Earl Scruggs, gone home

Some people cried when Whitney Houston died. I’m going to cry tonight. One of my heroes, Earl Scruggs, passed away earlier today at a Nashville hospital. He was 88 years old.

Scruggs helped invent the music known as “bluegrass.” He pioneered a style of banjo playing — forever known as “Scruggs style” — that banjo players around the world have learned and will continue to learn as long as the instrument exists.

Contrary to popular belief, bluegrass is actually just a little older than rock and roll, created by Bill Monroe as an amalgam of old-time mountain music, the blues and a little gospel thrown in for good measure.

Monroe often gets all the credit for creating bluegrass (he is known as the Father of the music, after all), but it’s important to remember that even Mr. Monroe could not have created this music so many Americans love without the help of a boy from Flint Hill, North Carolina.

Before a 21-year-old Scruggs joined Monroe’s band in 1945, the Father of Bluegrass was still seeking his sound.

Monroe had banjo player Stringbean in his group before Scruggs joined up, and Stringbean employed an older banjo technique called “clawhammer.” It’s a style that relies more on strumming the banjo than picking it and, though it allows musicians to play melodies, does not provide the rapid-fire “rolls” bluegrass fans have come to love.

That all changed when Scruggs joined the band. His playing delivered the sound Monroe was looking for, so much so that even after Scruggs left the Blue Grass Boys in 1948 to form his own group with singer Lester Flatt, Monroe would only hire banjo player that sounded like Earl.

Here’s a video of Earl, playing an instrumental called “Ground Speed.”

A lot of folks also forget that Earl was a master guitar player, in addition to his banjo skills. Here’s a video of him playing “You Are My Flower” with the legendary Maybelle Carter.

Rest in peace, Earl.


Book recommendations for "Hunger Games" fans

To celebrate last week’s opening of “The Hunger Games” movie, we hosted a live chat with Daily Mail nerds and some folks from the Kanawha County Public Library about the books.

One of our nerds asked Susan Maguire, the library’s circulation supervisor for popular materials, for reading recommendations for “Hunger Games” fans who — like us — have already burned through the trilogy. Susan was nice enough to provide us with a PDF of her recommendations. CLICK HERE to get it.


Join us for chats about 'Hunger Games' and 'Mad Men'

Do you like to talk about popular culture? Well, join us for a couple of upcoming chats.

We’ll be chatting about the release of the ‘Hunger Games’ movie (and the book that inspired it) at 1 p.m. Friday.
Hunger Games, District 12

And we’ll be live blogging the long-anticipated premiere of ‘Mad Men’ on Sunday evening. Do you think the Mad Men characters could survive a ‘Hunger Games’ style challenge? Or would they be too sloshed?

Mad Men returns (finally!)

Podcasting Brings the Funny Straight to You

I took a recent trip to Los Angeles, and it turned out to be one great comedy nerd adventure where I saw tons of shows at the Upright Citzens Brigade Theatre (UCB).

The adventure doesn’t begin with a trip to kayak.com to book the flight. It all began with comedy podcasts.

Most comedy nerds love to geek out about podcasts.  Comedy podcasts are so popular that podcasting networks are springing up — e.g., Earwolf and Nerdist.

Some popular podcasts include Marc Maron’s “WTF,” Chris Hardwick’s “Nerdist,” Doug Benson’s “Doug Loves Movies,” and Jimmy Pardo’s “Never Not Funny.”

More and more comedians are starting to host their own podcasts, and more are starting them up every week.

If your favorite comedian isn’t hosting a podcast, then he is likely to appear on several as a guest. Paul F. Tompkins, while hosting his own superb podcast, “The Pod F. Tompkast,” is a wonderful podcast guest. His “appearances” garner such a great following that some genius has created a website solely dedicated to tracking what podcasts you can find Mr. Tompkins on.

One of my favorite podcasts, Comedy Bang Bang with Scott Aukerman, is even being adapted to a television show for IFC.

While comedy podcasts are in themselves a great way to have some funny pumped straight into your earholes, they can also be a great way to meet like-minded comedy nerds.

