Archive for November 2010

Physician Bluegrass Fiction Goes to the Rotary Club

November 28, 2010

        Well y’all, Mama worried about where my mandolin might take me, but lo and behold it’s gonna get Doc booked at the Rotary Club. I’m kinda proud of that ’cause it makes me (and bluegrass) just downright legit.

       I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I’m not in the Rotary Club, but I want to make it clear I’m not making fun; not one bit. From what I know they do a lot of good in communities all over. I’m not a member of much because I am just too ADD to sit still long enough to be an effective participant.

        However, don’t ever count me out in my gig. If you have elevated liver transaminases I might just diagnose your hemochromatosis ’cause it reminds me of “The Kentucky Waltz.” (That’s what was on the turntable when I first read about it, and I never forgot.) The mind of a physician bluegrass fiction writer is very odd, but I’m good for the 90th percentile; brilliance I’ll have to leave to others.

        Anyway, my agent asked me to get organized enough to put together an outline for this talk. Y’all know me well enough to realize I’ve already exasperated him on a regular basis, but I guess I better do what he says. After all, the guy knows the biz, and has led me to the top twenty on Amazon Country Book category most of the fall.

        I remember something he said early on; you will learn from your readers. And he’s right, I have learned a lot, and I ask for your help again. If you were in the Rotary Club and your speaker turned out to be a physician bluegrass fiction writer with a straw hat and a mandolin what would you want to hear? (Don’t tell me you’d leave, my agent reads my blog) Here are some thoughts on my agenda. I’ll organize it into an outline later.

        1. Art can help the decent prevail. I believe most people are good, but the art folks are often a cut above the average. I believe through art we can learn how to be more compassionate humans.

        2. I am concerned over the decline in reading in modern society. My Mama took me to the library every week and put me in a speed reading course. I understand Dolly Parton has a program to bring books to children who are not so lucky. I’d like to see an organization like the Rotary get involved in this. For all Dolly’s attributes, to me her finest is her skill as a songwriter; it is often overlooked. Hey, who knows? Maybe I can sing a song with Dolly someday.

        3. I like to see bluegrass get it’s due. One time a fellow told me he was proud of what I had done for bluegrass in Harvey County. I asked why and he said, “Doc, before you showed up here, folks tended to think of our music as ‘dirt music.’ Now they respect it.” I didn’t do that by myself of course, and traditional music’s stature has been on the upswing for several decades now. Still there are too may folks who don’t understand the simple beauty of true music and I want to be part of the metamorphosis.

        4. The mandolin is the underdog. It wasn’t always that way. As Mike Marshall says, “before the turn of the last century, great mandolin orchestras ruled the earth.” The dinosaurs were that way and became extinct. We can’t let that happen with true music.

        5. Self empowerment. If a shy country boy of average ability can read enough books to become a decent doctor, and then write one that made it to #1 in the Amazon Country Book category in both the paperback and Kindle formats, it can happen to anybody. I’d like for young people to find the same sense of contentment and tranquility I was so fortunate to find. I found much of it with my mandolin, and in the arts.

        6. Patience my boy. I recall the words of my first editor, Mr. Paul Howey of the Laurel Magazine of Asheville. I asked him to read some early drafts of “The Mandolin Case” and give me some advice. I remember he said, “Well, this is pretty good. It has potential.”

       I asked, (with both innocence and great eagerness)”Mr. Howey, do you think I can get published?”

       He replied, “Patience my boy, patience.” It was excellent advice. “The Mandolin Case” took ten years, and all good things take time.

       I think I’ll do all right with my talk, though, ’cause at the heart of it all I like real people. When I was at the Lit conference in Chattanooga my agent was at our table, as was Felix Miller and his wife Barbara, who became good friends. A lady sat opposite of me. She was an elderly elegant woman with gray hair pulled back in a bun, pale blue eyes that all but pierced my gaze from across the table, and a quirky Mona Lisa kind of smile. I had my mandolin out and was banging away on a tune for Felix. My agent had to shush me. I was like Rodney Dangerfield at the writer’s club, and didn’t realize I was out of line. The lady chuckled.

