Archive for September 2008

Saltillo Mississippi Part One

September 30, 2008

        The sign said, “Like Coming Home.”  If Saltillo is any indication, Mississippi means it.

        It took some doing to get there.  We left Atlanta and wondered if we’d make it.  A gas shortage on the East Coast meant you had to get fuel at twenty bucks a pop, but forty dollars of gas and twelve bucks worth of catfish and chicken later, we were there.

        We no more than got unpacked and headed for Saltillo Methodist to play a Hee-Haw show.  Talk about enthusiasm- as soon as I laid eyes on the place I was inspired.  This was a beautiful old church (the first paved road South of the Mason Dixon line runs right by it) with a modern family center in the back.  The steeple was destroyed by Katrina, but they had fixed it.  The stain glass windows weathered the storm intact.  I was glad- I am sure they would be hard to replace.

        I found Smitty and went back stage.  We had time to run through a couple of songs.  I was familiar with the tunes, and the folks were bluegrass friendly, so I fit right in.

        They say there are 3,8000 folks in Saltillo, and I bet 2,800 were in that gym.  The excitement was palpable.  I’ve played enough of these to know.  When the house is packed, and everyone hangs out in the aisles, they are there to take it in, and our job is to give them our best.  All the kids sat down front in anticipation- a sure sign it’ll be a good show.

        The lights went down, the spot light came on, and a blond girl fiddler/singer kicked off ‘Love of the Mountains.’  It rocked.  We cruised through old standards like ‘Power in the Blood’ and ‘Sunnyside.’   It was a tight band.  The girl could sing and fiddle.  There was a fine Scruggs style banjo man, two guitar player singers, and the bass player kept perfect time.  Me and Smitty mirror imaged twin mandolins- he is a lefty and I play right-handed, so it was excellent visual symmetry as well as fine music.

        For the most part Smitty directed traffic and nodded when it was turn to take a break or sing some harmony.  The banjo man signaled the end of the tune with a lift and a shake of his right leg.  I see the old time people do this a lot, and my friend who came in from England one time used the same code.  Bluegrass folks is the same everywhere.

        The skits and joke were polished well beyond the showmanship you’ll expect in such a small community.  There was a Conway Twitty, and Loretta Lynn was so spot on I almost went to to the parking lot to look for my old ’57 Chevy.  The only thing I couldn’t figure is why all 3,800 residents didn’t turn out.  If you live in Northeast Mississippi for heaven’s sake don’t stay home and watch re-runs on T.V.  Get out and see the Saltillo folks play when they put on another show.  It’s a good’un and for a good cause too.

        While I was in Mississippi I went to visit Saltillo High.  It was my primary purpose of the trip.  I wanted to meet the kids in the Bread Loaf program.  We were pen pals last year, and they were a major inspiration for me to write.  I read over their e-mails the night before the visit.  I was amazed how their advice mirrored my agent’s as to character development, dialogue, and how to constuct a tight story.  Their teacher, Ms. Turner is a gem who has taught them well.  

        When I met all those kids, I sure was struck how old I have become, but my heart is right there with ’em.  I hope they realized your opportunity to learn never goes away.  Here this old guy shows up at High School, but is still digging.  They were way ahead of the game, though.  I think part of it is this Bread Loaf program, and I plan to learn more about it.  Ted Lehmann has told me it is very big up North.  Next year on my New England tour, I’m gonna go see for myself.

        We also talked about some tough issues like age old human problems of greed and prejudice.  There just wasn’t enough time.  Like one of the students said, we coulda gone all day and it’d been too short.  Thanks to all you guys- you are an inspiration.

        The students bought cookies and smiles and told me of their dreams and plans.  It made me want to be a teacher.  As a Doc and a writer I like to think I am to some degree, so I appreciate being teacher for a day.  My mom was an English teacher, and a big influence on me, so maybe with this whole writing gig I am reliving my youth.  Old guys do things like that, so I thank you.

