Archive for June 2009

Jackson County and Appalachian Fire

June 29, 2009

        Y’all, I played all weekend.  I’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming and the push pin mandolin tour with my next post. 

        Years ago when my son went to look at colleges, we took a trip to Cullowhee, N.C., the home of Western Carolina University.   He took one look and said, “Dad, this is where I want to go.  It’s like Harvey County with mountains.”

        Not only did he go to school there, but after he got his degree he settled in the area.  I have to agree with him; it is very pretty country.

        Every so often he’ll hear about an event and call.  “Dad, you need to come to Western this weekend.  They’re having  a bluegrass festival out at the Jackson County Recreation Park.”

        “Who all’s playing?”

        “Shilo.  Rumor has it Opie Poindexter is their mandolin player today.”

        “Wow.  I need to get there.  I haven’t seen Opie in years.  (Opie is a former Galax International Fiddler’s Convention mandolin champion.)  “Anyone else?”

        “Appalachian Fire.”

        “Cliff Searcy’s outfit?”

        “Yep.”

        I cupped the phone in my hand.  “Marfar!  You wanna go visit Tommy?”

        “Sure.”

        So off we went.

        Jackson Rec Park is in a valley nestled right in between a couple mountain ranges.  It was just the kind of festival I dig.  There was a big green lush lawn and the mountains cupped around the field like a natural amphitheatre.  They had a politically correct kid’s playground; the kind where all the edges are plastic and rubber to reduce the risk of head injuries.  (Docs always scout out a new place for such things.)  Some fellow walked a couple of beautiful liver and white Springer Spaniels who would become your life-long friend for a pat on the head.  

        The sun beat down at first, but there were a few tents for shade.  As soon as the sun dipped near the western shoulder of the mountain ridge it cooled down.  A breeze rustled through the stage mics; it sounds like the rumble of thunder for those of y’all not used to being around sound equipment.  Don’t forget to try the Cherokee Indian fry bread.  Indie woulda loved that.  Great stuff.

        I got out my mandolin.  A young middle aged man approached the stage.  He was a burly sort with a beard flecked with gray, a firm handshake and a ready smile.  He walked with the spring of a fellow who was an althlete.  He stuck out his hand, and we shook.

        “Nice mandolin,” he said.   “Looks like a Montana era Gibson.”  I lowered my sunglasses and he looked in my eyes.   “Son of a gun.  Tommy Bibey, it is you.”

        I grinned.  “Cliff Searcy, I presume?”

        “Yes sir.”

        “So pleased to meet you.”

        We chatted for a moment, but Appalachian Fire was up next, so I let them get to their warm-up.  They were a fun band.  It was all Fedora hats and baseball caps, New York State fiddling, and wild Hawaiian shirts.  They had a fine girl singer, Ranee Stepp, and I loved her version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’  When  bunch of middle aged guys from across the demographic board can make such fine music with a young lady who is barely more than a kid, I know this kind of music will not be lost.  I like to see the young people in it.  Music is the  tie that binds.

        All in all it was a fine festival.  Opie is a great mando player, and I always learn from him.  FlintHill was there, and Michael Burgess is one of my favorite songwriters.  He has placed tunes with bands like Lonesome River and the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet.  Their banjo man is one of the best you’ll hear, and the guitar man is a pretty dang hot picker too.

        For me, bluegrass music is all about the people.  A genuine tough guy ex-football coach with a soft spot for English Lit, kids, and folks in Nursing homes is the kind of human being I continue to find in my bluegrass journey.  We plan to do a few charity gigs together.  Someday I’ll visit his class and tell ‘em when I was a boy we always paid mind to Coach, and they better too, or some day they’d regret it.  I don’t think I’ve seen the last of Cliff Searcy and Appalachian Fire too, ’cause they are true bluegrass.

Dr. B

Alone and Blue/Hector Brown

June 27, 2009

        Tim O’Brien used to do a song in his ‘Hot Rize’ days called ‘Hector Brown.’  It is the bluegrass statement on ‘lives of quiet desperation.’  The chorus goes, “if you don’t think an old man can be alone and blue…let me tell you my friend, he’s just like you.”

