Archive for October 2009

The Real People

October 30, 2009


        I had lots of favorite moments at our open house, but this one might be the best of all.

        As you can imagine we had folks who came from all walks of life. There were a few movers and shakers who came out of curiosity, but for the most part it was rank and file everyday folks.  There was the UPS guy, several country preachers, maintenance men, kitchen workers, the barber, teachers, a couple mechanics, docs and nurses, and a number of golfers.  I’m sure you are not surprised a bunch of bluegrass pickers were there.

        They came for different reasons.  I knew almost all of them. Most came to say, “Thanks, Doc.”  Some came for the music and a few came because there was free food.  That’s okay.  I figured it was a special day and they sure needed it more than I did.  I didn’t eat ’cause I was afraid we might run out.  (We did)

        When they got ready to have the ribbon cutting ceremony, there was a dignitary there to kick it off.  He asked for all the elected officials in the crowd to raise their hands.  He was a bit embarrassed to realize there wasn’t a single one.

        One of my patients said, “Hey Doc, not one politician?”

        “I guess we forgot to invite them.”

        “I take it you only invited the important people.”

        “Dang right.  This is my kind of party.”

        I am sad to say modern medicine is often about a lot of things these days besides the patient.  For some it is power, some money, others it is ego or control, and sometimes just pure arrogance.  As my friend said, “When I got into health care, I thought we were gonna talk about germs.  All we talk about is money.” 

        Maybe it was only for a day, but at least for one day and one day only it was about the patient and nothing else. 

        I noticed our competition in town came by.  They were most generous.  I didn’t get to speak to them but they said it was good for Harvey County.  I am sure they got the message.  There have not been many times in my life I’ve seen everyone sit up and take notice af what counts but for once it happened. Other than a few medical out-and-out saves I’ve pulled out of the hat over the years, it was my favorite day in the doctor business, ’cause we honored all the real people.

Dr. B


A Mountain Church

October 28, 2009

        It’s easy to find.  Go down I-40 to Marion.  Take 221 North.  Just after a fancy golf course on the left the Red Barn Tree Farm will be on your right.  Around Christmas you can cut your own.  You’ll go up a big mountain.  Right past the turnoff to Perry Woodie’s home place you’ll go through a squiggly stretch of road and then under the Blue Ridge Parkway.   Turn left at the gas station/grocery store and go four miles on New Three Mile Road.  On the sign it is called ‘The Lula Belle and Scotty Wiseman Highway.’

        After you go by Old Three Mile Road turn right on 19E.  Go through Burleson country.  This is the home of Jason Burleson, the banjo voice of Blue Highway, and also home to N.C. State and NBA basketball star Tommy Burleson.  Harvey High once played against Tommy.  We practiced using brooms to swat away jump shots. It wasn’t enough.  We lost, but at least got ’em to overtime. 

        You’ll see a brook on your left.  The water splashes across smooth rocks.  It winds along with the road.  Follow it.  The church is about a mile past a school bus on the left.

        It is a small red brick church.  The choir sings in a shaped note style.  Young girls in print dresses with names like Brooke or boys named Cory in new pressed suits sing with power and purpose.  They don’t need microphones.  The Aldridges will play and sing the gospel.  The preacher preaches the truth.  They baptize in the brook.  Winter’s coming on so get saved now; the water’s already chilly.  More important, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  The mountain folks know we aren’t promised anything but eternity, but that is all the promise they need.  They are serene.

        After the service come back down the mountain by Spruce Pine.  Take the left at the big flashing light.  As you wind down the grade you’ll see the lights twinkle in the valley.  Go slow and take them in.  Be careful, the turns are sharp.  At times you feel like you are gonna double back and head back up the hill.  Matter of fact, you’ll wish you could, ’cause the Mountain Church and its people are a blessing.  You won’t be the same after your trip. 

Dr. B

Do You Know The Guitar Man?

October 26, 2009

        I know a lot of guitar players.  Doc Watson is at the top of my flatpick list and Doyle Dykes is a master country finger-style player.  But my favorite of all is the guitar man.

        Back in the old days of the golf tour the real action went on behind the scenes.  The music world can still be the same way.  The old guys in golf made their real money in the Monday money matches or from barnstorming.  They played the tour ’cause it was there, but didn’t have to to survive. 

        Neither does the guitar man.  Sure, he’s played MerleFest, but the big money is at the private gigs for the rich folks up on the mountain.  He can play there for a grand, but is just at home at the DAV playing for tips.  He owns his guitars and his home but needs little else.  All his guitars are worth more than his cars.  His just acquired a ‘new’ ’53 D-18.  It deserves a player such as the guitar man and I’m glad it found a home with him.  It’ll be a good life for the old ax as long as the man is the player.

