Mandolins and Kidney Stones

        I became a mandolin player by default.  I understand Bill Monroe picked it up the same way, when his brothers had already laid claim to the fiddle and the guitar.  (He got better than me, though.) 

        When I first came to town, I was a banjo player, but as soon as I heard the Moose pick the five, I switched to guitar.  Moose told me they were short on mandolin players in town, and I’d see more work if I learned how to play it, so I took his advice.  

        The first gig I ever played was a Halloween party at a local church, and it was a baptism by fire.  I only had my mandolin three weeks, and protested when the Moose called, but he was insistent- his regular man had run away from home with a French accordion player he met at Galax.  He knew a good man over in Raleigh, but he was out on the road with his regular band.

        As they say in bluegrass, it was rough style.  I hung back from the mic, and tried to chop along on the three chords I knew the best I could, and did one short solo on an easy piece Moose assigned.  We left the stage, and I complained it wasn’t very good.

        Moose said, “You’ve only had the thing three weeks- what didja expect- David Grisman?”  Still, I was his regular mandolin player from then on.  For the first ten years I guess he felt sorry for me, or maybe it was there was no one else in town who could play, but I never got fired.  (We knew of one band where the lead singer fired his mama, the bass player, on a regular basis.)  Maybe it was because I was reliable, never missed a gig, and was always on time and sober.  Come to think of it, maybe it was in spite of that.

        The day I knew I had the mandolin job permanently, though, was when the Moose missed his only gig.  We figured no one would know it was bluegrass without a banjo, and I was the only one in the group with some skill on the instrument, so I left the mandolin in the case.  It wasn’t very good. 

        More important though, was the fact Moose didn’t make the show due to a kidney stone.  I met him in the E.R. an hour before the gig.  As he told the rest of the guys later, “I knew Dr. B was a good friend, but I didn’t know how good till he showed up in the E.R. with that morphine.”  A kidney stone is everything it is cracked up to be.  After I passed mine, I called up several patients and apologized for my insufficient empathy.

        We are now another decade down the bluegrass road (the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band longevity record has been eclipsed) and I believe my spot is relatively secure.  Bluegrass bands are like baseball teams; everyone brings a different skill to the table- the trick is blend it into a team.  The Good Lord didn’t give me the pipes to sing lead, but I have worked hard to be a serviceable baritone (some say monotone) part singer, and I’m a decent but not spectacular utility mandolin guy.   As far as I know, though, we are the only semi-professional band in the area with medical benefits.

        As the boys always say, I play good for a doctor, and a fellow who can treat a kidney stone comes in handy every once in a while.

Dr. B

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