mostly because of the lyrics. Doc picked the verse very similarly to how I pick it in this video. He or Jack Lawrence also played the chorus the last time around, which I meant to do in this video but forgot. According to Wikipedia, it was written by Carson Robison in 1927. Other than Doc, the only other version I've heard is Jim Reeves (just heard tonight on YouTube). I don't know if this song documents a real event or if it is completely fiction.

Lyrics: On a dark stormy night, not a star was in sight As the North wind came howling down the line. There stood a brave engineer with his sweetheart so dear And his orders to pull old Number Nine.

She kissed him goodbye with a tear in her eye, And the joy in his heart he couldn't hide. As he left there that night, his whole world seemed right for Tomorrow she'd be his blushing bride.

The wheels hummed a song as the train rolled along, As the black smoke came pouring from the stack. The headlight a-gleam seemed to brighten his dream Of tomorrow when he'd be goin' back.

As he sped around the hill, his brave heart stood still For a headlight was shining in his face. He whispered a prayer as he threw on the air For he knew this would be his final race.

In the wreckage he was found, lying there on the ground He asked them to raise his weary head His breath slowly went as this message he sent To a maiden who thought she would be wed.

"There's a little white home that I built for our own Where I dreamed we'd be happy, you and I, But I leave it to you for I know you'll be true Til we meet at the Golden Gate, goodbye.".

I hope you enjoyed the post from Paul and the video to! Even though I hear his guitar picking at least once or twice a week it still blows me away sometimes.

Be sure to check out the month of the train over on our Blind Pig and The Acorn Youtube Channel. Song number 2 is already up!


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Rock Of Ages Hide Thou Me - 50 Years Ago

  Hide thou me oh rock of ages
Pap holding Tipper, Ray, and Henry

A few weeks back I told you about the John C. Campbell Folk School's newest cd Nighthoots and Morningsongs Volume 2. The two part anthology features live music from various artists at the Keith House and Festival Barn on the JCCFS Campus. We were tickled pink to find out track 8 was a recording of Pap, Paul, the girls, and me playing Rock of Ages at a concert at the folk school. 

The news about the cd jogged Paul's mind to another Rock of Ages song. I'll let him tell you about the other song.

One Rock of Ages deserves another. Last week, we uploaded a live recording of trio-version of Rock of Ages recorded at the JCCFS. My mind drifted back to an old reel-to-reel radio broadcast by Pap and his brothers of another song, I believe the official title is Hide Me, Rock of Ages, but I've always thought of it simply as the other Rock of Ages. I copied the cut onto a cassette tape around 25 years ago, but a friend of mine lost the copy, and the reel-to-reel player that I used died while I was finishing up all the media transferring that I was doing. A week ago, I was able to buy a functioning reel-to-reel from someone on Ebay. It came yesterday, and last night I found the song and made a digital copy. The volume comes and goes due to tape deterioration. This recording is 50-55 years old, I think. I love my Uncle Henry's guitar work on the cut. Most guitarists don't particularly enjoy playing in the F position, partly because the high chord is B flat. Somehow, F position seemed to suit Henry just fine. The vocals on the recording are completely "dry," with no reverb. Henry's guitar amp seems to have been set with generous reverb, which helps it cut through the muffled come-and-go audio on this old tape. I let Chitter listen to the recording, and it was interesting that it took about 15 minutes to explain to her what a reel-to-reel recorder is. I sometimes forget that people in their early 20's have always lived in a digital world. I do not know who played upright bass during the radio broadcast, but he did a good job. In the group photo, Pap is on the left, holding Tipper; Ray is in the middle; Henry is on the right. I believe they are leaning against a '64 Impala that Pap had at that time. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the old song from "the archives."


