Posted tagged ‘music’

My Number One Fan

May 17, 2009

        I have done  a couple records in my life.  They are out of print now, though we hope to put another one together soon.

        We kept them under the counter at the office.  My rule was the staff could never ask the patients to buy one.  I felt like it was wrong to push them in the office, and I didn’t want my patients to feel obligated or just buy one to make me happy.  (Drug reps were another matter; I told them if they wanted an appointment with me, they had to at least pretend to like my music.)

           But if a patient asked for one, the staff could sell them one.  We kept the money in a coffee can, and I’d count it at the end of the week and split it up with all my guys.  As folks who play this music on a semi-pro basis know, it wasn’t a lot of money.

        Every so often, a patient would tell me they’d like to hear my music, but I knew they couldn’t really afford a record.  When I knew they couldn’t buy their medicine, it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.  I’d give ’em one, and ask ’em not to tell anybody.  I always put the money in the coffee can so my boys wouldn’t be out anything.  After all, the recording was only 1/6 mine.

        Our first one came out in cassette tape.  One day an old fellow asked me where he could hear my music.

        I took a look at him.  He had on old tobacco stained bib overalls, and his snaggles were in terrible need of dentistry he could not afford.  His five o’clock shadow was working on midnight.

        “Tell, you what Jim, let me give you something.”  I went up front, dropped the money in the coffee can, retrieved a tape, and took it to him.  “Just don’t tell anybody.  I ain’t supposed to give ’em away.”

         “Why Doc, thank you so much.”  I thought the man was gonna cry.  I wondered how long it had been since anyone had ever given him anything.

        When our second one came out, he heard about it, and scratched together some bills and came to the office.  “I want to buy one of them things, Doc.  I’m your biggest fan.”

        This time they were out in CD.  I handed him one.  “Hold onto your money, Jim.  The boys said you’re so loyal they wanted to give you one.”

        “Well thanks Doc.”  I noticed he eyed it kinda funny and turned it over and over.  “Sure is flat.”

        “It’s called a CD.  They say they sound a lot better.”

        “Hm.  These is new.  Well, I do appreciate it, sure enough.”

         I later learned he didn’t own a CD player.  His family found out and bought him one.  The image of this man sitting alone in his farmhouse with one CD in his player was almost too much for me.  

        I saw him not long ago.  “Doc, I sure do like that new record you gave me.  (The thing was years ago.)  When y’all gonna make another one?”

        “Soon I hope.  We’re gonna give you one.  You’re our number one fan.”

        He smiled a near toothless grin.  “You got that right, Doc.  You got anything new for arthritis?  Mine’s a flared up some something terrible and…..”

Dr. B


River Of Jordan

May 16, 2009

         ‘River of Jordan’ has always been a favorite tune. Not long ago my agent told me there is lady out there who goes by River Jordan.  When I heard that, I had to check it out.  It didn’t take long to realize there was something here of interest for me and the also the folks who read my blog. 

        The lady writes books, and has Podcast interviews with some of my favorite authors like Clyde Edgerton.  She talked about mandolins and all sorts of music genres.  She’s not all bluegrass; she touches on everyone from the Beatles to Miles Davis.

        I enjoyed my visit to her site.  Check her out at:

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

Tarmack Tears

May 11, 2009

        I knew a man whose wife left him for some Italian fellow.  He was bluegrass.  She was, well….. let’s just say she got above her raising.  He’s remarried now, and doing well. 

        One day he recalled how she said she was so sorry, but he thought her tears were likely gone before the plane took off.  If occurred to me if his wife had been bluegrass it never woulda happened; she’d a taken a train.  

        The more I thought about it, I decided there needed to be a few more bluegrass jet plane songs.  The trains dominate the genre, and rightly so.  As somone wrote, there ain’t nothing romantic about a tarmack.  There wasn’t much romantic about this guy’s first wife either, so it fits.

‘Tarmack Tears’


Tarmack tears
They took flight today
Tarmack tears
Dried up right away
Tarmack tears
Ain’t like a railroad song
The thing about these tarmack tears
Is they won’t last too long


She called the house to tell me
She’d booked a flight to Rome
She said there warn’t nothing left
To keep her here at home
She met some guy Italian
From his hairdo to his shoes
Ain’t nothing ‘talian bout me ‘cept the day old pizza blues



I walked her through the turnstile
She shed a tear or two
At a gift shop stop she somehow got
Stricken with the blues
Bought her one last Starbucks
And put her on the plane
I hope she bought a one way flight  And don’t come home again



What she don’t know is when she’s gone
I’m gonna be just fine
The high pitched whine of a jet turbine
Don’t tug this heart of mine
Like the lonely moan late at night
Of the old steam whistle blues
That stirs my soul some sad way  She ain’t never knew


Dr. B

O.K.  Get on me for being silly if you want, but I see enough bad stuff in my work.  For me music is just pure fun and an escape from the reality of the Doctor world.