       I looked over her way. “Ma’am, you’re an English teacher, aren’t you?”

       Her eyebrows arched. “Why yes. How did you know?”

       “Cause I’ve seen that look so many times before. It says ‘My, my. What will I do with this boy?’ My mama was an English teacher. I can’t help it. I am what I am, and can’t be anything else.”

       She smiled and picked up her coffee in that dainty way elderly ladies do. (Some of the guys I hang out with don’t sip beer and hold their pinky like that.) “Let me know when your book comes out.”

       “Yes, ma’am.”

        The reason I think I’ll do OK with my talk is I like and respect that lady just as much as I do my bluegrass pals, even though I suspect she’s not a banjo freak.

       Y’all help me out on this Rotary gig. I have no idea what I’m doing, and any and all suggestions are appreciated.

Dr. B


Lyrics to Turkey in the Straw (Public Domain)

November 25, 2010

        As y’all know “Turkey in the Straw” is a public domain tune, which means it has been around so long it belongs to all of us. (like me) Bet you didn’t know it has words.

       Truth is as far as I know it didn’t until today. I’m making this up as I go along. This is a fine strategy for an artist; I do not recommend that approach for the doctor aspect of life. Better to know what you are doing ahead of time in that gig.

        Anyway, here’s the chorus. Y’all feel free to chime in with a verse if you like. Just remember this is a public forum and “Turkey in the Straw” is a public domain song, so if you hear someone sing it in Tuscon next year, all you get is the satisfaction to know you are a part of the extended bluegrass family. To me, that’s enough, and this Thanksgiving I find myself more thankful than ever for the privilege.

Turkey in the Straw (Chorus)

Turkey’s in the oven… turkey’s in the straw
That’s as fine a turkey….  as I ever saw
Taters are a sizzling…… and the gravy’s in the pan
Have a cup of coffee, stay for supper if you can.

        Y’all have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Dr. B

“The Mandolin Case” on Audio

November 22, 2010

        I’ve had several folks ask about how to get “The Mandolin Case” in an audio format. Recently a lady named bethfinke wrote and asked if it was available. 

        As always, I learn from my readers. It turned out at least one, a truck driver named Billy, had it on Kindle and had listened to the audio version it includes.

        I haven’t heard it yet (I’ve asked Santa for a Kindle for Christmas) but from what I understand the voice quality is very good. You can choose either a male or female voice, although Billy said the female voice is not as sexy as that GPS lady he listens to in the truck. Oh well, the GPS lady probably wouldn’t be a fit for the story anyway. She sounds sophisticated to me, and for the most part these were a bunch of rough country boys. Of course there was Giselle, the French foreign exchange student.

        On second thought, Giselle wouldn’t have worked as the voice of “The Mandolin Case.” She stayed here in Harvey County a couple of years and the only English phrases she learned were “motorcycle ride” and “Cool Whip, Indie.” 

        So for now the Kindle and it’s variations thereof serve as my audio format. Now if Cracker Barrel were to call, I’m sure my Lit agent could strike a deal. If he does, I’m partial to pork chops and eggs with lots of strong coffee.

        I may get a short post in before next Monday, but for the most part I’m gonna take off for the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope it is blessed for all of you. My friend Cliff Searcy posed this question on FaceBook not long ago: “If you could have one prayer and ask the Lord for anything what would it be?”

        I thought about that for a minute, and had to admit I had been blessed beyond what I deserve and didn’t need anything. So instead my wish would be for all my people to have tranquilly. It can be hard to come by in this modern world, and between faith, family, music, and writing I have been so fortunate to find it even before Eternity sets in.

        Y’all have a fine Thanksgiving.

Dr. B

A Call From a Bookstore (Got Books)

November 17, 2010

        The other day I was at the Billiard and Bowl taking in a bacon swiss CB with a chocolate shake and fries; a sort of last meal before I go into training for my physical at the end of the year. Lou Bedford gave me the message.

        “Hey Doc, Snookers says some guy wants to talk to you. Says he’s from a bookstore.”