          Believe it or not here in Harvey County we still make a  few house calls.  There are a lot of little old folks who live just like Hector Brown in the song.  

        There was one old fellow I used to see who loved for me to bring my mandolin.  If you are one of those hard-hearted insurance kinda  guys don’t worry; I didn’t send in a bill.  In fact, at times I’d thumb through the code book and say, “Hey Bill; what kinda ICD-9 code you reckon the government would take for mandolin picking and watching ‘Bonanza’ re-runs?”

         He was confined to bed from a stroke and could barely talk, but he’d always laugh his a^^ off.  Bill was a Hector Brown kind of guy, but he endured it all with dignity.  I like to believe I helped some.

        When I age out of the Doctor gig that’s how I am gonna spend my time.  I’ll go out to the house of folks like Bill, take a plate of chicken and my mandolin, and see if I can make their day better.  By professional mandolin standards I am an average player at best, but so far no one has complained. 

        I’ll get back to my tour schedule next week.  I’m tired and need to recharge.  I wanted y’all to think about the folks confined to home.  When you get down to the bottom line, I think that is why I play mandolin more than anything else.  I’m gonna play some this weekend.  Who knows, maybe it’ll be a bright spot for some soul like Hector Brown.

Dr. B

Mississippi Part II/The Great Grand Mandolin Push Pin Book Tour

June 26, 2009

        First of all I have to give credit where due.  My new book tour title comes from Ms. Sharon at the sunlitdesk in Australia.   Her blog is very appropriately named.  From what I have read, there is a lot of sunlight down there, and along with Ms. Karen she shines new light on the word world for me every day.  Check out her site at: www.thesunlitdesk.wordpress.com  

        I guess you might wonder how I fell in love with Mississippi.  It is very simple.  They were the first folks outside of my hometown who began to read my short stories and show interest in my work.  I’m the same way as a Doc.  My first patient is still my most special one, and always will be.  She put her faith in me when I was too young to deserve it, and I have never forgotten her.

        After my stop at Tupelo and Saltillo, Mark, the manager at The Jamison recommended I check out Square Books in Oxford Mississippi.  He said Oxford was a prototypical New South town; big on the arts with lots of music and books; one I should not miss.  Smitty had said the same.  I try to never ignore good advice, especially when I hear it it twice, so we got in the car and went to Oxford.

         As you might expect Square Books is right on the square in downtown Oxford, Mississippi, the home of Ole Miss.  Upstairs they had a fine ice cream shop.  Cold ice cream and mandolin picking mix real good on a hot summer Mississippi day.  I got out my Gibson and played a few.  The next thing I knew a small crowd gathered.   

        “Do you know ‘The White Spire?” one asked.

        I knew this was an insider.  “Whiskey Before Breakfast?”  I asked.

        He smiled.  “That’s the tune.  Who are you?”

        “Tommy Bibey.”  I stuck out my hand.  “Pleased to meet you.”

        “Greg Johnson.  I’m in charge of the Blues Archive here at Old Miss.”

       It turned out Greg played in a Celtic band.  He invited me to stay and play that evening, but we had promised to be be in Memphis by dark-thirty and had to go.  He promised if I came back he could get me in the best jam sessions around.  Since then I have studied a bit of Yank Rachell blues mandolin.  Even though I am not an expert on the blues, I have at least some of that musical vocabulary.  It should make for great book store gig when the time comes.

       I paid my bill and thanked the lady for the ice cream.  “Ma’am that was extra good.”

        “When your book comes out I want you to come back and play another tune.”

       “I will as long as you promise I can have some of that ice cream.”

         “Yes  sir.  It’s a promise.

          In addition to Greg, I have a young friend at Ole Miss I need to catch up with.  She goes by MJ, and she is  a writer too.  MJ was one of the Mississippi school kids I became pen pals with, and we have stayed in touch.

