Archive for the ‘favorite unknown bands’ category

The “I’m Busted” Blues

March 1, 2010

        When Ray Charles renders “I’m Busted” he sings it like he means it.  I’m sure he does.  For all his success he saw plenty of hard times in the early years.

        Most people who sing the blues with feeling have lived it at some point along the way.  If a guy was to sing the line, “My attorney has a significant difference of opinion with my spouse’s counsel as to the correct interpretation of our prenuptial agreement” it just doesn’t carry the same power as “that woman done tore my heart out.”

        When I hear a fellow say he has it tough because “the first quarter portfolio statement did not reflect our anticipated yield” I can’t say I feel sorry for him.  But when Ray Charles sings “I’m busted” I believe it even though I know he was likely quite well-to-do at the time.

        Years ago we added on to our house.  The dry-wall man was a fine banjo player.  I’d come in from work and have him take a break to show me some licks.  My wife had to shoo me out so we could get our new bedroom finished up.  When we finished the project we had an open house to celebrate and he brought his band to play.

        The lead singer was a red-faced man who sweated profusely as he sang some of the saddest stuff I’d ever heard; things like the Stanley’s “Daddy Please Don’t Drive Drunk No More.” It was a great private concert. After a few songs, I turned to my pal Moose Dooley and said, “I wish I could sing like that.”

        Moose said, “Doc, you ain’t drunk enough whiskey to sing like that.”

        Moose was right. I never did make much of a blues singer. I’ve had too much good luck to be very authentic in the genre.  But at least I did sympathize with the folks who were down on their luck, so I learned to sing a little bit of the blues.  It’s like what they say about my mandolin work; “You ain’t bad for a doctor.”  

        If a man was to say, “Given your chosen profession as a physician your vocal skills have reached a reasonable level of proficiency,” then I would know for a fact they were no blues singer before we struck the first note.

        But if a man flops his hat on the sidewalk for tips and sings “I’m Busted,” then I’ll probably sing along with him the best I can and buy him some lunch.  I ain’t got the blues, but I know it when I see it.

Dr. B


Why I Play Music

January 25, 2010

       Neuse River had a gig Saturday night.  I don’t write about all of our shows.  In a way they are so similar I was afraid you might get bored.  And yet to me each one was unique; some small variation of God’s creation was revealed every time we went out.  

        There is often barbeque, sometimes fried chicken, and almost always iced tea.  Sometimes they’ll be pickled peaches and deviled eggs on long tables prepared by little silver-haired ladies with spindly legs who cook at Wednesday night church suppers.  Every so often one will say they like our music okay but wished we knew something by Lawrence Welk. 

        The sound systems range from bad to professional.  Well-scrubbed children sit in front of the stage and sometimes get up and clog.  If you ask their parents how they learned to do that they say, “It just come natural to ’em.”

        The combinations and permutations of musicians have varied over the decades.  We started when I was a young doctor with jet black hair.  (Now I’m salt and salt)  I was a banjo man in those days.  I heard about Moose Dooley and called him up to see if he wanted to trade a few licks.  He turned to his girlfriend (now his wife) and said “Honey, some crazy doctor wants to play bluegrass music with me.  I’m gonna check him out.  If he’s okay you can go next time.”  We’ve been friends ever since.

        Moose was very young, but already a fine banjo player.  I knew enough flat-pick guitar to get by, and he knew some kid who played mandolin and had just gotten a driver’s license.  My cousin was a bass player.  We had us a band. 

        It was fluid.  Sometimes someone would get married (or divorced) and move, but we kept it going.  The mandolin player ran away to Nashville and turned pro a while.  We found an elderly gentleman to play guitar and I took up mandolin to fill in the gap.  When he died a couple years ago we played the funeral.  We barely got through it.  Next to your family and your office staff your music people are the closest people a doc can have.

         Over the years we played church socials, rescue squad fund-raisers, and Sunday School picnics.  Every so often the first mandolin man would come in from Nashville and the boys would play a bar gig.  I skipped those.  It wasn’t that I was being judgmental; it really wasn’t.  Somehow though, the notion of a fight to break out and my picture in the crowd on the front page of the Harvey Herald wasn’t something I wanted to explain to my patients, much less my mama.  

