Posted tagged ‘bluegrass music’

How to Find Good Bluegrass Music in N.C.

July 5, 2009

        We just got back from a long stretch of play.  I’m recharged and ready to be Doc.

       This go round I realized I know the secret on how to find good bluegrass in N.C.  The answer, like all truth, is simple.  Follow Mr. Harold.

        You can’t miss Mr. Harold.  He is the middle aged gentleman the Carhartt overalls.  His eyes are a soft brown.  They look you right in the eye you when you speak to him.  His beard is flecked with gray.  He stands 6’3″ tall.  His day job is as a farmer.  He knows how to make sorghum molasses from cane sugar. I went out to his farm to watch him once.  His hands are callused and his handshake is firm but somehow not too much so.  He always smiles.

        I don’t know if he always smiles ’cause of a long happy marriage, lots of bluegrass music, or that homemade peach ice cream he makes and sells at festivals.  It might be all three.  But he always smiles.  Whenever I see him he’ll say how was your week, Doc?”

         I might say, “I don’t know, Mr. Harold.  It was a tough one.”

         He’ll smile and say, “Well now, Doc.  No one here is sick, and you’re gonna be around music all day.  Everything’ll be all right.  Care for some ice cream?  Just what the Doctor ordered.  It’s on the house.”

       I fish out my wallet.  “Oh, I couldn’t let you do that Mr. Harold.  They don’t let you rent this booth for free, you know.”

        He hands me my 1,000th cup of homemade peach ice cream and a flier.  “You need to come to the Coot Williams Festival on Sept 12th.  Blue Highway’ll be there.  So are Darin and Brooke.”

        “Thanks.  Believe I will.”

        Oh, I promised I’d tell you how to get to the best bluegrass festivals in N.C.  Go to Mr. Harold’s farm and sit at the end of his driveway.  Make like a detective with sunglasses and your hat pulled low.  Smoke a cigarette (don’t inhale) and wait.  I wouldn’t try to drive up the road.  It is a dirt path with deep ruts and pot holes.  There are several twists and turns and you could get lost.

       In time, you will see a silver and gray truck crest the hill.  A trail of dust will be kicking up behind it.  It will be Mr. Harold.  When he pulls out of the driveway follow him.  A couple times out of ten you might wind up at the Post Office or the Piggly Wiggly, but most of the time he will lead you to the best bluegrass in N.C.

        When you meet him, ask him for some of that ice cream.  The peach is my favorite.  Tell him Dr. B sent you.  He’d be your friend anyway, but it won’t hurt you any with him, ’cause me and Mr. Harold go back a long way.

Dr. B

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The cure for Type A blues

July 2, 2009

        Jack Lawrence is one of the world’s best flatpickers.  Yesterday I saw him under a tent trading licks with a ten year old kid named Jake.  I’ve seen Jake around; he’s a cute little tow-headed fellow who can pick the fire out of a mandolin.  It struck me that the child was oblivious to the fact Jack Lawrence has toured the world as Doc Watson’s right hand man. 

        And it didn’t matter a whit to Jack either; he just loves the music and hopes to pass some of it on.  “Good lick right there.  You keep at it.”

        About dark-thirty I was parked under a pin oak shade tree.  The cicada’s whine called the young’uns home for the evening.  I debated whether to get up and follow the trail of fish and chips that wafted through the air.

        I decided to wait.  Larry Sparks was up.  The Doc side of my personality has a bad tendency for Type A behavior.  I’d about partitioned off that side of the hard drive for the night, and I figured Larry would cure the rest.  If a man listens to ‘Blue Virginia Blues’ and can’t wrestle his type A behavior to the ground he has issues.  I propped my feet up on my mandolin case.  Not much was ailing me, but if anything lingered, I think Larry’d be able to cure it.

Dr. B

Jackson County and Appalachian Fire

June 29, 2009

        Y’all, I played all weekend.  I’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming and the push pin mandolin tour with my next post. 

        Years ago when my son went to look at colleges, we took a trip to Cullowhee, N.C., the home of Western Carolina University.   He took one look and said, “Dad, this is where I want to go.  It’s like Harvey County with mountains.”

        Not only did he go to school there, but after he got his degree he settled in the area.  I have to agree with him; it is very pretty country.

