Archive for December 2010

The Rotary Club is Just Like The Old Hometown

December 8, 2010

        I did my first Rotary Club gig, and it was just like the old hometown. In fact, it is the hometown of my music pal Darin Aldridge.

        It came about like these things often do. Someone told their cousin about “The Mandolin Case” and they told their sister down at the bank whose co-worker needed to come up with the Rotary Club program for December and she thought, “Hey, maybe we can get the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer to come talk to us ’cause I read on his blog he’s off on Wednesdays and maybe Darin Aldridge would come by and pick a tune with him.”

        And they were right on every count. I bet it was the first Rotary Club meeting in the history of the organization to have “Cherokee Shuffle” as the opening song.

        It was all great fun. Some fellow sat in for the Prez and told a couple funny tall tales to kick it off. I was reminded of the words of my agent. “People don’t understand why all these writers keep turning up from the South. It’s because they come from a long line of folks who tell stories.”

        This guy was good. How was I gonna follow him? For Heaven’s sake I ain’t Twain. I looked out over the crowd and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” I’m no professor or a scholar, although I could jabber a half hour as to the appropriate evaluation of persistent eosinophilia, but who’d want to hear about that?

        I decided to talk about why I write. “Maybe I’ve been a writer all my life,” I said. “I used to stay with my grandmother out on the farm and wrote up stories and got the little blue ribbons in grade school.” Perhaps I wanted to recapture some of my youth, although my track record is no better than Ponce de Leon’s.

        Like many teenaged boys I got interested in girls and guitars, decided being a writer wasn’t cool and put it aside for a while, but it always nagged at me to start back. I heard it in medical school, again in residency and then in practice; “You need to write a book.”

        As Jerry Clower used to say, “If you hear it three times its scripture.” The road from grade school blue ribbons to a novel is a long journey but I continued to plod along. I had no choice.

        I love people, and in an exam room I’m at ease to talk about constipation or any other subject, but I got a bit self-conscious in front of a crowd without a mandolin around my neck, so I called Darin up to play “Ragtime Annie.” It was in honor of Tag, one of the honest lawyers in “The Mandolin Case.” I got lost about half way through ’cause my mind drifted to what I needed to say next, but Darin banged out a big “G” run to get me back in the groove.

        I told them I was so pleased my writing had brought attention to my kind of music and about I’d become so interested in the Don Gibson theater and the Earl Scruggs Museum and how it has already led new people there, and how I believed it was gonna lead them to Cherryville, too. Darin and Brooke will host a festival there the first weekend of April that features several national acts like the Grascals, and it will attract visitors from all up and down the East Coast. 

        My agent told me not to read too much from the book, ’cause he’d heard so many writers drone on so bad they put the audience to sleep, but I did read my favorite passage. From Indie: “It doesn’t take any special talent to be wicked. Anyone can do that. But to be a decent person requires creativity to the point of art.” Sometimes docs see so much suffering and death that it’d either wear you out or turn you to drinking if you couldn’t ventilate it all though writing and music.

       A bunch of them bought my book. I was humbled by their kind comments. One was a banker. I bet he’d consider a branch in Harvey County, even if it is small. Another bought a copy for her Dad. He was in the hospital and loved bluegrass music. We all said a quick prayer for his recovery. One was a dentist. I can promise you this man is on a mission. It ain’t like he’s into cosmetic dentistry for Hollywood stars, drives around in a Porsche car, and whines to reporters about his lot in life. An elderly lady (I define elderly as anyone eighteen months older than me) told me she was named after Old Dan Tucker. The raconteur bought one to take down to the Chamber of Commerce, and I gave him some extra postcards. He said he was gonna mail ’em out and tell folks there had been a Tommy Bibey sighting in Cherryville, N.C.

       As I packed up my gear I thought a lot about why I write. I don’t care if I sell three thousand or three million, although my agent can’t understand why I see it that way. It just isn’t a competitive venture for me. And let’s face it, Grisham ain’t laying awake a night worried I’m gonna overtake him. One reason is because through my writing I came to understand myself. Flaws and all, I like me okay and accept myself for what I am; every bit of me. 