        Most of his talk is with the guitar.  You get the notion he may have known more pretty girls than one, but he is quiet on the subject.  His black hair is always in place, often parted in the middle and sometimes with a hint of a ducktail.  He wears red silk shirts with diamond cuff links and dark dinner jackets but never a tie.  Sometimes he has a soul patch.  He can morph and look a bit different at every gig.  He fits in at the Country Club or the Masonic Lodge.  He is mysterious and yet a treasured old friend at the same time.  From filet mignon to liver mush, or wine and cheese parties to home brew at Galax, he’s seen it all.

        There’s a hint of cigarette smoke, but not much because he protects his voice.  “Gotta keep up with my brother, Doc.”  His brother and John Cowan are the two best white soul singers I’ve ever heard.  The guitar man plays with so much soul the banker’s wife in the crowd will turn to the homeless man next to her and whisper in his ear, “How does he do that?”

        He can play the slide on ‘The Johnson City Blues’ so sad you’ll cry and then have you grinning like the man on a Viagra commercial when he and his bass playing brother sing “Got My Mojo Working.’  Ask him what the song is about and he’ll just flash a shy grin and shrug his shoulders.  “I dunno.”  

        His guitar and a great mandolin man talk back and forth on ‘Russian Lullaby’ without a word spoken.  He goes deep and leans in his chair until it almost falls over.  His eyes roll back in his head, and you think he’s near playing in his sleep.  It’s a lullaby, but you sit on the edge of your seat wide awake in anticipation of the next phrase he’ll turn or chord inversion he might choose.  He never plays it the same way twice but it’s always the best take on it you’ve ever heard. 

        He plays for money but if you are a musician who wants to pick on a Tuesday you can drink beer and play swing tunes at his house while his cousin ties fishing lures in the den or cleans fish in the kitchen sink.  Famous musicians down on their luck have crashed at his place for weeks at a stretch until they could get back on his feet.

        A musician told me about him and his brother years ago, and recommended I go see them at a place called the White Horse Saloon.  My wife was gone that night so I took my daughter. I stopped at the door.  “Two, please,” I asked. 

        They carded her.  “Lemme see your driver’s license, kid.”

        “Uh, well sir, she’s only fifteen,” I said.

         He looked at me, and then at her again.   “Old man, I don’t know what you are doing out with such a young girl but you can’t bring her in here.”

         “C’mon, man.  She’s my daughter.”  I took a different angle.  “Go ask the man.  Tell him Doc is here.

       “You ain’t Doc Watson.”

        “I know that, but the guitar man sure is.”

        He raised his eyebrows.  “You got a card?”  I handed him one.  He flipped it over and saw the Tommy Bibey logo on the back.  He put it in his front shirt pocket.  “I’ll go ask.”  He opened the door, turned around, and then disappeared into the darkness of the room.  I could hear a sound check going on in the back.

        He came back in a minute.  “He said you was one of us.  Come on in.”  He looked at Marie again.  “The girl can’t have no beer, though.”

        “No problem. Thanks.”

         The guitar man knows every real musician in the Southeast.  One well known touring musician told me he was the best he’d ever played with.  I am a doc and can never play like him, but for him to consider me a musician is some kind of compliment. 

        If you visit North Carolina go see him play.  It’s somewhere in between B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, and ‘The Black Mountain Rag’ and that’s just the first few tunes.  You don’t want to miss him.  Just ask any musician.  They’ll know where to find him, ’cause we all know the guitar man.

Dr. B

Somebody Touched Me

October 24, 2009

        The Dillards (The Darlings on the Andy Griffith show) used to do a song called ‘Somebody Touched Me.’  It is a simple song.  My people touched me yesterday.  It is a simple song and I am a simple man.

        Yesterday we took a break from the music festival.  I needed to work a half day, and then we had an open house for the new office. 

        Some of my friends decided to ride the Neuse River converted school bus back to Harvey County for the event.  Darin and Brooke Aldridge had a day off in between their Thursday and Saturday Art of Sound shows.  They wanted to come and play and sing for us.  It was way below their pay grade, but all the boys piled in too and we were off.  The English Professor and Irene hopped on board too.  He left his camera in the bus.  “Your patients will want their privacy, so I’m not gonna shoot any photos Doc, but we’d love to come along for the ride to Harvey County.”

