Archive for October 2010

Riley Harper

October 27, 2010

        I first learned about Riley Harper in a bluegrass background check. Ruppert caught up with him in Raleigh when he tried to trade a mandolin for a used car. Harper said it was a Gibson his grandfather bought in the Great Depression. Of course it was no such thing. Riley Harper had a ton of money and made all of it cheating someone else out of theirs, but Ruppert had to threaten to take Harper to small claims court to get him to pay for the used station wagon he bought for his wife.

        Mama always said if I couldn’t say something good about someone to not say anything at all. I guess I could stop now with Riley Harper. I have no use for those who are not loyal.

        But I told Mama, I said, “Mama, if I don’t write about the bad guys, how are my friends gonna know how to spot ’em?”

        “Hm. I suppose. I guess it’s okay if you write about them, just don’t hang around ’em.”

        “Yes, Mama. I inherited my radar from you, you know. I won’t even let ’em take me to lunch.”

        “You are such a good boy.”

        “Indie used to say I was a Boy Scout.”

        “My goodness, Indie was such a rogue.”

        “Yeah, but we loved him anyway. At least he was an honest rouge.”

        Mama smiled. “”Yes he was dear. I just wish he hadn’t had that affair with that little hussy from France. It took Immogene a long time to get over that.”

        “I know Mama, and you’re right, but at least he was sorry.”

        I’ll be back soon to tell you more about Riley Harper.

Dr. B


Doc’s Music Therapy

October 25, 2010

        Y’all already know I have an odd life. One day it’s belly aches and the next it’s appeggios.

        I have to play music to deal with the injustice of it all. It’s good that I write too. I went back and forth all summer with a series of clerks who couldn’t understand why a patient needed a new set of dentures. Any reasonable person in the world would understand “his dentures don’t fit and he can’t eat,” but I finally semi-satisified them with “masticatory derangement secondary to dental appliance mal-occlusion has resulted in relative caloric deprivation with concomitant serum albumin depression.”

        The way you win these battles is to raise the bar with each exchange until you find a level the clerk can’t interpret. They don’t want to admit they have no idea what you are talking about and give in. (If you do this too early they get their back up and call you a smart a^^.)

        Of course every bluegrasser in the world knows this means, “If that boy don’t get some dentures that fit right he’s gonna starve to death.”

        But because of my music therapy I’m only half crazy. It was a school-house show with Guitar-ed and Feather-ed to the most enthusiastic audience of the year and the youthful energy of Della Mae. It was the relaxation of the informal front porch sessions of New Plowed Ground, and the ever so fine old and new bluegrass mix of Balsam Range. It was a great Django tribute by Reggie and Ryan Harris, with Danny Knicely, a red-hot old-time mando man who knew the gypsy jazz fretboard too along with the cool mandolin vocabulary of my old pal Darin Aldridge.

        It was little Megan Peeler who gave me a treasured memento, a signed photo that dubbed me “the ultimate music therapist,” and The Bluegrass Sweethearts Darin and Brooke Aldridge who invited me to play a church gig on the way back home.

        All these kids know how to recharge old Doc every time. I’m ready go back and do verbal battle with some dim-witted bureaucrat. Let’s see, how ’bout, “This scan is indicated because new onset radiculopathy concurrent with recent trauma and known stenosis is high risk for cord compression.”

        If that doesn’t do it you tell the insurance guy, “look buddy, if this guy winds up paralyzed me and him are gonna get together and send you the bill. I ain’t going away. You can count on it.” That usually works.

        If one day it finally doesn’t, I’m gonna retire, put a full-page ad in the Harvey Herald to name the SOB who didn’t care, and tell the world I’ve gone to Reggie’s to study gypsy jazz.

      But for now, thanks to all my friends who serve as my safety net team of music therapists, I’m ready to fight another day.

        Thanks for the music, guys.