        We opened up gas stations, RV dealerships, and apartment complexes, and competed for a Harvey County Fair time slot with the pig races.  I have notes in my files from young brides who thanked us for making their day even more special.  The thought my music would be on anybody’s radar on such an important day in their life humbles me.  Sometimes when I wonder if I made an impact I’ll re-read a note like that late at night and imagine that when I’m dead and gone someone might say to an elderly spouse at Harvey Nursing Home, “Honey, you remember when old Dr. B played out there at the farm for our wedding?”

         We played so many shows for causes and kids with cancer I’ve lost count.  People acted like it was noble, but I felt a little guilty when they’d say such a thing.  We were having fun and some human being was struggling to survive; there warn’t nothing to it.  I believe if God blesses us with something we ought to do a little good with it.  I’m too lazy to work, so I had to play to do my part.

        We played doctor parties and lawyer gigs, and shows at the college a couple counties over.  We did a few funerals.  One time we did one at a church for a pastor who had been called somewhere else. That one was one of those ugly transitions in life, but I thought it was a smart gig for everyone involved.  How can you listen to bluegrass music, eat BBQ, and be hateful to a man of God all at the same time?

        We played the charity events for some nominal fee or for free, and didn’t charge much for the paying gigs.  Only one time did anyone consider stiffing us.  Moose told the cat he was gonna break his neck.  The man sized up the situation.  When he glanced my way, I said, “Dude, he’ll do it, and I only made a ‘B’ in neurosurgery.  I wouldn’t take a chance.”

        He paid up. It was a bluff.  Moose had two young children and no interest in time in the Pen, and I really made an ‘A’ but I didn’t want to encourage the man.

        We shared the same stage with folks like III Tyme Out, Rhonda Vincent, Ralph Stanley, Larry Sparks, John Hartford, Doug Dillard, Blue Highway, and many more. I was a sixth man for the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet, and played a few shows with them when someone was out sick.  It was like batting practice with the Cubs for an old doc. 

        Darin is my number one mandolin influence for all time.  My wife and I love him and Brooke like family.  A couple years ago Darin recommended I seek out Wayne Benson to tighten up some loose ends in my style.  (sort of like a second opinion in doctor gig I guess)  Wayne and Kristin also became true bluegrass friends and we fell in love with them too.  This here is a fact:  If a man can’t learn some mandolin with Darin Aldridge on his right hand and Wayne Benson on his left, there ain’t no hope for him.  How could one old doctor be so lucky?

        I played so I could better understand singer songwriters or old-time fiddlers or girl singers in hopes I might be a better doc or least improve myself as a human being from the common bond of music we all share.  I played music with my wife and children along the way and it bordered on spiritual.

        Neuse River wound up on the big stage a few times.  My guys are a lot younger than me and they are very fine musicians.  They might even have one more run in them for the circuit.  If they do I’m gonna be the first to tell you of it, ’cause at this point they are the best band you never heard of.  But if they go they know I can’t hit the road with them.  My role is to be old Doc and play at home.  Except for a few short book store gig tours someday I am a homebody and that will never change.

         I’ve always told them if they go I’ll have to put ’em on the bus and wave good-bye, ’cause Doc can’t leave.  I don’t want to seem too dang sappy but if they ever pull off in that bus I’m sure I’ll have a few tears.  We’ve had one more large time.

        If the economy hadn’t turned bad I think they’d made a run at it a couple years ago.  If things turn around they might yet. We’ve talked about it at length.  Even if they go, we haven’t played our last gig together.  I’ve had more bands than Mickey Rooney had wives, and the music has to go on.  Every county needs one doctor mandolin picker and I’m the only one in Harvey County, so I have to continue on.

        I have to play music just as sure as I have to doctor.  If you are passionate about your art form, I’d love to hear about what drives you, and hope you’ll leave a comment.

        It’s back to the doc gig.  I’m recharged and ready to go do my best.

