Archive for the ‘Guitar-ed and Feathered’ category

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


Opening for David Holt

July 10, 2009

        Well the ladies did just great.  After only two years of playing they opened for David Holt and did a fine job.  The Banjo Diva had ’em up and stomping to ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ and Ms. Emma wowed ’em to the point of singing along on ‘When You’re Smiling.’  Kelly on the rhythm guitar and my Marfar on the bass were a solid rhythm section and old Doc was the snare drum backbeat on the mando.   As we anticipated, the sound guys were seasoned pros, and made it easy.

        I was like a proud papa.  They told me I could stay as long as I wanted.  All of them are younger than me, but they even promised to pick me up at the Nursing Home when the time came so I could keep on playing.  I like loyalty.

        I have to admit my favorite part was a duet with my Marfar on ‘Gold Watch and Chain.’  You know the line.  When we got to the word ‘love’ she’d cut those big brown eyes my way as if to say, “Old man, I don’t how you keep getting me into these things, but O.K. yeah, I do dig playing to 1,000 people.  Cool gig.”

        If you’ve never been to a David Holt show please go.  He is the world’s leading authority on old time music.  The man went to the source and lived in the N.C. mountains for years to study traditional music.  He is an expert on clawhammer banjo, guitar, jaw harp, harmonica, percussion oddities of all sorts, story telling, and Appalachian history.  His bass man was Will McIntrye and he is steeped in three decades of traditional music too.  If you want to see something real, go see them.  David is an American treasure.  We sure were proud to open for him.

         We hadn’t eaten all day, so after the show me and Marfar went to the Waffle House to get a bite to eat.  As we sat there, I thought about how lucky I am.  I have been a full tilt Doc all my life, but my partners are willing to cover me long enough to pursue my other life too.  I’ve gotten to open for some of the best musicians in the world.

         But most of all I have  a lovely wife who plays a mean bass, sings good, and is still a cute girl who is willing to follow me on my crazy journey with enthusiasm.  I’m at the age where a lot of women would want me sit home and watch T.V. and I just can’t do it.  And she still counts the Waffle House as a fine place to go on a date and has no complaints when it is all that is open.

        I don’t see how a man could ask for more than that.

        I got an e-mail from my agent.  A couple of publishers are intrigued by our story.  They say, “Let me see if I got this right.  A Doc who plays bluegrass music.  A complicated medical legal saga solved by bluegrass musicians and the hospital maintenance man in a small County in North Carolina?  And the Doc’s best friend was part Choctaw Indian who drank too much and played the fiddle?  Is this guy for real?”

         I expect those of you who have been reading my blog a while would have the same reaction as my wife did at the Waffle House.  Some one came up and asked, “Is he a real Doctor?”

        Marfar smiled and said, “I’m afraid so.  You want to hear the whole story?”


         Marfar handed her a card.  “Read his book when it comes out.  If you get him started we’ll be up all night, and the boy is gonna wear me out.”

       The lady looked at the card and stuck it in her pocket.  “O.K. I will.  We enjoyed the show.”

       We waved bye to her.  “See you out on the bluegrass road,” Marfar said.  “You haven’t seen the last of us I’m sure.”

        “Oh, I hope not.  It was a fun show.”

       I’m gonna crash for the night.  Before I do though, I’m gonna say a prayer for my little Australian buddy Possum who is scheduled for open heart surgery.  And then I’m gonna add one for the kids out there I don’t know who face something similar.  Y’all sleep tight.  This old energizer bunny needs to put the battery on recharge.

Dr. B

Don’t Worry Till Dr. B Says Worry

July 9, 2009

        Today’s post is dedicated to my blog pal Ms. Karen in Australia.  Her son Possum is scheduled for open heart surgery.  My post is all but unrelated that serious event, but I thought she might enjoy the levity for a moment.

“On the Road With Guitared and Feathered”   

        Well, they are ready.  They have practiced their set for two months.  I like to think I’ve helped.  A couple years ago when the mandolin player in my wife’s band got married and moved away, my wife asked if I would fill in.  I guess it is like when I married my wife.  Once I’m committed I never leave, and I’m still with her band too.

         “Sure, I’ll help out.”  How could I say no to someone that cute?  They were early in their music journey, but they were having fun, and besides they always had the best snacks.  Teach bluegrass music to a bunch of beautiful women?  Hm.  It’s tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.    

         They are all set to open a show for David Holt.  They are so scared it’s cute.  I gave ’em a pep talk.  “Look guys, it’s only music.  If we miss a note no one dies.   Think of it like neurosurgery.  If you mess up just don’t say oops.”  There was an uneasy collective laugh.  “Besides, y’all are so good looking, they’re gonna overlook it if you hit a bad note or two.”  They all smiled.  They really are that good looking, especially the bass player, but a bit of honest flattery never hurt me in marriage and I figured it wouldn’t with the band either.