       You might wonder what an old Doc and a young Pharmacy student could possibly have in common.  I hope MJ will weigh in, but here’s how I see it.  I am about 80% scientist and 20% artist.  MJ might have a somewhat different percentage in mind, but I have a notion she has a similar perspective.  When I was young I met a mentor who had combined the two with success.  I hope young people like MJ will look at old Doc and say, “if he can do it so can I”  and know they also can live their dreams.  MJ is a good little writer.  Y’all check out her blog at:    www.fictionpress.com/~mjskywalker

        So I hope all of you will get out your ball of string, and see if you are anywhere near my path.  If you know of  stops on the great grand mandolin push pin book store tour I need to visit I hope you’ll let me know.  I’ll get out my push pins and put you on the tour master map.  I also have some contacts in Louisiana.  There is a romance writer there who is a semi-professional alligator wrestler.  A woman with that resume is bound to know of some good independent book stores.

        And Ms. MJ, we’ll see you in Oxford at a book store signing.  Maybe you’ll have  few short stories ready to share with the group.  (It might be tough to get a novel done while in Pharmacy School.)   If you’ll recommend a not too fancy but good place to eat my wife and I will take you and a friend to dinner.  If your folks are in town have them come along.  As kindred spirts all us scientist/artists  gotta stick together.

Dr. B

Excerpt from a Mississippi Book Store Gig/Act Naturally

June 24, 2009

        As you know, I am in the final edit stage of ‘The Mandolin Case.’  I expect to spend about six months on this.  We should beat our January 1, 2010 deadline by a few weeks, then I’m gonna spend Christmas with my family.

        After that it is on to publication.  We have several publishers who have it under consideration.  If by chance they all turn it down, we have a couple of excellent self-publish options, so no fear, there will be a book.  Y’all know me well enough now to know this next line is just a joke, but the Publishers don’t.  I like to keep the business kind of folks guessing, but I always tell them, “Y’all, either a Publisher is gonna make me famous or I’m gonna make a Publisher famous.  It doesn’t matter to me which way we do it.”

         Of course Milwaukee and beer pulled that off, but I don’t think Tommy Bibey is as big a deal as beer.  Still, I have to admit I have fun pulling their leg.

         Once it is out my wife and I plan several tours.  My life as a Doc goes on, but starting in 2011, my contract will allow for some extra time off to accomodate all this.  My employer understands I am 80% Doc and 20% artist, and that I function best that way.  They are fine with that mix, so I’m gonna get there. 

          Once I began to plan, I realized the world was a big place.  We still have our map on the wall with all the little push pin destinations.  Not long ago my agent took a look at it, and said I better start to get organized, so here we go.

        My tour plan revolves around people.  If there aren’t any people to see I don’t have any reason to go anywhere.  So today, I am going to start with the geographic location of Mississippi.  Over the next several posts tell you about other places we plan to go.  I’m gonna do them in the rough order I got to know the people who inspired me to travel to their neck of the woods.

         I do want to ask for a favor.  As I cover areas around the country, I would like for you to get out a map.  Take a piece of string and lay it out from Raleigh to the area of interest on that day’s post.  And it doesn’t have to be as the crow flies either.  I plan to zig-zag a lot, and have interest in all people who love books, music, and the arts in general.  If you know of a book store or music store where my tour would be fun let me know.  I have a special interest in the independents, as I am rather independent myself.   

        Today I start with Mississippi.  I met Smitty on a random pairing at a mountain golf course several years ago.  When we realized we both played the mandolin, we became instant friends.  The folks we were paired with thought we’d known each other for years.  In many ways it felt like we had.  By the end of the round we were planning a round of golf, a picking session, and a visit to his mom’s for fried chicken in a black skillet.  It all sounded good to me. 

        We stayed in touch.  He is a Mississippi school principal, and I became pen pals with some of his students.  I still correspond with some of them to this day.  (I call them my rangatang young’uns after an old story.)

