Archive for October 2007

Why Not Bluegrass

October 28, 2007

        Recently someone asked why I played bluegrass music.  I remember an old story that circulated in college.  Reportedly, the philosophy professor asked a single exam question, “Why?”

        One student answered, “Because,” and got an “F.”

        Another wrote, “Why Not?”  They got an “A,” so I’ll stick with “Why Not?” 

        Bluegrass is an equal opportunity music.  If you love the music and respect its traditions your demographic data is immaterial.  We have people of all walks of life- witness a Galax jam session where a NASA rocket scientist plays Scruggs style banjo with a mandolin player who is employed stirring the vat at the chewing tobacco factory.  (By the way, he is one heck of a mandolin player.)  Folks with disabilities are a part of the scene, and women are not only equal but often at the top of the bluegrass order- note Alison Krauss and Rhonda Vincent.  It is one of the few communities that respects, if not honors, its elders.  As Lester Flatt told Marty Stuart regarding an elderly  couple who visited the record table after a show, (paraphrased) “Son, in this music people are fans for life.”

        Our music consistently respects the spiritual.  There is no picker who can be respected as knowledgeable of the genre if they do not have familiarity with gospel repertoire.

        Bluegrass music even helped me raise my children.  In an era when it can be difficult to hold your people close, mine always were, thanks in part to the countless festivals and shows I drug them to over the years.  When they were in middle school, our little Neuse River CD got some public radio airplay, I was the coolest Dad at the the Middle School for a few years there despite my decidedly non-youthful persona.  Now my kids play too, and are carrying on the tradition.  Sometimes I wonder if they would have listened to anything I had to say if not for the music.  

        So, bluegrass music.  “Why Not?!”


The Gift

October 24, 2007

        I once went to a picking party in Western N.C.  Some Doc was turning forty-five, and his wife threw a big shin-dig for him.

        By the end of the party, I reckon every picker there would have wanted to marry that woman.  You see, she gave her fellow a brand new Weber signed Gibson mandolin that day. 

        I hadn’t thought about that day in years, but I ran into that Doc at a festival recently, and he was still was playing the pride and joy.  Now the mandolin was old and battered, but still played true, and even though the Doc was noticeably gray haired, he hadn’t seemed to age much.  I reckon having a mandolin, and a wife, like that kept him young.

        I asked how his wife was doing.  She was fine, he said.  In fact, he had recently gotten back into guitar, and she had bought him a new Martin.

        Not surprisingly, he is still married to the same woman. 

Dr. B

The International Language Of Music

October 20, 2007


Twin Mandolins

October 10, 2007

        Darrell had a recent show in our area, and decided to bring me up on the stage to do a twin mandolin number.  He was in town a couple weeks before we were to play, and gave me a quick lesson on the piece.

        “Daybreak in Dixie.”  Of course, I knew the number, and had done in with Neuse River a number of times.  When Darrell works up a piece, though, it goes to the next level.

        He dropped by the house one evening and put a copy of Grisman and Bush into the changer.  The two players blazed through the solo.  What a remarkable performance.  Lightening fast, and yet the harmony was perfect on every clean note.

        I listened intently, and had to laugh.  “Come on Darrell, maybe you can play like that, but I can’t cut that gig.  I’m a doctor, man.” I grumbled. 

        “NAP, Doc.” (Not a Problem)

        “Maybe for you.”

        Darrell played through the Gris part first.  Exactly how he could extract the solo out of the mix, I don’t know, but when he did, it could hear it.  Yep, it was Gris all right.  A little Monroe, some characteristic jazz and double stop slides, and some signature pentatonic licks thrown in for good measure.  All clean- it was Gris, no doubt.

        “Yeah, well that cuts the Gris gig.  What are you gonna do about Bush?”

        “That’s you, bros.”

        “Right.  You ain’t got that much time.  The show date is in two weeks.”

       “You can get it.  Darrell took my mandolin from my hands, and slowly worked through the piece, as if he were injecting it with some kinda magic to speed up the process, and then handed it back.  After fifteen minutes, I was starting to get a handle on it.  Somehow I doubted Sam was worried about his role as a bluegrass rock star.  Better keep my day job.  Finally some semblance of the tune began to emerge.

        “That’s it, you’re about there, let’s take it up to speed.”