Dr. B

Why I Play Music: Reason #4237 and Cuss Word Number 7

October 23, 2010

        Y’all might get tired of reading it, but I have no choice but to write it. It’s Saturday and I have to play. Reason #4237:  If I never see another human being in my life whose only goal in the doc biz is to be satisfied to make a half-assed, (#7) half-baked, superficial diagnosis because all they really want to accomplish is to drive around town in some overpriced hunk of sheet metal ’cause it makes them feel important for reasons this old doc can’t understand, well….I guess all I know to say is instead of wringing someone’s fool neck I play music.

        In my biz, close counts, and wrong is as good as dead if you don’t care enough to stop and rethink the diagnosis. My mind whirls all day: “Hm…..Could it be….. I wonder….dang, that doesn’t fit…..Maybe…..I’m not sure. I don’t get it all right, but by God I care.

         Now I feel better.

         Art of Sound, Shelby N.C. The old Neuse River converted school bus is all crunk up. Don’t miss it. The Harris Brothers kick it off. Reggie might be the most versatile guitarist in the world, and his brother Ryan’s soul singing moves me every time. Take a picture of the electric suitcase and send it home to Mama. 

        Darin and Brooke Aldridge, the Sweethearts of Bluegrass. A Nashville insider said Brooke was the best new female voice in bluegrass in a decade. Darin is the finest multi-instrumentalist I’ve even known. Together they are magic. They are in the top ten in the bluegrass charts now, and on the way up past that.

      Balsam Range. If Tony Rice says a man can sing, he can. Tony ain’t wrong about Buddy Melton. Strong band in every position. Great modern bluegrass.

        For Heaven’s sake, don’t sit and home and watch T.V. Come join us. The bluegrass and traditional music family will welcome you in. We ain’t crazy, just a little quirky. Check us out.

Dr. B

Art of Sound Day One: Megan Peeler

October 22, 2010

        Art of Sound proves again the city folks know how to have fun too, and they’re just getting started.

        Megan Peeler is a hometown kinda girl who now lives in Nashville. The young lady is mix of down-home and country cosmopolitan. At first she seems like a shy little girl who has a gig at the Fair, but in a few songs transforms into a powerful grown up woman singer. Just when you think the kid has left the building she’ll break into a whimsical piano number or call up regional or local musicians to jam an impromptu song on stage. She toggles in between wide-eyed child and seasoned performer, sometimes all in one song.

        She sings of lost love, heartaches, and busted plans, but then brightens up at the thought of new dreams just beyond the rainbow. Her art reflects the reality of youth; somewhere in between vulnerable doubt and tough-minded independence.

        She’ll make you think about your own. As a father, you wish your children could remain young forever, and that you could somehow shield them from harsh realities and mean people. At the same time you want to free them to enjoy life as an adult the same way you have. Megan’s the kind of artist who makes you realize you need to call up your own daughter and remind her how much you love her.

        Megan has a degree in Music Therapy from Appalachian U. (magna cum laude by the way) As the young lady finds her way in a tough business, she hasn’t forgotten the truth; we play music because it’s fun, and it makes our lives better. It’ll take an old Doc away for a minute to forget all the terrible problems I’m not powerful enough to solve. 

        I don’t understand anything about the music biz, but I can tell you this: Megan Peeler plays and sings real music. My guess is when I land in the Harvey County Nursing Home, she’ll drop by when she tours through and sing “I’ll Fly Away” with me.

        And if I sing a flat harmony line, I bet she’ll just throw that curly head back, laugh, and say the next take is gonna be perfect. Keep holding on to hope, kid, it’s what us older folks do too. We’re all the same.   

Dr. B

Art of Sound

October 20, 2010

        Well, it’s about time to winterize the old converted school bus. We’re gonna go back out one more time, though, for a trip to Art of Sound in Shelby, N.C. My little Marie is gonna ride up front and Marfar will play bass. (My son will miss due to a prior commitment, but he’ll be home for the holidays)

        Miss Megan Peeler will be at the Don Gibson (it’s her hometown venue) on Thursday along with Della Mae Bluegrass, who I met at IBMA.