         “Books by the Dozen? I thought they went under.”

         “No, Snook said he’s from out-of-town.” Lou handed me a slip of paper. “Here’s the number. Said call him before 7:00.”

         “Okay.” I dialed it. The man picked up on the third ring. “Got Books. May I help you?”

        “Tom Bibey here,” I said. “Lou Bedford gave me your number. How in the world didja get interested in “The Mandolin Case?”        

        “This is a university town. One of the professors is a regular customer. He has connections in the U.K. and they happened on it. I looked up your blog.”

        I listened for a minute. He carried all my favorites, not only old standbys like Twain, but newer one like Clyde Edgerton. He said he knew Ron Rash. “I’m true bluegrass,” he said. “Used to go to a lot of festivals in Florida.”

        “Really? Where you from?” I asked.

        “Boiling Springs.”

       My ears perked up. I knew that neck of the woods. “North or South Carolina?”


       “Right there near Shelby?”


      Hm. Wonder if he was for real. “Do you know where Earl’s old home place is?”

      “Down near the Broad River.”

      “Which community?”

      “Flint Hill.”

       I covered the receiver with my hand. “Hey Lou, this guy might be legit. I put the phone back to my ear and spoke into the receiver again. “Where’s Don Gibson buried?”

        “Sunset Cemetery. North forty. Big granite monument.”

         I cupped the phone again. “Dang a mercy Lou, this is for real.” I went back to the phone. “I can get my agent to drop ship you some.”

         “Does he have any signed copies?”

         “A few. I’ll see he gets ’em to you.”

        I hung up the phone. “Can you believe it, Lou? The home of Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson calling me, Tommy Bibey, wanting to get a hold of my book and read all about Harvey County.”

        Lou mopped the counter. “Reckon I’m gonna be famous, Doc?”

        “Naw Lou. I don’t think so. But I gotta admit, some University book store calling up Snookers to find me is remarkable. Who’d a thunk it?”

       “Now bad for a town where City Hall is in the back of the Dairy Queen.”

      “I reckon not, Lou. I reckon not.”

      Here’s their website: Ask for George.

      Dr. B

Give My Poor Heart Ease

November 15, 2010

        If want to know about the blues and the segregated South in the 60’s, “Give My Poor Heart Ease” by William Ferris is a must read.

       William R. Ferris set out as a white middle class teenager way back when with a camera, a tape recorder, and enthusiasm. I am sure some folks thought he’d lost his mind, and I bet almost all of them thought he’d never make a living.

        He did better than that. He made a PhD and a university professor. He taught at Yale and brought his bluesman friends up from Mississippi to teach folklore students about real music and real people. He was invited into homes and to blues parties in towns like Clarksdale and Leland. He recorded work chants at Parchman Penitentiary, the Mississippi State Pen. He became personal friends with B.B. King. Nowadays he teaches history at U.N.C. Chapel Hill.

        If you’re looking for a sanitized version of the blues and black history, this ain’t for you. If you want to read the raw truth, this is the book.

       My agent always said to write Southern Lit, you had to start out as a storyteller. Dr. Ferris went right to the source as a kid, and he hasn’t ever stopped. True southern stories; this book has my highest recommendations; the man is a pro.

Here’s the website for the book:

Dr. B

A Good Marriage and a Game of Black Jack

November 12, 2010

        I suppose you wonder how these two are connected. After many decades of a good marriage and some card games years ago, I know a little about both subjects.

        Marriage is like a game of Black Jack. You have to appreciate the hand you hold. My wife and I only have a few absolute rules. We don’t expect each other to be perfect.

        If your spouse doesn’t do drugs, sleep with other people, spend money like a drunken sailor, or frequent the bars over in the big city, then you have a hand of about eighteen. Better hold it. If you’re lucky and they make good soup and love music, you have a hand of twenty. Any fool knows in Black Jack not to draw another card with that kind of hand.

        I realize twenty-one is perfect, but that’s too much to ask for, and can’t be done over the long haul. I don’t see any point to ask for what I know I can’t deliver myself. Ask for perfection, draw another card, and see what happens. Sure loss. You’ll end up with no hand to hold at all.