        There is much more to tell you about our trip to Saltillo, so I’m gonna post on this over several days.  I just can’t type fast enough to tell it all at one time.  When I was in High School, my typing teacher was old and had cataracts.  I sat in the back of the class and we’d slip out a window and go to Popeye’s store to pick the blues on the guitar.  (Kids, I don’t recommend this approach)  I pay the price to this day, as I am a lousy typist.  That is why I never do long posts, and my book is will take two and a half years instead of the six months it should have.  But I am about there.  One more revision and a bunch of prayers and maybe a publisher will look at it by the first of 2009.

        Of course they might read it and decide, like the first agent who rejected me did, that I ain’t chick litty enough.  If they do, and knock me out, I’ll get up off the canvas and try again though.  I can’t stop now.  

Dr. B


Doctor Visits/Jets and Cargo Planes

September 29, 2008

        When I was a kid, my Dad gave prizes for all the kids who came to the doctor’s office.  He used to get these little plastic airplanes.  Most of them were these dull cargo planes, and there were some U.S. Mail carriers and a few crop dusters in there. 

        But if you opened up the bag and scattered them out on the floor, there were always a couple of fighter jets.  I forgot what they were- X-15s or something like that- but they were very cool.  My brothers and I would go up to the office to pilfer them.  I was so bad I’d tell Dad I was tired, and wanted to get my hemoglobin checked.  (The bag of planes was in the lab) When they got to doing other things, I’d sift thought the bag and get the jets.

        The other day I was over at Mom’s house, and saw all those jet airplanes in a bag.  I asked asked her if I could take them to the office.

        When I gave out the first one, the reaction was predictable.  “Cool, Dr. Tommy.  Wait till I show my Dad.”

        I can’t wait till they do, ’cause one of those fathers is gonna say, “Well, I went to his Daddy and all he had was those dumb cargo planes.”

        Makes me feel like a kid again.

        Gonna be in and out for a few days, so I could be slow to post and respond to comments, but I’ll get to ’em.  If you young’uns are good, I might send ya a jet airplane in the mail for the best ones, who knows?

Dr. B

How To Win A Charity Golf Tournament

September 26, 2008

        O.K. folks, here is Dr. B’s primer on how to win a charity Captain’s choice golf tournament.

        We won Wednesday, and here is our formula.  It has worked many times.

        First, and most obvious, your ‘A’ player must be an ace.  Ours, ‘Birdman’ Graylord, was that and more. 

        Second, your ‘B’ man must be reliable, boring, and good for about 60% pars.  He should play like you want your family doctor to be-conservative, not flashy, few mistakes, and only lose two or three golf balls a summer.  Just plum dull except for the brain.  That would be me.

        Your ‘C’ man should be rated as such only because he can’t hit far anymore, but still chips and putts like a wild man.  Take a guy like Sammy.  He spent his youth jumping outta airplanes all over Europe in WWII with dynamite strapped to his chest.  He ain’t gonna fret over a three foot putt.

        But your most important player is your “D” man.  Now I know you must think, ‘Dr. B that don’t make no sense,’ but it does.  He must be a REAL genuine ‘D’ player – like one with a 36 handicap.  That way you have a bunch of strokes to work with.  And Barry Graylord, Birdman’s big brother, is a legitimate 36.  He plays once a year and only in this tournament.  We have signed him to an exclusive lifetime contract, and he belongs to us.  All he has to do is show up and drive the cart.

         Barry is my insurance agent, and he has a string of trophies on his shelf at the office.  Only problem is his clients keep asking him to play golf and rather than explain he politely declines.

        But before you feel sorry for him, don’t.  He is a fine athlete who once tried out for the Braves and was an All-Conference linebacker.  He just doesn’t play golf.  And don’t make fun of his game either, ’cause he is also an expert in jujitsu.

        But I have to say, for an insurance agent he sure has come by his string of golf trophies in an unusual way.  All of them were won for him by his little brother and an old doctor who only plays golf on Wednesdays.  Golf can be a strange game sometimes.

Dr. B

A Tale of Two Letters

September 25, 2008

        A patient was in and had two letters from the same insurance company.  They deemed it urgent the doctor address this problem.  One letter said the company could not approve Nexium, the other asked why he was not taking it.