        Saturday shows include singer-songwriter Al Dunkleman and New Plowed Ground, (he has a new CD due out this spring; fine work) and my old young pals Darin and Brooke Aldridge, the Bluegrass Sweethearts. Any time the kids play in North Carolina there’s a good chance Dr. B will be there.

        The  Harris Brothers, Balsam Range, a Django jam tribute, a big band orchestra, (Frank Love Band) great food and people; Art of Sound is the traditional closer for the N.C festival season; one we never miss.

        Check out their website at: (click on the Art of Sound logo)

        Look for me; I’ll be a face in the crowd. Y’all all know how to find Tommy Bibey; he’s the one with the straw hat and one green and one blue eye. (for bluegrass) Hope to see you there.

Dr. B

Acquisition Syndrome

October 18, 2010

        I have a lot going on, but the success of “The Mandolin Case” has convinced me to get back to work on my second book, “Acquisition Syndrome.” It is a story that documents  the demise of medical practice as a cottage industry, and its evolution into a business. I’m not sure it was such a good thing, but now that process is complete, I want to document what happened. Just as in “The Mandolin Case” I’m gonna use the medium of true fiction.

        I don’t look for it any time soon, but maybe some day the pendulum will swing back, and medicine will be about people again. As Moose Dooley once said, “When I got into health care I thought we’d talk about germs, but all we talk about is money.” The better people are informed as to the inside true story, the more likely the system could someday return to some semblance of rational.

       But for now medicine is a business. And it will stay that way as long as someone can make a million dollars as a scooter salesman and see little but trouble for efforts to encourage people to walk.

        As the old doctor would say at the end of every Medical Staff meeting confrontation, regardless of the issue at hand, “Gentlemen, I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong here, but I think it’s got something to do with money.” He was always right, and that is why the subtitle for the story will be along the lines of “Something to do with Money.”

        I will keep you posted as it goes along. I hope to have a Grisham style outline completed by the end of the year, and a very serious MS ready for my editor Dorrie by the end of 2011. Stay tuned.

Dr. B

West Henderson High Young’uns

October 14, 2010

        There are days when you wake up and realize you’ve got some age on you.  I walked into the West Henderson High office and two young ladies at least a decade younger than my daughter led me to the auditorium.   

        English teacher Cliff Searcy and I played Indie’s theme song, “The Cherokee Shuffle,” and they all began to clap in time with the music.

       I took the mic and looked out at the hundred or so kids. Would they have any interest in writing? I hoped so. I asked if they knew what they wanted to do with their life, and most of ’em raised their hand to indicate a “yes.” That shocked me. When I was that age I had no higher ambition than to get a date for the prom and know where to find the best milkshakes in town.  

       They asked great questions; everything from character development to page layout. Conflict, how to make the plot rise and fall, writing for personal growth; all superb insights.

        One asked about how I outlined my novel and I almost laughed, because I recalled how infuriated my agent would get with my sketchy notes in the early days. I told the student what I’d read about how Grisham did his; he lays out his time-line on a long table and then writes an extensive outline before he ever starts to write the book.

        I confessed my outlines were lousy, but my book came out good. I guess I did it the hard way. I also suggested they learn to type. I never got around to that either. (Lazy I reckon) I often skipped typing class to go play music; I don’t recommend that approach.   

       The questions were so insightful I sure was glad my agent and editor taught me all that as I wrote “The Mandolin Case.” Even as recently as 2007 I wouldn’t have been able to answer them. It takes a long time to make a writer.

        After the talk, Mr. Searcy led me to the school Wednesday jam session. Tow headed and dark curly-haired teenagers played fiddle, bass, mandolin, and guitar with sophistication well beyond their years.

         A photographer from the regional monthly magazine “Bold Life” was there. He was mesmerized. “I’ve heard bluegrass, but this has such a different feel.”

       “Those kids have mountain soul, man.”