I was so excited when I met someone at Team Trivia and the first thing he said to me was, “Nice ‘Who Charted?’ shirt!” Instant friends! He introduced me to some new favorites like “The Mental Illness Happy Hour” with Paul Gilmartin. He’ll never get me to like the “Adam Carolla Show” though!

Podcasts also have helped me keep in touch with some old friends. No matter how far away my college buddy Melissa and I are, we always have our favorite podcasts, like “Who Charted?” to discuss over IM. I met my friend Caroline on Facebook after discovering her fan page dedicated to the podcast formerly known as Comedy Death Ray (now Comedy Bang Bang).

A few years later, we met in real life when I visited her on my trip to L.A. We had a great time hanging out and seeing shows at the UCB – bringing it back to the beginning, nerds!

I saw so many of my comedy heroes perform during my trip. It was perfect timing because some of the performers only perform once a month at the UCB.  Some highlights (or names the non-comedy nerds might appreciate due to their current television sitcom gigs) were Donald Glover from “Community,” Ben Schwartz from “Parks and Recreation,” and Adam Pally from “Happy Endings.” Can I nerd out for a sec on how Donald Glover parked right in front of me on the street? Or that I was so close to Adam Pally that I accidentally touched him when clapping?!!

I also saw some of the best improv comedians around, notably Matt Besser, host of “improv4humans,” and Jason Mantzoukas, co-host of “How Did This Get Made?” You can find both on the Earwolf network. I was also star struck (pun-intended!) when I saw Martin Starr of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Party Down” fame present an award at the Instagrammys. Yes, I saw an awards show dedicated to Instagram photos.  The biggest surprise of that night was another presenter who wasn’t slated to be there: Stephen Merchant. The creator of “The Office,” people! How awesome is that?!

I hope all comedy nerds get to make the trip to L.A. for a visit to the UCB.  Until then, you can get your comedy fix straight from iTunes.

Rick Grimes, I knew Bill Adama. And you're no Bill Adama

Don’t get me wrong. I like Rick Grimes, and I think he has a flexible leadership style — even though he can sometimes appear indecisive.

Flaws and all, I’d generally want to be on his team in the instance of a zombie apocalypse.

Nevertheless, his “We will survive” speech at the end of the “Walking Dead” season finale left a bit to be desired — even for someone under a great deal of stress. Inspirational, it was not.

I am doing something! I’m keeping this group together, alive. I’ve been doing that all along, no matter what. I didn’t ask for this. I killed my best friend for you people for christ’s sake! You saw what he was like, how he pushed me, how he compromised us, how he threatened us. He staged the whole Randall thing, led me out to put a bullet in my back, he gave me no choice! He was my friend, but he came after me! My hands are clean. Maybe you people are better off without me- go ahead, I say there’s a place for us but maybe it’s another pipe dream; maybe I’m fooling myself again, why don’t you go find out yourself? Send me a post card. Go on, there’s the door, you can do better, let’s see how far you get! No takers? Fine. But let’s get one thing straight — you’re staying, this isn’t a democracy anymore.

OK, thanks Rick. I’m with ya.

But let’s just say if Battlestar Galactica’s William Adama shows up at the zombie apocalypse, I’m jumping in with him instead. That guy knows how to give an inspirational speech. (Just don’t ask me why this is subtitled in Italian.)

C3PO, Jim Morrison and Cindy Brady send their regards

Ever notice how short football season is?  It’s because football players take time to heal up from their injuries.  Comic convention season lasts nearly all year because, when you’re a geek, you just put a Band-Aid on your blisters and play through the pain.

Saturday, while waiting in line to meet Anthony Daniels, the gold standard in droids, I looked at my watch and noted to Duane, “Well, it’s 11 o’clock, Comic Con tickets are officially on sale. I bet they’ll be gone in an hour!”  Duane had no reaction, having already declared his feet and knees couldn’t take another West Coast convention.

It didn’t incite panic as in previous years.  We had declared this would not be the year to resume our travel to the prettiest city in the United States, San Diego. Though it is unrivaled in both size, exclusive merchandise and celebrities attending, the San Diego con is just too darn big. It’s really a venture that requires a vacation to recover from your vacation.