        This is how Docs spend our time, and your insurance dollars, these days.

        You might wonder why an old doctor feels compelled to write.  There are very few human truths.   Through writing I have found some of them.  I have not seen any in the health insurance industry yet, but I’ll continue the search.

Dr. B

Dr. Tom Bibey- by request

September 25, 2008

        I have had many folks ask for a picture, so here it is.  This was a sketch mid way through the Mandolin Case.  My hair was jet black then so I did ‘doctor’ the photo to reflect my current hue.  I believe Pande would call it blond, or perhaps chrome, as they say on her blog, but in reality it is salt and salt.  It ain’t even got enough tinge to look like that stuff y’all put on the roads up North when it snows.  In fact it looks like the snow- I was generous with the sketch to give it as much color as I did.  In real life the pepper is, as the song says, “gone but not forgotten.”

        There are reasons for the sunglasses.  For one, the work I had to do in the Mandolin Case involved some quaisi CIA-like activity.  This is part of the reason for the secrecy.

        The other though, is not known to many folks so y’all don’t share it.  Since the Mandolin Case is now history, I suppose I can give up this much.  Tommy Bibey has one green eye and one blue eye. 

        I only lose about three golf balls a year, but if you play in the South and find a Titleist marked with a green dot on the left, and a blue one on the right, you will know that Tommy Bibey was there.  It stands for one green eye, and one blue one, but also for BlueGrass.

        Now that I have given up my identity if you run into me on the bluegrass road come up and and shake and howdy.  I’d love to meet ya.”

Dr. B

Old Green Eye/Blue Eye

Old Green Eye/Blue Eye

Gracie Muldoon and 24/7 Bluegrass

September 24, 2008

        I love the name Gracie, don’t you?  It makes me think of the great George Burns.  He loved his Gracie so.

        Someone asked George Burns what the secret was to his long life and he said, “Everyone has to have an act.  Mine is George Burns.”  Cool.  I adopted his notion- mine is Tommy Bibey.

        I never met a Gracie I didn’t like, and I recently met another one I want to tell you about.  Her name is Gracie Muldoon (what a cool bluegrass name) and she runs a 24/7 bluegrass radio station at

        Several of my readers have asked me to stay on the lookout for good Internet bluegrass radio sites, so I checked it out.  These guys have it going on- it is well worth the listen and has Dr. Tommy Bibey’s highest recommendations.

        I promised Gracie I’d let her know when my book is released.  As far as I know it is the first medical novel in which the mystery is unraveled by a loyal band of bluegrass brethren.  I might even call in and announce it myself.  Dibs on the announcement go to Dennis Jones at WNCW 88.7 NPR radio- he asked first and I always honor my commitments and dance with who brung me, but Gracie is second in line.

        And Dennis, much as I love ya man, I gotta tell you if Gracie’ll let me dance with her too I guess I will if my wife says it’s O.K.   She’s a little better looking than you brother, but I’ll never abandon you- you’ll always be my favorite bluegrass DJ in the world.

Dr. B

Chinese Bluegrass

September 22, 2008

        We had dinner guests over tonight.  My wife was a bit nervous because the father of the family was the best Chinese chef in the County.  I told her it wouldn’t matter, good cooking was universal.  I was right- they loved her southern barbecued chicken.

        Marfar has tutored their little boy for a couple of years now.  At first he had a time with the language barrier, but now he’s at the top of the class.  I’ve taught him a little golf- he says he is gonna be the Chinese Tiger Woods- and of course I’ve shown him some bluegrass.  He adopted the American name of Earl.  The kid has good taste.  He is enthralled with Scruggs style banjo.

       After supper he and I watched some Old Lester and Earl tapes that have been re-mastered onto DVD.  His Dad fixed the dessert- mango  and Thailand sticky rice with coconut milk poured over the top- good stuff I tell ya.  

        We played a bit of music and traded some stories about our respective homelands.  I played a few bars of Chinese Breakdown on the mandolin.  I have no idea if the tune came from China or not but they dug it.  No one will ever convince me music ain’t the universal language.  We sent ’em home with some chicken, Marfar’s best friendship bread and a few bottles of Arnold Palmer Half and Half, and they gave us the sticky rice and mango.

