Archive for March 2008

Tobacco Triangle Bluegrass

March 30, 2008

        As  y’all know, my Miss Marie goes to Tobacco Triangle U.  She heard about a new festival we needed to take in so we loaded up the wagon and set off for the weekend.  Marie had a few meetings, so she had to come late, but she agreed to meet us there.  That kid is busier than me these days.

        As soon as we got there, I knew this was a good’un.  Some fellow from Alabama who looked ’bout like a young Bill Munroe was center stage just a wailing out the blues on “In the Pines.”  His banjo player was from Montgomery.  When he took a break from three finger style and clawhammered “Old Rattler” I knew this was gonna be some hard core grass.  You just don’t see that many Auburn graduates who are Grandpa Jones fans.

        A point of clarification is in order here.  Hard core refers to very traditional bluegrass music.  Once a staff member at my office wasn’t sure they should attend an event like that ’cause she was afraid the term was in reference to some bad Internet sites.  In bluegrass, hard core means everyone complains if there are drums or electric instruments. 

        A bluegrass joke here:

        Q:  How many bluegrass musicians does it take to change a light-bulb?

        A:  Five.  One to change the bulb, and four to complain it is electrified.

        Not only were the stage shows good, but the jam sessions were excellent too.  When I walked in the jam tent, there were three boys warming up.  They had everything covered but the mandolin, so I got mine out of the case to sit in.  

        The lead singer was a young guy from Virgina named Gill, and man did he have the pipes.  He knew a bunch of old tear- jerkers and some kid was on the banjo sang the high tenor.  I covered the baritone.  We had never played a note together, but I fell right in with ’em and it was a good blend.

        Right about that time Miss Marie walked in and hugged me around the neck.  Gill might look like a country boy, but one should never underestimate the intuitive intelligence of authentic bluegrass musicians.  The boy had never met me, or her, and yet he sensed we were tight.  (Maybe it was ’cause she came up from behind, threw her arms around my neck and said, “Hey Daddy.  I love you!”)  Whatever the reason, he immediately changed gears and called for an old Reno and Smiley number. 

        The chorus goes like this:

        “I wouldn’t change you if I could, I love you as you are,

       You’re all that I would wish for, if I wished upon a star.

        An angel sent from heaven

        You’re everything that’s good

        You’re perfect just the way you are

        I wouldn’t change you if I could.”

        The tune was one of our special family songs over the years for both Miss Marie and Marfar.  There is no way that boy coulda known that, but you can’t help but love bluegrass intuition.  Maybe we are old fashioned (the boy called all females regardless of age “Sugar,” or “Shugawh,” in that wonderful East Virginian drawl) but no one will ever convince me that bluegrass musicians don’t have a special sixth sense as far as human emotions.

        We went to get a bite at supper, and I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of old Honest Abe the promoter who wanted to name our band “Supper Break,” so we could be in every festival in the country at the same time.  The restaurant was crowded, and rather than wait we got paired with two other couples.  One was a minister and his wife who had been in the R.V. business for years and just retired.  The other was a couple of newlyweds who were touring the country on an extended honeymoon before settling into the work routine.  They figured they had the rest of their life to work, so they were gonna play first while they were still young. 

        And we thought we were living the dream.  These kids were off for six months in a travel trailer following the bluegrass tour.  Now I’m here to tell ya, age makes no difference, those young’uns are destined to be a great bluegrass couple.  We enjoyed breaking bread with them.

        We spend Friday night with Marie, and got up early Saturday to take in breakfast at Soul Shack Mama’s.  It met our two requirements- great food and no smoking.  (smoking is now banned campus wide at Tobacco Triangle U. anyway.)  Marfar noticed the wormy chestnut bead board and Mason jars and egg basket decorations, but as for me all I could pay attention to was the catfish and eggs with biscuits and sop molasses.  I’d better check my cholesterol next week.

        Saturday morning the festival began with some workshops and I took ’em all in.  I only had a half hour for the banjo, but picked up on some Scruggs back-up licks I didn’t know.  Then I scooted over to the mandolin session.  I’m pretty far along on the instrument, and the kid teaching was just twenty-seven, but he was a real pro and had some neat tips on efficient use of practice time I think I’ll work into my routine.  If I can get one thing out every session I sit in on, and it is something I didn’t know before I got there, that’s enough to satisfy me.

        The guitar man accomplished that in the first minute with some cool tuning fork tips.  I ain’t a guitar man, and he was way past my level of play, but in the bluegrass way, was not one bit conceited about it and kindly sat with us for an hour giving pointers.  I did get to run through “I am a Pilgrim” with him.  He sounded like Clarence White and I could only do Tom Bibey, but it was still fun.

