Archive for January 2009

Stanley Hammer Singer Part Two

January 31, 2009

        Since I came up with the Stanley Hammer vocal harmony method in Moose Dooley’s garage, I have expanded the concept to other venues.  For example, when we were in the studio, I fixated on a set of blinds that covered a window on the far side of the room.  I picked out several of the dividers as reference points and cut my baritone part by the intervals between the blinds. 

        Whenever we play a show I will focus on something in the distance, such as a set of bleachers, and concentrate on predetermined focal points to find my pitch.  I guess it is an obsessive doctor way of doing things, but it works, though I am no great singer by any stretch.

        However, as I mentioned in my last post, the method can have its pitfalls, and it did let me down once.  One time we played the Galax Old Time Fiddler’s Convention competition.  It was the year after we cut our record, so we were on top of our game.  After the first round, the rumor mill was we were in the top five.  The buzz around the campsites was that Neuse River might just win the thing.

        We picked a gospel number for our second selection.  It was Doyle Lawson’s ‘Sea of Life.’  If you have ever been to the Galax Fiddler’s convention you know there is big concrete grandstand where folks sit and watch the bands on the stage.  It was an excellent set up for the Stanley Hammer method.  All I had to do was focus on the steps.  In particular a handrail that divided the concrete stairway was perfect, and I set my notes all up and down the handrail.

        All that went fine until the second chorus.  Moose looked over and knew I was in a panic.  He leaned away from his mic.  “What’s wrong, Doc?”

      “Look at row twelve.  That’s my Stanley Hammer note.  Those kids have gotta move.”  Moose looked up in the stands.  Two kids had been walking holding hands and stopped at at my B natural note, leaned on the rail right at the spot that served as my focal point, and began to make out.

        “Oh, no.  Man, I can’t find my note.  Dang it kids, move for heaven’s sake.”

        Well, they didn’t take their clothes off or anything, but it still was a distraction.  Sure enough I was flat on my opening note when we came back in.  We finished 12th.

        I was dejected, but Moose was philosophical.  “Don’t worry Doc.  We weren’t gonna give up our days jobs.  It’s just a thing.”

        Of course Moose was right.  I’m still a Doc, and I got over the loss pretty quick.  I don’t know what happened to those two teenagers.  They wrecked my gig, but I forgave ’em, and hope they lived happily ever after.  It was the only time the Stanley Hammer method has failed me, so it still has a good track record.

Dr. B


Stanley Hammer Harmony

January 28, 2009

       I am doctor.  I am not a singer.  However, a doctor can be trained to be a reasonable part singer.  There are many different methods.  I chose the Stanley Hammer method.

        I can already hear you.  “What in the world is the Stanley Hammer harmony method, Doc?”  

        This is a free blog.  I don’t have a patent on my theory for voice training, and you are most free to use it.  But I hope if you learn to sing by this method you will let folks know how you came about it, ’cause I might have invented it.

        Several years back I went to a bluegrass seminar.  It was in Roanoke, Virgina, and put on by an outfit called Accutab.  They are in the music instruction business and specialize in bluegrass.  It was a fine session.  My wife studied bass under Marshall Wilborn, and I split my time between mandolin and harmony vocal workshops.

        My vocal instructor was  guy named Don Rigsby, who is not only a fine touring musician, but teaches traditional music classes at Morehead State University.  Believe me, the opportunity to sing harmony with Don Rigsby in front of a small group of musicians is a bit intimidating, but a wonderful learning experience.

        Mr. Rigsby thought my work was good overall, but he is a pro, and there was plenty I could learn from him.  My singing was, as you have heard before, good for a Doctor.  (As in “Good, Doc, but don’t give up your day job.”)

       On one chorus I held a line he approved of without change.  “Doc, he said, “I especially liked it when you hit the seventh on the word ‘home.’  Nice touch.”

        “Thanks.  That was my Stanley hammer note.”


        “My Stanley hammer note.  We practice in Moose Dooley’s garage, and there is a Stanley hammer on the pegboard.  When I sing, I fixate on that hammer and think of the pitch I want.  In fact, I go up and down the tools on the pegboard to hit all six notes in my range.  Moose is very meticulous and always hangs his tools in the same spot without fail, so I was able to train my voice to match the pitch by visualization of the position of each tool on the pegboard.  The vertical space in between the tools represents the intervals between the notes.”

