Archive for the ‘Banjo players I know’ category

Blugrass Inn #2/ A Good Fund-Raiser/ Doctor Sponsored Bluegrass Side-man Sick Pay Plan

February 12, 2012

        I played Saturday night with singer/songwriter Al Dunkleman and sat in for part of a set with Max McKee at the Bluegrass Inn #2. It was great fun. I’m not up to a commitment to an every weekend gig, but the arrangement with Al is perfect. He does all the prep; I am just the side-man, but I try to be a reliable one. We play somewhere about once a month. In March we have a big fund-raiser for the Abuse Prevention Council at Cleveland Community College. It’s one of my favorite gigs. I know I am a Pollyanna but I belive if everyone was busy with their family and career and played music they would be too content (and tired) to be so dadburn aggressive.

        Right now my health won’t allow me to reliably front a regular band. In fact, until someone wants to hire a doc for two hours of light activity followed by an hour nap and a shower, I’m not up to the regular doc gig either. However, even if disabled I will always visit once or twice a week as long as I am able to walk. The patients and the staff mean too much to me not to.

        I miss not having a regular band. At the Shelby Music Center jam last Saturday I got to pick with my old band mate, banjo man Moose Dooley. It brought back memories. One time years ago we did a banjo duet on a flat-bed truck stage at the Harvey County court-square. Moose suggested “Remington Ride.” I kicked it off, but lit into the wrong song. When Moose realized what I’d done he switched to the tune I kicked off,  so were in synch for a moment. Then I managed to break into “Remington Ride” while he continued on with the tune I first kicked off. It was an unusual duet! I was always doctor first and musician second. I learned a lot of music from those boys.

        At the jam, one mandolinist told me he had to have some surgery and was gonna be out six weeks. He asked if I would fill in if they had a gig to come up. I said yes of course, and it led my brain to dream up “The Doctor Sponsored Bluegrass Side-man Sick Pay Plan.” I’ll fill in with any local or regional band, health willing, and do so professional courtesy. I figure I’m the only side-man around who can cover your gig, write you a doctor’s excuse, let you get sick pay for your gig, and have zero motivation to try to steal your job while you are out. I am not up to any regular commitment anyway, so no one needs to fear that kind of treachery from me. (They didn’t before I was sick either) My only reservation is that I do have to be sure the gig is not the week of chemo. I missed one because I failed to account for this variable and was too sick to play. It was the only show I ever missed, and I felt bad about it.

       We are semi and near retired and live out in the country. We wanted to be near the home of Earl Scruggs, but still be within shouting distance of good old Harvey County and also the central part of the state where my daughter lives. So if you need a side-man and the gig isn’t in chemo week, well, have mandolin will travel. (short distances only) I’ll go about an hour’s drive from Charlotte N.C.; any direction with enough notice. We love the mountains too and get to the Asheville area every so often, and I’ve played in Fletcher at the Feed ‘n Seed. Of course much of this is big talk; if I’m sick I can’t make the gig, but I do my best to never promise what I can’t deliver.

        Y’all play hard.

Dr. B


Acquisition Syndrome- My second novel (in progress)

October 30, 2011

        “Acquisition Syndrome” is the story of Bones Robertson and medical practice in Harvey County after the death of Dr. Henry”Indie” Jenkins. After Indie died things were about the same in Harvey County over the next decade. The doctors continued on in mom-and-pop type practices that financially floated from month to month. They  made house calls, nursing home visits, and hospital rounds as well as office work.

        Slowly things began to change. Change came to the cities first, and over time it made its way to rural areas. Bones recalled when the first managed care folks came to Harvey County. He was always suspicious of people from out-of-town who showed up in fancy cars and wore expensive watches who were here to “help.” Medicine became about money, power, and control. It became increasingly difficult for small entrepreneurs to stay in practice and became nearly impossible to recruit young doctors who were not inclined to join small organizations that did not have significant capital reserves. Bones began to realize without some changes in the way they did the business of medicine the practice he started, Harvey Family Practice, would not go on after his time. He and his partners decided their hand was forced and they would need to align with some larger entity to stay solvent. “Acquisition Syndrome” is the story of that transition.