        The host band, Carolina Road, put on their usual fine performance, and the afternoon highlight for me was the mournful mountain ballads of Jr. Sisk.  “Picture in a Tear” and “When the Mountain Dew Starts Falling” are favorites.  That man is a bluegrass singer.  Here is a tip on bluegrass festivals.  When the other pickers and performers put their gear away and come to listen, that is the band you should not miss.  Such is the case for Jr. Sisk.  Real bluegrass, no doubt.

        I think tonight I’ll get back into Doctor mode and read about idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis.  (I just said that so y’all wouldn’t forget I’m a Doctor.)  But, to let you know I’m just Tommy Bibey, I’ll tell you how I memorized it in medical school.

        All you gotta do is sing it to the tune of super-cala-fraga-listic-expe-ala-docios.  It works great.

        Poor mrchili- another tune in the chili household for the day.  Sorry friend!

Dr. B


So Happy Together

March 27, 2008

        Remember that old song, “So Happy Together?”  I’ve often wondered why some marriages endure forever and others don’t make it.  Now I have figured it out.

        There was a blip on the morning news yesterday that claimed the best chance of success was when an average looking man married a beautiful woman. 

        So that’s what it was.  And all these years I thought it was playing that music for her.

Dr. B

Power in the Blood

March 25, 2008

        There is an old hymn we do as a bluegrass number called “Power in the Blood.”  Today’s post though, is medical instead of music.  I hope you aren’t disappointed.  (Never know which way ole Dr. B’s gonna go, huh?)

       A family recently asked me some good questions about what you could tell from the blood smear.  The answer is a lot.  Our family can lay claim to an early N.C. pediatric hematologist, so we’ve been talking about blood around the dinner table a long time.  (Aren’t docs weird?)  Anyway, the whole conversation set me to thinking about an old med school story.  It is apocryphal, but still a good one.

        We had an old hematologist at Sandhills U. who claimed he could diagnose anyone in the hospital by a review of the peripheral blood smear.  No history.  No exam.  No chart.  No other data.  Nothing but prick the finger, put the blood on a microscope slide and bring it to him and he’d tell you what was wrong.  There’s Power in the Blood, he’d boom out in a most excellent baritone.  He had a standing bet.  If a group of interns could stump him, he’d buy dinner.  If they lost, it was on them, and he got to choose where.  Everyone knew he liked Kell’s, a local steakhouse out of the price range for the students, and the Professor was good.  He got few takers.

        Of course, every doctor on the planet knows how difficult this feat is.  Near impossible.  We are taught to take a history first, and that it is your most important piece of  information.  If you don’t where you are headed after the history, you are in trouble.  In fact, we had one old Doc who used to say if he didn’t know what was wrong with his patient in the first five minutes, there was a ninety percent chance no one would ever figure it out.  (Bear in mind he had the advantage of knowing years of the patient’s history before hearing the first word on that encounter.)  I wouldn’t go that far, but the idea of diagnosing from a smear alone is an Olympic Dive with a degree of difficulty of twenty.

        One day a group of medical students decided they were going to stump the old Professor, and set out to insure success.  They recruited the number one smart @^^ intern to head up the search team, and off they went.  After a hospital wide hunt, they found their candidate. 

         Their primary criterion was to find a patient with a single medical problem, and one so obscure the hematologist could not make the diagnosis from a blood smear alone.  (I know all this makes you wonder when we find time to practice medicine.)

        They found their man on the orthopedic floor.  The patient was a young male who had fractured his femur in a motor vehicle accident, and was near discharge. 

        Now, one thing med students can do is take a history, and they descended on this poor boy with zeal.  This kid not only had nothing else wrong, but his family history was clean too.  The grandparents were living, his parents and siblings all healthy; there was nothing.  This was a car wreck, and that was it.  They took their smear to the Professor with great confidence, the intern leading the way.  

        The ace intern issued his challenge.  

        “Sir, if you would review this slide.  We believe this patient can not be diagnosed from a peripheral smear alone.”

        The professor placed the slide under the microscope and began a systematic review.  For a long time he did not speak,  The students were confident.

         He began to issue a few pronouncements. 

        “Hm.  The white cells are normal in appearance and number.  I  doubt this patient is suffering from any systemic infection.”

        He continued to peruse.  The intern gloated.  The old Professor seemed stumped.