        Every so often he’ll hear about an event and call.  “Dad, you need to come to Western this weekend.  They’re having  a bluegrass festival out at the Jackson County Recreation Park.”

        “Who all’s playing?”

        “Shilo.  Rumor has it Opie Poindexter is their mandolin player today.”

        “Wow.  I need to get there.  I haven’t seen Opie in years.  (Opie is a former Galax International Fiddler’s Convention mandolin champion.)  “Anyone else?”

        “Appalachian Fire.”

        “Cliff Searcy’s outfit?”

        “Yep.”

        I cupped the phone in my hand.  “Marfar!  You wanna go visit Tommy?”

        “Sure.”

        So off we went.

        Jackson Rec Park is in a valley nestled right in between a couple mountain ranges.  It was just the kind of festival I dig.  There was a big green lush lawn and the mountains cupped around the field like a natural amphitheatre.  They had a politically correct kid’s playground; the kind where all the edges are plastic and rubber to reduce the risk of head injuries.  (Docs always scout out a new place for such things.)  Some fellow walked a couple of beautiful liver and white Springer Spaniels who would become your life-long friend for a pat on the head.  

        The sun beat down at first, but there were a few tents for shade.  As soon as the sun dipped near the western shoulder of the mountain ridge it cooled down.  A breeze rustled through the stage mics; it sounds like the rumble of thunder for those of y’all not used to being around sound equipment.  Don’t forget to try the Cherokee Indian fry bread.  Indie woulda loved that.  Great stuff.

        I got out my mandolin.  A young middle aged man approached the stage.  He was a burly sort with a beard flecked with gray, a firm handshake and a ready smile.  He walked with the spring of a fellow who was an althlete.  He stuck out his hand, and we shook.

        “Nice mandolin,” he said.   “Looks like a Montana era Gibson.”  I lowered my sunglasses and he looked in my eyes.   “Son of a gun.  Tommy Bibey, it is you.”

        I grinned.  “Cliff Searcy, I presume?”

        “Yes sir.”

        “So pleased to meet you.”

        We chatted for a moment, but Appalachian Fire was up next, so I let them get to their warm-up.  They were a fun band.  It was all Fedora hats and baseball caps, New York State fiddling, and wild Hawaiian shirts.  They had a fine girl singer, Ranee Stepp, and I loved her version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’  When  bunch of middle aged guys from across the demographic board can make such fine music with a young lady who is barely more than a kid, I know this kind of music will not be lost.  I like to see the young people in it.  Music is the  tie that binds.

        All in all it was a fine festival.  Opie is a great mando player, and I always learn from him.  FlintHill was there, and Michael Burgess is one of my favorite songwriters.  He has placed tunes with bands like Lonesome River and the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet.  Their banjo man is one of the best you’ll hear, and the guitar man is a pretty dang hot picker too.

        For me, bluegrass music is all about the people.  A genuine tough guy ex-football coach with a soft spot for English Lit, kids, and folks in Nursing homes is the kind of human being I continue to find in my bluegrass journey.  We plan to do a few charity gigs together.  Someday I’ll visit his class and tell ’em when I was a boy we always paid mind to Coach, and they better too, or some day they’d regret it.  I don’t think I’ve seen the last of Cliff Searcy and Appalachian Fire too, ’cause they are true bluegrass.

Dr. B

Alone and Blue/Hector Brown

June 27, 2009

        Tim O’Brien used to do a song in his ‘Hot Rize’ days called ‘Hector Brown.’  It is the bluegrass statement on ‘lives of quiet desperation.’  The chorus goes, “if you don’t think an old man can be alone and blue…let me tell you my friend, he’s just like you.”

          Believe it or not here in Harvey County we still make a  few house calls.  There are a lot of little old folks who live just like Hector Brown in the song.  

        There was one old fellow I used to see who loved for me to bring my mandolin.  If you are one of those hard-hearted insurance kinda  guys don’t worry; I didn’t send in a bill.  In fact, at times I’d thumb through the code book and say, “Hey Bill; what kinda ICD-9 code you reckon the government would take for mandolin picking and watching ‘Bonanza’ re-runs?”

         He was confined to bed from a stroke and could barely talk, but he’d always laugh his a^^ off.  Bill was a Hector Brown kind of guy, but he endured it all with dignity.  I like to believe I helped some.

