Archive for April 2009

What is Your Writer Genre?

April 30, 2009

        I have gotten to know a few new writers on FaceBook, so I thought I’d ask some of them to drop by and tell me of their genre.  By the way, I am the President of the ‘Society for Physician Bluegrass Fiction Writers.’  (SPBFW; sounds like a sunscreen, huh?)   Rekx is V.P.  He plays mandolin and his wife is a Doc.  If you run into any more like us, I hope you’ll send them our way.

        When my agent read the last draft of my manuscript, he said, “Son this is good.  It approaches Literary Fiction.”

        “Great.  What’s that?”

         “My boy, that is a body of work that is good enough I might not be able to sell it.”

         “Very funny, boss.  Any chance?”

         “Bibey, my job is to keep you grounded, but yes, I think so.  It is several grades above the National Enquirer.”

        “Hey, at least mine is a true story.  Maybe at least close to Literary Fiction?”

         He shook his head.  “Can’t take you anywhere.  But I have to concede, it is close anyway.”

        “How about commercial grade entertainment bluegrass physician fiction?”

        “That I might be able to sell.”

         “Well I ain’t too worried.  They didn’t even invent that Literary Fiction classification until 1970.  My hero was Mark Twain, and he never heard of such.  He just wrote the truth.”

         “Bibey, I knew Mark Twain, and you are no Mark Twain.  You’re good, but you ain’t that good.”

         “Hey boss, did you ever work for the Enquirer?”

        “Hush Bibey.  I have a reputation you know.”

         “Literary Fiction?”

        “Something like that.”

        I thought about that discussion a long time, and I came to the same conclusion I always do.  We can all only be what we are.  I am but a country Doc who plays in a bluegrass band on the weekend.  I don’t think many people are gonna take me for an intellectual.  I write what I am.

        But at the same time I have all respect for folks whose art speaks for their thing, and some of my friends are quite intellectual.  One of my early blog pals, the English Professor, has become a real life friend.  He does bluegrass photojournalism, and he is one of the best.  I suspect he’ll see an IBMA Print Media nomination this year.

         Ms. Susan writes romance.  Mrschili teaches English on-line.  Ms. Karen writes children’s books, and is a fine copy editor too.   Ms. Kim has a lot of great ideas on composition.  I think Pande is a chick lit lady for the most part.  Ms. Cindy writes country like me, and Neva, a new FaceBook pal, writes poetry.  I am not an poetry expert, but I like her work.  (Rumor has it poets are like us bluegrassers; in it for the money.)

        I hope folks will comment as to what they write.  What is your genre?  Leave us a link so folks can find you.  Like chili says, “It’s all about the community, Doc.”

Dr. B

Thanks to The Bluegrass Blog

April 28, 2009

        I got a call from a touring musician today.

        “Hey Doc.  Did you know you are on the front page of the Bluegrass Blog today?”

        “Uh, well, no.  I let them know about my MerleFest posts, and that I had a book in the works, but no I had no idea I’d get on there.  Wow.  Cool.  I guess that is pretty big.”

        “Pretty big?  Bibey, that is like ‘U.S.A. Today’ for all of us on tour.  It’s the first thing we check every morning.”

        “Right before noon, huh?

        “Funny.  No kidding man, the Bluegrass Blog is the ticket.  You better send them a thank you note.”

        I thought about that for a moment, and decided maybe I’d do one better.  If my blog got even one of y’all got interested in bluegrass, I hope you’ll click on the link below and let them know.  Who knows, it might get me and my mandolin on another MerleFest stage some day.  It was first thing this morning, so you’ll have to scroll down a ways.  It is right after the story about Ralph Stanley.

      And thanks to all for y’all for reading my blog.  The best thing to come out of my blog is all my new friends, and I appreciate every one of you for the insights you have shared with me.

the link is:     http://thebluegrassblog.com

Dr. B

Merle Fest 2009 Saturday and Sunday

April 27, 2009

        I played so much over the weekend I didn’t take time to write.  We spent most of Saturday at the Creekside Stage.  Darin and Brooke Aldridge were back and Jim Lauderdale sat in with them.  They had another fine show and attracted attention from record labels and promoters. 

        John Cowan was up next.  He sang ‘I’ve Got Nothing But the Blues’ like he means it, and everyone rocked to “Jesus Give Me Water,” a mix of Sam Cooke with Beach Boy-like harmony.  John is rock and soul, acoustic and bluegrass with drums; maybe not traditional but just as authentic.  