        As you might suspect, Bones gathered much of his intelligence from nontraditional sources; car dealers, his old buddy Snookers Molesby, and banjo pickers and other assorted bluegrass musicians.

        A major subplot of the story and involves the development of Billy Spurgeon.  Billy grew up and Harvey County and was the only student at Sandhills University Medical Center who gave consideration to rural primary care medicine, but Billy was concerned about the future. He trusted Bones to make the best decisions for the group he could and planned to come home as much own faith as anything else.

        Bones never claimed to be a businessman. His goal was to align with an institution that would also allow him the latitude to practice medicine in the most patient friendly manner possible, and also not be taken advantage of. It was quite a struggle for him. I’d tell you how worked out but it would take a blog post of novel length, and besides it’d ruin the story for you so I guess I’ll wait till spring when we anticipate the book will be released. We are in the final edit and it still has to go through layout, graphic artists, test readers, line editor, etc. etc.

        So, stay tuned. I will keep you posted as to the progress.

Dr. B

Art of Sound Music Festival

October 23, 2011

        I had planned to tell you about the progress on “Acquisition Syndrome” today, but played music this weekend. Art of Sound was much fun, and Darin and Brooke were stronger than ever. My goodness, I don’t see how they could get any better. Between the festival and a few naps, I didn’t get to write much. I’ll return to the fiction blog next Monday, but I sure did have a fine weekend.

       I was the mandolin sideman for singer-songwriter Al Dunkleman. His set list is very eclectic and a sideman’s dream because you have to invent mandolin solos for most of the songs as they were not recorded with a mando track. He plays everything from Bruce Springsteen to old-time so you have to be creative and dream up the back-up. Much fun.

        My daughter took a couple of pics. I’m the cotton-topped guy with the little guitar. (A medical definition for the mandolin is a guitar with a thyroid condition.)

        A word for my sponsors. The pic of the case got blurred, but I now carry my mandolin in the official “Case of The Mandolin Case” case by Cedar Creek Custom Case Shoppe. One gentleman there told me he purchased a guitar case from them and really liked it. Also Dr. Dean Jenks of Flint Hill uses a Lakota banjo strap and one aspiring banjoist bought one based on his recommendation. The young man will never need another strap. They are made to last.

        I’ll be back soon with an update on “Acquisition Syndrome.”

Dr. B

Bluegrass is But Rocket Science- The Alison Brown Quartet

January 11, 2010

        Bear with me.  With this post many loose ends are tied together.  If you read the whole thing, you will be amongst the chosen ones, because you will understand the truth is simple.  Bluegrass is but rocket science.

        Alison Brown grew up in California, and went to U.C.L.A. for her undergraduate studies.  Indeed she still looks like a little surfer girl on the cover of a Beach Boys album.  There’s more to her than that though.  After U.C.L.A. she earned an MBA at Harvard, and then went on to Wall Street, where she was the only investment banker in New York who read both the ‘Weekly Bond Trader’ and ‘Bluegrass Unlimited.’  I can identify.  I’m the only doc in town who reads both ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’ and ‘Bluegrass Unlimited.’  Only thing is the kid is smarter than me, ’cause she can read ’em both at the same time!  

        Her story reminds me of Gillian Welch.  Ms. Welch grew up in L.A.  where her parents were writers for the Carol Burnett show.  Somehow the child knew she had to be a hillbilly singer.  She turned out to be a great one, although you have to wonder how her folks took the news at first.  

        Something similar stirred in Ms. Brown’s soul. She knew deep down inside part of her was Appalachian, and she was compelled to seek it out.  She did just that, and became the only bond trader I know of who quit her day job to pursue a career as a professional banjo player.  It was a brave move for a young lady.  