        When I age out of the Doctor gig that’s how I am gonna spend my time.  I’ll go out to the house of folks like Bill, take a plate of chicken and my mandolin, and see if I can make their day better.  By professional mandolin standards I am an average player at best, but so far no one has complained. 

        I’ll get back to my tour schedule next week.  I’m tired and need to recharge.  I wanted y’all to think about the folks confined to home.  When you get down to the bottom line, I think that is why I play mandolin more than anything else.  I’m gonna play some this weekend.  Who knows, maybe it’ll be a bright spot for some soul like Hector Brown.

Dr. B

Earl Scruggs Concert/Darin and Brooke Aldridge

June 20, 2009

        This writer gig has it’s perks.  I went to the stage door where a burly security man posted guard.  I showed him my press pass and took off my glasses.  “Is this a ticketed event?”  I smiled as I asked.

        He peered into my green eye, then my blue one.  “Hey, Doc.  Don’t need no iris scan for you.  Come on in.  You gonna play?”

          “Believe I’ll leave it to the pros tonight.  Historic concert  huh?”

        “Yeah boy.”

        A few local pickers hung out with the sound crew as they put on the finishing touches.  “Y’all seen Darin and Brooke?” I asked.

        “Downstairs.”

         I turned a corner and followed the music where the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet warmed up.  A country duet caught my ear.  It was new and fresh and old fashioned all at the same time.  “Y’all need to record that one,” I said.  Promoter Milton Harkey was there, and nodded in agreement. 

         A bus was parked outside.  Hoot Hester, staff fiddler for the Grand Old Opry, Rob Ickes, the multiple times IBMA dobro player of the year and super session pickers Jon Randall Stewart and Keith Sewell stepped out.  Man was this was some kind of all star band.  Then it was the Scruggs family; Gary, Randy, and then Earl.  My goodness.

         I hung around and swapped old stories for a while.  We picked a few tunes.  Earl had gone to rest up for the show, but Gary asked if I would like to visit for a minute.  Even though I am closing in on old, I was as tickled as a small boy.  I reminisced with Earl about how much I enjoyed his music, and shared a few old stories about his brother Horace.  We all loved Horace. 

         I went back to Darin’s warm up room and played a few more with them, then put my mandolin in the case and threw it over my shoulder.  “Guys, my Marfar is out in the audience.  I believe I ‘m gonna go out and soak this one in.  Y’all play hard.”

        “We will Doc.  Say a prayer for us, we want to do good,”  Darin said.

        “Y’all always do, young’un, but I’ll say one for good measure anyway.”  I knew what this one meant for them.  They are an overnight success after a decade of hard work, but there were folks from all over the country there, and many of them were quite influential in the music business.  The Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet had arrived.

        They did not disappoint.  Be it straight bluegrass, gospel numbers or country duets, it was perfect instrumentation and flawless harmony.  Brooke is a powerful singer, and Darin’s voice matches hers to perfection.  They used to say only siblings can get that kind of harmony, but we’re gonna have to revise the bluegrass rule book.  That married folk harmony is extra good, too.

        I noticed Hoot Hester in the wings checking them out.  I love all of their work, but this new country duet sound they have begun to dabble in as of late is made to order for Darin and Brooke.  It reminds me of the old Louvin brother duets, except one voice is male and one is female.  When they sang the first line I wanted to jump out of my seat and shout it out, “Lord have mercy.  I wish the Rev. Larry Shell could be here to hear that song, ’cause folks that is real country!  Kill Nashville Pop!” 

        Marfar sensed my excitement, grasped my elbow, and put a finger to her lips.  “Ssssh, Tommy.  Be quiet, now.”

        “Yes ma’am.”  I knew she was right.  No sense in getting hauled out by the cops and wrecking the show.  I went to speak to them at the break.  I hugged Darin and Brooke and shook hands with all the boys.  “Great show guys.  Don’t forget me, ’cause y’all are done famous.”

          Darin smiled.  “I ain’t ever gonna forget you, B.”

          I went back to my seat.  They took the lights back down.  The Nashville boys began to lay down a country groove.  The spotlight focused on center stage, and of a sudden, there was Earl Scruggs.  It was a standing ovation before the first note.  All of us old hands know what he means.  He redefined the banjo. 