        The Bellville Outfit from Austin, Texas by way of Spartanburg, S.C. and Connecticut might not be a band you’d hear at a straight bluegrass festival but they were excellent.  They had drums and a key-board and a hot Strat guitar man.  This was a high energy new act I did not know until this festival.  Phoebe Hunt, the girl who fiddled, was part Broadway, a bit of classical, Cajun, Texas swing, and a charming show tune singer all mixed in to one.

        MandoMania is a showcase for all the best mandolin players on one stage.  Hosted by Tony Williamson and Sam Bush, this year’s line-up was Mike Compton, Darin Aldridge, Sierra Hull, Rebecca Lovell, and Alex Johnstone.  Each is a special player.  Jeff Autry, John Cowan’s guitar sidekick, did the backup with as fine a chord selection as you’ll ever hear.  Tony said Jeff was his favorite guitar man to accompany mandolin tunes, and I understood why.  I was backstage for that one, and planned to jam some later Saturday.

           I might also note Mandomania was brought to you by by Tony’s shop, Mandolin Central, and they are happy to provide all of your mandolin needs!

        After supper it was Doc Watson.  Doc is as humble a legend as I have ever met.  He is 86, but like fine wine, gets better with each year.  After Doc it was Emmylou Harris and then Sam Bush.  They jammed together for a while for a reunion of Emmy Lou’s Nash Ramblers from the days Sam was with the band after New Grass Revival.

        Sunday morning it was Doc again, this time with the Nashville Bluegrass Band for their traditional Sunday morning gospel set.  Doc told of a time in the hospital and how a nurse saved his life.  I’ll save the story for you to hear Doc tell it, but it was instructive.  In the hospital, everyone needs an advocate and Doc had one.  I still love Doc’s playing and singing as much as any performer ever.

          Sierra was on the big stage again, and then Pete Wernick  jammed with Buddy Greene the harmonica player.  They were joined by the Gibson Brothers.  Who says folks from North of the Mason/Dixon line can’t sing with Southern inflection?  These guys were the best brother harmony I heard all weekend.

         At one point, even old Doc B got to play.  I shared the Tut Taylor stage with a fine flat-picker named Steve I’d never met.  We did ‘East Tennessee Blues’ first.

        “Nice work man.  Where’d you learn it?”  he asked.

        “I got that version from Darin Aldridge.  He’s my right hand mando man; I’ve learned a lot from that kid.”

        “He’s a player.”

         We broke into ‘Beaumont Rag.’  The second time around I subbed some chord inversions. 

         He noticed.  “I like that swing.”

          “Thanks.  I picked up those passing chords from Wayne Benson last week.”

        “Cool.”

        It was my first time on a MerleFest stage.  (Except for the first one when I was on stage under an assumed name)  It was a nice moment for me.  I am not a pro player, but with Darin on your right hand and Wayne on your left, even old Doc can get to proficiency.  (It takes a mandolin community to raise a Doctor.)

        Then it was back to Creekside with George Hamilton IV.  He played with Darin and Brooke.  I could tell he enjoyed the set.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see those kids on the Opry before long.  

         Linda Ronstadt was up next but we had to go and get our dog out of the vet before they closed, so we missed her show.

        As we walked out we went by Alberti’s flea circus.  The children were fascinated and all gathered around like mine used to do.  A lady recognized me from my FaceBook page and had read about when I visited the Mississippi school kids who read my short stories.  She asked if I would come to her classroom, bring my mandolin, and write something for her kids. 

        “Sure,” I said.  “I’d be honored.  Writers love to do that sort of thing.”  I hoped at this point I was a writer.  I guess it is like chili says, “When you hit that publish button you are a writer whether you know it or not.”

        My feet hurt, the pollen had all but overwhelmed me, and my wrinkles were filled in with red clay dust.  I gotta change mandolin strings.  Mine are caked in dirt and grime and sunscreen. 

        This was the hottest MerleFest I could recall, but a nice breeze blew in as we walked to the car.  The smell of roasted peanuts and elephant ears rode the wind, and I took one last whiff.  I was all but exhausted, but I’ll go home and put on a pot of coffee for the morning.  Tonight I’ll crash early.  Come tomorrow I’ll be ready to jump out of the phone booth and have the courage to be the best Doc I can all over again.    

        I was ready to be home, but as we left I stopped at the hotel and made my reservations for next year.   Merle Fest is my spring battery recharge and I wouldn’t miss it.

Dr.  B

MerleFest 2009 Friday

April 25, 2009

        Note:  I missed Thursday ’cause I had to be in the office for the Doc gig, so I can’t report on opening day, but I understand it was excellent.