        Steve Martin (who has returned to his roots and plays some with the Steep Canyon Rangers) gave up his banjo career to become a comedian due to the economic realities of the music gig. As he said, “I don’t recall a banjo player who ever asked anyone to toss his banjo in the back seat of his Porsche.”  Think about that. The cat left the music world for the stability of a regular paycheck as a stand-up comic.  (As you know, it worked out. )

        Alison went on to take her music around the world. (literally)  It is the wake-up call music of choice for the rocket scientists, as the NASA shuttle astronauts listen to the Alison Brown Quartet while they sip their morning Tang.  The Quartet, while rooted in bluegrass, is a smorgasbord of traditional styles.  In addition to Alison’s spectacular banjo picking and Doc Watson style guitar work, they have a fine jazz pianist, and a drummer who keeps perfect bluegrass time.  The rock solid bass man is Alison’s husband Garry, who ties it all together.  (In our house my wife is the bass player and she sure is the glue for our outfit.) 

        My guess is Garry has to be the glue for the Quartet because when they leave out for a gig he has to retrieve multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven from the school yard before they can depart.  There he’ll find Joe teaching children the fine art of how to convert the human body into one giant ham-bone percussion sound effects guru.  I also can identify with Joe.  He is but a large child who was lucky enough to find what he loved, worked hard to be good at it, and is kind enough to share his good fortune with us.  With Joe it’s Gris mandolin licks, old-time fiddle, Stephan Grapelli jazz violin, a couple parts Dixie-Land, mix in great story telling, add vaudeville style soft shoe dance routine, go eat supper at Shakey’s pizza parlor for the last of the old-time Medicine Shows with Greasy Medlin type gig.  If the man takes up tap-dance, he’s got it all.  I take in a lot of music, and I’m not often mesmerized, but Joe took me into his world and didn’t let up for the whole show.     

        The thing that strikes me about Alison, and the Quartet, is that in spite of all their genius they remain humble.  No one could hear them play and not be struck by their virtuosity as musicians.  Alison is a woman who has conquered more than one man’s world and she ain’t even old yet.  She and her husband Garry now own and operate the eclectic Compass Record label in Nashville, Tennessee.  Her worldly success is enormous, but my sense was the lady is as down home as if she’d grown up a back porch picker in the sandhills or red clay of North Carolina. Bless her heart, she ain’t got above her raising.  Lester would be proud.

        It was so fitting she played at the Don Gibson theater in Shelby, N.C.  It is the home of Earl Scruggs, and like my young banjo pal Kristin Scott Benson, Alison Brown is a true Scrugg.  Alison has been around the world and back but doesn’t see herself as one bit better than anyone else; just a human being fortunate to have a gift to share with the world.

        If the Alison Brown Quartet shows up anywhere in your neck of the woods, for Heaven’s sake please don’t stay home and watch television; go see them play.  More than that, listen to their human story as they share it with you via their music.  Dr. B is old but I learned some from them and you will too. Her music is already out of this world, and one of these fine days they’re gonna land a gig on the moon.  The least y’all can do is make her welcome when she shows up in your corner of the planet.

        The Alison Brown Quartet will be in Glasgow, Scotland soon.  Make sure to take in the show while they’re there.  Alison’s got plenty of Appalachia in her, but I’m gonna give you a hint.  I think she’s part Scots-Irish too.  They way she plays that Celtic music it has to be true.

        Other than my wife, my daughter knows me as well as any woman on Earth.  I am very proud of her.  Like Alison, she is young, attractive, and not afraid to be both feminine and tough.  My daughter knows bluegrass.  She always says, “Daddy, you’re so simple you’re complicated to people.”  

        And so is bluegrass music.  I wish my old pal Indie coulda been there.  He loved ‘Leaving Cottondale,’ Alison’s 2001 Grammy winning instrumental.  Indie would said, “Now son, that girl can pick a five-string.” As far as Alison Brown and bluegrass music Indie always said, “It ain’t no more complicated than that.” 

        Indie was very wise.  Bluegrass ain’t complicated. After all, it’s not rocket science; or is it?