        Along the way I’ve met some very bright people. Some of them were writers, and every so often one will be upset they haven’t sold enough books to suit ’em.  I don’t say much about it, but it seemed to me where they went wrong is they tried too hard to show people how much smarter they were than everyone else. 

        I wrote to try to understand how we are all alike. And as best I can tell, we’re all about the same. At least that’s what I figured out as I wrote.

       The Rotary Club was just like the old hometown. If you live anywhere within a couple of hours drive of mid North Carolina, and you’re in a sweat as to what to do with your turn at the Rotary Club program I’d love to come and resolve it for you for the day. If Darin is free I’ll bring him too.

        And if you meet on Wednesdays and have sweet tea and banana pudding like that Cherryville crowd, count me in.

Dr. B

Earl Scruggs and Family at the Don Gibson Theater

December 6, 2010

        Earl Scruggs and his sons Gary and Randy, along with Horace Scruggs’ son Elam and Grand Ole Opry staff fiddler Hoot Hester took the stage at the Don Gibson theater in Earl’s hometown of Shelby, N.C. on Saturday, December 3, 2010 to share music and family stories with the home folks. It was like we were kin come to visit with an invitation to a private family picking session in the front room where the family opens up Christmas presents.

        The historic event was recorded by professional media. I feel certain the footage will be available for the public in the new Earl Scruggs Museum slated to open next year in Shelby.  

        There were old stories of growing up on the farm, the discovery of the three finger style, picking sessions over on Lilly Mill Hill, Earl’s first one hundred-dollar payday (“we thought we’d struck it rich”) and tales of two hundred-dollar ’41 Chevrolets.

        There was “Sally Goodin,” (it was an audition tune when Bill Monroe hired Earl) “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” (Earl played with Dylan along the way) and stories of bluegrass festivals, Carnegie Hall, and rock ‘n roll shows with the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. They told of Louise Scruggs’ negotiation skills, and of T.V. shows (“The Beverly Hillbillies”) and calls from Warren Beatty and movie scores. (“Bonnie and Clyde”)

       It was tales of country breakfasts of cow’s milk and liver mush at Uncle Horace’s and an order of “gravy boys” at Nashville restaurants. Mother Maybelle Carter was a babysitter for Gary and Randy along the way. Lester and Earl named their band “The Foggy Mountain Boys” after the old Carter Family tune “Foggy Mountain Top.” They picked “The Wildwood Flower” in their honor.

      My wife noticed it first. “Look at Elam’s hands on that guitar. They look just like Horace’s.” She was right. 

        Mark this date in your bluegrass history book: December 8, 1945. Fifty-five years ago Earl debuted on the Opry with Bill Monroe. Most people consider it the official birthday of bluegrass music.

        As we drove back home, I couldn’t help but contemplate what it all meant. This theater and the new museum are in the home of both Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson. My goodness. Shelby, N.C. was wise to decide to document this for all time. As Lester Flatt used to say (paraphrased) “Some kinds of music come and go, but in this music folks are fans for life.”

        I am glad the town of Shelby, N.C. chose to validate that. It will be good for their tourism, but even more important, it will serve as a major documentation of the roots and history of traditional music for all time, and that is far more important.

Dr. B

The Smithsonian Exhibit/The Don Gibson Theater/A Gig With Darin Aldridge

December 2, 2010

        Harvey County is small, the kind of place where City Hall is in the back of the Dairy Queen, and our only fancy restaurant is the Magnolia for Sunday lunch after church. In all my days, I have never seen the likes of what’s cooking over in Cleveland County, the home of Don Gibson and Earl Scruggs. Two famous people and both from the same county. Here in Harvey County we’ve never had anyone famous I know of, except one time back in the black and white T.V days my aunt was on “The Price is Right.” She won some nice patio furniture and almost got the new car.

        Cleveland County is a different matter. They’ve got it going on. It’s big enough that they have a Smithsonian educational exhibit on traditional music there. It came to the attention of music scholar and U.N.C. Chapel Hill Professor William R. Ferris who came and gave a speech at the ribbon cutting. He said to mark his words; in just a few short years the world was gonna beat a path to Cleveland County, Shelby, N.C. just as sure as pilgrims to Mecca ’cause it is one of the birthplaces of traditional music as we know it.