        He was quiet for a moment.  “Doc, he finally said.  “I’ve been around this business a long time.  I got admit that is first time I have heard of that method.  I’m gonna have to think on that one.   But if it works I can’t argue with it.”

        I figure it is a bit akin to Roy Huskey’s thought process.  He thought of different notes in term of colors.  ‘That was a blue note, or a green one,” he’d say.  If you are just starting out, I’d recommend Roy’s method over mine; he was a far better musician that me.  But if you can’t get it by that method, and especially if are are one of these obsessive compulsive types such as a doctor or an accountant, you might give the old Stanley hammer voice trainer method a whirl.   If does have a few pitfalls which I will explain in my next post, but you still might want to try it out.

        If you do, and it works for you, the next time you run into Mr. Rigsby tell him you love his his singing, and it sounds like he has studied the Stanley hammer method.  I am certain he will not know what to say.

        On by the way, Marfar’s birthday is this week.  Like Jack Benny, she is perpetually 39, but unlike Mr. Benny is still as cute as a teenager.  (Don’t worry Mr. Benny, you were the best comedian ever.)  Y’all wish her the best.

Dr. B

That Cat’s a Doctor

January 25, 2009

        Not long ago Neuse River played a gig at a Community College several counties over.  It was a fund raiser for them, and we had a rocking good time.  We were the third act, and came on just before a very talented group named the Cockman Family.  We stayed around after the show and jammed for a while, so it was a late start to go back to the house.

       I had about an hour and a half drive back home, so I stopped in a convenience store for a cup of coffee.  This was one of those old general store type places that carries everything from dog food to sunglasses, where old men in Pointer overalls sit around a pot bellied wood stove and play checkers at noon on Tuesdays.   When I walked in, I heard music.  I followed the strains to the back where a group of men were picking bluegrass music.  For the most part it was elderly gentlemen, though there was one young fellow who played dobro, and a teen-aged girl held down the bass.  I listened for a minute.

        “Mind if I join in?  I’ve got my mandolin out in the car.”

         “Sure, go get it. ”

        We jammed a while, then one of them recognized me.  “Hey, didn’t you play mandolin with Neuse River at the Community College tonight?”   

        “Yep, that was me.”

         “Man, we enjoyed the show.  Joey here is learning the baritone part.  How about leaning into that mic and singing?”  They had one of those old-timey mics strung from the ceiling that plugged into a house sound system.  He pulled Joey in by the collar and four of us crowded around the mic.  “What did you say your name was again?”
        “Tommy Bibey.”

         “Pleased to meet you.  Now Joey, you just follow Tommy’s part.”  We sang some old bluegrass three parts and some country numbers too.   There were fiddle tunes and breakdowns, waltzes and Irish tunes.  It was all good, and the fiddler was extra special.  The bass player sang lyrics to “Day Break in Dixie.”  Old Doc hadn’t heard it sung in years.  I wondered where such a young’un learned the words.  

        At one point someone said, “Hey, that cat’s a doctor.”  The music stopped for a second.  The fiddle man looked me over, and checked out my mandolin.  The truss rod cover is genuine mother of toilet seat, and engraved with my name, “Dr. B.”

        “You a Doctor?”


        “One time we played a church in Harvey County.  There was a nurse there who said her boss was a doctor who played the mandolin.   Said he’d take a break between patients and pick on slow days.” 

        “Really?  What was her name?”

        “Don’t remember.  She was red-haired.”

        “Man, that had to be Lynn O’Carroll.  She’s my nurse.  That doctor was me.”

        “Naw, this was a real doctor; one who gave shots and stuff like that.”

        I didn’t protest long.  There was no convincing him anyway.  Besides, after all these years, I am used to a dual persona.  It reminds me of another story.  One time a friend of mine was at a convention in Raleigh.  Someone saw his name tag and asked if he was from Harvey County.  He confirmed he was.

        “Do you know Tommy Bibey?”

        “Sure, he’s my doctor.”

        The man had a puzzled look.  “Hmn, must be a different one.  The one I know is a bluegrass picker.”

        Oh well, at times it has been strange to have two personas in one life.  My daughter says I am so simple it’s complicated to some people.  I guess if one persona is to try to help people and one is to try to make folks happy, then it ain’t too bad.  I’m not exactly sure which one is which, but I guess it doesn’t matter.