        Go visit them at:   Tell ’em some crazy old doc sent you.  Talk to you soon,

Dr. B

Bluegrass Pick of the Week- Kristin Scott Benson, “Second Season”

October 31, 2008

        O.K.  For you folks outside the bluegrass world, I’m gonna let you in on a secret.  Kristin Scott Benson might be a young lady, but chuck the stereotypes.  This woman can play a banjo.  But don’t just take my word for it.  If J.D. Crowe and Sonny Osborne (‘Rocky Top’) say someone is a player, you can count on the fact they are.  Neither has ever been known for false praise, and both have attested to her abilities.  Indeed, she was the 2008 IBMA banjo player of the year, so I am not telling you a thing her colleagues don’t know.

        Kristen’s new CD, ‘Second Season,’ is a mixture of up-tempo banjo pieces, fiddle tunes, and Irish numbers.  It is mostly instrumentals (great road music) but there are four vocal numbers with lead singing by band leaders Larry Stevenson and Larry Cordle.  (of Highway Forty Blues fame)  Kristin and her bluegrass pal Sally Jones add nice harmony work.  The banjo numbers are the highlight, though.  Kristin can burn up a breakdown or play with a woman’s soft touch few men can duplicate.  Check out her composition, ‘Far Enough Away.’ 

        She hired the best too.  I especially like David Grier’s guitar work.  He is a favorite.  And Wayne Benson was the only logical choice on the mandolin.  Not only is he a great player with multiple awards, but he happens to be Ms. Benson’s spouse.  (He once joked from the stage his fee was based on ‘the husband rate.’ )

        Maybe I am a bit prejudiced, but I always like to see a young lady who can break through in a man’s world.  Maybe it is ’cause I am so proud of my daughter.  Sonny Osborne had similar sentiments, and said in the liner notes if he had a daughter, he’d want her to be like Kristin.  I agree.  She is talent, a fine wife and mother, and one hell of a banjo man.  Y’all pick up her CD.  You’ll dig it.

Dr. B

Kristin Scott Benson

October 4, 2008

        When we left Memphis we had to drop by Nashville for one day.  The IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) awards were on for Thursday, and our friend Kristin Scott Benson was nominated for banjo player of the year.  I think she’d be the first to tell you she was an underdog- she was up against some legendary players, but we love her style.  She and her husband Wayne are fine human beings as well as fabulous players, so we wanted to be supportive.

        The presenter read off the names… “Earl Scruggs, J.D. Crowe…  Kristin Scott Benson.”  The nomination alone is a huge honor.  We were so proud.  They fumbled with the envelope for a long moment, then moved into the microphone.  And the winner is….”Kristin Scott Benson!”

        Now I gotta tell you, I am not much of an emotional sort of guy.  If my favorite baseball player hits a home run, I’ll look up from my coffee and say, “Well, I’ll be.  Tagged his slider, huh?”

        Not this time.  I jumped to my feet, threw my hands up in the air and hollered to the top of my lungs.  “YES!”  My loudest bird dog whistle cut through the crowd.  My wife had the same reaction, but she then had to tug my elbow and tell me to hush.

        Kristin and Wayne represent some of the best of modern bluegrass music.   To look at Kristin you’d say she was the babysitter from next door here to look after the children, but be not fooled.  She might be young, but she’s an articulate, educated woman who has made her way in what was a man’s world.  In particular the banjo has been that way up to now.  After the show I thought about it, and I believe she may be the first woman to ever win that award.

        Kristin is much like my wife and daughter- you can’t help but admire it when a lady is both feminine and tough.  After all, she is not only a successful professional in a very competitive business, but a fine wife and mother.  However, there is no tokenism in bluegrass.  Either you can cut the gig or you can’t.  And Kristin can cut the gig.  In fact, until the award comes up next year (and beyond if my vote counts) she is the best banjo player in the world.  Way to go Kristin!

Dr. B

Kristin Scott Benson tours with the Larry Stephenson Band and also Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time.  He husband Wayne is a multiple SPBGMA winner on the mandolin and plays with the award winning group Russell Moore and III Tyme Out.

Check out the IBMA pictures at