I hope you enjoyed the old recording. As Paul went through the old reel-to-reels from Pap's early music he found all sorts of gems. Most of the finds are music, but the recordings captured more than a few conversations and other tid-bits of talking. Pap and Granny would go in the back room to sing and get away from the racket of us kids. On one recording Paul found you can hear a little Tipper come into the room to tell them she's worried a storm is coming. They assure me it will be fine and tell me to go back out and shut the door. In a few minutes I'm back telling them I hear the wind a blowing and a storm really is coming. 


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The Pressley Girls - When It Ends In A Walk cd 2017

The Pressley Girls - When it Ends in a Walk cd cover

We got a lot of material to choose from at the photo shoot we did at the JCCFS in preparation for the girls' debut cd cover. I've shared several of the photos from the day with you over the last month or so.

The photo above is the one they chose for the cover. I teased them that they must have been going for the 70's rock band look. They said "Well what's wrong with that those guys were cool!" 

I really like the photo and am amazed at how well the colors work together. We did the shoot on the morning of a busy Saturday when we all had other obligations to hurry off to. The girls didn't try to match their outfits, but they ended up looking like they did. And the colors of their shirts really bring out the colors in the rock building behind them. I'm totally surprised by how much they look alike in the photo. Even with the straight and curly hair I have to admit they look very similar. 

The cds arrived this week and they sound great! We could never repay Paul for all the hard work he put into recording and mixing the tracks. The girls have already sold quite a few, more than I would have thought in only a few days. I'll tell you how to get one of your own, but first I want to share a recent video with you.

Many of you will remember my nephew Ben who showed up regularly in the first few years of my Pickin and Grinnin in the Kitchen Spot. A few days ago Ben used some of his fancy equipment to make a video of us playing. I think it turned out really good. See what you think.

I hope you enjoyed the video! Now for the cd information.

If you don't live in the area and you'd like to purchase a cd go here. If you do live in the area, you can email me at and we'll figure out a way to get the cd to you so you don't have to pay shipping or if it's easier for you just buy it online that works too. 


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Songs For Halloween

  Songs for Halloween

Music is huge part of my life, that's no surprise to anyone who reads the Blind Pig on a regular basis. This time of the year folks start hunting up music to play at Halloween parties and festivals. Songs like Monster Mash, Ghostbusters, and Thriller are usually at the top of the list, but today I'm going tell you about some songs that I think are truly haunting.

I divided the songs into three different groups.

Group 1

Appalachia is famous world wide for it's murder ballads. Many of the oldest most horrific ballads originated in the British Isles and were brought here by the first Scot Irish settlers. I've wrote about the phenomenon before how something so horrible could attract listeners year after year, generation after generation, including myself.

Below is a list of murder ballads. Each title is a link to a youtube video. Be forewarned the songs are not for the faint at heart. 

Group 2

Other songs that come to mind reach across several genres of music: bluegrass, county, and even rock. 

Group 3

Growing up in a Southern Baptist atmosphere the Devil and his host of demons are wrapped up in all of my spooky thoughts. Those fears are supported by more than one religious warning song. Songs which tell the story of what will happen if you stray from the straight and narrow way. To me-these are the scariest of all songs. 

Hope you enjoyed my list of songs for Halloween! If you got any to add please leave me a comment. 


p.s. To hear some spooky story-telling attend one of Keith Jones upcoming events: Saturday October 28 at 7:00 p.m. at Vogel Stage Park in the Possum Holler camping area. There'll be a bonfire and parking is $5.00. On Monday October 30 at the JCCFS here in Brasstown at 7:00 p.m. (free). You can also catch Granny Sue telling stories in the coming weeks: 

  • October 28: Independence Hall, Wheeling, WV. West Virginia Ghost Stories. 6pm. Public event--come early for children's spooky tales, then stay for scarier stuff!
  • November 26: Here We Come A-Caroling, 2:00pm, Alpine Theater, Ripley, WV. Admission fee.
  • December 2: Frederick MD. House Concert with Audra Hale Maddox, Here We Come A-Caroling! By invitation.