         That sounded like something I wanted to be a part of, so when Darin Aldridge called and asked if I wanted to sit in with him on my day off for a gig, I said “yes” right away. Darin and Brooke Aldridge are at #5 on the “Bluegrass Unlimited” hit parade this month and have made #1 on some of the gospel charts this year. Check out their website: wwwdarinandbrookealdridge.com.

        I had to ask. “Hey Darin, I heard the Gibson stage was for professionals only.”

        “You’ve sold some books haven’t you?”

        “Sure.”

        “Then you’re a professional artist. Don’t worry, I’ll get you in.”

        “Cool.”

         I showed up at the back door, and was greeted by a dapper man in a tweed coat. His name was Stan.

        “You Dr. Bibey?” he asked.

        “Yes sir.”

        “Where’s your hat?”

        “The wind kept blowing it off. I left it at home.”

         He looked in my eyes. “Hm. One blue, one green; it is you.”

        “Yep.”

        We shook hands.

        “Mr. Aldridge is waiting on you. Artist lounge.”

        Can y’all imagine that? Some old country doctor jamming with the pros at the Don Gibson theater. Lord, where is my mandolin gonna take me next?

        I found Darin warming up on the Bill Monroe number “Jerusalem Ridge.” I was as excited as a large child. “Let me get my mandolin out. Whadda you think we ought to play for ’em?”

       Darin smiled. He reached in the refrigerator and got me a Co-Cola. “They’re just little people. They’ll like the same songs we do.” 

       First we played an IBMA film clip of Sierra Hull and Ryan Holliday. Darin thought they would identify with them because they were so young. He was right. Sierra and Ryan played some tunes and explained about the roots of the music and how it came from across the pond. We put the video on pause and played some old Carter Family tunes to demonstrate.

       The second segment of the film was on bluegrass, and had some old footage of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs. We played “Reuben,” which was the first three finger banjo tune Earl figured out years ago, and then “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” the theme song for Bonnie and Clyde. Back when T.V. came to Harvey County we used to watch Earl on the Beverly Hillbillies show, and we played a line from that one too.

        I wanted to be certain they understood the significance of their heritage. “Y’all are from Shelby, the home of Don Gibson and Earl Scruggs. Be proud of that and never forget it.”‘

        We had time for questions. I played mandolin for most of the gig, but guitar on FMB. One asked, “Why did you learn the guitar?”

        “To meet girls,” I said. The child scratched his head. I could tell he was confused. “That was a long time ago,” I explained. “After I met my wife I took up the mandolin. Didn’t need to meet any more girls after that.” 

        Darin laughed. “Way back then his folks were afraid he was gonna run off and turn into one of ‘dem Beatles.” (Lots of young people learned the Beatles repertoire from my old LP collection; they were long since disbanded when Darin came along.)

        At one time or another, we had played guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle. The kids looked at all the instruments on the stage. “Which one is the hardest to play? one asked.

        Darin allowed as to he thought it was the fiddle. He picked it back up and broke into Sally Goodin. One of them wondered if I’d play the fiddle. I declined. I wanted to be asked back someday, so I didn’t push my luck. Sometimes I play it when no one else is home, and the family dog always howls and runs for cover. In bluegrass they call it rough style.

        It was a fun gig, and Darin said he’d come help me do my talk at the Rotary Club. Tomorrow I’ll be back at my day job; prostate exams, PSAs, and prayers I don’t ever overlook a cancer. That’s what I do, and I’m pretty good at it I guess, as I’ve stayed out of trouble for many decades. More important I try hard to the point of being driven to migraines at times. If I miss a diagnosis, it won’t be because I don’t care.

       But that’s tomorrow. For today old Doc gigged with the pros, and how many country doctors can say that?

        Friday I’m gonna go back to the Don Gibson theater. Now that I’m a performing artist there, I feel more at home than ever. Earl Scruggs will be at The Don Gibson Theater with his boys Gary and Randy. It’s already sold out, but I’ll tell you all about it soon.   

        Back to the salt mines.

Dr. B