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

A Face Made for Radio (My Facebook Page)

March 28, 2009

        My agent has been after me forever to start a Facebook Page.  For a long time, I never got around to it.  “Awh, heck boss, my people know where to find me.”

        He persisted.  “Come on, Doc.  Are you gonna insist on being a Neanderthal forever?  You use new meds don’t you?”

        “Well, yeah, but that’s different.  Even in medicine, I want to be like in the Army.  I don’t want to be first in line, but I don’t want to be last either.”

        “In this case you better hurry up.  You might be the last writer on the planet not on Facebook.”

        “Really?  Say it is that big?”

        “Trust me.”

        I’ve spent my whole life as a Doc and a bluegrass picker, and had no idea where to start.  One day I mentioned it to a little friend of mine, a bluegrass fiddler, and she said, “Good Lord have mercy, Doc.  We can set that up faster than Moose Dooley can pick the Bluegrass Breakdown.”

         And that is how it came to be.  She was brilliant.  Why with a few keystrokes, she pulled up names I knew from years back.

        “Look here, kid.  I picked with this cat when he played with Knoxville Grass.  Why that has been twenty-five years.  And check this out, this lady here has written tunes for Alison Krauss.  Hey I met that guy at Galax.  Lord can he flat pick a guitar.  This dobro man; mercy!” 

         Page after page came up. Along the way, I had played a note or two or at least knew every one of them.

        “You know what kid?  By the time old Doc  is through bluegrass is gonna be on the brain of every school child in America.”

        She smiled and shook her head.  “Doc, you do love the music, don’t you?”

        “Yeah boy.  Hey, check this one out.  You talk about a fiddler…..”

        My agent was right. (again)  This Facebook is gonna be the ticket.

Dr. B

Guitared and Feathered

February 13, 2009

        I play music for a number of reasons; emotional, spiritual, artistic.  I see a lot of bad things in my work, and I can forget them for a moment while I am on stage. 

        Don’t tell my bluegrass boys, but I started out on electric guitar.  My parents were very concerned I might become ‘one of those Beatles.’   When I abandoned my crew cut and my uncle the farmer asked why I grew all that hair, I told him it was ’cause the Beatles were coming.  I recall he said he hoped they didn’t eat his crops.

        My motivation to play music back then was not quite so noble.  I played because it seemed like a good way to meet girls.  On the other hand, maybe I haven’t changed much.  I played with ‘Guitared and Feathered’ (my wife’s band) last night, and my motivation was to get to sing ‘Gold Watch and Chain’ with Marfar, ’cause she lights up like a little school girl when I do.  You can’t take all the boy out of a man; the idea is to let him be a little boy at home so he doesn’t wander off.  She does a good job of that.

        We played Harvey Nursing Home, where thanks to cable television, I am a bit of a local star.  In fact I am world famous all throughout Harvey County.  And my boyhood dreams have all come true.  Most of the ladies were my patients.  They all are about 85, and they say I am such a cute boy.  See, it worked out just like God said it would.  All these years, and I still play music to meet girls.

          One night years ago, I stayed up in the ICU all night with an 81 patient of mine.  I was glad to see dawn break, and she was too.  She said she hated to keep me up all night and keep me away from my Marfar.  I told her it was O.K.  My wife had given me permission to stay up all night with all the women I wanted as long as they were over 80.  My patient got a good laugh out of it, and she lived many more years.

        Some things have changed, though.  When all the little old ladies invited me back to play bingo Wednesday night when my wife had Bible study, Marfar told them I was tied up.  Now that I am closer to 80, I believe she has gone and changed the age limit.

         But a gig with G and F  is always fun.  I get to impress Marfar, and she is the girl who really counts.  See you soon; gone to a bluegrass show.

Dr. B

Dr. Bibey, Country Music Star

January 17, 2009

        Well, the headline was just to get your attention.  I am no country music star, and never will be.  All my life I have been the baritone man.  My vocal range is six notes, but I know where to plug them in, so I can get by.   

