2008 NSS Cave Ballad Salon

Caving Blues – original entry
Lyrics – Curt Harler, Music – Gary Nelson
Musicians – Gary Nelson - Guitar and harmonica, Mickey Skowronsky - Walkin’ Bass

My coveralls are blue,
Can’t go underground with you.
I ain’t been a-cavin’
More than a month or two.

Got those subterranean above ground caving blues.

My old wet suit is blue,
Can’t go underground with you.
I ain’t been a-cavin’
Boss gives me work to do.

Got those subterranean above ground caving blues.

My Petzel lamp glows blue,
Can’t go underground with you.
I ain’t been a-cavin’
I miss my grotto crew.

Got those subterranean above ground caving blues.

My cavin’ lid is blue,
Can’t go underground with you.
I ain’t been a-cavin’
I’m losin’ my pale hue.

Got those subterranean above ground caving blues.


Grotto Past-President Curt Harler came up with these lyrics and asked me to see what I could do with them. Fortunately for both of us, music for lyrics this good almost writes itself and I finished the tune for the lyric in a few days. I wrote and recorded the guitar part using a 1964 Airline acoustic archtop guitar. Airline is the brand Harmony Guitars used for their product line distributed through the Montgomery Ward mail-order catalog.

This tune is a perfect example of one vintage ‘airhead’ playing another.

I ran into Mickey Skowronsky (our grotto Equipment Chair) singing and playing at the Barking Spider Tavern for BobFest, our local Bob Dylan 67th birthday celebration. I knew he would be just the man to bring some ‘beatnik cool’ to the bass part. I couldn’t have been more right; there is no question in my mind that Mickey’s bass playing makes this tune well and truly ‘swing’.

Randolph County – original entry
Lyrics and Music – Gary Nelson
Musicians – Gary Nelson – Guitar, mandolin and vocals, Dale Walter – Clawhammer banjo

If ever I would take a wife
How happy I would be.
Down in Randolph County, boys
She’d take good care of me.
Down in Randolph County, boys
She’d take good care of me.

If my wife would run me off
I know just what I’d do;
Go down to Randolph County, boys
I’d push a cave or two.
Down in Randolph County, boys
I’d push a cave or two.

If my wife would take me back
How happy I would be.
I’d put her in a pack and lamp,
I’d keep her close to me.
Down in Randolph County, boys
I’d keep her close to me.

I’d rather be a’cavin’
Where sun don’t never shine
Than a shoppin’ mall or union hall
Where you don’t know my mind.
Down in Randolph County, boys
You don’t know my mind.

When I come to my reward
A caver’s end I see
You put me in a piney box;
Prepare a place for me.
Down in Randolph County, boys
Prepare a place for me.


I started writing notes for this tune last September or so. Randolph County, West Virginia is one my most favorite places on this earth, it is so beautiful. The Cleveland Grotto gets down through Randolph at least once a year and I look forward to it every time.

I knew I wanted a melancholy, ‘high lonesome’ Appalachian feel to the song, and I think I came pretty close.

I recorded the guitar parts using my own 1973 Gibson J-50 flattop. I used a borrowed Lou Stiver ‘A’ mandolin for the mando track.

Dale Walter is a wonderful traditional musician (banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar) and it has been my great pleasure to make music with him over many years. Dale recorded the banjo track using an open back Bart Reider Whyte Laydie. I know he’s owned it for some years, but I will have to ask him exactly how many before I write up next year’s entry.

We recorded, edited and mixed both songs in my basement over about six weeks on a $400.00 used Dell Latitude laptop pulling a Tascam 428 mixer into Cubase LE under Windows XP (SP-3).
With the exception of Mickey’s electric 1958 Fender Precision bass on Caving Blues, we recorded all instruments ‘acoustically’; mic’d, not ’plugged in’.

I acted as my own recording engineer for this project. If you ever need advice on how to run Cubase LE on a Windows machine, let me know. I can save you at least four weeks of ‘character building’. Despite my early frustrations with the software, Curt, Mickey and Dale all managed to keep their expressions of artistic and aesthetic concern directed at me personally (sarcasm, insults, threats, shouting matches and fist fights) down to a really very modest level, all things considered.

While we tried to exploit the software to record, edit and produce as worthy a salon entry as we could, please be aware that there is absolutely no digital sampling in this submission and that there are absolutely no previously recorded copyright materials, or ‘cut and paste’ commercial ‘jam tracks’, or ‘band-in-a-box’ tracks or recycled karaoke tracks in this submission. All tracks are ‘real’ performances played on ‘real’ instruments by ‘real’ musicians physically present for the purposes of this project.

Gary Nelson
Cleveland Grotto
NSS 55599

Sung to the music of Copperhead Road
John E. (Sr) Brenda, John A. (Jr) and Josh

Mom and dad were the cavin’ kind
Everyone said they’d lost their mind
Couple pound of carbide and a big flashlight
Grandaddy said they aint quit right
100 feet of rope and some carabines
Were goin’ to a place no one’s ever seen
Just ‘round the corner up around the bend
All a sudden we’re at a dead end
O look what we found right here
Who cares? Let’s get a beer

Next time we went we brought the kids
They couldn’t have been more than 5 and 10
We went down to Wayne’s Lost Cave
We didn’t know then they’d be so brave
Down in the crawlway with a carbide light
We didn’t know it would be so tight
We didn’t think it would ever end
But we knew we’d be back there again
It wasn’t as big as I was told
You can smell the carbide burnin’ down
Cave Valley Road
This time we went without Dad and Mom
By now we knew cavin’ was the bomb
We took the trip down to RPI
Didn’t know when, where or why
It was a journey long and far
But we knew we had beer in the car
Turn around, head back out
I was so thirsty I could scream and shout
It was as good as we’d been told
You could smell the carbide burnin’ down
Cave Valley Road