Dr. B

Merle Fest 2009 Saturday and Sunday

April 27, 2009

        I played so much over the weekend I didn’t take time to write.  We spent most of Saturday at the Creekside Stage.  Darin and Brooke Aldridge were back and Jim Lauderdale sat in with them.  They had another fine show and attracted attention from record labels and promoters. 

        John Cowan was up next.  He sang ‘I’ve Got Nothing But the Blues’ like he means it, and everyone rocked to “Jesus Give Me Water,” a mix of Sam Cooke with Beach Boy-like harmony.  John is rock and soul, acoustic and bluegrass with drums; maybe not traditional but just as authentic.  

        The Bellville Outfit from Austin, Texas by way of Spartanburg, S.C. and Connecticut might not be a band you’d hear at a straight bluegrass festival but they were excellent.  They had drums and a key-board and a hot Strat guitar man.  This was a high energy new act I did not know until this festival.  Phoebe Hunt, the girl who fiddled, was part Broadway, a bit of classical, Cajun, Texas swing, and a charming show tune singer all mixed in to one.

        MandoMania is a showcase for all the best mandolin players on one stage.  Hosted by Tony Williamson and Sam Bush, this year’s line-up was Mike Compton, Darin Aldridge, Sierra Hull, Rebecca Lovell, and Alex Johnstone.  Each is a special player.  Jeff Autry, John Cowan’s guitar sidekick, did the backup with as fine a chord selection as you’ll ever hear.  Tony said Jeff was his favorite guitar man to accompany mandolin tunes, and I understood why.  I was backstage for that one, and planned to jam some later Saturday.

           I might also note Mandomania was brought to you by by Tony’s shop, Mandolin Central, and they are happy to provide all of your mandolin needs!

        After supper it was Doc Watson.  Doc is as humble a legend as I have ever met.  He is 86, but like fine wine, gets better with each year.  After Doc it was Emmylou Harris and then Sam Bush.  They jammed together for a while for a reunion of Emmy Lou’s Nash Ramblers from the days Sam was with the band after New Grass Revival.

        Sunday morning it was Doc again, this time with the Nashville Bluegrass Band for their traditional Sunday morning gospel set.  Doc told of a time in the hospital and how a nurse saved his life.  I’ll save the story for you to hear Doc tell it, but it was instructive.  In the hospital, everyone needs an advocate and Doc had one.  I still love Doc’s playing and singing as much as any performer ever.

          Sierra was on the big stage again, and then Pete Wernick  jammed with Buddy Greene the harmonica player.  They were joined by the Gibson Brothers.  Who says folks from North of the Mason/Dixon line can’t sing with Southern inflection?  These guys were the best brother harmony I heard all weekend.

         At one point, even old Doc B got to play.  I shared the Tut Taylor stage with a fine flat-picker named Steve I’d never met.  We did ‘East Tennessee Blues’ first.

        “Nice work man.  Where’d you learn it?”  he asked.

        “I got that version from Darin Aldridge.  He’s my right hand mando man; I’ve learned a lot from that kid.”

        “He’s a player.”

         We broke into ‘Beaumont Rag.’  The second time around I subbed some chord inversions. 

         He noticed.  “I like that swing.”

          “Thanks.  I picked up those passing chords from Wayne Benson last week.”


        It was my first time on a MerleFest stage.  (Except for the first one when I was on stage under an assumed name)  It was a nice moment for me.  I am not a pro player, but with Darin on your right hand and Wayne on your left, even old Doc can get to proficiency.  (It takes a mandolin community to raise a Doctor.)

        Then it was back to Creekside with George Hamilton IV.  He played with Darin and Brooke.  I could tell he enjoyed the set.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see those kids on the Opry before long.  

         Linda Ronstadt was up next but we had to go and get our dog out of the vet before they closed, so we missed her show.

        As we walked out we went by Alberti’s flea circus.  The children were fascinated and all gathered around like mine used to do.  A lady recognized me from my FaceBook page and had read about when I visited the Mississippi school kids who read my short stories.  She asked if I would come to her classroom, bring my mandolin, and write something for her kids. 

        “Sure,” I said.  “I’d be honored.  Writers love to do that sort of thing.”  I hoped at this point I was a writer.  I guess it is like chili says, “When you hit that publish button you are a writer whether you know it or not.”

        My feet hurt, the pollen had all but overwhelmed me, and my wrinkles were filled in with red clay dust.  I gotta change mandolin strings.  Mine are caked in dirt and grime and sunscreen. 

        This was the hottest MerleFest I could recall, but a nice breeze blew in as we walked to the car.  The smell of roasted peanuts and elephant ears rode the wind, and I took one last whiff.  I was all but exhausted, but I’ll go home and put on a pot of coffee for the morning.  Tonight I’ll crash early.  Come tomorrow I’ll be ready to jump out of the phone booth and have the courage to be the best Doc I can all over again.    