        If a decade or two from now you run into a Chinese young man named Earl ask him if he knows Marfar and Tommy Bibey, and tell him his Dad’s sticky rice is the best.  He’ll smile real big and you will be instant friends. 

        And if you run into him on the golf course I wouldn’t bet against him.  In both music and golf, the ones who start out young are tough.

Dr. B

Indian Summer Gig

September 21, 2008

        We had a gig down on the river today. 

        I think I told y’all, but Indie’s Cabin washed away in the great Eastern N.C. flood.  Well, I knew they had a cabin down there a lot like Indie’s old place, so I got a notion to check him out of the Nursing Home and take him with us.  We carved his name in an old tree stump and told him the bluegrass folks dedicated it to him-  ‘Indie was here,’ it said.

        Indie loves the fall of the year.  Always has.  He says the autumn air is crisper and his lungs fare better.  Besides, fall always reminds him ain’t nothing permanent.  After Blinky died Indie was a bit more melancholy, and fall suited him better than ever.  He’d lived eight days a week anyway but after Blinky was gone, he seemed to make even more of an effort to do so.

        He had a big day, a large time as he says.  He sat in his lounge chair and smoked cigarettes and greeted old music friends who hadn’t seen him out in a while.  He got inspired and fiddled a slow one with us- ‘The Kentucky Waltz,” and rendered it pretty, too.  I don’t think Indie had played in public since he wound up in the Nursing Home.

        He drank a Coors or two, and when we played the second set he went to the river and helped the kids with the ‘Rubber Ducky Regatta.’  Indie ain’t nothing but a big kid anyway.

        After the gig I took him back to the Nursing Home, and got him tucked in.  Ms. Jenkins is gone now, and all he has left is me and Barney the skeleton.  And his roses- he stops to smell them every day just like he tells me to do.

        The other day I found some old sketches of Indie I thought you might enjoy.  I should have dated these- I think they were about mid-way through the Mandolin Case.  It was a pressure cooker, but except for the fact his pal Blinky was gone I don’t think it changed Indie too much.  You know how it is – some things never change and them bluegrass folks are like that.  And Indie was bluegrass people as much as anyone I ever knew.

        Here he is:

Fine Doc and Master Fiddler

Fine Doc and Master Fiddler

The Agent

September 21, 2008
        Someone wrote and said they thought they recognized my man- the eyes seemed familiar.  They asked me to blow it up so they could study it some more.  So, here he is again.
Dr. B
International Man of Mystery

International Man of Mystery

The George Plimpton of Bluegrass

September 19, 2008

        You remember George Plimpton?  He’d pitch for the Tigers or be QB for a day with the Lions.

        Well, now I’m the George Plimpton of bluegrass.  Not long ago, I went to a show by the Circuit Riders.  Boy are they a hot band- strong in every position, great singers, the works.

        At the break I went up to shake and howdy.  I had talked to them at MerleFest, and one of them had read my weblog, so they knew I played the mandolin.

        “Hey, Doc,” Greg said.  “I’m gonna fiddle a few in this set, and Darin is gonna switch off and play guitar.  Did you bring your mandolin?”

        “Don’t leave home without it, Mr. Luck.”

        “You wantta play a few tunes this set?” he asked.

        “Do I wantta play!?”  I didn’t give him a chance to change his mind.

        And so it was.  I got up near the end  of the show and we did ‘Sally Good’in,’ ‘Ashokan Farewell’ and then closed with this set with one called ‘John Riley’ something or another.  I might woulda tangled that one up, but when they kicked it off Darin Aldridge turned to me and said, “It goes to the seven where you’d think it’d be the five Doc,” so I got through it fine.  (That’s some more music theory there.)

        I’ve played in regional bands all my life, but now I can claim at least for one night to be a professional mandolinist.

        And I’m gonna tell tell you it was some kinda big time.  That was as tight a band as I’ve ever sat in with.  Pretty cool for an old Doc.  The George Plimpton of bluegrass was fun.  I hope they let me be him again.

Dr. B