Posted tagged ‘jam sessions’

Into the Harvey County Bluegrass Inner Circle

March 16, 2012

        A new bluegrass family is in town and they found their way into the inner circle quick. If you serve up great ribs, million dollar pie and gallons of sweet tea you make bluegrass friends in friends in Harvey County in a hurry. Leonard sang the lead, Moose Dooley picked the five, “Cuz” was the dobro man, Phipsy played bass and Jim flat-picked the guitar. I wobbled around on the mandolin and sang baritone but no one complained. It was great to be out picking. Our social life might not be fancy, but I wouldn’t trade places with the richest Wall Street cat around.

        Y’all keep the music going.

Dr. B

West Henderson High Young’uns

October 14, 2010

        There are days when you wake up and realize you’ve got some age on you.  I walked into the West Henderson High office and two young ladies at least a decade younger than my daughter led me to the auditorium.   

        English teacher Cliff Searcy and I played Indie’s theme song, “The Cherokee Shuffle,” and they all began to clap in time with the music.

       I took the mic and looked out at the hundred or so kids. Would they have any interest in writing? I hoped so. I asked if they knew what they wanted to do with their life, and most of ’em raised their hand to indicate a “yes.” That shocked me. When I was that age I had no higher ambition than to get a date for the prom and know where to find the best milkshakes in town.  

       They asked great questions; everything from character development to page layout. Conflict, how to make the plot rise and fall, writing for personal growth; all superb insights.

        One asked about how I outlined my novel and I almost laughed, because I recalled how infuriated my agent would get with my sketchy notes in the early days. I told the student what I’d read about how Grisham did his; he lays out his time-line on a long table and then writes an extensive outline before he ever starts to write the book.

        I confessed my outlines were lousy, but my book came out good. I guess I did it the hard way. I also suggested they learn to type. I never got around to that either. (Lazy I reckon) I often skipped typing class to go play music; I don’t recommend that approach.   

       The questions were so insightful I sure was glad my agent and editor taught me all that as I wrote “The Mandolin Case.” Even as recently as 2007 I wouldn’t have been able to answer them. It takes a long time to make a writer.

        After the talk, Mr. Searcy led me to the school Wednesday jam session. Tow headed and dark curly-haired teenagers played fiddle, bass, mandolin, and guitar with sophistication well beyond their years.

         A photographer from the regional monthly magazine “Bold Life” was there. He was mesmerized. “I’ve heard bluegrass, but this has such a different feel.”

       “Those kids have mountain soul, man.”

        You can hear it in the way they play. Some of them are classically trained too, and that is good thing, but they’ve got their music heritage deep down in ’em.

        Their orchestra instructor played the mandolin in the group as did a young man. Some of the music had a touch of old-time; the history teacher there is a clawhammer banjo man. I guess you’d say some of the passages were modal, but I’d just call it pure as a mountain trout stream. Very cool. 

        Years ago some kinda university professor visiting artist came around to study me and the guys I pick with and said part of our sound was of the mixolydian mode. I looked that up in a music theory book, and thought it was about right, but it didn’t change my playing much. Mine’s got a bit more Foothills, Piedmont, and Sandhills influence but it’s still mountain music. 

        It tickled me that these young ‘uns would let me sit in and soak it up. It thrills me to see the torch passed on. I backed up the fiddlers on “Cluck Old Hen,” a public domain tune Alison Krauss recorded a few years back. When I ran a harmony passage to their melody line one flashed a big smile. Where else but in bluegrass can a kid and an old Doc share the same music? I raised my young’uns in it, and the day brought back many fond memories.

        The photographer said he wasn’t a musician, but you could tell he was an artistic kinda cat. He said, “If you spend your time being creative, you don’t have time to think about being mean.”

         “Amen brother,” I replied.

         Kids, thanks again for showing me the circle will forever be unbroken. There’s enough mean people in the world to go around already, so y’all keep on being cool. God bless you and protect you. May you remain of a child’s spirit even after you have to deal with the harsh realities of the adult world. Doc has seen a lot, but in spite of it all I’m still a kid like y’all, just an old one. Between Jesus, family, and music I somehow was saved by grace from most of the impact hard times can have on you.