Dr. B

Darin Aldridge/Brooke Justice: A New Standard of Excellence

January 23, 2009

        You guys remember how I posted a review of the Darin Aldridge/Brooke Justice project “I’ll Go With You” some time back?  I said they were the best thing since sliced bread and more.  I know some of you might have thought, “Well, Old Dr. B is just a nice guy, and hopes to help some North Carolina kids.”

        Well folks, here it is.  Breaking news from Bluegrass Unlimited, Feb 2009, page 47.  By the way, BU is the toughest critic in the business.  You can count on them for honesty.  They have told it like it is for many years.  Don’t send them an average project to review unless you want your feelings hurt.  And to be 100% certain you understand, this passage is from them, not me.  I quote,

        “With “I’ll Go With You,” Darin Aldridge and Brooke Justice (recently married in December) have created a magnificent magnum opus that establishes new standards of excellence for bluegrass gospel music.  This is a must acquisition for any serious music collection.”

        There you have it, and Bluegrass Unlimited out of Warrenton, Virginia, ( is the final word on the subject.  The full review is in their Feb 2009 issue.

        The CD is available from the artists at:


or from the label at

        To give you Dr. B’s stamp of authenticity, every serious bluegrass musician in N.C. knew this day was coming for these guys; all we were uncertain of was the timing.  When I found my BU in the mailbox late last night, I knew their day was here.  From all of us not only in N.C., but the world wide bluegrass community, we send our highest and most heartfelt congratulations.  Well done, kids.

Dr. B

Dr. B’s Secret Mandolin Finish

January 21, 2009

     Wasn’t Itzhak Pearlman great at the Inauguration?  I am not a violin expert, but I am certain he played a genuine Stradivarius.  What a player.  What tone.

        No one knows the exact secret to the sound of those violins.  Foremost is the talent of the builder.  (And the musician of course)  Many people think the wood indigenous to the area at the time was a factor, and others are convinced it was the varnish finish they used.

        Mandolins have similar lore.  The most prized ones, the Gibson Loars from the twenties, are the mandolin Holy Grail.  They now trade in excess of 200 grand, which has put them out of range for most pickers.  Some of the top level players own them.  Sad to say, but many of them have been snatched up by collectors and speculators, and are out of circulation for now.  I wish they were all in the hands of the best players.  That is where they need to be.

        Dr. B built three mandolins along the way.  In reality, I mostly just sanded and learned that maple was a very hard wood, and did some design and staining.  I also drank a lot of coffee and told old bluegrass tales.  The real work was done by my luthier friend Dick Strum.

        I did come up with the base for the stain and finish though.  The archeoligists will discover this when they dig up Harvey Country hundreds of years from now, but I am going to go ahead and tell you the secret.

       The finish on mandolins is often called ‘Tobacco’ or ‘Tobacco Sunburst,’ so named for the area of lighter shade in the center of the soundboard and back.

        Our secret strain carries on that tradition.  I took an old cigar a patient gave me when their baby was born and ground it up, added a small bit of saliva, (gross, I know) and poured in a splash of Old Spice.  Then I dissolved it all in equal parts coffee and Indie’s Jim Beam, and let it cure a few days.  It was perfect ’cause it smelled somewhere in between a Doctor’s office and Indie’s cabin.

        After that we combined the mixture with luthier grade varnish and applied it with as close to a French polish as a man who grew up in Harvey County could do.  We only put on a very thin coat.  It does not hide the flaws, and allows the top to vibrate with more freedom, hence improved sound.

        It worked.  Several professionals have played it, and they say it is very good, though no one thought it was the next Loar.  If fact, no one recommended I give up my day job either.  I like to believe that was ’cause they wanted me to keep at the Doctor gig, and not any inherent lack of confidence in my future as a mandolin builder.

        I kept one to play in church, and gave the others to my children.  Maybe it ain’t a Strad or a Loar, but I still think the cigar, coffee and Jim Beam aroma gives it some bluegrass authenticity.

Dr. B

Saving Souls at the Roadhouse

January 19, 2009

        I am going to dedicate this post to my Australian pal Ms. Karen, who is on my blogroll.  She is a young lady married to a minister in Queensland.  They play Praise Band tunes in their church similar to the ones we play in Harvey County.  She posted one she wrote and I got out my mandolin and played right along.  The Internet is a cool item.  When I was growing up, such communication was impossible.


        Yesterday at church we had a rocking session.  The sending forth tune was ‘Amazing Grace,’ but we played it close to a roadhouse style.  I played my little solid body electric mandolin.  It looks like a ’52 Telecaster guitar that stayed in the drier too long.  (Check out Steve Ryder mandolins- mine is the EM-24)  Just like it’s big brother Tele, it has one pick-up that is downright twangy; an characteristic chicken picking kinda sound you can’t miss.