        My pal Wayne Benson was out on the road, but he sent his best wishes.  He said, “When you hear a banjo at a festival you can trace every note back to Earl Scruggs.”  Wayne’s wife Kristin Scott Benson was the IBMA banjo player of the year for 2008.  She was out on tour with the Grascals.  Folks have taken to calling her ‘girl Scruggs.’  Like all professionals in this music she knows what Earl means to it. 

        Country Music Hall of Fame, Lifetime Grammy winner, more achievements than what I can list.  Earl Scruggs.

        It was a text book performance of one classic after another.  I was especially taken by the old public domain tunes like ‘Sally Goodin’ and ‘Solider’s Joy.’   They are timeless.  So is Earl.  When Gary commented ‘Solider’s Joy’ went back to the 1800’s Earl joked, “Yeah, I wrote it.”  We all got  a laugh, but the truth is he did re-write it in that wonderful three finger style.   Sometime I wonder who would have preserved some of those tunes if it hadn’t been for Earl.

        Randy burned up the ‘Black Mountain Blues.’  (We always called it the Black Mountain Rag.’)  Doc Watson would been proud.  When Hoot Hester kicked off  ‘Dim Lights’ I thought the man had to have played a few honky-tonks before he became a staff fiddler for the Opry.  It was one of those staccato country fiddle kick-offs that is often imitated but seldom duplicated to that level.  I would have to ask Larry Shell to be sure, as  he is more of an expert than I am, but I think ‘Dim Lights’ might be the original honky-tonk song.  The classic lyrics go:

        “Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
        Is the only kind of life you’ll ever understand
        Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud loud music
        You’ll never make a wife to a home loving man

        A drinkin’ and dancin’ to a honky-tonk band…..”

        When the song came out in the 50s it was controversial!   Now it is a classic.  Keith Sewell coaxed some fine Tele-like twang out of the electric guitar that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  Jon Randall Stewart’s singing was exceptional on that one.  I thought no one would ever sing the high part like Curly Seckler again, but this young man did it.  I was very impressed with him; a talented multi-instrumentalist, great singer, and a cool looking kid to boot; we need to see more of him.  He was a nice young man too.  It seems like the great ones always have a touch of humility.

         Gary called on Jon to sing ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ theme song and then they closed with ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown.’  The crowd was on their feet clapping and stomping.  Just like 1945 it was magic all over again; just pure magic.

          Folks, my life was meant to be a Doc.  That’s what God called me to do, and I always give it my best.  But I love the music too, and somehow I’ve gotten right in the thick of it.  Maybe it was God’s way of looking out after me.  You see a lot of heartaches as a Doc, and I can be a bit sensitive to it all at times.  The music sure has eased the pains for me. 

        I’ve been awful lucky.  One of my golf pals calls me ‘Moonlight’  after the character in ‘Field of Dreams.’  On the way home I told Marfar maybe I was a bit like Moonlight Graham, ’cause I have lived the dream the whole way.  Moonlight was meant to be a Doc, and so was I, but somehow we got to play in the big leagues for at least an inning or two.  Not many folks get to shake hands with Earl Scruggs before a concert like that one.  I was blessed to get to be any small part of it, and I am thankful for my good fortune.

        Thank you Earl Scruggs for what you have done for all of us over the years.

Dr. B

The Old Home Town/Earl Scruggs

June 18, 2009

        Friday is a big night in bluegrass music.  Earl Scruggs will be in his old hometown of Shelby, N.C. for a Homecoming concert.  In the interest of historical accuracy, I might add it is really a reunion concert for Cleveland County, as Earl grew up in nearby Boiling Springs.  To be exact, his old stomping ground was the Flint Hill community, which was part of Boiling Springs.  The old home place still stands down near the Broad River just above the Greenway.  There are some fine photos of it on the English Professor’s blog at www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com

         Most bluegrass folks know the Flatt and Scruggs tune, ‘The Old Home Town.’   It starts out “Tonight my heart is lonely for the folks back home…”  Bluegrass tends to be a nostalgic music and I am a nostalgic man, so I can identify with the lyrics.  I guess I was a little like Jimmy Stewart in ‘A Wonderful Life.’  Home was just too powerful a draw.  When I left for college I thought where I landed was sure enough a mighty big town ’cause they had an Arby’s.  I came back home after school and never left again.

        This is not to say my world is all egocentric though.  I know I am a homebody, and believe I was supposed to be a Country Doc in a little town.  At the same time my wife and I want to see a bit of the world before we are too old to go, and ‘The Mandolin Case’ is our travel ticket.