        Today’s post is how I envision a Mississippi book store gig.  With minor variations I am sure you can see how it has application in other geographic locales.

‘Mississippi Mandolin Book Store Gig’

          “Folks, I’m so proud today to be here at Reed’s Book Store in Tupelo, Mississippi.  Anywhere that is the home of Elvis, Jerry Clower, Marty Stuart, John Grisham and William Faulkner is good by me.  You folks are famous.”

         (applause goes here )

        “I’m  gonna kick this off with ‘When You’re Smiling,’  not that y’all get any choice on that one.  It’s the theme song for me and my Marfar.  As all y’all know here in the South, if mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.’  She keeps me smiling, so I gotta return the favor.”

         Then I’ll go into my version of the tune.  I gotta brag here.  It is pretty good for a Doctor.  The single line melody is from Darin Aldridge and I learned the chord melody second part from Wayne Benson.  If you can’t learn some mandolin from those two you’re in trouble.  They are the best. 

        I especially like the middle of the second half.  It sounds just like something you’d hear when you open up a music box.  I can picture my daughter as the ballerina complete with a pink Karate outfit and the matching black belt.  Or if that image doesn’t imprint, how ’bout my boy circling ’round and ’round on a Harley, the muffler emitting the characteristic potato, potato, potato, exhaust sound.

        (light applause again.)  I do a few bars of ‘Miss the Mississippi and You,’ an old Jimmie Rogers tune. 

        ‘Y’all got any questions about the book?”

         A hand goes up.  “Yes.  Did Indie really keep white lightning in a skeleton’s skull in his office?”

         “No ma’am.  It was Jim Beam.  He only drank white lightning at the Bomb Shelter.”

        “Oh my.”

         “Oh don’t worry.  He didn’t drink when he was on call.  And his vision was 20/20 right till the day he died.  He had some faults like we all do, but I loved him anyway.  That reminds me of a tune.  How ’bout the Cherokee Shuffle?”

        “Why that one, Dr. B?”

        “Oh, it was Indie’s theme song.  He had a shuffle type gate ’cause of his Parkinson’s disease, and he dealt with it head on.  He said we had to play the Shuffle at every gig.”  I render it the best of my ability.  No one could play it like Indie.

       The applause was a little bit heavier.  (Everyone loved Indie.) 

        “Y’all hold it down some now.  That little lady over there is a librarian, and I don’t want to upset her.  I want to get invited back for the second book.  We better settle down.”  (My librarian at home always said she wanted me to have fun, just not too much)

        “Hm.  Time for our commercial break, y’all.  Folks, this portion of our program is brought to you from the folks at Reed’s fine clothing store, right here in downtown Tupelo.  You walk in there and that man can size you up for a suit from fifty paces without so much as pulling a tape measure out of his pocket.  You can’t miss ‘em.  They’re right across the street from Tupelo hardware where Elvis’s  mama bought him his first guitar.  And while you are here, go over and visit Elvis’s home-place.  Music history there for sure. “

        I spot Smitty in the audience.  “Hey Smitty, you got me a golf game lined up?  I might need a couple shots a side; getting some age on me you know.”

        “Straight up, Doc.”

        I smile.  I never could fool the principal.  “Speaking of Elvis, is he gonna drop by?  I need me a singer.”

        About then the door chimes.  In walk Elvis and Conway.  “Lord have mercy, y’all.  We have us a gig.  Did y’all bring that girl singer?  Lawd, she was good.”

        “She’ll be over directly, Doc.”

        Someone asks a question.  “Doc, tell me me more about Mason Marley.”

        “Oh she was a good’un.  Hold on just a minute, though.  It ain’t every day an old bluegrass picker gets to play one with Elvis and Conway.  Boys, what y’all wanna sing……”

        Well, this gives you some idea of my book store gig format.  I hope it will be O.K. ’cause I don’t know any way to be but myself.  As as Buck Owens would say, “all I gotta do is act naturally.”  If fact it is all I can do. 

