Baltimore City Paper

Strum Und Twang: A Halloween-appropriate tale of country music murder

  • Country fans are in an uproar over the release of John A. Brown, the bastard who murdered country music star David “Stringbean” Akeman in November 1973. Brown and his cousin ambushed and shot Akeman and his wife Estelle at their Tennessee home while attempting to rob the bank-leery Stringbean, a beloved banjo player and comedian who was rumored to keep large amounts of cash at home and in his overalls. After seeing her husband gunned down in the front doorway, Estelle attempted to flee but was chased across the yard and shot in the back of the head at close range. Grandpa Jones, String’s neighbor and best friend, discovered their bodies the next morning coming to fetch his buddy for a hunting expedition. Brown served 41 years of a 198-year prison sentence before being recently paroled.
    While Akeman is mostly known as a purveyor of novelty songs, he was also a top-notch banjo picker and singer who got his start playing alongside fellow Kentuckian Bill Monroe. He released a run of excellent LPs on the Starday label throughout the 1960s, and when I’m in the mood to hear old-time banjo pickin’ I pull one of those albums out, often times his “Salute to Uncle Dave Macon,” a tribute to his friend and mentor. For the uninitiated, find his 1967 appearance on the Porter Wagoner show—while being introduced by Porter, String stands frozen behind the mic a la Nardwuar, then promptly launches into a flawless performance of ‘Pretty Little Widow.’ Afterward a clearly stoned Roger Miller dances onto the stage for an awkward exchange before backing up Stringbean on fiddle for ‘The Battle of New Orleans,’ String nonchalantly fanning his banjo with his hat while playing without missing a beat. If only these one-time labelmates would have collaborated on an album together!
  • There are a few bluegrass events on the horizon worth noting. The Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival is hosting a rooftop party at the Maryland Science Center on Friday, Oct. 31 (8 p.m.), part of a giant Halloween bash there hosted by local breweries Flying Dog, Union Craft, and Brewer’s Art. Caleb Stine, Cris Jacobs, Letitia VanSant, and Cara Kelly & The Tell Tale are all scheduled to perform that night. If you haven’t heard, Jacobs will be opening for the current king of country music Sturgill Simpson for his entire fall tour, which will likely be one sold-out show after another. Stine (a friend) is hosting his annual folk music showcase Round The Mountain on Nov. 8 at the Creative Alliance. This year we get banjoist/fiddler/singer/all-around badass Anna Roberts-Gevalt (a friend), master songwriter Hugh Campbell (another friend), and songbird Linda Nelson. And speaking of the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival, it is returning to Druid Hill Park on April 26, 2015 for round three and confirmed acts thus far include Seldom Scene, Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, and Chester River Runoff.
  • Essential Fall Listening: Andy Friedman, “Laserbeams and Dreams”; Dick Gaughan, “Handful of Earth”; Hasil Adkins, “Moon Over Madison”; Noble Lake, “Parting Bead”; Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, “Kerouac’s Last Dream”; Bill Monroe, “Anthology”; Townes Van Zandt, “In Pain”; Tom T. Hall, “The Magnificent Music Machine”; Van Morrison, “Veedon Fleece”; Hoyt Axton, “My Griffin Is Gone”; John Martyn, “Live at Leeds.”