        I’ve taught ’em all about set arrangements and ear monitors.  We have all the breaks co-ordinated.  The Banjo Diva is our emcee and I am her straight man.  If they get nervous and can’t think up something to say I have long since memorized the “The Bluegrass Book of 1001 Tall Tales” after years on stage.  The harmonies are tight and they work that two mic set-up I got them started on with a choreography the Ziegfield Follies Dancers would be proud of.

        There was one thing I couldn’t coach ’em on though.  No one is gonna accuse me of being a good lead singer.  But they followed my advice even on that subject.  They went down to the church house, listened to all of them, and recruited the best one in the choir.  “Almost all good bluegrass singers came up singing in church,” I told ’em.  “Get that one if you can.  As far as lead singing, that’s the only way I can help you.”  (Over time Ms. Emma helped me some on that.  Now I can get by on a couple numbers, but I don’t need to give up my day job.)

        All their gear is packed up and ready to go.  They all have extra strings and each one carries a spare nine volt battery for the in-ear monitors.  We’re gonna use the same stage set up they are accustomed to, but they will have a pro sound man.  In the ear it’ll sound just like the living room.  I figured that would relax them. 

        At the last practice before the gig they presented me with a fuchsia shirt and a hair clippy to use with my ear monitor.  They said for a guy I was just one of the girls.  I took it as a compliment.

        They might be early on in their music journey, but I am no pro either, and it is all fun.  Besides it has it’s benefits.  The last time we played the Nursing Home one elderly lady recognized me from T.V. and asked much I got paid for playing with them. 

        I borrowed a line from Lee Trevino.  “Well ma’am, the money ain’t that great, but the bass player lets me sleep with her.”   Marfar turned red and I thought she was gonna kill me, but by the time I loaded up all the sound equipment by myself, she’d gotten over it.

        Well so much for foolishness.  We have a saying at the office:   “Don’t worry till Dr B. says worry.”  And the truth is I worry a lot but prepare more.  One you’ve done all you can that is all you can do.  And in the case of little Possum’s open heart surgery, that is why it, like the show with David Holt, will come off without a hitch.

          I will let y’all know how the gig goes, but far more important y’all say a few prayers for Ms. Karen’s young’un.  If everyone prays hard his odds are so much better.  I am a man of science (and art) and there are good studies that demonstrate improved medical outcomes from spirituality.  Ms. Karen, don’t worry till Dr. B says worry, but at the same time be prepared.  I know you will be.

Dr. B

Another Bluegrass First

May 12, 2009

        Every so often I tell y’all about playing mandolin in my wife’s bluegrass band.  Their mandolin picker got married and moved away, and I filled in to help out.  It became a permanent gig.  I guess they figure I ain’t gonna run off and get married.  (And they are right about that!)

        They are early in their music journey, but their sound has started to gel.  They just found out they are gonna play a teacher convention this summer and open for David Holt, so they told me I can’t leave.  They don’t want to break in a new mandolinist before that one.  They don’t have to worry.  If Marfar wants me to play the mandolin, you can be sure I’m gonna say yes.

       As we have discussed before, playing music with an all female (except for me) band is different.  They know all sorts of new colors, like chartreuse or fuchsia, and they e-mail suggestions to color coordinate for their shows.  They talk about soaps and shampoos and I think at times they talk about other things, but that’s when they get quiet when I walk in. 

        When I came home from work last night Marfar and Betty Jo  (the Harvey County Banjo Diva) were scurrying around the kitchen, and putting out all kinda knick-knacks.

        “Here Doc.  Sign this,” Betty Jo said.

          “What is it?”  I asked.  (Dumb man response)

           “A birthday card.  It’s Eva’s birthday,” Marfar replied.  We’re gonna have a birthday party before we play.”

        It was another bluegrass first for me.  In all the years I have picked music with my guys, I don’t recall anyone ever getting a birthday card, or even recognition of the day.  I don’t care if it is stereotypical to say it, but in general women are more thoughtful than men, and it doesn’t bother me to admit it.

         I’m here to tell ya, that strawberry yum-yum was killer.  Maybe they’ll get me some mandolin strings for my birthday.  I’m  sure not gonna forget Marfar’s, but she’ll have to remind me of the other ones.  I ain’t that good.

Dr. B

The Difference in Bluegrass Men and Women

December 12, 2008

        Now I know what you are thinking; we don’t need a Doc to tell us this.  And you are right.  But after the post about ‘Guitared and Feathered,’ I thought I ought to tell her as far as bluegrass bands there are some differences when you play with women as opposed to men.

        None of this has anything to do with ability.  All you have to do is listen to Sierra Hull play the mandolin- old Doc can’t hang with that kid, and I’ve been a player a long time.  Or check out Kristin Scott Benson.  She doesn’t weigh much more than a Gibson banjo in a Mark Leaf case, but she is the IBMA banjo player of the year.  No one could argue Rhonda Vincent is not a sharp business woman as well as a fine player and singer.  And Alison Krauss long since put to rest the rumor you had to be old and ugly to play the fiddle.