        At the same time, I am not one to go unless I have people I want to see.  Without the book, I doubt I would have ever ventured out to any of the rest of the world.  It was my way to find others of like mind.  The beauty of the book journey is that I’ve already found new friends all over the world before it is even published, and they are all just like my Harvey County pals.  Bluegrass folks are the same everywhere, and I would never have ventured out without the security blanket of their network.  I’m a homebody but with my people I always feel at home.  

        Still, I am certain after a few weeks out there I’ll go right back to the house.  In my old song book compilation there is a category for ‘Songs About Wandering Away and Coming Home Again.’  ‘The Old Home Town’ is home and always will be.  Like a homing pigeon I’ll always return.

        There are many reasons I had to write my book, and it is a bit of a complicated story.  One objective was to pay tribute to my many friends who are out there on the road.  Every single human being who ever recorded a note of this music helped me through many long lonely Doctor nights.  I often wandered back home in the middle of the night half exhausted.  I am certain at times I would not have arrived safely if not for someone’s cassette tape blaring away in my Scout as I drove home.  Many times it was Flatt and Scruggs.   

         Friday, June 19th, 2009, Earl Scruggs is gonna wander back to his hometown too.  I’m sure gonna go.  After all, Earl saved my life out on the doctor road many a night, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for it.  The opening act is the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet.  They live in the next County over, Gaston, so they are home too.   They also are a major inspiration for me.  It should be the best of the legends and the best of new for a Homecoming concert no one should not miss. 

        If you live anywhere near Western N.C. I would make the journey.  Check with Destination Cleveland County; I think there are still a few tickets left.  It promises to be a historical show.  Y’all wander over there, I am certain they’ll make you feel right at home.

Dr. B

Top of the Day/Earl Scruggs

June 14, 2009

        Top of the day to you guys.  I love my coffee maker at Indie’s cabin.  It’s old, but is has a feature where you can stop it from dripping for a moment, and you don’t have to wait for the whole pot to percolate to sneak a few cups. 

        If you time it just right and get the first two cups, they are quite strong.  Back in my chemistry days we called it something like the supernatent.  Extra strong and extra good.

        There ain’t much out here but me and the birds.  A bee hovered over my coffee for a moment, but it’s black, double strength and no cream or sugar, so it opted for the clover instead.

         My song for the day is ‘Preaching, Praying, Singing.’  Flatt and Scruggs.  That’s what I’m shouting.   Between some old tunes and my Marfar I’m ’bout near rejuvenated.

        I’m on vacation, and only posting an abbreviated version of my blog today.  If you want to get the inside story on the Earl Scruggs concert in his hometown of Shelby. N.C. due up this Friday, June 19th, check out Ted Lehmann’s blog.  (the English Professor)  The link is on my blogroll or just click here: 

www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com

        He’ll protest the reminder, but when you read his blog, you’ll see why I nominated him for IBMA 2009 Print Media Person of the Year.  Ted does what he does because he loves bluegrass music, and trust me the man does a lot.

Dr. B

Fiddling Pig/DoctorGig/COMMA

May 30, 2009

        I guess Sam Bush would say the life of a country Doctor is all glamor and grits.  Mine is close sometimes.

       Thursday night Marfar had a quilt guild meeting.  She didn’t want me to drive alone in the rain, so I picked up Fangers Lynch after work and we drove to the Pig in Asheville to see Balsam Range and their guests Darin And Brooke Aldridge.

       The Range alone is a great show.  Marc Pruett is old school solid on the five string (he’s played with everyone from Lester Flatt to Skaggs) and Buddy Melton sings ‘Blue and Lonesome’ so sad I had to dry my eyes with the paper towels they put out to clean off your fingers after you eat those good ribs.  (I had the smoked chicken; very fine)  Bass man Tim Surrett is hands down the funniest emcee in bluegrass.  A dry witted nut he is.  How about this one from Bluegrass First Class?

        An old man and his wife are watching television in the den.  The wife turns to the husband and says, “Honey how ’bout let’s run upstairs and have sex?”

        He looks over from the T.V. and says, “I can’t do both.” –  Tim Surrett.  Bluegrass people are very honest.