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Rock Of Ages - At JCCFS

The pressley girls at jccfs

The Pressley Girls - JCCFS photo shoot for cd When it Ends in a Walk

Last week I mentioned a few happenings that had got me to thinking about the John C. Campbell Folk School and the role it plays in our lives. The school is one of the many reasons that make me happy to call Brasstown home.

It's been about a month since Chatter came in saying David Brose, JCCFS Folklorist, told her one of our songs was going to be on the about to be released Nighthoots and Morningsongs Volume 2 cd. The two part anthology features live music from various artists at the Keith House and Festival Barn on the JCCFS Campus. The cd has 21 tracks on it and our song is number 8.

Paul and I peppered Chatter with questions about the cd. What song was it? Who was singing it? All of us? Or just Pap and Paul? Or just the girls?

Chatter told us it was Rock of Ages. I said "Oh then it must be Pap and Paul that's good." Chitter said "No he said it's all of us." I said "I don't think so. I never remember doing that song when we were all playing together. Maybe you just helped sing with Pap and Paul or something, but I bet there was no fiddle and no bass." Well she insisted David said it was all of us. But neither Paul nor I could remember a time that we played the song all together at the folk school. 

We sort of forgot about the cd until Chitter came home with a copy for us. We all went out to Paul's truck and put the cd in to listen. To say we were tickled pink is an understatement! We were thrilled with what we heard. 

It was all of us! Chatter is chopping away on the mandolin and lending her pure voice to Paul and Pap's amazing harmony, Chitter is throwing a fiddle piece in every now and then, I'm thumping on the bass, Paul is keeping us all on track with his solid guitar playing, AND Pap's beautiful tenor voice is leading us all in our efforts. We must have listened to it a hundred times. It was like getting a gift of Pap that we didn't even know existed. You can hear him tapping his foot all through the song-the tapping sort of lends a distorted sound to the song, but I wouldn't change it for nothing. Pap always tapped his foot when there was music going on whether he was making it or not.

Paul said he was going to upload the song to youtube and give the folk school some advertising for the cd. He asked me to look for a photo to go with the sound and wouldn't you know it I found a photo of what might have been the actual night the song was recorded! You can't see me, but I'm back there somewhere. If you've ever been to see us play you already know I always sit in the back. 

David Brose later told Paul that his friend said every time she heard the recording it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up because it was that beautiful. I totally agree with her Pap's voice never sounded so good. 


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The World And Brasstown

The pressley girls and the john c campbell folk school

Photo from The Pressley Girls' cd cover shoot at the John C. Campbell Folk School

If you've been reading the Blind Pig and The Acorn for a good while you already know what an important role the John C. Campbell Folk School plays in our lives. Several recent happenings have made me dwell on the way the folk school has shaped the girls' lives and mine too.

For well over five years the girls and I spent every Monday afternoon at the folk school. During the winter clogging practice was inside the historic Keith House and during the summer it was in the open barn. 

The folk school's annual fall festival was the very first outing of that sort that I took the girls to by myself. They were probably three years old. The Deer Hunter was busy but I wanted to go! So go I did making the girls promise they'd never let go of my hand for one minute and they didn't. They've been to every fall festival since-other than the one it rained out.

From May Day Parades to contra dancing to concerts there have been lots of other functions at the folk school that we've participated in. 

I've never asked the girls but I'm positive they'd agree with me when I say their largest musical influence is Pap and Paul, but coming in a close second are the various musicians who are part of the John C. Campbell Folk School community. From the time the girls first starting playing instruments till now there's always someone willing to give an impromptu music lesson or teach them a new song. 

The folk school is a store-house of folk ways, folk ways that are directly related in an intimate way to our heritage and culture. But the folk school also has a way of bringing the world at large to Brasstown. The school welcomes other cultures and shares them with whoever might want to take part. 