         MerleFest is is 3/5 music festival, 1/5 carnival, and 1/5 things I am too old to know much about.  There is almost a bit of baseball in the mix too, as the air is filled with the drift of peanuts and popcorn.  There’s Thai food and turkey legs and BBQ and burgers on the grill; something for all.  In the old days, there was a lot of hay straw and mud, but improvements in the field and some new paved footpaths have corrected most of that.

         As I walked toward the stage, a fellow sat in a lawn chair and smoked  a morning cigar.

        “What kinda mandolin you go there?”  I asked.

        “Gibson F-9.  You play?” 

         “Yeah.” 

         He handed it to me.  “Nice patina on this one.”  I picked out  a few notes, and hit a chop.  “Barks good, too. I like the set up.”

        “Thanks.  Good day for it, huh?”

        “Yeah boy.  Supposed to hit 80.”

        Friday morning opened with Darin and Brooke Aldridge on the Cabin Stage.  They have been a presence for some time now in the Carolinas, and Darin toured with the Country Gentleman for Charlie Waller’s last seven years.  When he cut his mandolin intro on ”Wayfaring Stranger,’ the security folks and volunteers in lime colored vests migrated towards the stage and began to listen.  When Brooke started to sing, everyone moved even closer and began to take photos.  The performers back stage leaned over the rail to listen to the new kids on the block.  With their new CD, “I’ll Go With You,” Brooke is the new female voice on the national bluegrass scene, and one that will contend for female vocalist of the year very soon.  By the time she rocked the crowd with ‘He Ain’t Never,’ the crowd was on their feet clapping and swaying.  MerleFest was on.

         From there is was to the Creekside stage.  The Krugers feature Jens, the world’s fastest banjo man, although today he featured a more laid back and melodic style. 

         I bought some strings, and hustled up to the Pit stage to hear David Holt.  David is not only an excellent old time clawhammer style banjo man, but plays the ham bones, spoons, jaw harp, and a variety of other percussive contraptions he has accumulated in his travels.  Buddy Green was with him today.  He was the best harmonica man I’ve ever heard.  When a man can tell you the technique to bend a minor third on the mouth harp, he has total command. 

         Someone said, “I believe you have practiced hard.”

         He replied, “I think it is more like obsession.”

         He went on to talk about more technique.  I may be misquoting him slightly, because I know nothing about harmonicas, but he said he got some tones by taking apart his harmonicas and re-voicing selected reeds by altering the ends.  The man has studied his instrument. 

         I am sure of one thing.  My harmonica doesn’t have all those notes in it.  He was my sleeper for the day that I did not know enough about.  He floats around on YouTube.  Catch him if you can.

         Sierra Hull was at the Hillside stage.  She is but a teenager, and has some hip banjo kid in blue jeans, sunglasses, and a black shirt with some kinda silver floral arrangement embroidered on the back.  His name was Cory Walker, and he was even younger than Sierra.  These kids will astound you with their professionalism.  I can’t remember much about that age, but it seems back then no one picked that way.

        Tony Williamson (the beast) flanked by Sierra and Rebecca Lovell (the beauties) conducted their usual fine mandolin workshop.  The front row was all young people.  The hung on every note and word.  I think we might see a mandolin resurgence, at least if this audience  is indicative of the crowds these young folks are bringing in to the festivals.  I noticed all those young’uns hung around to absorb the wisdom of their teen-aged elders.  Bless Sierra’s heart, she stayed to answer every question.  I didn’t bother them.  I wouldn’t want to interfere with a scene that cool.

         From there it was back to the Main Stage for the Grascals.  Danny Roberts is as fast and clean as they get on his Gibson Master Model mandolin.  He is not only a top shelf mandolinist, he builds them at Gibson’s Nashville shop.  Master luthier; master player.  Terry Eldridge is a pure country voice.  Listen to ‘ Today I Started Loving You Again.’  

        Kristin Scott Benson shows she didn’t win the IBMA banjo player of the year just cause she’s young and a pretty face; the kid can burn up the five string.  She not only blisters the breakdowns as well as any man alive, but plays the backup with uncommon sensitivity.  Maybe it is from years of nurture, but women seem to know how to be supportive and make a man look better.  I know my Marfar does.  The Grascals are fine players, but Kristin sure did brighten up the stage when she joined the group.