        At practice we rocked a bit too hard, and our music minister reeled us in.  “Now guys,” he said.  “That sounds like you’re playing down at the Tri County Bar and Grill.”  (One of those places where chicken wire  protects the stage from flying beer bottles; I’ve played there in years past.)  “It’s O.K. to go right up to the edge, but you gotta tone it down for the preacher a bit.  Remember, we are in church.”

           I knew he was right.  One time one of the ladies at the Country Club complained we sounded like some kinda honky-tonk band, which I took as a high compliment.  “Awh come on,” I said to our band leader.  “Can’t we at least play right outside the Roadhouse and try to save a few souls as they walk out the door?  After all, who better than a sinner like me to try to relate to a fellow human being?” 

        “Hmn.  I guess you’re right Doc.  Martin Luther himself said we shouldn’t let the devil have all the good music.”  He turned us loose and the Preacher dug it.  Afterwards a band-mate came up to me.  “You know Doc, I could play ‘Amazing Grace’ with you a thousand times, and I’d get something new every time.”

        “Yeah, me too brother.  I love your sax work.”

        “I tell you, a part of me would like to play more and take it to a higher level, but I love my life at home too much to leave it.”

        “I understand.  That’s why I pick for the Lord too.  I love to play, but I was called to be a Doc first and an artist second, and I’m a homebody too.  My prayers were answered when I got to have my bluegrass band and play here in church with you guys.  I feel like we get a little bit of His work done with this music.

         “Me too, brother Bibey.”

         Jerry grew up to be an accountant, but this is a cat who spent his youth as a strolling clown in a saxophone quartet at a theme park.  He was the donkey in the church play last year.  He ain’t one bit afraid to have some fun, so he is a kindred spirit.  I guess it is natural we’d see it the same way.

        But what even made me happier was I noticed that little lady clapping and smiling.  Her husband died a decade ago.  She’s had very little fun in her life, so if it made her day, that made the early morning fine tuning all worth it.

        I’ll go back to acoustic mandolin for a few weeks.  I don’t want to get tossed out of the Garden of Eden now.  I might have to go back to playing Roadhouses, and this is a much better gig.

Dr. B

Dr. Bibey, Country Music Star

January 17, 2009

        Well, the headline was just to get your attention.  I am no country music star, and never will be.  All my life I have been the baritone man.  My vocal range is six notes, but I know where to plug them in, so I can get by.   

        I worked with a band in the studio recently, and realized I was more modern than what I thought.   No, I’ll never be a star in spite of Buck Owens’s encouragement with ‘Act Naturally’ years ago.  (“They’re gonna put me in the movies….”)   I’m not young, and not close to pretty.  I’d look beyond ridiculous in an evening gown and I have trouble with pitch.  But with the modern miracle of Pro Tools software, I am a quasi country star. 

        Several of y’all have said you wanted to hear some music from me, and when you speak I listen.  My band, Neuse River, did a couple projects back when they called them records, but we’ve got some age on us now, and they declined to try and cut another one.  (Sadly one is deceased, and one is in the Nursing Home)  But I am at work on a couple different music projects with some fine young artists.  I hope some of these cuts will tie in with the book.  It is too early to say what form that will take, but stay tuned.  I promise there will be some music even before the book store mandolin duos.

        Don’t look for me on Country Music T.V., though.  I’m too old, too gray, and not hip enough to cut the gig.  However, I always try to find common ground with other folks.  Between this Pro Tools thing and a brilliant engineer, even old Doc can hang with a few of the young country stars.  Dang if modern studio technology hasn’t almost turned me into a singer.  I do believe I’d best leave off the evening gown, though.   Modern computer software can fix a lot of things, but it ain’t that good.  

Dr. B

The Defintion of Fiction

January 14, 2009

        You remember how I told you I had a few folks here in Harvey County who were gonna look over my manuscript?  I didn’t want them to feel the need to do an all out edit, and I didn’t want to eat up too much of their time.  I was more interested as to whether it was relevant to their walk of life.