        But in spite of all that there are differences.   The last time I played with ‘Guitared and Feathered’ there was a discussion of what type of soap they were using  at the time.  Now I’ve picked bluegrass music with our banjo man Moose Dooley  for almost three decades, and I have no idea what kind of soap the boy uses.  And talk about snacks. They had all kinda little sandwiches you can eat in one bite, and birthday cakes every time you turn around.  No beer and pretzels for those cats.

        They are versatile instrumentalists, too.  You have to play your mandolin in all sorts of different keys to accompany their voices.  Bill Monroe himself said it was up to the musicians to adapt to where the singers were comfortable, not the opposite.  If Monroe said it it is in the bluegrass Bible.

        They have even helped me in my quest to be a writer.  You better learn how to express yourself with some degree of sophistication and subtlety.  They expect you to understand English without having to hit you over the head with a ball bat.

        And even if my Marfar is the bass player I have to say they are quite a bit cuter than Moose or Warbler in Neuse River.  It might be Chanel Number 5 instead of Old Spice, but it is still bluegrass, and a fine version if I say so myself.

Dr. B

A Day For An Old Banjo Man

December 11, 2008

        I’ve told y’all about my wife’s band before- ‘Guitared and Feathered’ is their name.

        And I’ve also mentioned she is excellent at befriending elderly men. They all love her.  (Can’t say I blame ’em.)

        Last week they had a gig.  She called me on her way home.  (Sometimes I help them out, but I had to work that day.)   They had played at Hospice, and some guy wheeled up and said he was a banjo player.  He had someone go back to his room and they returned with an old open-back banjo; one of those with a calf skin head.

        Two strings were missing, but Betty Jo, the banjo player for Guitared and Feathered, broke open a pack and tuned it up.

        The guy sat in the wheelchair and picked along with them.  Marfar said he missed a few notes, but she could tell he was a player in his day.  They introduced him to the crowd as a celebrity guest for the band.

         Don’t you know it made his day?  Heck, it made mine for her to call and tell me about it.  I’m glad I’ve got her.  She’s an expert on elderly men, and I’m closing in on it in a hurry.

Dr. B

Marfar’s Birthday Weekend

January 27, 2008

        One thing I learned from my wife was how to celebrate.  Christmas goes full tilt from Thanksgiving to Epiphany.  And we don’t just have birth-DAYS, but birthday weekends.

       I was off duty all weekend, and as we say in bluegrass it was a large time.  The only ground rule was she got to set the agenda.   Seeing as she was the Birthday Girl, it was only fitting.  So, Friday night we started with a chick flick. (remind me to tell you about “The Mirror has Two Faces.”) 

        Saturday was the big show at the Senior Center with Guitar-ed and Feathered.  They all did wear black slacks, but dang if they didn’t choose fuchsia for their blouses.  I got off the hook, though, when I said my black on tan print shirt accessorized better with my complexion.  I had no idea what it meant – I read it on one of my lady readers’ weblog.  That seemed to impress the band,  and they went along with my chosen attire. 

       We went to the warm up room and I could tell right away this was gonna be a different sort of gig.  For one thing they were nervous, like a bunch of kids, and my guys have gotten over all that.  It was like way back when we first started out with all the nervous anticipation- made you feel downright young.  The atmosphere was quite unfamiliar- I’m not sure what those ladies wore for perfume but I’m positive it wasn’t essence of chewing tobacco, sweat and Old Spice.

        All ’em did just fine; both the lead and harmony work were on pitch, and they even started and ended together, an essential performance prerequisite.  As a tune rocks along, you can tangle it up some and get by, but if you wreck the ending people don’t forget it.  Marfar did extra good on the bass, and they let me sing one- it was a variety show, and I was sure enough that for them.    

        By the end of the show they indeed did have ’em all smiling.  My wife has some special way with elderly gentlemen- it never fails.  One of the seniors had been a bass player for Mac Wiseman on a swing through the Carolinas in the 50’s.  He dug my wife’s playing, and came up after the show to tell us a bunch of old tales.  Bluegrass people are about the same everywhere you go.

        That night we went to hear the River Band.  Somehow Sammy Shelton found out about Marfar and did a bar of Happy Birthday for her.  For those of y’all outside the bluegrass world, you just gotta hear Sammy- the cat rocks the banjo.  One thing even a lot of bluegrass people don’t know know is he is also a very fine electric Tele guitar man, and sits in with a number of country and rock bands when not on tour with the River Band.  (This is why he had to let his hair grow out so long.)  Neither a little rock ‘n roll or long hair bother the bluegrass crowd, though.  They are very tolerant people, especially if a man can pick like Sammy.

        Sunday we slept in (we had subs lined up for our church band gig) and ate cold pizza then went shopping first thing.  They had some fine specials out at the mall, and I got her the present I told you about- a GPS that talks to you.  It was her birthday present, but I figured it would save me some trouble down the bluegrass road.  You know men- they never want to stop and ask for directions!

        The whole thing inspired me enough to go be a doctor for another week.  Happy Birthday Weekend Ms. Marfar!

Dr. B