        I was ready to be home, but as we left I stopped at the hotel and made my reservations for next year.   Merle Fest is my spring battery recharge and I wouldn’t miss it.

Dr.  B

Bluegrass Youth Movement

April 9, 2009

        Last night I was invited to a jam session.  Marfar played some bass, and Moose Dooley picked the banjo.  A few of the old timers were there.  Wild Bill, whose straggly locks and tobacco stained snaggles once earned him a cover shoot with Pet Care magazine, sat in the corner, nursed a Mason Jar and stoked the fire.  Every so often he’d rouse up and yell “play something peppy,” especially after the breakdowns.

        Wild Bill looks the part, but he has an unexpected soft touch.  The man can be half drunk (a perpetual state) and pick up a baby off the sidewalk with a front-end loader and not get a scratch on the child.

        The night belonged to the young’uns though.  Put the rumor to rest; bluegrass ain’t just for old people.  There were boys in football jerseys and young girl friends with shy smiles and perfect teeth.  The boy next to me played mandolin.  He recognized me from some of our shows, and from years of hanging around jam sessions.

       “Good to see you, Doc.  Y’all still picking?”

        “Yeah, we get out some.”

        “Your boy doing good?”


          I checked out his mandolin.  It was a nice piece, but the action was a little high.  I handed him mine.  “Try out this one.  I had it set up by a guy in Asheville named Randy Hughes.”

        He struck a few licks.  “Dang, Doc.  This is butter.”

        “Play it  a while.” 

        They were all coming right along.  Most of them were high school kids, part of the Darin Aldridge farm team.  I’ve seen them around for years, but all of sudden they have learned to play.  Darin deserves a lot of credit; I think he musically half-raised most of them.

        At one point, the bass player took a rest.  I played it for a while, but for my forearms the bass is akin to wrestling with a weedeater.  The mandolin player in the football jersey handed my Gibson back to me. 

        “I like hearing you play the mandolin, Doc.  Let me tug on that bass a while.”  What a nice kid; it was a polite way to say Doc ain’t much on the bass.

        I used to stay up until the last one went home, but as I get older, I need to turn into a Doc at midnight and get some rest.  (At least on the week-nights)  If I don’t it just isn’t fair to my patients.

       “Guys, y’all are doing great.  Lord, Audie, I had no idea you could sing like that.”

        “Thanks Doc.  I’m trying.”

        “You keep working on a building, son.  You’re making me proud.”  I put my mandolin in the case.  “Y’all take care.”

         “Yes sir.  Come back.  You rock Doc.”

          I’m gonna do it.  Anywhere the kids are still kind (and smart) enough to say old Doc rocks is good by me.

Dr. B

Robert Morgan/Daniel Boone/Tony Rice/Tony Williamson/Doc Watson

April 8, 2009

        Sounds like a new bluegrass super-group, huh?  Well, no it is not that, but on the other hand these five do have common bonds.  And as a physician bluegrass fiction writer, I like to connect the dots between worlds that on the the surface might appear unrelated.

        Robert Morgan is an English Professor at Cornell.  He is an intellectual cat if I have ever met one.  At the same time, he grew up country like me.  I heard him speak at the Conference for Southern writers in Chattanooga, and he talked of his early days on the farm.  When they would plow they often turned up arrow heads and artifacts from the Native American culture.  It sparked an interest in history that persists to this day.  Some time back I interviewed mandolinist Tony Williamson for an article, and Dr. Morgan’s fascination with the subject was reminiscent of Tony’s love of the native people.

        Dr. Morgan’s latest book, ‘Boone’ might well be the definitive work on the life of Daniel Boone.  I am not an expert on the subject but folks who should know, such as  ‘Boston Globe,’  ‘Chicago Tribune,’ and ‘The New York Review of Books’ say it is, and I think they are correct.  His attention to detail was beyond impressive.

         I know y’all recall ‘Ginseng Sullivan’ from Tony Rice’s Manzanita album.  It is still one of my favorites.  You remember the line:  “A tote sack full of ginseng won’t pay no traveling bills.”

        Mr. Morgan had me riveted from the get-go but when he brought up the subject of ginseng I paid extra attention.  He told the story of how Boone gathered ginseng and took up it up the river by keelboat to sell in Hagerstown.

          At one point Dr. Morgan commented there was a legend Boone had taken fifteen tons of ginseng up the river.  That got my attention for sure.  I recalled Tony Rice’s words.  Ginseng is light.  Fifteen tons?  Why, that would have taken several modern barges, not just a few men in small keelboats.  