        My best doctor advice for the day: If you have a hand of eighteen or better I’d hold it close and be thankful for what you have.

Dr. B

The Green Mile

November 10, 2010

        I read Stephen King’s “The Green Mile” the other day. I saw the movie some time back.

       From the perspective of writer, King has the craft down. The guy holds your attention right from the start.

       As a reader, I like books that make me think. This one does so. I am again struck by how dang hard it is to do right in modern society.

        Maybe it has always been that way. I recall one time a case where I felt like someone’s persecution was for political reasons. I remarked to a musician friend, “I can’t believe they are treating him like that. I think the man is trying to do the right thing.”

        He replied, “I don’t know, Doc. They did it to Jesus didn’t they?”

        This guy didn’t have as much book education as I do, but I view him as much wiser. He was right. The truth is simple; the disingenuous have made it complicated.

        But as my agent always said, “when you write try to search for what has always been true and does not change.” It likely has always been this way; we are just bad not to learn from history, and we keep making the same mistakes over and over.  

        In the case of “The Green Mile” I found some parties were in a spot where they were well-meaning and sensitive, and they cared, but because they were involved with this crazy human race just couldn’t figure out a way to make it right. I guess that is the long green mile we all walk, and all we can do is our best.

Dr. B

My Kinda Gig

November 8, 2010

        It was my kind of gig; a crisp fall day with clear blue skies. The trees had so many colors they looked like they were right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. We knock off the chill with black coffee and pinto beans and gallons of hobo soup in a big cast iron kettle. I go back for several refills. The soup is hot and the fire is warm. Soon we smell like hickory smoke.

       Leonard sings songs like “Church at Hickory Grove,” and we pick “The Black Mountain Rag.” Phipsy the car dealer thumps out perfect time on the bass. Someone in the crowd asks if we know “Rocky Pass.” Phipsy is a relative newcomer to bluegrass (five years) and knows I’m a veteran. He scans my features. He realizes I don’t know the tune, and decides it must be obscure.

       He asks, “Do you mean ‘Rocky Top?'”

        “Maybe that’s it.”

       Ben kicks it off on the banjo. The lady breaks into a big smile. It musta been the one she had in mind.

      We take a break. I get some boiled peanuts and go look at the tractors at the show in the parking lot. One is a restored John Deere from ’38 or so; one of the old kerosene burners. Another is a Massey Ferguson about like Leonard’s. I used to pick cotton on my grandmother’s farm. I can’t understand why folks think we have it so hard nowadays. Leonard and I both remembered when we still had mules. Hard way to make a living.

       The tow-headed Moore Brothers arrive. Jacob tugs on his Mama’s arm. “Hey Mama, Dr. B’s here.”

        “Honey, your imagination’s gotten away with you. Dr. B doesn’t live around here.”

       She was right in that it wasn’t my neck of the woods, and it wasn’t my band. Leonard’s fiddle man was out for surgery, so I filled in. (I stuck with the mandolin and didn’t try to sub on fiddle; I didn’t want to ruin their reputation.)

       Soon she realizes the child is correct. “Dr. B, what in the world are you doing up this way?”

       The Moores invite me to sit in on a few tunes. The Dad handles the guitar back-up, Mama sings a few, and the two talented young’uns wow the crowd. We jam some twelve bar blues. I think back to when mine were little. The circle is unbroken.

      We play a second set. A young woman and several middle-aged men set out a plywood board and clog. It reminded me of John Hartford. The Moore boys wanted to take a picture. I tell Jacob to say hello to Wayne. “Tell him if he keeps working with that old gray-haired doctor he might make a mandolin player out of him yet.”

      He smiled. “Yes, sir.” The Moore brother’s parents are raising them right. It’s the bluegrass way.       

       I ride home with Leonard and nap part of the way in.

       Marfar has another pot of soup on and pours up a bowl. I could live off soup. “How was the gig?” she asked.

       “It was great. Leonard and the boys were tight and the Moore Brothers were there and I got to jam with them. I think we raised a fair amount of money for their church.”