        The Professor went on.  “And judging from the size, shape, and color of the red cells, I believe this to be a healthy individual.”  Professor Lauton held his cards close and continued his search.

      He scanned the slide again.  The tension was growing.  They had him.  He stopped.

        “Hm.  In this quadrant there is a finding of significance.  Here is a fat globule.  Care to look?”

       Now the intern was less confident.  He peered into the microscope.  “Yes sir, I see.”

        “A fat globule is an indication of fracture, usually of a long bone.  Given we have established this is a young healthy individual, I am going to say this must be trauma of significant force, such as in a motor vehicle accident.”

        The med students rolled their eyes.

         The Professor went on.  “Given this is trauma to a long bone in a young individual, I am going to say this involves risk taking behavior, so it more likely this is a young male rather than a young female patient. ”

       He paused.  “Therefore, I must conclude this is a young male patient who has been involved in a traumatic injury, most likely a car accident.  Given the finding of a fat globule in the peripheral blood smear it had to be a bone fracture that would warrant inpatient orthopedic treatment, so I’ll say he has a fractured femur.

       Not to be outdone, the smart @^^ intern said, “Well that’s great Professor, but which leg?” 

        I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t believe I’d a said that. 

        Gonna turn into a bluegrass mucisian for the weekend, so will report back my findings.  Remember, there’s Power In the Blood.  And don’t forget, whenever someone wants to lay bets on their own game proceed with caution.

Dr. B

Australian Jam Session

March 25, 2008

       Here is one to check out.  The nccoffeeshopmusic site listed on my Blogroll has posted notice of an excellent jam session.

        The session is at the Dilworth coffee shop in Charlotte N.C. on April 3.  This is not your everyday jam, but a fellow from Australia will be in town and wants to jam with local and regional pickers.  Click on the link on my Blogroll to get the details.

        I always dig a session when someone is in from out of town, but from out of the country is a special opportunity to show the man some Southern Hospitality, so y’all turn out.  The great mandolin builder, Gilchrist, is from that neck of the woods.  I wonder if they’ve picked any music. 

        It is pretty good stretch of drive for me to get there on a weeknight, but I hope they have a good turnout.  For those of y’all from the Charlotte area it sounds like an excellent chance to speak the International Language of Music.  If I lived there I’d go for sure.

Dr. B


March 23, 2008

        Easter Sunday is near a close, and I thank all of y’all for the best wishes.

        There are some holidays I consider more fun, like July 4th, but Easter is always the one when I think the most.  In the setting we celebrate it would be hard not to.

        Every Easter we go to the sunrise service.  When you watch the sun creep over the horizon to a message of renewal, you can’t help but be reflective.

        I get the same notion every year.  No matter how much bad has happened on Earth, we crazy humans have got another shot at it.  Every Easter Sunday I am inspired this might be the year we humans finally get it right.

        I keep thinking somehow we are gonna put an end to all the self-inflicted unnecessary foolishness that creates so much misery, and take to a life of grace and dignity.  Somehow there won’t be any more hate or prejudice, hunger, war etc.  It ain’t happened yet, but a man has to have his dreams.

         I do know this.  I am a human being and I have a son.  I am way too selfish to give him up.  I can’t figure out how strong God’s love must be if he’d give up his Son to take us chance on the human race, ’cause we are a bunch of knuckleheads.  We had life handed to us on a silver platter and managed to make a wreck out of a thing of beauty trying to inject our will into the deal.  We shoulda just listened to God and not tried to be so dang smart.  

        Of course, I’m getting pretty old, and it ain’t happened yet, but as my Dad always said, “Tomorrow is another day.”  Maybe this’ll be our year.

        After all, the sun came up today, so hope springs eternal.

Dr. B

Supper Break/Easter Break

March 20, 2008

        Along the way, Neuse River has been a privately held entity, and we haven’t done any promotion or marketing.  Maybe that’s why we are one of the best bands you’ve never heard of, but we never did want to be anything but what we were. 

        It wasn’t that we didn’t have our opportunities.  Whenever the national groups are in the area, we are often the band of choice as the opening act, and we have met many of the name bands and know a number of promoters.  One year J.D Crowe’s flight was grounded by a snowstorm, and we were in the right place at the right time and got on the big stage.   I felt like George Plimpton pitching for the Tigers.  I’ve often thought we had all the fun without any of the pressure to make a living at it.