       Darin Aldridge was there with that perfect tone on the mando.  Put Brooke in the mix with a couple beautiful gospel numbers, then have them sing a perfect ‘Some old Day’ and you have a fine night in Buncombe County. 

        Don’t miss the Fiddling Pig if you are in Asheville.  Marc Pruett is a Grammy winner and knows the business.  He’s in charge of the entertainment, and you can be sure there will be no off nights.

        I got in late but slept good, and was well rested to turn in a good Doctor gig.  I diagnosed a myocardial ischemia, had several routine check-ups, and saw two gastroenteritis cases.  (Just tossing this in so you won’t forget I’m a real Doctor)  We did four, uh… lets see how to say it polite-like…. uh.. four age specific colo-rectal screening exams for malignancy and an incision and drainage of an abscess before a quick lunch, then got in fifteen minutes of mandolin practice before we kicked off the second set.  (Bluegrass talk for we started up afternoon office hours.)  

        The schedule was a little light and I caught up every single chart.  As far as I could tell it was no runs, no hits, no errors.  I breathed a quick prayer of thanks.  After all these years, I still have a high respect for what all can go wrong in the Doctor business.  So far, I’ve never pronounced anyone well to have them drop over dead in my parking lot.  I assure you that is more from the Grace of God than me being smart.  The responsibility of it all still weighs heavy, but I do my best.   

        We finished up early and Marfar and I hit the road to COMMA in Morganton to see Mountain Heart.  If you are not sure you like bluegrass try these guys out as your entry band.  I always check on the mandolin player, and Aaron Ramsey was excellent.  Young lead singer Josh Shilling was especially good; part lounge singer, R’ n B,  rock ‘n rolling, honky tonk piano playing, New Orleans bar jazz, bluegrass singer wild man.  No kidding, I heard every one of those influences.

        My daughter called at the break.  “Daddy where are you?  It’s late.”

        “I’m out on a date with your mama.”

        “Well I would hope so.  Y’all’re gonna be out too late.  You better come on home.”

        “Tony Rice and Terry Baucom are playing the second set.”

        “Hm, O.K.  I’d stay too.  Better get a motel room.  You’re past your bedtime.”

        “A motel room?  Well, I guess that’d be O.K.  It is your mama after all.”

        “Hush, Daddy.”

        “Yes, dear.”

        If Mountain Heart is your first bluegrass band, and you wanted it played straight, then stay for the second set too.  Now that you have been broken in all modernized, Tony Rice and Terry Baucom are both classical bluegrass from the 80s.  That was the era when we went through a version upgrade, but still kept good taste in the mix. 

        Like I said, the Doc life is all glamor and grits.  (Go see Sam Bush when he’s in town too)  Today I’m gonna mow the grass.  I’m off so I’ll pick a few tonight.  Tommorrow I’ll play the gospel in a country church and pray for the Good Lord to forgive me for my sins.  Next week I’ll do it all over again.  Whatever misjudgments I made; well… it’s as we say when we miss a note; I didn’t do it on purpose.

        In fact I think I’ll pray extra hard.  Next week’s schedule looks like it might be a busy one, and I want all the help I can get.

Dr. B

The Bomb Shelter Boogie and Little Richard

May 23, 2009

        One time years ago some folks were in from England.  They were on a tour of N.C. and wanted to take in some local culture before going to MerleFest.

        They must have had good contacts, ’cause they asked around and wound up at a place in Statesville called Perry’s Auction Barn.  The owner, Tim Perry, used to play with a band called Carolina Crossfire. 

        The Auction Barn was on a spare budget; I recall old coffee cans rigged up to serve as stage spotlights.  Instead, they put their money into the performers.  Tim brought a lot of fine music to N.C.; folks like the Scene, Lost and Found, and Larry Sparks.  One night Rhonda Vincent came through.  She put on quite an energetic show.  My wife thought her clothes were just a bit snug for a bluegrasser, though.  Marfar didn’t raise no dummy Doctor; I agreed with her 100%.

       The night the group from England was there we were the opening act.  I believe it was for Sparks.  Anyway, they asked Tim where they could find a good jam session.  He pointed at me.  “See that fellow in the shirt with the pineapples on it?  That’s Dr. B.  Ask him.”