        It was a wonderful life kind of day.  So many folks came the police had to direct traffic.  It was somewhere in between Friday night football, the Fair, and a private bluegrass festival; just my kinda gig.

        Ears of corn roasted on the grill, and stir fry chicken sizzled.  If you closed your eyes and took a deep breath, you’d swear you were on the MidWay at the Harvey County Fair.  Most of my favorite old patients were there, and many of our new neighbors were too.  As the song says, ‘There’s gonna be prizes for everyone…. going downtown gonna have some fun.”  Local radio did a live feed and there was a ribbon cutting ceremony.  They said they wanted me to do the honor.  I was very touched by that.  I guess as senior partner (the doc with the most gray hair) it was fitting. 

        I gotta go on record though and say you are only as strong as the people around you, and I am a fortunate man.  My wife and family have lived with a schedule that was brutal for many years and seldom griped about it.  

        My parents used to worry I might ‘turn into one of those Beatles.’  They were there on the front row, Mama’s foot just a tapping.  I saw my old basketball buddy Barry Graylord in the wings leaning against a tent pole.  Dad and I used to make house calls at their home on Chestnut street.  Gray and I’d shoot hoops at least if he wasn’t the patient that day.  He was an all-star linebacker back then and nowadays has a shelf of golf trophies.    

        If my partners had not been there to cover me when I’m off I would have never played music a single day and would be dead by now.  My staff saves my bacon every day.  I could never have made it without Lynn O’Carroll and Myrd. In the early days we were the three Musketeers; just dumb kids who thought we were gonna start in Harvey County and save the whole world. 

        Fabulous musicians like my regular guys in Neuse River, Darin and Brooke Aldridge, and Wayne and Kristin Scott Benson have taken me under their wing and taught me so much.  I am fortunate to have many fine friends.  So many were there yesterday and I was humbled.  It takes a community to raise a doctor, and Harvey County has done good by me.  

        My wife’s band, ‘Guiter-ed and Feathered’ opened the music.  Hugh, the voice of Harvey County, was there to cover the event.   We go back to Little League together.  The ladies were nervous to be on live radio, but they did great.  Playing music with your wife is downright spiritual.  It was just like old times with my kids in tow who followed me around everywhere I went.  They were in middle school before they realized it was unusual to have a Daddy who made hospital rounds before going to play a gig.

         Darin and Brooke did two sets.  I am enthralled with their sound, but then they were the talk of Nashville a couple weeks ago at IBMA so they are no longer a secret.  They let old Doc sit in.  It was like a chance at batting practice with the Cubs.  Come Monday I will turn back into Doc, but all my people let me be a musician for a day.  It was great fun. 

        Darin and Brooke did a fine version of the Everly Brothers ‘If I Could Only Win Your Love.’   It was so good I just listened.  I sang the trio with them on a couple numbers.  We sang “I’ll Never Love Anybody But You’ and I dedicated it to Marfar.  She flashed the same grin as the one in our engagement picture that sits behind my desk in the office.

       In the South we often wait around on funerals to get folks together.  We didn’t do that yesterday, and I was proud of us for it.  We believe in smelling the flowers now.  No use waiting till we’re dead for that.

         On the way back to the festival Marfar and Brooke were both exhausted.  We tucked them into the two couches and fastened the seat belts.  Darin and I went to sit up front.  All the boys pulled out the instruments and we played as the old bus wobbled down the back roads.  It reminded me of a road trip I took with the Gentlemen when Charlie couldn’t sleep and would sing with us.

        Darin took the lead, and I covered the baritone.  Moose Dooley drove and sang that wonderful high tenor of his just like he did as a young man when we met years ago.  His banjo work and singing has just the right touch of old-time mountain and yet is still modern; it always suited my ear just right.  

        I was so exhausted I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to write and tell you of my friends.  Call me an old sentimental sap if you want, but much like Jimmy Stewart in ‘A Wonderful Life’ I have been a most lucky man.

Dr. B

The Neuse River Bus: A Road Trip to Art of Sound

October 21, 2009

        I went by Moose Dooley’s house early this morning.  It was dawn-thirty Harvey Standard Time. The sun peeked over the horizon.  We’d had the first frost of the year.  I followed the Moose tracks through the back yard.  “Is it ready?”

        Moose gave the door a tug, and it creaked open.  “We’ll find out.”

        We keep the Neuse River converted school bus (our tour bus) behind Moose Dooley’s shed.  When we were young we went to a festival almost every weekend, at least when I wasn’t on call.  We always went in the tour bus, even if was just across town.  Art of Sound is the last festival on our schedule this year.  After this one, the bus will go under the cover for the winter.  For now though, it has been up and running all summer so we should be set.