        I like a female in the mix.  As Sierra said, bluegrass was once a boy’s club.  I remember when it was that way, and the change is good.  Why have a refrigerator limited to bologna and beer when it can be everything from tofu and casseroles to chops for the grill?

          Marfar and I dodged an afternoon thundershower, and stopped at the bagel shop for supper.  The old folks at home gotta take a nap, but then we’re gonna pick a little and troop out for the night shows.  Will get back to the writing gig soon, but right now it is all about the music.  If you’ve never been to MerleFest it is sure one to consider; the biggest one of the East Coast I know of.  Back to the music.  Will report more later.  

        If you want good photos of the festival, check out the English Professor’s blog at www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com.  His are always the best.

 Dr. B

The Only Writer I Know Who….

April 24, 2009

        My agent and I were outside the Tyvoli theatre in Chattanooga before the afternoon session of the writer’s conference cranked back up.

        “What time is it, Bibey?”

        “1400 hours.”

         “What?”

        “1400 hours.  You know, two o’clock.”  I showed him my watch.

         “I always knew you were strange,” he said.

         “Me? You’re the cat who winters in New York.”

         “Son, you’re the only writer in my stable who keeps a watch in military time.”

        We went on in.  I thought about that later, and decided it would make a fun exercise.  Most of my readers are writers, and they are quite good.  What is it about you as a writer that is unique? 

        I’ll kick it off.  “I’m the only writer I know who keeps his watch in military time.”

       Tell me about your uniqueness in a sentence.  If nothing else, several agents and publishers read my blog now.  Maybe your comments will draw some attention to your efforts.  Like Ms. Susan said on FaceBook, we all need all the help we can get.

Dr. B

Lousy Golf and a Good Woman’s Love

April 22, 2009

        If y’all have never heard John Cowan sing ‘A Good Woman’s Love,’ you need to.  I don’t see how a man could take his wife for granted if he listened to it real close.  When Cowan wails out that one, I feel his pain.  The old boy would be lost without her.

        I played golf today.  It was a lousy 83 in a twenty-five mph wind, but we won a three way split on the back nine.

        I always put my winnings on the table.  “How’d you do?”  Marfar asked.

      “83,” I mumbled.   “Fifteen bucks is all we won.”

       “83 in that wind?  I think that’s great.  I’ll take Betty Jo to lunch tomorrow.  I’m gonna tell her you’re the best.”  She picked up the three fives off the table, put them in her pocket, and kissed me on the cheek.

       I brightened up.  Maybe I’m too old to rassle the rangatang at the County Fair or even hit that bell with the sledgehammer and win her a teddy bear, but she’s smart enough to know I still need to have a little bit of boy in me and bring home something for my girl.

         Maybe fighting the elements on the links to bring home lunch money ain’t the same as a caveman who bags a woolly mammoth, but it’s all I’ve got.  Thanks goodness she lets me pretend.  It beats the heck out of checking in to the Nursing Home just yet.  

         I guess we all interpret music based on our personal soundtrack, but when I hear John sing that one, I know he has to be referring to my Marfar.  Just has to be; ’cause there ain’t another one like her.

        Somehow I feel good about not breaking 80 today.   If she thinks it’s good, it must be so. 

Dr. B

Michelle Richmond/San Fransisco/Bluegrass and the Southern Connection

April 20, 2009

        On the second day at the Chattanooga Southern Writer’s conference, I met Michelle Richmond, who won the Hillsdale Award for fiction.  She is little bitty wisp of a red-haired young woman from the hotbed of Southern Literature, San Fransisco.  (O.K., she grew up in Alabama)  I hated to admit it but I didn’t know much more about San Fransisco than the fact they used to say on T.V. it was the home of Rice-a-Roni.

        Ms. Richmond doesn’t look like she could have lived long enough to see much tragedy, but she figured out how to write about it.  I got a chance to talk to after her talk and kidded her about California and Southern Lit, and she told me there was a thriving scene there. 

          I wasn’t surprised.  Mike Marshall grew up in Florida.  He might be the world’s best mandolinist, and he lives out that way now.  Years ago when the Dillards (the Andy Griffith Darling family) were coming along, they lit out for California from the Ozarks with no more of a business plan than “there can’t be too many pickers in Hollywood.”  It is no longer true in bluegrass, so it was no shock it ain’t the case in Southern Lit either.

        If a hip young lady from San Fransisco can write Southern Lit and speak Southern with a country doctor, then it proves to me Southern is a state of mind more than a place.  I haven’t read her book yet, but I need to.  If any of y’all have read her work, I hope you’ll let me know.

Dr. B


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