        Y’all keep on playing. I loved your style. You’re true bluegrass, and I won’t forget you.

Dr. B

Corey and Lorena From New Jersey and “Act Naturally”

April 12, 2010

        You remember Cory and Lorena from New Jersey?  They are on an extended stay in the South and gonna be here about a month. They came for the Darin and Brooke Aldridge festival and looked up me and Marfar.

        They’ve got ’em a new 5th wheel type rig and parked here in Harvey County for a few days. Bluegrass people have a sixth sense of where the best places are. I’m always amazed at their intuition. Cory and Lorena are only about a mile upstream from Indie’s cabin on the river. Indie always said it was the best spot in the County.

          They invited us over to jam tonight.  We cooked some chops on the grill, and split open a cantaloupe. I sat back and picked Cory’s fine Deering banjo and watched the birds fly and the water rush along. The river was slow a few weeks back, but we’ve had some good rain. The weather was perfect and I didn’t pull on a sweat shirt until dark thirty.

       Cory and Lorena are gonna be at MerleFest. I’ll have to tell Ted and Irene Lehmann about them.  Isn’t New Jersey up there near New Hampshire somewhere? I bet they’d enjoy getting to know them, ’cause wherever you go bluegrass folks are kindred spirits.

        I’ve heard from my publisher. Out of superstition I’m not gonna name ’em yet, but I grow more confident every week. Right now they are on a final line edit to check for periods and commas, so it is close.

        They told me a newspaper man who liked bluegrass got wind of the project and asked to preview it.  He liked it so much he wanted to render a quote for the jacket. That tickled me ’cause I’d never met him before. I don’t know what he’ll say, but I figure I’m a  doctor and this man writes for a living. If he says I write okay for a doctor, that’s good enough for me.  If he likes it, I musta done something right.

        Really though, I’m just like Buck Owens. All I know how to do is act naturally. I ain’t Hemingway. I’m just good old Dr. B, and it’ll have to do.

Dr. B

Jam With the Pros

February 14, 2010

        When a guy like Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range invites you to a jam, make sure to go.  The room was full of Asheville’s best; people I had seen over the years on stage with a number of bands. Some of them were the featured performers on the show that night.  There was not a weak player in the room.  Their trio work was so strong it’d thump you in the chest from five feet away.  No need for microphones here.

        I went to another session for a while I’d been invited to, but Darren said to come back.  When I walked in they had taken a break.  Nicky Sanders of ‘The Steep Canyon Rangers’ was there.  I’d just heard him on the big stage a few hours earlier.

        I extended my hand.  “Great playing man.  I believe you’ve had some classical training.”

        “Oh, a little.”  He smiled.  I suspected it was a lot more than that.

        “And a bit of jazz too?”

       “Yes.”  He eyed my case.  “We’ve got two fifths of a band here.  Let’s play.”

        Someone handed a guitar to Caleb, the red-hot flat picker of Balsam Range.  Mike picked up the bass out of the corner.  Some kid I didn’t know sang ‘Down in the Willow Garden’ so high and clear it’d ’bout break glass.  It was on.  A crowd gathered.  Some of them had accents that weren’t hillbilly, but they sang along on several songs.  Someone said they were from Finland.

        It was everything from “Minor Swing’ to ‘Little Cabin Home in the Hill.”  I’m don’t play at level of these guys, but they didn’t complain.  Nicky called for ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe.’  It’s one of those tunes that came in from across the pond.  I hadn’t played it in years and my version was rough style.

        There wasn’t anything rough style about Nicky Sanders fiddle work. This guy had total mastery of the bow.  Even the highest notes were perfect in intonation.  He was the best fiddler I’ve ever stood beside in a jam, and the first person I’ve heard in a long time who can hold his own with Micheal Cleveland.  A true candidate for fiddler of the year here.

       My usual rule these days is to turn into a doc at midnight, but I broke it for this one and stayed up too late.  I’ve got to strap on a stethoscope instead of a mandolin tomorrow so I’ll take a nap today, but I’ll be ready.

        When I get a break Wednesday I’m gonna relearn ‘Fisher’s Hornpipe.’  If I’m gonna get to jam with the pros I’m gonna be ready for that too.

Dr. B