       “Very cool.” She put on some coffee. “Awful cold out there today. Good to have you home.”

       My life is so simple modern people often don’t believe it’s true, but that’s how we live. I wouldn’t change anything. Today’s another day in the salt mines. I’ll go back to the tough modern medical world and do the best I can to treat folks with grace and dignity. I do what I do because in my prayers I’m told it’s my job, and I hope I’m pretty good at it.

       People ask why I play music. My answer is always the same. “It’s so I can continue to be a doctor but still get to be human.” Modern medicine is a very hard business.

       As my daughter would say, “Some things never change, Daddy, and you’re one of ’em.”

Dr. B

Hot Rize and Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers

November 6, 2010

        I’ve followed these guys for years. I not only have all their records, but also the fly swatters, ice scrapers, and the T-shirt to prove it. Last night it almost happened. In the whole time they have been on their package tour together, they have never all graced the stage together for a Bill Monroe type finale. Maybe its ’cause Monroe saw Red and the Trailblazers years ago and said “that ain’t no part of bluegrass,” but I think there’s more to it than that.

        I heard it all started at Denton years ago when they couldn’t agree on how to split fifty dollars eight ways, but now they are known all over the world, so it can’t be money at the root of it any more. I think there’s some professional jealousy there. When that Wendell fellow’s fringe got to flying and he hit all them hot ‘lectric guitar licks, the crowd went plum wild, and I saw some of the Hot Rize boys peek from ’round the corner with a disapproving look. But what can they say? ‘Dem buses don’t run on air you know, and Red Knuckles and Trailblazers put butts in seats. For all the virtuosity of top shelf bluegrass musicians like Hot Rize, the cold hard fact is country out-sells bluegrass. Red knows who they come to see, and I bet he doesn’t let ’em forget.

        But long time fans like me have faith. We know before we get old that some where someday somehow they all are gonna be on stage together for a bluegrass country jam. It almost happened last night. I could see it in Nick Forster’s eyes. He and Bryan Sutton started a mandolin/guitar duet together and he cut his eyes stage left where Red waited for the cue. Then I saw Red mouth the words, “Waldo took Swade to Burger King.” 

         And thus we were thwarted again. But I understand. How do you tell a man like Swade that he ain’t hungry?

        If you get a chance to see these guys, go. It is the finest bluegrass country music package act on tour in 2011. That Tim O’Brien is one more talented fellow; quite a player and a gifted songwriter. Don’t tell him I said it, but deep down inside I think he knows a lot of people come to see Red, ’cause he’s deep into show business. Red made the last cut to get on the Ed Sullivan Show, but lost out to the Romanian trapeze act; those ladies in those tight outfits were a little better looking.

        When you do see ’em tell ’em I bring my children nowadays. Just like me, a new generation now waits in eager anticipation of the greatest jam session of all time. I can hear Waldo Otto now, “Ladies and gentlemen, on stage together for the first time of all time,  Hot Rize and Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers!”

        Or maybe it’ll be “Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers and Hot Rize,” I don’t know.

        I just hope Swade doesn’t go to Burger King ’cause one day I’m gonna see the whole gang on the stage together. When it happens, I’ll be there, Uncle Ted will take the picture, and we’re both gonna write it up, so y’all stay tuned.

Dr. B

Government Gridlock and Wall Street

November 5, 2010

        They said today on the news the stock market soared because it loves gridlock. Does this mean our society is more productive when the government is disabled, or is the message only that if lawmakers are handcuffed the rich and greedy can run wild? Maybe it just means in the long run, at least for a short while, one power group will prevail over another.

        No fear, though. It doesn’t matter which side of the debate you are on, through checks and balances the pendulum will shift over time. Hold to your guns, your belief will be in vogue again someday.

       As for me, I feel sorry for ’em, ’cause very few of them play any music. I wonder how much peace they’d find from jam sessions at night rather than scheming how to eek out a touch more power or money.

        I’m gonna go play my mandolin. I’m neither smart or disingenuous enough to impact all that, and I don’t worry about what I can’t change.

Dr. B