        I hope all of y’all will start to fill in the blanks as I work my way through this series.  If you know of places I need to stop please let me know.  I’ve worked up a good version of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ and the ‘Alabama Jubilee,’ and have songs in mind for the other states along the way.  I keep all this in my ‘tour’ folder on my blog, so I have some rough organizational scheme in mind.  

        But keep in mind, I am not a business guy.  This tour is all about people, music, books and fun.  It is about dreams.  Sure, I hope to sell some books, but if I come home with ten more dollars than had when I left and made a bunch of new friends I’ll consider it an overwhelming sucess.  I have to admit it is a mentality that leaves the business folks scratching their heads in bewilderment, but what can I do?  I have to be myself, and I am no businessman in doctoring or books either one.

         If y’all want me to stop at your favorite book store or music store I hope you’ll drop me a line.  (Many of you already have, and I thank you so much.)  Like I said, I ain’t going anywhere unless there are people I want to see.  All I can do is act naturally and hope to find kindred spirits along the way.

Dr. B

Father’s Day/Amazing Love

June 22, 2009

        Our song of the day yesterday at church was ‘Amazing Love.’  I thought it was just right for Father’s Day.

        I was fortunate to have a good Father.  He was also a country Doc.  I used to go on house calls with him.  He worked very hard, maybe too much at times, though they had little choice in the matter.  Even though he had a tough go, I could tell what it meant.  We’d go out to the Fairgrounds and some child would come up and hug his pant legs and tell him how much they loved him.  I didn’t know exactly what he did, but I wanted to be a part of it.

        I heard of a minister whose work was with death row inmates.  He said he never met a man on death row who had a good relationship with his father.  I never forget that, and vowed when my time came I’d do my best too.

       The best thing a fellow can do to be a good father is pick out a good mother for his children.  I was lucky on that one.  When I married their mama I figured God would give us beautiful children and it worked out just like that.   I have often said God knew what God was doing, ’cause if it was up to men to have babies, the human race woulda died out a long time ago.  I am a Doc and I tried to be as supportive as I knew how, but like most men all I really know about the miracle of birthing babies is to read ‘Field and Stream’ magazine in the waiting room, smoke a fine cigar, and brag. 

        Marfar had her hands full.  She was both the grace and the discipline.  I was (and still am in many ways) nothing but an overgrown child who was fortunate enough to have a good grown up Doctor brain.  In truth she raised three; our two and me, and did a fine job of it.

        But I loved to work and play hard, and I included my kids in it all. They hung out at the office with me and made hospital rounds.  We’d stop at a red light on the way to the hospital and their grade school word lists would flutter to the floorboard.  They’d gather ‘em up and we’d memorize a few more.  I told them it was the only way our people knew how to survive so they better get good at it.  They became good with words.  

        Somewhere early on I read children need rituals; a routine they can count on.  There was a little country restaurant on the way to school, and I took them there for breakfast every Wednesday morning without fail.  I was often on call Tuesday nights.  At times I was so tired I thought my face was gonna plop right into my eggs, but we kept it up.  I was a busy young Doc, and didn’t have as much time for them as I wanted.  But at Wednesday breakfast I learned of all their hopes and dreams, and encouraged them to reach for them.

        They both did well.  My boy is a paramedic who loves to ride Harleys and work on cars.  He has a fine mechanical mind and can fix anything.  My daughter is an intellectual young lady who is in Public Health in the Tobacco Triangle.  Her special interest is in health care for the under-served.  The child has already been around the world and is working a plan to save it.

        They both play a little music.  I taught my son mandolin, guitar and banjo, and he learned the bass on his own so he could play in the church praise band.  (His mom took it up later)  My Marie was in the orchestra and learned violin, piano and bass (plus some bluegrass bass from her mom) and I gave her a mandolin and she knows some on that too.

         My boy and I played a lot of golf together.   Golf was our time and his sister and mom only played a little.  When he was little he once asked when a man was ready to be married.  Son, I said, “when you are mentally prepared to bust your a^^ all month, and give everything you have to make sure you take care of your people, and at then at the end of the month you have enough left over to walk nine holes of golf and buy a hamburger, and when it thrills you to have that opportunity, then you’re ready.”