        In the winter we keep it under an old canvas circus tent that serves as a cover.  We get it back out every spring.  Stroker, our guitar man, is a mechanic.  He charges the battery and changes the oil.  Moose and I hose it off, Jen sweeps out the cobwebs, and it is ready to go.  It is a low (?no) maintenance vehicle.

        We bought it at the Shanghai School House County auction at least twenty-five years ago.  We never had that big an entourage, so we took out the seats except for the front four rows.  Moose’s father- in-law gave him a couple couches he’d found at the dump.  Moose secured them to the floor, and got  few seat belts at the junk yard so we wouldn’t get thrown off in the floor if we tried to take a nap while on the road. 

        We bolted an old coffee table in between the couches.  Most of the time it served as a place to play cards, but also was our business conference table.  All high level negotiations for the band took place right there.  Moose threw together many an improvisational contract on that card table.  For years folks didn’t realize he wasn’t a real lawyer. 

        We used to have trailer we tugged along back, but one year the hitch broke.  The trailer got loose and wound up at the bottom of Lake Hickory.  We were just glad it was empty.  Raymond the fiddler had gone on a beer run while we set up the sound, so we didn’t lose any equipment.

        The bus didn’t have a bathroom, but there used to be a five gallon metal bucket at the back exit door that had a rope tied to it.  If we ran late for a show someone could use it then toss it out the back door as we rolled down the highway.  You didn’t have to let it rattle along the asphalt very long for it to empty and dry out, then you could reel it back in.  This worked okay till we got older and some of the guys developed prostate issues.  (Plus we became more conscious of the enviroment.)  The bucket got lost around Waxhaw one night when the rope broke, and we didn’t get around to replacing it.

        “Who all’s playing this one?” Moose asked.

       Good line up. I went last year.  Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Balsam Range, FlintHill.  Besides bluegrass there’s everything from zydeco to calypso.”

        “Cool.  Shelby. The home of Earl Scruggs, right?”

        “Yep. Don Gibson too.  They’ve got a Scruggs Museum and Don Gibson theatre in town.”

        “I’d like to see that.”

        “It’s not up and running yet, but will be soon.  They’ve got Marty Stuart coming in November.”

        Moose noticed a cracked window on the starboard side.  “You seen the duct tape?”  I opened the glove box, retrieved a roll, and handed it to him. “Thanks.”  Moose found the cardboard and began to board up the window.  “Say they’re having Marty Stuart?”

        “That’s next month at the Gibson Theater.”

        “I’d love to open for Marty.”

        “Heck of a player,” I said.

        “I tell you man, when we played with him at Hartford’s he was a hoss.”

        I thought back to those old Christmas parties at John Hartford’s house.  Hartford, Bill Monroe , Marty Stuart, Benny Martin.  John sure knew how to throw together a jam session.  “We gotta get in with this Art of Sound crowd.  Word on the street is they know all the rank and file musicians in that part of the state.  Honest to goodness, man; it’s a music town.”

        “Didn’t we play the fairground there one year?”

        “Yeah.  It was the year Monroe was there.”

        “If I remember right they only had a few hundred people.”

        “Yeah, that was twenty-five years ago, though.  I’m telling you, someone over there has revitalized the local music scene.  I think it’s the Arts Council in town.”

        Moose fished the keys out of his pocket, and put them in the ignition.  “I’m gonna crank it up.  Go outside and check.” 

        Moose turned the ignition several times and stomped on the gas.  The engine emitted a high-pitched whine, then strained and sputtered.  It finally turned over.  Black smoke poured out of the tailpipe.  I went back up front to give Moose the diagnosis.  “We gotta get Stroker to rebuild this dude over the winter.”  He turned it off, got the grocery list out of his front pocket, and handed it to me.

        I looked it over.  “Good Lord Moose, we don’t eat any better than we used to.”  Viennas, Penrose sausage, Kobe string potatoes, salt and vinegar chips.  “You got any low cholesterol food on there?”  I had him check it again.

        Moose put on his glasses.  “Hm.  At least we don’t have streaky meat sandwiches anymore.”  He handed it back.

        “I guess.”  I folded up the paper and put it in my pocket.  “I’ll go by the Piggly-Wiggly tonight.  

        “What time can you split?”

        I gotta work the morning, but I can get away by 2:00.  They got blues, jazz, a little of everything.  Did you ever hear The Harris Brothers?”

        “Best electric suitcase going.” 