        You can hear it in the way they play. Some of them are classically trained too, and that is good thing, but they’ve got their music heritage deep down in ’em.

        Their orchestra instructor played the mandolin in the group as did a young man. Some of the music had a touch of old-time; the history teacher there is a clawhammer banjo man. I guess you’d say some of the passages were modal, but I’d just call it pure as a mountain trout stream. Very cool. 

        Years ago some kinda university professor visiting artist came around to study me and the guys I pick with and said part of our sound was of the mixolydian mode. I looked that up in a music theory book, and thought it was about right, but it didn’t change my playing much. Mine’s got a bit more Foothills, Piedmont, and Sandhills influence but it’s still mountain music. 

        It tickled me that these young ‘uns would let me sit in and soak it up. It thrills me to see the torch passed on. I backed up the fiddlers on “Cluck Old Hen,” a public domain tune Alison Krauss recorded a few years back. When I ran a harmony passage to their melody line one flashed a big smile. Where else but in bluegrass can a kid and an old Doc share the same music? I raised my young’uns in it, and the day brought back many fond memories.

        The photographer said he wasn’t a musician, but you could tell he was an artistic kinda cat. He said, “If you spend your time being creative, you don’t have time to think about being mean.”

         “Amen brother,” I replied.

         Kids, thanks again for showing me the circle will forever be unbroken. There’s enough mean people in the world to go around already, so y’all keep on being cool. God bless you and protect you. May you remain of a child’s spirit even after you have to deal with the harsh realities of the adult world. Doc has seen a lot, but in spite of it all I’m still a kid like y’all, just an old one. Between Jesus, family, and music I somehow was saved by grace from most of the impact hard times can have on you.

        Y’all keep on playing. I loved your style. You’re true bluegrass, and I won’t forget you.

Dr. B

Still 17 at Heart

October 12, 2010

        Okay, so the students wanted a picture of me as a kid. Here it is. When I was 17 I thought I was gonna be a Beatle. When I told my uncle the farmer the Beatles were coming he said, “I hope they don’t eat my crops.”

       I also thought I might be Arnold Palmer. I had a set of Wilson Arnold Palmers except the 7-Iron was a Sam Snead Blue Ridge. My uncle borrowed my clubs and lost the original 7 iron, but he went down to the Firestone store and got me a new one, it just had the wrong name on it.

        Didn’t matter. We liked Sam too. None of us had the foggiest notion of how to play golf other than watching Arnie on black and white T.V. for a few holes on Sunday afternoons. We tried to dig the game out of the dirt the best we could. I played five years before I knew you weren’t supposed to hold it like a baseball bat. When I’d hit one just right my Dad would always say, “Son, you hit that one like Arnie.”  

         In reality, I never hit one like Arnie in my life. We thought we were good, but one day some out-of-town kid with a picture book swing showed up and waxed us all. Even at that age I was practical. I figured there was probably one kid in about every town that good, and maybe Mama was right. I was pretty good with books, the doctor gig sounded like a smart idea to me.

        Mama worried the guitar would lead me astray, but I met my wife with that guitar so it all worked out. I never saw any girl with a smile that pretty at least until my daughter came along; she looks just like her Mama.

         I never was the fastest, I couldn’t jump the highest, and once I got to med school I found out right quick I wasn’t the smartest cat around either, but I will give myself credit for this: If there was ever a more persistent rascal in the pursuit of tranquility, I’m happy for him. I was a tortoise but I still plod along. By modern standards I guess my life is pretty simple, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. 

        17 was a long time ago. Thanks to the help of a couple good bluegrass friends I got better on mandolin than I ever was on guitar, although no professional mandolinist needs to worry about their job security. And at least on a good day I think I could beat that boy in golf. He wasn’t wise enough yet, and that only comes with time. I still set out to learn something new every day, and have a lot more miles to travel.