        One was a creative writing teacher.  She said she found it a compelling story with lovable characters, especially Indie.  She did say it was in need of copy editor.  She invited me and my wife over to dinner, partly to talk about the story, but also to give me an English lesson.  My mom was an English teacher, and I begged this teacher lady not to tell my mama how many typos and grammatical errors I committed.  I did not plan to show it to mom until I took it to the next level.  I promised the English teacher I would visit her class and tell her students they better pay attention to something besides girls and guitars.

           Another was a minister, and he loved Indie too, so much so he could overlook a few cuss words or the fact Dr. Bibey could be a smart-ass at times.  He promised he wouldn’t tell mama that either.

        The third was from a lawyer.  I didn’t ask for any kind of binding legal opinion; I didn’t think that would be fair.  I did want his legal perspective, though.  Was it realistic?  Did it make sense to a lawyer?  This guy is in a position to know.

          He had two statements that made me happy.  For one, he knew a new doctor who might move to Harvey County, and the cat plays flat-pick guitar.  Can you beat that?  This is a well connected bluegrass lawyer if there ever was one.

        But as far as the book, the other comment was even more important.  When this lawyer speaks I listen.  I have all respect for him.   For him, the story brought back a flood of memories of many different people he had run into over the years.  However, he could not positively ID a single one of the characters, even though he was in and out of Harvey County all through the time the Mandolin Case went on.  It reminded him of dozens of old cases.  He said the story did as fine a job as he has ever seen to show the truth but not tell the facts. 

        Man, I can’t wait to call my agent.  He has spent years trying to teach me the definition of fiction.  He is  a very strict man, but if I showed the truth and did not tell the facts I might be close to the standard he demands.  As the Nashville Bluegrass Band said, “I’m a slow learner,” but I’m getting there.

Dr. B

Mike Marshall for Secretary of the Arts

January 13, 2009

        First the disclaimer:  I have spent my life as a country doctor and part-time bluegrass picker, and know little else.  My agent says I am a hopelessly naive country boy, and he has not been wrong about me yet.  But I guess it is O.K. to write my personal thoughts, so here goes.

        Recently an e-mail caught my attention.  It was an on-line petition to nominate Mike Marshall for Secretary of the Arts.  In spite of the fact I know nothing of politics, I can not imagine a better choice.

        According to the e-mail, there has been consideration in the Obama administration to create a Secretary of the Arts position.  Your first question might be why do we need this.

        To my mind we need it more than ever.  One thing that bothers me about modern politics is it has been so divisive.  Given the Obama administration has made it a point to try to bring us together rather than divide us, it seems the arts would be a good place to start.

        Mike is the kind of artist who brings that mentality to the table.  He can communicate with an old bluegrass picker like me, but is also at ease with the high school orchestra kids he does workshops with.  He lives in Oakland, California, and grew up in Florida.  He loves the Gators (listen to his tune Gator Strut) but is equally at home in Brazil jamming away with the choro guys.  As a youth, he toured with David Grisman, and was in Europe with the great French jazz violinist Stephan Grapelli.  As Mike has said, music is like the wind.  It knows no boundaries and does not recognize artificial divisions of human beings.  Mike Marshall believes in allowing people their diversity and freedom, not only in music and the arts, but life in general.  I find the notion of his involvement in government a very unifying concept. 

        The petition for Mike Marshall has gathered momentum.  If you love the arts, and believe it brings important benefits to civilized society, check out the Secretary of the Arts concept, and tell folks about it.  It seems to me a step in the right direction.

Dr. B

When Doc gets Sick

January 12, 2009

         Old Doc is sick today, but don’t feel sorry for me.  It is just laryngitis, and it’ll pass.  As Indie would say, it’s just a thing.

        I didn’t stay home, ’cause I don’t know how not to go to work.  (That is if you call it work- it’s just doctoring to me- no heavy lifting involved.)  I’ve been lucky.  A couple days out in the third grade for the mumps, and two Fridays post cataract surgery is all I have missed through the years.  I’ve been at this business long enough to know your luck can change overnight, so I ain’t bragging.  I’m just thankful for my good fortune.

        For the most part I am against sickness, not that I have much control over it.  I will say one thing for it, though.  If we were never ill, we could not appreciate being well.  When ever I am sick, I always think of my patients and friends afflicted with a chronic illness.  They live that way every day, and the good days are the exception.  I reserve my sympathy for them; they have it far worse than a guy like me who only deals with it sporadically.

         A doctor needs to be sick every so often.  If for nothing else, we need to be reminded what out patients go through.  And I’ll be well in a week or ten days; just in time for Neuse River’s next gig.  

Dr. B