         He’s married now and doing well.  He’s not a father yet, but I pray he’ll be a good one, and I am sure he will.

         My daughter was my book kid.  In the third grade she’d want to  talk about issues like poverty and world hunger.  She was a normal girl; quite feminine and as pretty as her mama, but boyfriend, clothes and makeup worries just weren’t on her radar.  Still, I always saw her as my little girl.  She only got mad at me one time.  We were out in the yard pitching baseballs, and she stalked in. 

        I followed her in the house.  “What’s the matter?” I asked.

        “You won’t throw it at me as hard as you will to Tommy.”  She held back big tears.

        I bought her a basket of flowers the next day, but from then on I threw just as hard to her as I did the boys.  She is now a black belt in karate, so I guess she showed me a thing or two about chauvinism, huh?

        Our song of the day in church was “Amazing  Love.”  My definition of love is to care more about someone else than yourself.  If the terrorists were to show up at the house and demand my wife and children they’d have to kill me first.  They are younger and stronger than me, and they would prevail, but I’d hope to put up enough of a fight to where my people could escape.

       Of course what would really happen is my boy would beat ‘em with a ball bat and my daughter would kick the h@## out of ‘em with karate.  Then Ms. Marfar’d take ‘em her best southern barbecued chicken down to the Harvey County jail and they’d wonder exactly why they signed up for this terrorist gig to start with.

         Human love and forgiveness is an amazing thing.  But the love of our Heavenly Father far exceeds even that.  I love my children so much that as a human I could never give them up without  a fight.  I can’t understand God’s love; to give up His only Son.  I guess part of Grace is to accept what we as mortals have no way to comprehend. 

        As an earthly father, I’ll take all the help I can get.  One of these days I’m gonna have grandchildren.  I hear that is God’s way to give you a second chance to do better than when you were young, dumb, and scared half to death.  I’m gonna make the best of it when the time comes. 

Dr. B

Earl Scruggs Concert/Darin and Brooke Aldridge

June 20, 2009

        This writer gig has it’s perks.  I went to the stage door where a burly security man posted guard.  I showed him my press pass and took off my glasses.  “Is this a ticketed event?”  I smiled as I asked.

        He peered into my green eye, then my blue one.  “Hey, Doc.  Don’t need no iris scan for you.  Come on in.  You gonna play?”

          “Believe I’ll leave it to the pros tonight.  Historic concert  huh?”

        “Yeah boy.”

        A few local pickers hung out with the sound crew as they put on the finishing touches.  “Y’all seen Darin and Brooke?” I asked.

        “Downstairs.”

         I turned a corner and followed the music where the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet warmed up.  A country duet caught my ear.  It was new and fresh and old fashioned all at the same time.  “Y’all need to record that one,” I said.  Promoter Milton Harkey was there, and nodded in agreement. 

         A bus was parked outside.  Hoot Hester, staff fiddler for the Grand Old Opry, Rob Ickes, the multiple times IBMA dobro player of the year and super session pickers Jon Randall Stewart and Keith Sewell stepped out.  Man was this was some kind of all star band.  Then it was the Scruggs family; Gary, Randy, and then Earl.  My goodness.

         I hung around and swapped old stories for a while.  We picked a few tunes.  Earl had gone to rest up for the show, but Gary asked if I would like to visit for a minute.  Even though I am closing in on old, I was as tickled as a small boy.  I reminisced with Earl about how much I enjoyed his music, and shared a few old stories about his brother Horace.  We all loved Horace. 

         I went back to Darin’s warm up room and played a few more with them, then put my mandolin in the case and threw it over my shoulder.  “Guys, my Marfar is out in the audience.  I believe I ‘m gonna go out and soak this one in.  Y’all play hard.”

        “We will Doc.  Say a prayer for us, we want to do good,”  Darin said.

