Easy Ed's Broadside

Exploring music without a map.

Since 2009, Ed has shared his thoughts on ND about music that touches him, and rambled hither and yon about what else is on his mind.

Easy Ed's Broadside

Exploring music without a map.

Since 2009, Ed has shared his thoughts on ND about music that touches him, and rambled hither and yon about what else is on his mind.

80 Years of Sittin' on Top of the World

Perfect! This overview of a song that's a continuing staple at nearly every bluegrass jam I've attended or played in provides an obect lesson to bluegrassers of the incoming sources of our music. Now, if we'd only learn to recognize our influence in providing musicians and progressive bands to the continuing diversity of musical expression, we'd learn to step up. 

Great column Ed... a fine song that I can remember seeing Josh White sing and the Dukes of Dixieland play (not together) live when I was a kid...excellent versions of a great song included here...

Good one here - Jim Hurst trio...

This song has long fascinated me, not only by its eclectic cover versions but also how the tune has been used for many songs with different lyrics including the Mississippi Sheiks who did one called "Things About Comin' My Way." Somewhere I have a list of all the songs I had run across using this tune but can't really think of any of the titles right now. Perhaps that NPR link you mentioned goes into that. Anyway, Thanks Ed for another great post.

Great read as usual.  I love this version with both James "Blood Ulmer" and Alison Krauss. 


And don't forget where the Grateful Dead took the song on their first album: a long way from bluegrass.  And Dylan playing harmonica behind Big Joe Williams (as recalled in a May, 2014 article by Tom Reney in this very journal).  Great song with lots of room for so many interpetations.

I think we should add Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee's version to the list. They were one of the first country/blues acts I was introduced to and I loved not only their voices and musicianship but their friendship:



I'm a fan of this blues duo too but I've always heard they couldn't stand each other so it wasn't much of a friendship. I hope I heard wrong.

Hi Dennis! I saw them live many years ago with my husband and we didn't get any hint that all was not well between them, but I've just found this write-up, so you may be correct!

The sight of the tall man with a heavy limp leading the small blind man on stage was seen on five continents. Despite their affable stage act, the two men did not get along too well personally as the years went by. On the 1973 album ‘Sonny and Brownie’ with John Mayall and John Hammond Jr. they banter like old friends, but outside the studio they would barely talk. It finally came to the point where they would be billed together, but Sonny would play with another guitarist and then Brownie would do a solo set. Thus the affair came to a messy end at some indeterminate time in the late 70s.

I must have caught them before they fell out with each other!


Interesting write up...thanks for posting...

Thanks Judy. For once I'm sorry to say I was correct but that's pretty much what I have read but hadn't heard the detail where they woud be billed together but played seperate sets. You might be interested in a wonderful Lightnin' Hopkins album recorded with Sonny Terry in 1961 called "Last Night Blues." They sound like old friends on that record.

This is an amazing article - what a great job of following this song down through the years. Thank you so much!

I'm a little late but I've got to get my two cents worth. Really like the column, Ed, and really like the song.

I was familiar with the Sheik's music, a bit, but really came to it through the tribure album put together by Steve Dawson of Black Hen Music. He's a successful producer and label owner (and amazing on anything with pluckable strings) who until a few years ago lived in Vancouver - he's since relocated to Nashville.

The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Album ( has a variety of great musicians covering the Sheik's songs. The Carolina Chocolate Drops do Sittin' On Top Of The World, and there are quite the variety of others -- North Mississippi All Stars, Bill Frisell, John Hammond, The Sojourners and a bunch of notable others. Aside from Sittin' On Top Of The World, highlights for me are It's Backfiring Now (North Mississippi All Stars) and Robin Holcomb's blood curdling take on Blood In My Eyes For You.

I agree Ron that that is a terrific tribute album. But my favorite cut is "The World is Going Wrong" by Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Shieks. He also released an excellent album by that name featuring guitarist Stephen Bruton before he died, and also Cindy Cashdollar and others.

Dennis....a little trivia. Did you know that Cindy Cashdollar grew up in the town of Woodstock? 

No Ed, I didn't know that about Cindy Cashdollar. I just finished reading Robbie Robertson's excellent memoir, "Testimony," and he talked a lot about living in Woodstock and the people there but never mentioned that. Robbie's book is excellent and should be read by anyone who's read Levon Helm's autobiography like I have. It gives a totally different perspective of events about the Band and without putting Levon down takes the air out of a lot of Levon's accusations. I'm glad I read Levon's book first or I doubt I would have liked it as much as I did.

Check out Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskins. It’s the story of how Woodstock (the town) became the home of so many musicians. Just finished, and I recommend it. 

Thanks for the reminder Ed. I remember looking for this book when I first heard about it but couldn't find it. I'll put it on my Xmas wish list. Of course, Luddite that I am, I'll need a hard copy.

Thanks Ron. Two clicks and I downloaded it into my library. Technology is a blast.