       They took his advice, and we struck up a friendship.  I invited them to the Bomb Shelter, a bluegrass hangout I knew well.  As luck would have it, Charlie Waller was there that night.  Darin Aldridge was his mandolin player, and the Country Gentlemen had stopped at Darin’s house for the day.  Darin invited the boys to the session.  As you can imagine, our new friends decided they had hit the bluegrass mother lode.  Charlie was elderly at the time, but his voice was as rich as ever.

       Everything in bluegrass comes full circle.  Not long ago it was the official last night of spring; the last session inside the Bomb Shelter proper before owner Jack Barber closes it for the summer, when we move outside to the Cabin.   A lot of the same crowd was there. Charlie is gone of course, and he will forever be missed.  What a voice. 

          I had a med student with me.  ‘Little Richard’ as we call him, had tagged along for the night.  Just like Dr. Peter Temple who mentored me, you can an ‘A’ in my rotation if you do right by the patients, but to get an ‘A+’ you have to do that and also take in bluegrass culture.  

        We parked the truck in the field, and walked down towards the Shelter.  Jack and the boys had a bonfire going in a fifty gallon drum.  The fire crackled and the sparks drifted up and disappeared in the night air.

         “Still a bit of a chill, huh Jack?”

          “Yeah, Doc.  The last night of spring.  Gonna move to the Cabin next week.”

        “Ah Lawd.”  Another winter come and gone.  “The field is full.  Lot of good pickers?”

       “Yes sir, Doc.  Good session sure enough.  “Who you got with you?”

       “Oh, I’m sorry.  This is Little Richard.”

       “Some R ‘n B tonight?”

        “Oh no, not the same one.  He’s a med student.  We want to get him to come back here someday.”

       “What kind Doctor you wanna be?”

        “Country Doc.”

        “You follow old Doc then.   He knows all us country people.”

        “Yes sir.”

       Jack threw a few more logs on the fire.  “Good to have you, son.  Before you leave, make sure you sign the wall.  And if anyone asks where this is just say, “You can’t there from here.”

        “Yes sir.”

        We ducked through the door and went inside.  A doghouse bass thumped away.  It was Sealtest; I knew his rhythm anywhere.

         Moose Dooley kicked off ‘Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee.”  I got my mandolin out of the case, tuned up, and caught the baritone on the first chorus.  “Little girl of mine in Tennessee…I know she’s waiting there for me….”

        Stacy flatpicked the opening lines of ‘Freight Train Boogie.’  Some well known N.C. pickers like Buddy Wrong and Dr. Dean Jenkins were there, along with national mandolin sensation Darin Aldridge.  Sealtest, who has toured with several groups held down the bass.  Moose Dooley wore out the five string. 

        I hadn’t picked with Tim Perry since the Auction Barn quit doing shows, but there he was along with his old bandmate ‘Fangers’ Lynch.  Fangers played with Brushy Creek years ago, and the band finished second in the country to Radio Flyer back then in the Pizza Hut Showdown.  Rumor has it they managed to outdo a very young girl named Alison Krauss, at least for that one day anyway.

        At one point ‘Fangers’ did ‘Sea of Heartbreak,’ a tune I’ve loved for years.  “You know, it’s hard to beat an old Don Gibson song,” I said.

        There was some young fellow there learning the guitar under Fanger’s tutelage.  He scrunched up his face and scratched his head.  “Gee Doc,” he said.  “I thought that one came from Carolina Crossfire.”

        Bless Fanger’s heart, he gave credit where it was due, and told the young man they learned it from Don Gibson.  It was good to see all those guys.  We’ve all run in the same Carolinas bluegrass circle for many years.  And as the song says, it will never be broken.  God bless every one of ’em.  My life was much richer for knowing them.

        Little Richard signed the wall before we left.  On the way home I asked him,  “Hey man, you remember how we got to the Bomb Shelter?”

        He lit a cigar and took a puff.  “Can’t get there from here, Doc.”

        “Son, you are gonna make one more fine country Doctor.  I gotta get you to come back here and look after me in the Nursing Home some day.”

       “Dr. Bibey, it’d be an honor.  That Moose Dooley, he can pick the fire outta that banjo, huh?”

        “And did you hear Fangers sing ‘Oh Lonesome Me?'”

       “Good Lord have mercy that was the saddest thing I ever heard in my life….”

        “Yep.  I don’t think Little Richard himself could sing the blues any better than that.”

        “Hey, that girl today with the negative mono test?  How come you put her on Vibramycin?  She didn’t recall a tick bite.”