        “Yeah, boy.  Let’s go jam hard.  We’re gonna hit the stage there one day.”

        “…If we can just keep Raymond the fiddler out of the moonshine.”

        “No kidding.  Hey, you remember when he had a nip and sang ‘Little Cabin Home on the Hill’ in Arabic?  And I’ll never forget that gig at Fat Boy’s……”

        It’s gonna be a fine road trip.

Dr. B

For info on Art of Sound click on the AOS logo at the Cleveland County Arts Council website.  Here’s the link:

And here is the clip of Darin and Brooke Aldridge at the IBMA in Nashville.  They play twice at Art of Sound, Thursday night and Saturday:

This song is ‘The Sweetest Waste of Time,’ one that came in for them from Australia.  It is a perfect country duet.  Their new release will have tunes by Tom T. Hall, Jerry Salley, Donna Ulisse, and their original material too.  A group not to miss.

Dr. B

Better Keep the Day Job Part Two

October 20, 2009

        The other day I saw two patients who reminded me why I need to keep my day job.  The first one was in for a minor illness.  It was a man I have known a decade.  Years ago our bass player asked us to play a little country church for a covered dish supper.  I love these kind of gigs.  Nice country folks, deviled eggs, homemade pimento cheese, fried chicken.  I’ve never played one I didn’t enjoy.

        A man came up afterwards.  “You really a Doc?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “You see new patients?”


        “If I get sick I might come see you.”

        “Sure, no problem.”

        Six months went by.  One day he showed up at the front desk.  The staff came to ask.  “We don’t have a chart on this man.  He says he saw you playing the mandolin at Creek Side Baptist.  Says he’s got fever and chills.  Probably the flu.  Do you want to work him in?”

        “Sure.”  I don’t always remember everyone who comes up to me when we play, but for some reason this man’s face was as clear in my memory as if I’d eaten breakfast with him that morning.  I could write of every wrinkle but it would identify him, and in the doc business that just isn’t allowed.

        Once he was in the exam room I took a history.  As the staff had said, he had a low grade fever and chills, but no other symptoms.  He had been sick a few days.  His daughter made him come ’cause she said his color looked bad.  When I examined him, I didn’t find much until I checked his abdomen. 

        Uh oh.  He had some kind of mass deep in the in the right side of his belly.  It occurred to me either he had an abscess or something that stood a good chance it was gonna kill him.  I told him of my concerns, but I emphasized the abscess.  That we could cure.

        He went for a stat CT scan.  The diagnosis was a ruptured appendix with a large abscess.  The surgeon said another day would likely have done him in.  As you might imagine, my patient and I are still very good friends. 

        You have to wonder.  What if we hadn’t played the church that night?  This was not a man to go to the doctor every day.  He might have put off the visit, except he thought of me and my mandolin and decided to give me a try. 

        Later that afternoon, I saw a little girl with strep throat.  She was a cute little blue eyed curly blond-haired young’un.  He cheeks were flushed and her eyes were red.  It didn’t take a doc to see she didn’t feel well at all.  “Tell you what sweetie,” I said.  “We’ll get you all well, and then I’ll play some music for you.”

        Her lower lip pooched out and the tears began to well up.  I got a kleenex and dried them off.  “It’s okay, kid.  If you don’t feel like music we’ll let that part go.”

        She managed a smile.  I love our music, and I sure didn’t want to imprint her to be against it.  She’ll be in another time, or maybe she’ll come to the open house for the new office.

        With both patients, I decided I better keep my day job and not turn in my stethoscope just yet.  I think the good Lord sent my man to the only Doc the fellow felt he could talk to, and I sure don’t want to play the mandolin and make little girls cry. 

        Oh well, it works out best for me to be a doctor who is a mandolin player than a mandolin player who is a doctor.  I better stick with what I am.

Dr. B

Better Keep My Day Job

October 18, 2009

        Cuz and I played the Member/Guest this weekend.  Cuz is young and strong and can hit it a ton.  I’m old and well….. at least still strong-willed.  We did well on day one.  With our strokes (6 and 10) we brother-in-law-ed a 62 the first day.  The first day was rainy, cold and muddy.  We never get discouraged in bad weather, and it was to our advantage.  We shared the lead.

        Today we were paired with the co-leaders.  The sun came out and so did the golf game of Joe’s guest.  It didn’t take long to realize this cat could play.  He had a nice compact swing that repeated itself on every pass.  It turned out he was a second alternate for the U.S. Senior Open a few years ago.  We had our hands full.