        I worked with a band in the studio recently, and realized I was more modern than what I thought.   No, I’ll never be a star in spite of Buck Owens’s encouragement with ‘Act Naturally’ years ago.  (“They’re gonna put me in the movies….”)   I’m not young, and not close to pretty.  I’d look beyond ridiculous in an evening gown and I have trouble with pitch.  But with the modern miracle of Pro Tools software, I am a quasi country star. 

        Several of y’all have said you wanted to hear some music from me, and when you speak I listen.  My band, Neuse River, did a couple projects back when they called them records, but we’ve got some age on us now, and they declined to try and cut another one.  (Sadly one is deceased, and one is in the Nursing Home)  But I am at work on a couple different music projects with some fine young artists.  I hope some of these cuts will tie in with the book.  It is too early to say what form that will take, but stay tuned.  I promise there will be some music even before the book store mandolin duos.

        Don’t look for me on Country Music T.V., though.  I’m too old, too gray, and not hip enough to cut the gig.  However, I always try to find common ground with other folks.  Between this Pro Tools thing and a brilliant engineer, even old Doc can hang with a few of the young country stars.  Dang if modern studio technology hasn’t almost turned me into a singer.  I do believe I’d best leave off the evening gown, though.   Modern computer software can fix a lot of things, but it ain’t that good.  

Dr. B

Playing Music With the Girls

November 6, 2007

        You know how when we were growing up boys used to say, “You play good for a girl?”  Well, I played a set with the “Guitar-ed and Feathered” girls tonight, and it was all good.  They might not be as technically advanced as the Neuse River boys, but they are a whole lot better looking, and the bass player is extra cute.  They don’t chew tobacco, either.  Besides, I’ve heard all my adult life I play good for a doctor, so the fact they play good for girls ain’t such a bad thing- I can understand being misunderstood.

      Years ago, I used to play football with a girl named Dale Evans, until one day she just up and quit us and we didn’t know why- I think she went to a dance.  So, playing with the girls is an old habit I reckon, and while I ain’t giving up my regular gig with Neuse River, I think I’ll hold onto this one too.  They tell funny jokes, make good snacks, and they are getting there as singers and players.  Besides, they are good scenery, too- especially that bass player!

Dr. B 

Guitar-ed and Feathered

November 1, 2007


        My wife plays in a band named “Guitar-ed and Feathered.”  As you might guess, they are mostly about fun, and refuse to take themselves too seriously.  They are early on in their music journey, and still growing as musicians, but do not let youth and inexperience get in the way of having a good time.

        Sometimes I think they have it all right anyway.  I guess it is true if you are hoping to win the National Flatpick Championship or secure a record deal, technical proficiency is an absolute must, but on the circuit they play, mostly for nursing homes and school kids, it is mostly about spreading some good vibes.  The same is true for the small festivals and private party gigs Neuse River plays for that matter.  Even for the professional bands, I suspect there is a lot of mileage to be made out of being nice to people and simply making their day a little better than what it was when you showed up.

        Once the Moose I got drafted by Guitar-ed and Feathered to be the sound men for a day.  It was their first big show- a state teacher convention in Raleigh at a fancy hotel.  The band was opening for David Holt.  They were plum frighted- I felt sorry for them- scared to death I tell you.  I guess they had some validity to the concerns, as they had never played such a venue.  Their last gig had been for a church supper the month before.

        You know though, they never forgot rule number one- make sure everyone has a good time.  By the end of the set, they had those teachers up and dancing.  My everlasting memory of the event is all those ladies doing the “soul-train” in a huge circle around the room.  I remember Moose, a grizzled veteran of the regional bluegrass scene, sitting at the sound board, sipping on a glass of cognac, and calmly twirling his index finger in the air, the signal for the girls to play through “When the Saints Go Marching In” just one more time.  Watching all those teachers singing and dancing, he turned to me and said, “You know, Doc, we’re doing something wrong.  We ain’t never got a response like this.”  Moose was right.  Always know your audience; you are playing for them.  I never forgot the lesson.

        I don’t reckon David Holt was intimidated to follow their act, but I tell you I was proud of ‘em.  They held their own, and were rightfully proud of doing so in such a big gig.

Dr. B