Dr. B

School Gigs

October 12, 2010

        One of my goals with my book was to reach out to young people. Years ago I got paired in a golf game with a school principal from Saltillo, Mississippi. It was chance meeting and we became instant friends. (He just happened to be a mandolin player) On a whim, I sent him a short story, and he shared it with a lady English teacher who gave it to her class to study.

         In short order I became pen pals with the kids, and still keep up with some of them today. I recall one wrote, “I can’t believe a famous writer would write us little children in Saltillo, Mississippi and be interested in what we have to say.”

       I was stunned by that. At the time, I had just signed with my Lit agent and “The Mandolin Case” was early in its development. I called him right away. “Hey brother, we gotta straighten this out. I’m not a famous writer.” 

        He said, “You are now.”       

       His point was this: Once you touch someone far away with your written words, someone you have never met, then you by definition are a famous writer. I realized I now had a responsibility. You have to be careful what you write, someone might read it one day. I went on to visit with them and plan to go back this winter.

        Tomorrow I’m gonna be at West Henderson High School. I’ll be here to talk to the kids about writing, music, and medicine. Then we have a jam session with English teacher Cliff Searcy and his school bluegrass group. After that we’ll be at Tempo Music from 4:30 until 5:45, and then on to WHKP radio to be on Charles Hayes’ Grass Roots show around 6 pm.

        If I don’t show ’em anything else I hope to let them realize that through faith, family, and art, both writing and music, there is self-realization. We can come to accept ourselves for what we are; flaws and all. Art can help us to understand our friends and even our enemies, and find tranquility in a complicated world.

       If the esoteric approach is not successful, I’ll tell ’em if you play music you get more dates. They asked that I bring a picture of me when I was that age. My Dad brought one over to the office yesterday. Way back then I was a shy, skinny country boy, and guitar was just a way to meet girls. It worked too; that’s how I found my Marfar and that’s more than enough reason to be thankful I got into music. Two kids and a Gibson mandolin later, she injected grace and dignity into what would have been a rough go alone.

        If y’all have any suggestions, old Doc will take all the help he can get. What you want to hear about if you were a kid?

Dr. B

The Church of the Exceptional

October 10, 2010

       The elderly pianist played much like a child, and halted at the difficult passages. “Jesus Loves Me This I Know…” She missed a few notes, but it still was rendered with a simple beauty. It brought memories of childhood when I’d skip piano lessons to play baseball instead.

       In fact, other than a few volunteers, the entire congregation had some form of mental handicap. They were child-like, though many of them were now into middle age. Most sang off-key, but no one fussed.

       The songs were like Vacation Bible School; “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “This Land is Your Land;” that sort of thing. On “This Little Light of Mine” they held up imaginary lights and let ’em shine. They sent out simple prayers for friends to get over heart trouble or belly aches. They had a penny offering; they didn’t ask for or need much.

        It was me and Marfar, the Banjo Diva, the girl singer, guitar lady and her urologist husband who has taken up mandolin. His voice-over for the animals on “Creatures Great and Small” was the ticket, though. The moo cow was the hit of the day. They loved him.

        Every single one of them thanked us for coming, and bid us a safe trip home. “Where are yous’uns from?” one asked.

        “Harvey County.”

         “Never heered of hit.” He shook my hand with great vigor. “You come back?”


        “Good!” The man skipped down the ramp and called out to a friend. “They gonna come back.”     

        We loaded up our equipment, stood out on the parking lot for a moment and ate some peanuts the Banjo Diva brought from the Fair. I’m near an old man now, but these folks reminded me of childhood days at my grandmother’s country church so many years ago. I can’t describe why, but they always make me feel young. I never fail to be appreciative of my immense good fortune in life.

       Those of us who God gave some degree of raw intelligence can learn something from the mentally handicapped. They have the heart and minds of children. If we were granted enough brain to negotiate our way through the world with relative ease, we should never forget the blessing we have. All of us “sophisticated” people would do well to keep the heart of a child like the folks at The Church of the Exceptional. They were never quite smart enough to learn how to be mean-spirited, and they can help us forget it for a while.

Dr. B