        “Her rash was suspicious.  She went camping with her boyfriend two weeks ago.  The Mama was in the room with her.  I thought she hesitated.  I wasn’t sure she told me the truth.”

        “Why didn’t you just do a blood test for spotted fever?”

        “Hell boy, by the time I get those tests back from the State I’ve either cured her or she’s dead.”

        “Ain’t you worried she’s pregnant?

        “Temple Law.  Good work, son.  She’s been reliable on the pill.  She said her last period was two weeks ago.”

        “Yeah, well she mighta fibbed about that too.”

         “Maybe.  But you know that urinalysis I ran?

         “Yeah it was negative.  No infection.”

          “Look here, Mr. R ‘n B, I ran a pregnancy test too.”

          “Negative I take it?

          “Dang right.” 

          “Damn Bibey.  You’re a sneaky rascal.”

        “I haven’t stayed out of trouble in this business for three decades by being a dumba^^.  Temple’s Law.  Don’t forget it.”

         “A woman is pregnant till proved otherwise.”

       “Correct.  You’ll never x-ray a pregnant lady.  ‘A+’ son,  A+.”

        I stopped at the Quick Pik to get a Co-Cola and some nabs.  “Want anything?”

        “No thanks, Doc.  I’m good.”  Little Richard blew some smoke out the window and smiled.   Maybe this country Doc gig wasn’t glamorous, but it sure was real. 

Dr. B

The Deep River Blues and FaceBook City

May 21, 2009

        My agent is very wise.  When he had me start my blog, I asked, “What is  a blog?”

        He said, “Trust me.  A blog will teach you how to write.  You will learn more from your readers than you teach them.”  This turned out to be true.

        He let me dabble in the blog a little over a year.  One day he said, ‘You need to start a FaceBook page.”

        I asked, “What is a FaceBook page?”  (At first I called it My Face.)

        “Son, it is the finest networking tool you will ever see.  You will learn more from your FaceBook friends than you’ll ever teach them.”

        He was right again.  This FaceBook crowd runs deep.

       Every day on FaceBook I post a song of the day.  Today was Doc Watson’s ‘Deep River Blues.’  The next thing I know a new friend of mine, a gentleman named Cliff Searcy, posted a video of Doc from the 60s.  It was good enough to bring tears. 

        Every time I post the ‘Song of the Day’ folks like Cliff or Otis or Carmen, or Gary Thompson or Kenny Baker (and many others) respond with some insight.  I learn something every time.

        Today I was able to return the favor.  Gary had looked all over the world for the song ‘Going Back to the Country.’   His band learned it somewhere in their travels.  They were not sure of the source, and wanted to credit it correctly.  Believe me this cat knows bluegrass, and he had tried every source imaginable.

        I heard that on my lunch break one day, and lo and behold I knew the tune.  It was written by an old friend of mine, Glen Laney, and on the Knoxville Grass ‘Darby’s Castle’ LP in 1978.  I am sad to tell you Glen passed away some years ago, and was gone way too early.  Before he died Blue Highway did a benefit concert for him in Knoxville.  It’s the bluegrass way.

        I’m gonna send Gary the song today so he can check and see if he has the words right.  As artists, (though I am only a part-time one) we are both against too much burning.  But on the other hand, this had been out of print for years.  I knew Glen well, and I am sure this is what he would want to do. 

        Gary promised to acknowledge Glen from the stage whenever his band played it.  He is true bluegrass, and I have no doubt he will do just that.  The thought of Glen’s music going on past his death, and me having facilitated any small part of that made this old Doc’s week.

        As a Doctor, you spend your whole life tethered to about a hundred mile radius.  That’s O.K.  I knew what I signed up for.  Besides, I am  homebody and wasn’t meant for a life on the road.  But at the same time I like to get to know new people.  I used to have to wait for a band to come through Harvey County to meet new music people.  Now FaceBook brings them right to my study. 

        So today, I want to recognize all my new FaceBook friends.  Like Doc Watson’s ‘Deep River Blues,’ they also are a river that runs deep, and I am proud to know them.

        And by the way, I’m glad my agent and I have already agreed on our contract.  If he finds out how prophetic he’s been he might want to up his percentage.  I’m gonna hold him to it.  After all, a hundred here and a hundred there; pretty soon you’re talking real money.

Dr. B