        We never throw in the towel, but mid way through the second nine we knew we were in trouble.  By the end it was like what Dave Marr said one time.  He was coming down the last fairway trailing Arnold Palmer by six shots.  Arnie turned and said, “Anything I can do for you, Dave?”

         “Yeah.  Break a leg,” Marr laughed. 

        At least he had a sense of humor about it, and we sure did.  I figure when I play golf or music and don’t have to tell anyone they have cancer or their mama died, I’ve had a good day of it.

        By the end of the day we managed a 68.  Joe’s guest shot that on his own ball, and with a little help from Joe and his handicap strokes they turned in a cool 60.

        The sun came out and mid way through the last nine.  I took off my toboggan and donned my old frayed Titleist cap in honor of my old buddy Robert.  I figured just ’cause we were whupped we shouldn’t worry.  He’d say it was just the Lord’s way of telling me to keep my day job.  Come tomorrow I’ll go back to it and be thankful for it.

        But I gotta admit it was fun to be in the lead for a while.  Cuz and I won it a decade ago, and it doesn’t hurt to pretend we are still young even if it is for but a day.

Dr. B

An Old Golf Pal

October 17, 2009

       I met him the first day of med school.  He had on a frayed ‘Titlelist’ hat.  “You play?” I asked.

       “A little.”

       “What’s your handicap?”

       “Med school.”  He laughed out loud.  “”We won’t play much here.”

        “I’m sure you’re right.”

        And we didn’t.  I studied like a wild man, and made a touch better grades, but Robert did well.  He was smarter and didn’t have to work as hard.  He found time to play a few chess tournaments and was a Grand Master kind of player.  He was always laid back.  “We aren’t here forever, B,” he’d say.

        The first time we played I noticed a one iron in his bag.  Lee Trevino always said beware of a man who carries a one iron.  Robert was All-Conference in high school and a good two shots a side better than me.  We always argued over whether I’d get four shots or three for our matches.  Our standard bet was for a hot dog, an important item in med school.  He said I always clipped him, but I recall it was the opposite.  We played a little muni where you could walk for five bucks.  I still recall how good those hot dogs were.  They turned them slow on a rotisserie type cooker in the pro shop, and they had great chili.

        Golf requires at least some time and money.  We had neither, but we played a little anyway.  One time he invited me and Marfar to his folk’s house for the weekend.  They lived in Morehead City, and his mom had connections and got us on at Cherry Point.  We played thirty six holes in one day.  It was a crisp Carolina fall day; his favorite golf weather.   I don’t recall who won and it doesn’t matter.  After the match we went to his mom’s house, and she fed us all.  There were big thick steaks, lobster, baked potatoes, bowls of corn on the cob slathered with butter, and lots of sweet tea.  Mercy.   Afterwards everyone told a bunch of tall tales and played cards.  

        When we graduated, Robert matched in a residency program in Florida.  “I gotta chase the sun just a little B.”  He kept a two handicap and played chess.  He took his time as a Doc; the kind of fellow who’d pull up a chair to listen.  His patients loved him.

        We hadn’t been out of school a decade when Robert got sick.  I heard about it and invited him up to our Member Guest.  At first he protested.  “Man, I can’t help you.  I’ve got no game.”

       “Heck man, after all those hot dogs I had to buy you surely you aren’t gonna turn me down.”

        “Hm. Seems I was the one who bought all the hot dogs.”

        I talked hin into coming. My kids were too young to remember the old days, and were still little children when he visited that weekend.  He brought them presents.  They were taken by this gentle giant who told all the funny stories.  He was 6′ 8″ but had fallen off his old weight by forty pounds.  They could have cared less he wasn’t a player anymore and it didn’t matter to me either, except I hurt for him.

     We played two days, and neither of us acted like anything was different.  We bought our team in the Calcutta, but the boys didn’t run up our price.  He could barely hit it 200 yards, and there was no longer a one iron in the bag.  He sunk a few putts and we’d yell like school boys.  We knew we had zero chance to win, but we didn’t say it.

        A year later he was gone.  I took the train to Florida and played the blues on my mandolin the whole ride.  Robert used to tell me some of his happiest days were in high school on the golf team.  He’d get out of class early and they’d give him a sleeve of brand new Titleists.  He didn’t see how life could be any better.

      I played the Member Guest with Cuz today, and we had a good run of it.  It was cold and rainy and the wind blew.  Some of the guys griped, but I just can’t complain about the weather.  I am sure Robert would have loved to had a few more days regardless of the temperature.  I seldom play a round of golf that I don’t think of my old pal, and cherish every day I have here on Earth. 