        About the time my kids finished college, we gave some serious thought to kicking it up a notch, and put the word out on the street that we might consider an agent and take it to a somewhat bigger audience.  This led to some serious discussions, but at the end of the day we all decided we had too many commitments at home to give the kind of effort an agent would require to market us.  As it is right now, if we don’t want to play over the Easter holiday, we don’t, and don’t have to let an agent down who is busting his tail to help us.

        While all that was going on, though, we did have one guy who pursued us mightily.  One night we had a gig at the Volunteer Fire Hall, and some fellow approached us after the first set.  He wore a long tailed top coat, had a big stove pipe hat and a beard, and called himself The Honest Abe Agency.  He’d heard we were in the market for an agent, and wanted the opportunity to be our man.

        I guess Abe was right down our alley, ’cause the folks he represented were a long string of the best bands we’d never heard of.  I figured at this stage of the game, we’d heard of most everyone who was someone, but we tried to be nice to the guy.

        Man, he followed us like a hungry stray dog you’d made the mistake of feeding.  We couldn’t get shed of him.  Our lead singer, The Warbler, is tall, and could see Abe coming- his stove pipe hat just bobbed along above the crowd.  He’d say, “here comes Prez,” and run in the other direction.  Warb said I shoulda been a diplomat, and he left me to handle it every time.

        The guy had a couple ideas that convinced us he meant well, but was not our man.  For one thing, he wanted to start any band name with “Dr. Tommy Bibey.”  I didn’t have to ask the boys.  I knew how they would view that, and I saw it the same way.  It has always been a democratic band, and besides, I didn’t like to play up the doc thing while on the music gig.  As a matter of fact, when you play music it is a bit hard to access the doctor part of your brain.    

        He had one wrinkle I found interesting though.  He had some scheme where he was going to call us “Dr. Tommy Bibey and Supper Break.” As all bluegrassers know, most bluegrass events print a time for the supper break on the band performance schedule.  He figured we’d be on the bill at every festival in the country simultaneously.

        I found it humorous, but saw two problems right off.  First of all, I figured no one would ever hear us play, cause they’d all be gone to eat.  More important, this might be a fiction forum, but even I could not think of how to place Tommy Bibey in multiple locations simultaneously.  After all, he ain’t some ubiquitous apparition, but only the country Doc next door who makes house calls, huh?

        Easter is coming up, so I’m gonna be off till Monday and post then.  Both young’uns are in, so I’m going take a little time off with the family.  Come first of the week I’ll say a few words about the holiday.  After that, I’ve got several CDs that have come across my desk, and I’ll review them before too long. 

        My readers have become an important part of my life, so I thank all of y’all and wish you a fine holiday.  By modern standards I guess one would say my blog ain’t much, ’cause it is free (and always will be) but it’s important to me ’cause of the friends I’ve made. I suppose I always was better at collecting friends than money, so for me it is a success, even if by worldly standards it is rather humble.  It’s all in your definition I reckon, but as for me I’m glad I ran into you guys.  If I ever get to where I’m a real writer, you deserve much of the credit.

        Have a restful Easter.  Talk to ya Monday. 

Dr. B

Learning As I Go

March 19, 2008

        In every gig, I learn something new.  When you play music with women, there is always a different perspective.

        Here is the first one.  Our last gig was on St. Patrick’s day.  (I got busy and posted a day late.)  I showed up in whatever I’d worn to the office, but my wife brought me a different shirt for the show.  I thought the one I had on was O.K., but she explained it had no green, and the color was imperative on St. Patrick’s day.  I asked why, and she said if you don’t wear green it gives women the right to pinch you.  Given my high profile with the nursing home population, and the the predominant demographic of elderly and female, it made sense to me, and changed shirts.

         Number two.  If you’ll notice on T.V. most singers have an ear plug.  It ain’t a hearing aid, and they are not listening to their IPOD or the ball game.  This is an in-ear monitor.  Believe it or not, we use ’em too.  When you are on stage, the ability to hear the mix is imperative.  Without a good monitor it’s like driving at night with no headlights.  Anyway, I was having trouble clipping mine on, and Marfar used some sort of gadget that held it in place better than anything the boys have ever come up with.  After the show, I found out it was a hair clip.  I kept in in my gig bag for my next Neuse River outing.  I don’t know if they’ll make fun of me or want one, but it worked great.

        Finally, I am always fascinated as to how the ladies engage their audience.  As you know, their theme song is “When You’re Smiling.”  Before they played the tune, they passed out some sorta green St. Paddy Day hand-help snapping contraption to keep time with, and every single one of the residents snapped along in time, and smiled, too.  Aren’t they good? 

        Leave it to Marfar.  She’s the best.

Dr. B