Instead, this year we’ve already attended two smaller conventions that are easier on our wallets, feet and noses (other attendees often forgo hygiene during convention time.)

Our first trip in the middle of February brought us to the city otherwise home to the world’s most famous mouse — Orlando. We went to Mega-Con for the first time last year and enjoyed both the scale and pace. There was enough to see and do for a couple of days, but we didn’t look like we could be extras on the Walking Dead when the convention ended.

The droids you're looking for

This year, the show featured Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series), David Prowse (the “body” most often occupying Darth Vader’s suit, and Tia Carrere (Wayne’s rock goddess from “Wayne’s World.”) They were all professional and friendly, which is always a relief.

The highlights of this year’s show, however, were the two panels we added. The first was a retrospective on DC’s Teen Titans with former artists and creators. They stressed the importance of not becoming too attached to certain story lines or specific versions of characters since the comics must evolve to remain relevant to ever-changing world of comic readers. The Titans of the 1970s and 1980s will not appeal in the same way to new comic fans.  More than once, the panelists had to remind some of the attendees that the Teen Titans are just characters in a book.  This concept didn’t make sense to some of the smellier among us.

The second panel involved experienced cosplayers who shared information on how to cut costs without sacrificing the look and authenticity of your costume. We learned better techniques to making metallic surfaces on a budget as well as plenty of ideas for future projects. The panelists regularly attend conventions and other events and never break the bank doing so.  This was a panel we could have enjoyed for hours because of the amount of information and ideas.  It was over far too soon.

Holly (Kathy Coleman) from Sid & Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost

A side trip to Orlando and Google research took us to Rock n’ Roll Heaven, a great record shop in downtown Orlando. The condition of the albums were so pristine that I was convinced they were reissues. They had almost everything a collector could hope for in virtually every genre. We picked up Nilsson Schmilson, a Big Brother and the Holding Company album, Van Morrison Live and Queen II.

Wesley Eure was on a routine expedition…

One of the owners looked as though Jim Morrison had resurfaced and decided to inhabit a record shop. It was really uncanny. We discussed our collection and music and he gave us some suggestions for music documentaries. He told us Davy Jones frequented the shop since he lived close by. He said Davy always put on a great show for the Flower Power events at Epcot. We were especially sad to hear of Davy’s passing just a short time after our return from Orlando.

Once we came home, we headed to our second convention of the year — Steel-City Con in Monroeville, Pa. We’ve gone to this show five times now and each time keeps getting better. They’ve started adding bigger media guests and more vendors are seeing potential on the modest retail floor, especially when they see Duane coming with wads of cash and no filter for what he’s willing to buy.

The deciding factor for the show was the announcement of the Sid and Marty Krofft reunion tour featuring Kathleen Colemen and Wesley Eure (Holly and Will from “Land of the Lost”) Johnny Whitaker (“Sigmund and the Sea Monster” and “Family Affair”) and Butch Patrick (“The Munsters” and “Lidsville.”) The previously mentioned C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams and his son, one of the cast members from Beverly Hills 90210, a wrestler from IMPACT Wrestling, and Susan Olsen and Christopher Knight (Cindy and Bobby Brady) rounded out the lineup.

We had a lengthy conversation with Ms. Coleman who told us how her and Wesley’s scene for “Land of the Lost” movie ended up on the cutting room floor. She also wanted our advice on other conventions to attend, which we were all too willing to give.  She may be the sweetest celebrity we’ve ever met.  I mean, come on!  She’s Holly from Land of the Lost!  She rocks!

I also couldn’t resist asking Mr. Daniels what it was like wearing the C-3PO suit. He recounted cutting his foot during the first take and said the entire costume was dreadful although he did add that it got better with each film.  Seeing some of the people in line behind us, I believe his nightmare was only beginning.  Smells were already wafting forward from what appeared to be an unwashed Pokemon costume two sizes too small.

Convention season is in full swing now.  It’s exciting to see events across the country taking shape and knowing friends that we’ve met from standing in line are representing geek-dom well by reporting back on their encounters.  Live long and prosper, fellow fanboys and fangirls.