       When I came in after my round my nose dripped, my ears were red, and my toes tingled, but Marfar had on a pot of soup and her best steak fries in the oven.  I am certain I will recover without difficulty.  I have no idea why such a good man as Robert has to go so early and leave behind a wife, a child, and a sister he loved so much.  In Heaven, I suspect he has a new sleeve of Titleists every day.  He sure does deserve them.  I had three birdies today, and I bet he had four.  In fact, I bet I’ve already run up a hot dog tab that’ll take an eternity for me to get back to slick again.  (that’s golf talk for even)

        Wait on me old pal, and when I get there I need three a side.  I am sure you’ve had a lot of practice.

Dr. B

Calling All Left Brain Klutzes. Wayne Benson Can Help You- (The Bluegrass Modfied Socratic Method)

October 16, 2009


        Okay, I’m finally gonna admit it to you guys.  I hope you will keep reading my blog after I confess.  We’re all friends now, so don’t tell anyone, but I am a closet left brain klutz.  Sssssshhhhh!  Quiet!  Don’t tell.

        Don’t worry.  I figured out how to overcome it.  For all my love of music I’m just an analytical left brain doc who was trained as a mandolinist by two brilliant right brain-ed geniuses, Darin Aldridge and Wayne Benson.  Darin taught me so much about tone, timing, part singing, and band dynamics I can never repay him. 

        Today I want to speak to how in spite of my left brain ways I figured out how to use the left brain to take my mandolin skills up another notch.  In spite of being a boring doctor, I was able to find the soul to transfer it to the right brain.  I might be a left brain klutz, but Charlie Brown got to play, and even married the little red-haired girl.  It has been a good life.

        If you are a discouraged left brainer, have no fear.  My blog is all about hope, so cheer up.  I am gonna lead you to the promised land through the corpus callosum from the left brain to the right and back at will.  You can get there with the mandolin.

         Here is the secret.  The mandolin the ultimate fake out instrument.  In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you I am a good doc, but have folks fooled on the mandolin.  And here is the even better news.  If you are left brain-ed you can learn to get by and play too.

        Now, do not misunderstand.  I can not promise you will be a virtuoso.  If I could I would turn myself into one.  What I can promise is competence.

         An average athlete can’t be trained to be Tiger Woods, but they reach a reasonable level of skill as a golfer if they learn the fundamentals.  The same is true for the mandolin.  And because the instrument is tuned in fifths it is very symmetrical, thus the patterns are moveable.  (If you have a little right brain in you and keep losing your capo it doesn’t matter.)  This symmetry is why the little instrument has such appeal to the logical side of the brain.

        Wayne Benson teaches these concepts by a modified bluegrass Socratic method that stays true to the oral tradition customary for traditional music.  Wayne is a brilliant right brain-ed artist who was a professional musician by age nineteen.  Here is what makes him unique as an instructor.  Sometime along the way he decided to stop and analyze the ‘why’ of how he plays.  He does it better than any great player I have ever run into.  Wayne was able to train his left brain to store the concepts in an intellectual but practical way so he could share them with those of us who are less gifted artistically. (The vast majority of the world) 

        Now he teaches this method.  If one is hopelessly left brain-ed you can learn to play.  Wayne will translate for you.  It is like this.  You wouldn’t want a doc to say, “Your BNP, end diastolic pressures, and left ventricular hypertrophy are indicative of irreversible congestive cardiomyopathy.”  Most folks prefer, “Your blood pressure is wearing your heart down and the muscle isn’t as strong.  We can’t cure it but we sure can make it better.  I’m gonna get the best cardiologist in the Tobacco Triangle to help us.”

         Wayne won’t say,”I prefer you use the pentatonic scale on the second break.”  Instead it would be, “put your ring finger on the third fret.  Now play the opening line to ‘My Girl.’  That is the pentatonic scale.  Here is how you can use that concept to improvise in the key of ‘C.'”  Trust me, he can then leave it at the practical or get as esoteric as you desire.  

        In other words, he translates from right to left just like a good doc does from left to right.  You can’t be Wayne Benson and neither can I, but he can lead you to competence. 

        However, you have to follow though.  After he shows you these concepts you must go home and practice.  Most of all he would want you to go have fun and play.  The good news about bluegrass is it is okay to learn on the fly.   No one is going to fuss at you if while you hang around the edge of a jam session and learn your mandolin.  We all start that way.  A guy like me can sit in with the pros, although I am careful to not muddy up their session when they prepare to get on stage.  I think even the most average student could get a good start on the mandolin in a year of study under Wayne if they do their home work between each lesson. 