        “Y’all always do, young’un, but I’ll say one for good measure anyway.”  I knew what this one meant for them.  They are an overnight success after a decade of hard work, but there were folks from all over the country there, and many of them were quite influential in the music business.  The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet had arrived.

        They did not disappoint.  Be it straight bluegrass, gospel numbers or country duets, it was perfect instrumentation and flawless harmony.  Brooke is a powerful singer, and Darin’s voice matches hers to perfection.  They used to say only siblings can get that kind of harmony, but we’re gonna have to revise the bluegrass rule book.  That married folk harmony is extra good, too.

        I noticed Hoot Hester in the wings checking them out.  I love all of their work, but this new country duet sound they have begun to dabble in as of late is made to order for Darin and Brooke.  It reminds me of the old Louvin brother duets, except one voice is male and one is female.  When they sang the first line I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout it out, “Lord have mercy.  I wish the Rev. Larry Shell could be here to hear that song, ’cause folks that is real country!  Kill Nashville Pop!” 

        Marfar sensed my excitement, grasped my elbow, and put a finger to her lips.  “Ssssh, Tommy.  Be quiet, now.”

        “Yes ma’am.”  I knew she was right.  No sense in getting hauled out by the cops and wrecking the show.  I went to speak to them at the break.  I hugged Darin and Brooke and shook hands with all the boys.  “Great show guys.  Don’t forget me, ’cause y’all are done famous.”

          Darin smiled.  “I ain’t ever gonna forget you, B.”

          I went back to my seat.  They took the lights back down.  The Nashville boys began to lay down a country groove.  The spotlight focused on center stage, and of a sudden, there was Earl Scruggs.  It was a standing ovation before the first note.  All of us old hands know what he means.  He redefined the banjo. 

        My pal Wayne Benson was out on the road, but he sent his best wishes.  He said, “When you hear a banjo at a festival you can trace every note back to Earl Scruggs.”  Wayne’s wife Kristin Scott Benson was the IBMA banjo player of the year for 2008.  She was out on tour with the Grascals.  Folks have taken to calling her ‘girl Scruggs.’  Like all professionals in this music she knows what Earl means to it. 

        Country Music Hall of Fame, Lifetime Grammy winner, more achievements than what I can list.  Earl Scruggs.

        It was a text book performance of one classic after another.  I was especially taken by the old public domain tunes like ‘Sally Goodin’ and ‘Solider’s Joy.’   They are timeless.  So is Earl.  When Gary commented ‘Solider’s Joy’ went back to the 1800’s Earl joked, “Yeah, I wrote it.”  We all got  a laugh, but the truth is he did re-write it in that wonderful three finger style.   Sometime I wonder who would have preserved some of those tunes if it hadn’t been for Earl.

        Randy burned up the ‘Black Mountain Blues.’  (We always called it the Black Mountain Rag.’)  Doc Watson would been proud.  When Hoot Hester kicked off  ‘Dim Lights’ I thought the man had to have played a few honky-tonks before he became a staff fiddler for the Opry.  It was one of those staccato country fiddle kick-offs that is often imitated but seldom duplicated to that level.  I would have to ask Larry Shell to be sure, as  he is more of an expert than I am, but I think ‘Dim Lights’ might be the original honky-tonk song.  The classic lyrics go:

        “Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
        Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand
        Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
        You’ll never make a wife to a home loving man

        A drinkin’ and dancin’ to a honky-tonk band…..”

        When the song came out in the 50s it was controversial!   Now it is a classic.  Keith Sewell coaxed some fine Tele-like twang out of the electric guitar that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  Jon Randall Stewart’s singing was exceptional on that one.  I thought no one would ever sing the high part like Curly Seckler again, but this young man did it.  I was very impressed with him; a talented multi-instrumentalist, great singer, and a cool looking kid to boot; we need to see more of him.  He was a nice young man too.  It seems like the great ones always have a touch of humility.

         Gary called on Jon to sing ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ theme song and then they closed with ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown.’  The crowd was on their feet clapping and stomping.  Just like 1945 it was magic all over again; just pure magic.