It’s not our last time down
Cave Valley Road
We’ll be back down
Cave Valley Road

Dang You Dangerous Dick
written and performed by Steve Boehm

I used to be happy go lucky
Writing cave ballads that made me grin
And I used to think, that I didn’t stink
But I must reconsider, again
G G7
Back in the old days when I wrote a song
C B7
It was always win, place, or show
But since the Duckbusters arrived on the scene
A D7
I keep singing this sad song of woe

Dang you, Dangerous Dick, please take a break,
but not one of the musical kind
Desist and cease, you’re disturbing my peace
A D7
You’re driving me out of my mind
G G7
I know that my singing is just second rate
C B7
And I should practice more playing guitar,
But please Mr. Dangerous and all you Duckbusters
Please hear me wherever you are

You’ve made us all tighten our standards
Sloppy ballads no longer will sell
Used to be, if it rhymed and had decent timing
I’d enter and say,”What the hell”
But now when I’m writing a ballad
In the back of my mind there’s a voice
Saying “It better not suck, or you’ll be a busted duck”
So Dangerous Dick, you leave me no choice

Perhaps you could take a vacation,
or spend more time caving instead
Stop writing ballads we all sing along to
Your danged songs stick in my head
I don’t even know you, we’ve never met,
And I’ll bet you’re a hell of a guy
But please, take some time off, go on a cruise
Take up golf, write a book, learn to fly

Well I know when I’m beat, I know when I’m busted
But I just can’t resist one more try
So here’s one more ballad, one last gasping effort
To win Best of Show before I die
And if it’s not a winner, well I’ve got some others
rattling around in my brain
Someday if I’m lucky, Dick Danger won’t enter
And I’ll have half a chance once again


(from webmaster: This song should be self-explanatory when you note that for each of the past 4 years, Dangerous Dick and the Duckbusters won Best of Show and at least one Merit Award.)

I’ve Been Everywhere (Mammoth Cave version)
By Scott Bauer (original by Geoff Mack)
In ‘D’

I was hikin’ down old Park Ridge Road with my cavin’ gear upon my back,
When a pick-up truck with a bat sticker stopped and the driver said to me ‘hey mack’,
If you’re goin’ to Mammoth Cave, you know you’re welcome to a ride,
And so I climbed up into that dusty cab, and I settled down inside,
He told me all about Mammoth Cave, then asked if I’d been there,
I said man when it comes to Mammoth Cave, I’ve been everywhere.

I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere man,
Beneath the ridges there man, I’ve breathed that old cave air man,
Of Mammoth Cave I’ve seen my share, I’ve been everywhere.
I’ve been to…

Cocklebur, Roaring River, Mummy Valley, Corkscrew,
Giant’s Coffin, Lehrberger, Logsdon River, Loose Tube,
Keyhole, Swinnerton, Unknown, Ehman Trail,
Tight Spot, Kaemper Hall, French Connection, Grim Trail,
Storm Sewer, Long Route, Gothic Ave, Devil’s Kitchen,
Bedquilt, Lower Salts , Coalition, I’m so bitchin’.


I’ve been to…
Arrow Canyon, Bretz River, El Gohr, Agony,
Cascade, Lower Gravel, Lake Lethe, The Balcony,
Shower Shaft, Upper Salts, Ralph Stone, Emerald City,
Great Onyx, Flat Room, Bransford, Violet City,
Sandstone, Ranshaw, Bishops Pit, Tinkle Shaft,
Great Relief, Gorin’s Dome, Fool’s Dome, I’m at home.


I’ve been to…
Great Dane, Grand Junction, Hobbit Trail, Skywalker,
Oomph Slot, Ping Pong, Missmaster, Whinesquaker,
Lexington, Isenberg, Mexico, Cumquat,
Jack the Ripper, Fishhook, Denial River, Borden’s Lost,
Hogan Trail, New Hope, Plot Pit, Son of Khan,
Antimatter, Walter Way, Fleeceway, What a day.


I’ve been to…
Candlelight, Carmichael, Kangaroo, Bitch Crawl,
Downey Ave, Death Canyon, Rat Trap, River Hall,
Watergate, Wooden Bowl, Chocolate Pudding, Tylenol,
Klondike, Mayan Temple, Old Mill, Great Wall,
Big Break, River Styx, Arrowhead, Freedom Trail,
Stonehenge, Flood Trail, Snail Trail, Time to bail,


(from webmaster:) Don't know if Scott's really been to all these places, but it wouldn't surprise me. He's a regular down there at Roppel/Mammoth/etc.

Wayward Traveler
Words and Music written by: Nik Spears (2007)
Performed by: Nik Spears

I've been all around the world, maybe a time or two before
danced in the pale moonlight, ‘neath the blanket of a starry sky
I've crawled through the darkest cave, with no light to shine my way
Traveled through the mountains to feel the sunshine on my face

I'll carry on and I'll sing this song to you
I'll carry on until my life is through
I've bathed in a river wild, made a lot of people smile
Trekked through a desert land when I took my life by the hand
I've stood on a mountain top, walked a bed of river rocks
planted my toes in the sand in may different lands


I've been all around the world, maybe a time or two before
danced in the pale moonlight, ‘neath the blanket of a starry sky



The story behind my song is, that I was living in Florida and met a caver, and he would always tell me of his travels around the world. I was so inspired by his stories, and a song came out of it. It is not exactly about crawling around in caves, but rather the life and travels of a caver.