        One of these days I am gonna convince Wayne to write down his method.  It is the most logical one I have seen, and is especially effective for folks who tend to be analytical in their learning process.  If he can teach a doctor there is hope for everyone.

Dr. B

Sound HealthCare For Musicians

October 12, 2009


        First of all, the disclaimer.  One reason I like my blog is it is mine.  It has zero commercial influence other than I want to tell people about bands and artists I like, and I hope someday I will be able to advertise my book.  I accept no advertisement money.  That way I can write whatever I think and don’t have to answer to anyone but my readers, myself, and the Good Lord.  

        So with that intro, I want to tell you about a project I got interested in at an IBMA conference.  It is called Sound HeathCare.  They are not an insurance company, but they are in the heath insurance business.  

        For some time now I have worried about the lack of affordable health insurance for my musician friends.  I recall years ago when the Nashville Bluegrass Band was involved in an accident.  My first reaction was fear for their well being, but it was followed up with concern for their medical bills.  That was a while back and things are even more expensive now.

        I believe it was one of the Renos who said you don’t know about overhead until your diesel fuel bill runs in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Many working bands can’t add on the expense of independent health insurance and stay out on the road.

        An additional problem is the lack of portability.  One musician at the conference told us about the day he had a heart attack.  He was first seen in the state where he had insurance, but they flew him out to a Medical Center across the state line.  His inital bills were paid by his insurance, but the expensive work at the second facility was not covered on his policy.  His out of pocket expense was thousands of dollars.

        I realized the plight of the uninsured musician years ago, and began to write the IBMA of my concerns.  I suspect they heard from a lot of folks, because they listened.  They found a group called Sound HeathCare who now brokers insurance for their members.  Sound HeathCare made a presentation at the IBMA business convention. In my humble opinion as a country doc who loves bluegrass music and the folks who play it, they are a group we need to listen to.

        They are not an insurance company.  They are a broker for health insurance and specialize in musicians.  In fact, the CEO and founding partner, Mr. R.J. Stillwell, is a former touring musician himself.

        The fact they are a broker is very important.  In this role we are given some leverage.  There is very little we as individuals can do to negotiate with a big insurance company.  Private health insurance without a broker is a take it or leave it proposition, and on their terms only.

        The equation changes with a broker.  Sound HeathCare has the power to bring large groups of people to the table.  (They were selected by the CMA first and then the IBMA followed suit)  They broker health insurance for these and other music organizations.  The very important point is this:  Because they represent a large number of people, they can hold the insurance company’s feet to the fire.  If one company gets too high-handed they can ditch them.  They can’t bring these giant companies to their knees, but they can at least make them listen to our collective voice or lose the business of a very large number of customers.        

        Believe me, the insurance companies will listen if the people are empowered.  Malpractice insurance is very expensive, but because of a co-op we formed as docs, we have been able to command significant discounts.  We deal with a good company, but they can not afford to become too expensive or unresponsive.  If they did so, our broker might shop around.  Sound Health Care can take advantage of this same dynamic when they deal with the insurance companies who provide your health insurance.

        They also have tackled the other major significant obstacle for a touring musician.  Their coverage is portable.  In other words, they only broker with companies who offer insurance that is accepted on a national basis.  I have often worried my friends who have good insurance that serves them well at home in the Carolinas could have a stroke way out west and be out of luck.  The gentleman in the audience who had a heart attack is a great example, and he only crossed one state line.  Heck, many of the musicians I know travel that far before lunch!  Because the executives of SoundHeath Care are musicians themselves they not only understand this problem, but have dealt with it for their own families.

       As I said, this is not a paid advertisement.  I only know what I learned in a one hour seminar at the IBMA, but I like what I heard.  The company is relatively new (three of four years I think) but I believe they are here to stay because they address fundamental concepts that speak to the specific needs of working musicians. 

        My advice is this.  If you have good health insurance that is portable and affordable, hold onto it.  If you don’t have that kind of coverage, check out Sound HealthCare.  One thing is certain.  I know you remember the old saying, “Don’t leave home without it.”  I hope you guys will do what you can to not go out on the road without health insurance.  One catastrophe could sink you for life. 

        If you are in my neck of the woods, I’d give you the bluegrass discount, but there aren’t enough bluegrass docs out there, and I want to see my favorite people be taken care of fairly.  No one is going to conquer the heath insurance quagmire overnight, but I believe Sound HeathCare is at least headed in the right direction.

Their website is:

Dr. B