          Folks, my life was meant to be a Doc.  That’s what God called me to do, and I always give it my best.  But I love the music too, and somehow I’ve gotten right in the thick of it.  Maybe it was God’s way of looking out after me.  You see a lot of heartaches as a Doc, and I can be a bit sensitive to it all at times.  The music sure has eased the pains for me. 

        I’ve been awful lucky.  One of my golf pals calls me ‘Moonlight’  after the character in ‘Field of Dreams.’  On the way home I told Marfar maybe I was a bit like Moonlight Graham, ’cause I have lived the dream the whole way.  Moonlight was meant to be a Doc, and so was I, but somehow we got to play in the big leagues for at least an inning or two.  Not many folks get to shake hands with Earl Scruggs before a concert like that one.  I was blessed to get to be any small part of it, and I am thankful for my good fortune.

        Thank you Earl Scruggs for what you have done for all of us over the years.

Dr. B

The Old Home Town/Earl Scruggs

June 18, 2009

        Friday is a big night in bluegrass music.  Earl Scruggs will be in his old hometown of Shelby, N.C. for a Homecoming concert.  In the interest of historical accuracy, I might add it is really a reunion concert for Cleveland County, as Earl grew up in nearby Boiling Springs.  To be exact, his old stomping ground was the Flint Hill community, which was part of Boiling Springs.  The old home place still stands down near the Broad River just above the Greenway.  There are some fine photos of it on the English Professor’s blog at www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com

         Most bluegrass folks know the Flatt and Scruggs tune, ‘The Old Home Town.’   It starts out “Tonight my heart is lonely for the folks back home…”  Bluegrass tends to be a nostalgic music and I am a nostalgic man, so I can identify with the lyrics.  I guess I was a little like Jimmy Stewart in ‘A Wonderful Life.’  Home was just too powerful a draw.  When I left for college I thought where I landed was sure enough a mighty big town ’cause they had an Arby’s.  I came back home after school and never left again.

        This is not to say my world is all egocentric though.  I know I am a homebody, and believe I was supposed to be a Country Doc in a little town.  At the same time my wife and I want to see a bit of the world before we are too old to go, and ‘The Mandolin Case’ is our travel ticket.

        At the same time, I am not one to go unless I have people I want to see.  Without the book, I doubt I would have ever ventured out to any of the rest of the world.  It was my way to find others of like mind.  The beauty of the book journey is that I’ve already found new friends all over the world before it is even published, and they are all just like my Harvey County pals.  Bluegrass folks are the same everywhere, and I would never have ventured out without the security blanket of their network.  I’m a homebody but with my people I always feel at home.  

        Still, I am certain after a few weeks out there I’ll go right back to the house.  In my old song book compilation there is a category for ‘Songs About Wandering Away and Coming Home Again.’  ‘The Old Home Town’ is home and always will be.  Like a homing pigeon I’ll always return.

        There are many reasons I had to write my book, and it is a bit of a complicated story.  One objective was to pay tribute to my many friends who are out there on the road.  Every single human being who ever recorded a note of this music helped me through many long lonely Doctor nights.  I often wandered back home in the middle of the night half exhausted.  I am certain at times I would not have arrived safely if not for someone’s cassette tape blaring away in my Scout as I drove home.  Many times it was Flatt and Scruggs.   

         Friday, June 19th, 2009, Earl Scruggs is gonna wander back to his hometown too.  I’m sure gonna go.  After all, Earl saved my life out on the doctor road many a night, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for it.  The opening act is the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet.  They live in the next County over, Gaston, so they are home too.   They also are a major inspiration for me.  It should be the best of the legends and the best of new for a Homecoming concert no one should not miss. 

        If you live anywhere near Western N.C. I would make the journey.  Check with Destination Cleveland County; I think there are still a few tickets left.  It promises to be a historical show.  Y’all wander over there, I am certain they’ll make you feel right at home.

Dr. B


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