At last summer's Dance Musicians Week the girls came home playing a French tune called Aimee Gagnon.  They've since taught it to Paul and me. We've had a ton of fun playing it around the house. At last week's practice Paul said "Now what'a you bet I wake up in the middle of the night with that in my head?" I said "We all will!"

Its a great song, take a listen and see if you don't agree.


I hope you enjoyed the song-you may have it in your head now!

The girls's debut cd was supposed to ship on Friday, but now it looks like it'll be next Wednesday. I'll let you know when it finally gets here!

*UPDATE!! The cd arrived! Go here to pick up your own copy!


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More Fun From The Concert!

Historic Union County Courthouse

I'm sharing two more songs from the concert at the Historic Union County Courthouse in Blairsville GA. If you missed the two songs from last week go here

I hope you enjoyed the peak into the concert!


p.s. I just got the phone call that the fall festival has been cancelled for today. So will NOT be playing today at the JCCFS Fall Festival.

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Wish You Could Have Been At The Concert!

Historic Union County Courthouse

We always have a great time when we perform at the Historic Union County Courthouse, but somehow our recent concert there seemed especially enjoyable. Like Pap used to say it had a good spirit about it. 

There were several Blind Pig readers who got to attend, but I know most of you live to far away to think about coming to one of our performances so I wanted to share part of the concert with you today. 

Chatter and Chitter have always bantered back and forth on stage, but in the last year it seems the back and forth have become an integral part of their show. They were in rare form on Friday night. They had the place laughing like it was a comedy show instead of a music concert. They've also become quite the storytellers, as you can tell when they share the story of my birthday chairs

I hope you enjoyed the peak into the concert! I'll share more of the show with you in the coming weeks. 


p.s. The Pressley Girls will be playing on Sunday October 8, 2017 @ 2:00 p.m. at the JCCFS Fall Festival - Brasstown NC. 

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Words Of Life

Pap and brothers
Ray, Henry, Pap 

Paul is still trying his best to get Pap's original music out there to the world. We're both disappointed that we haven't made much progress on our dvd idea of highlighting the most popular videos on our youtube channel and getting Pap's old friends to introduce them. Life keeps getting in the way, I'm sure you know how that is. The dvd is still a dream we want to complete, we just need to force ourselves to get started.  

Paul recently uploaded a video made to highlight one of Pap's older songs Words of Life. I'll let him tell you about it. 

"In 1973, Pap and his two brothers made their first album: Words of Life. The title cut was written by Pap. It features him on high harmony, his brother Ray on lead vocal, and youngest brother Henry on electric guitar (a beautiful Gretch that you can see in some of the photos in the video). The steel player and bass player did a fine job, but I do not know who they were. The steel player could be the one in the photo at 1:51, but I have no way of knowing that.

Pap told me once that the snare drum player on the album was just a hung man who "hung around the studio," someone he never met before or after.

Terry Pappas made this video. While the music plays, various photos and articles down through the years are shown. Not all of the lyrics appear during the song, only key words from the song.

Some of the photos are just notices about performances and some are articles covering awards they won or highlighting their musical career. Words of Life also became the title of several radio broadcasts they had down through the years on different stations. There are even a few photos of my uncle Henry in a bunker in Vietnam with some old guitar he had rounded up so he could keep his playing going during the war. Apparently one of the tuning knobs must have been missing. He served as a forward observer for the 1st Calvary.

Also appearing in some of the photos: Perry Stalcup on bass, Robert Hampton on dobro, Rev. Leander Chastain, Fred Williams, Aiden Martin, Johnny Mason, former NC Senator Robert Carpenter and his wife, David Brose from the John C Campbell Folk School, Douglass Day, Pap's sister Carrie and father Wade, other unidentified musicians, my first cousin Brian Wilson (infant), and me."

I hope you enjoyed the video as much as we do!


 p.s. More than a few of the photos in the video were taken at the folk school. There's only two more days to enter the JCCFS Fall Festival Ticket giveaway. Go enter if you haven't!

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