        Of course, I wrecked that, but Darrell kept tinkering with it, and after a while it began to take shape.  Finally I realized what he doing.  He was getting me to play it my best, but where I couldn’t match Sam note for note (which was often) Darrell would fill in the blanks.  The rascal was taking me to the highest level he could (I’ve been told I play good for a doctor) and then would make up for my deficiencies by injecting some extra notes into his part.  In essence, he was playing Gris, and some of Sam, and I was playing Tommy Bibey!

        He did a fine job of it, ’cause come show time, the number was actually quite good.  It was like singing along with the stars on the way to work in the morning- when you are traveling with the right company, you can sound pretty good.  Alone in the studio the tape doesn’t lie, but on stage, with Darrell covering the lead, I was pro for a day.  Several people came up to me afterwards, and said it sounded just like the record.

        I thanked them, but didn’t give up the secret.  At the same time, I cast a glance towards my stethoscope.  Better not give up my day job.  Besides, I had a full schedule at the office come Monday morning.  The way I saw it, someone needed to doctor on the musicians when they got sick, and who better than a Doc that at least had some idea of what they were doing.

Dr. B

Moose Dooley “Live at the Rex”

October 8, 2007


        One year Neuse River played the Rex Theater in Galax, Virginia.  Quite a good show it was, and the exposure on the radio throughout the southeast took the band to another level.  We did a couple numbers with the Blue Mountain Diva, and she was a heckuva girl singer. 

        Hey, if you are in Galax, try the Galax Smokehouse.  Along with the gig came a complimentary meal, and it was extra good.  If you play bluegrass music, you become an expert on barbecue, and the ‘cue at the Galax smokehouse was on par with our hometown Bee Bridge’s BBQ, as high a rating as I can give.

        We finished up the show around eleven, and left town precipitously.  I thought it was ’cause the girls were after the Moose, but it turns out that Buddy Wrong heard the Warbler, our lead singer, on the radio, and was on his way to Galax to make good on the twenty bones we still owed him from a gig.  It was late, and all  the banks were closed.  We couldn’t cash our check from the gig, and barely had enough money to get home.  Moose convinced the Virginia State Patrol of the authenticity of a threat on the band’s safety, and we left under police escort.

        Once we got back to the Interstate, it was smooth sailing.  The Highway Patrol waved us off, and we proceeded south through Fancy Gap.  Man, that was the worst pea soup fog I had ever seen.  Moose ain’t never scared of anything, but I could tell being wedged in between those eighteen wheelers with visibilty limited to about twelve feet was not his favorite gig. 

        I wasn’t worried.  Every once in a while, Moose would wake me up to help navigate.  It was one of the few times I thought he  needed any assistance, so I would stay awake for a while, but once I saw he wasn’t having any trouble negotiating his way down the mountain, would drift back to sleep.

        The Rex is a fine gig, an old time live radio show like what you used to see all the time.  If you are in that area, and you like live bluegrass music, it is worth checking out.

Dr. B

Bluegrass Characters I Know

October 7, 2007

        I tell you friend, if you hang out in the world of bluegrass music, you’re gonna meet some characters.  My name is Dr. Tommy Bibey.  I am a semi-retired country doc from eastern N.C.  I was in practice for decades, but always played in a bluegrass band, my best one being Neuse River.
        Now there ain’t no way you can talk about Neuse River without telling you about Moose Dooley.  I reckon Moose is about the best banjo player you ain’t never heard of.  He never hit the road, ’cause as Steve Martin said, “He never heard anyone tell the banjo player to throw that instrument in his Porsche.”  No, the Moose was too wily, and made his fortune in the diamond futures market. The wealth never stopped him from loving bluegrass music, though, and he was my faithful sidekick for fifty years. It was a good thing.  I was a good country doc, but slender and naive.  Moose was strong as a dad-gum bull, and always my protector on the road.
        Moose had made enough money that he could have any banjo he wanted, but his favorite was always the ’27 Gibson flathead.  He’ll correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it is actually a tenor conversion with a Frank Neat neck.  The tone ring is vintage Gibson 30’s; one the Moose excavated on one of his Arctic Diamond Expeditions.  I’m telling’ ya,’ that banjer cracks better than the polar ice caps in global warming.
        If you know any bluegrass stories I need to document for posterity, please comment. Now that I am retired, I view the documentation of the people’s music, and the exploits of memorable characters in bluegrass as one of my final missions on this earth.

Dr. B

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October 7, 2007

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