Walking Stick Dulcimer
I once had an elderly patient, Banjo Joe, who made a variety of homemade mountain-type musical instruments. They were excellent. He made ’em from scratch out of wood, animal hides, and gourds. He liked old-time open back banjos, as well as guitars and mandolins, but his most popular item was the mountain dulcimer. They were quite good, too. In fact, one year we had a local player, Willie McBee, place in the top ten at Winfield with one of Banjo Joe’s dulcimers.
Joe was so proud he went to Winfield to see it all. After he wished Willie good luck, he took a seat in the audience to take in the show.
There was a lady who sat right in front of him as they watched Willie play Joe’s homemade creation on the big stage. The woman turned to her friend and said, “Isn’t that wonderful? You won’t believe it, but I heard that dulcimer he plays was made by some redneck in eastern N.C.”
Joe tapped her her on the shoulder and said, “Yeah, it’s the dang truth, and that redneck was me!”
I liked all of his instruments, but my favorite was the walking stick dulcimer. It was a functional cane, but Joe had rigged it up with strings and tuners, and you could sit down, put it over you knees and play the thing. Joe would limp down the street, then stop to rest on a park-bench and play for tips. When he went home, his hat was full.
My favorite memory, though, was when he would play with Neuse River. We’d call him up on the stage to claw-hammer a banjo tune. Joe would hobble up on that cane, frail (or fram as many around here say) a banjo tune, and then play one on tenor guitar. We’d tell the crowd ole Joe was so good, he could make a tune out of anything. He’d play the comb or the saw, and we’d keep raggin’ him till he said he was tired and needed to lean on his cane. Then he’d sit down and play the fire out of his walking stick! It was always a crowd pleas-er, and Joe knew how to milk it for all it was worth.
Joe is now in a nursing home in Raleigh, where his son lives. He gave me the walking stick dulcimer before he left home, and it still sits in the corner of my study. Every once in a while I take a break from my medical studies or music, and pull it out and play a tune. I can coax a little something out of it, but no one could ever play the walking stick dulcimer like Banjo Joe. He was the best.