        Dr. Morgan went on to say he was familiar with ginseng and also realized this didn’t ring true, so he went to the record book.  Somehow he found copies of the original invoices on microfilm and the mystery was solved.  It was fifteen ‘tuns,’ a word at that time for a barrel, not tons.  It made sense. 

         And it made sense to me too.  This Dr. Morgan was the real deal, a writer who I knew had searched for the truth.  After the ginseng story he had my total trust.  It’s like Wayne Benson says about Doc Watson:  “When Doc sings, I believe every word.”  Well when Dr. Morgan writes I believe every word of that too.  A bluegrass man would know if a writer didn’t show the truth about a subject as important as Daniel Boone and ginseng.

          So if you like American history and want the true story of Daniel Boone, get a copy of Robert Morgan’s ‘Boone.’  I haven’t finished it yet, but the man took the better part of a decade to write it, so I am going to take my time.  Like a Tony Rice guitar solo or Tony Williamson mandolin tune, or Doc Watson’s  guitar and singing, or Daniel Boone’s long ago invoices, all honest work deserves proper attention to the details.

Dr. B

Contact info:

‘Boone’   ISBN-13: 978-1565124554

A Washington Post Best Book of the Year

A Shannon Ravenel Book

Algonquin Books

a division of Workman Publishing

225 Varick St.,  New York, N. Y.  10014

Clyde Edgerton and the Columbus Stockade Blues

April 5, 2009

        All us bluegrassers know the song:  “Way Down in Columbus Georgia….”   What you might not know is that author Clyde Edgerton (‘Raney’ and ‘Walking across Egypt’) plays the mandolin.  I saw it myself, so I know it for a fact.

        We have several of Mr. Edgerton’s books around the house, and I always suspected he was a bluegrass kind of guy.  Now I know it is true. 

        My Lit agent is a very smart man.  When he speaks, I listen.  So when he suggested the Chattanooga Arts and Education bi-annual convention for southern writers was a must for anyone interested in the genre, I went.  I was not disappointed.    

       There were many highlights, and it will take me a month to post all of them.  But to find out Clyde Edgerton is a mandolin guy was near the top ot the heap for me.  When he played and sang ‘Columbus Stockade’ and was accompanied by Mr. Louis D. Rubin, Jr. I all but fell out of my seat.  I dang near jumped up on the stage to jam with them.

        Mr. Rubin recalled his experience as an eight year old boy when he attended the last Confederate solider reunion in Richmond.  He described the train with 1,500 old gray-haired and bearded men who waved at the crowd as they passed by.  I am in awe of anyone who knows that much and can recall it in such vivid detail.  He is one of Mr. Edgerton’s mentors, and after this conference I understood why.

        Mr. Edgerton told a hilarious story about a Bible salesman and a cat you just have to hear.  If you want to understand what about Southern is universal to being human, I recommend you buy his book and read it out loud.  Too much.

         It hit me that bluegrass music and Southern Lit have a common denominator.  The artists continue on because they love it.  Every one of the writers I talked to do what they do because they are compelled to make their best effort to seek the truth by writing.  

         My agent always says you have to do your best to show the truth.  Well, for my money if Clyde Edgerton on the mandolin, Louis Rubin, Jr. on the harmonica, and the ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ ain’t the truth about Southern Literature I don’t know what is.  They spoke my language and were fluent.   Maybe someday with enough work and re-writes I can jam with ’em.

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

An All Time Dumb Question (and the answer)

March 24, 2009

        There is one question no pharmaceutical rep should never ask me, at least if they want to get a second question.  It is this:

        “Doctor, how do you approach the patient with…”  fill in the blank; whatever clinical scenario you choose does not matter.

        Here would be the parallel for a musician.  Lets say you are a mandolin player, and you finish a set with your bluegrass band.  A member of the audience approaches you after the show.  “I enjoyed that.  Could you show me how to play that little guitar in an hour?”

        The answer is, “Well buy a quality instrument, find a good instructor, play at least an hour a day for a year, then come back.  After that you will have a start on it.  But no, I can’t tell you anything in an hour.”

        The same is true in medicine.  Unless the rep is prepared to go to school and invest a hundred hours a week for a few years in basic science before they get to interview the first patient, and then more years of hundred hour weeks to explore every nuance of patient history before they prescribe the first medication and then, well….   the best thing to do is not ask such a question.  Because the answer is, “First you take an history and then you do an examination, and…. oh well, never mind.”  Anything less is like asking a pilot to take off an airplane without going through a pre-flight check list.   (Another approach to life I do not recommend.)

        At best it indicates some marketing guru made them do it.  Reps do some good in this world, and I want to hear about their products.  However, I have no interest to try and explain how to be a doctor in a superficial response.

        I am reminded of the great golf teacher, Harvey Penick.   He was the famous instructor from Austin, Texas.  He taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, so he knew a little about the game.  So the story goes (paraphrased) his son-in-law wanted to learn to play golf.  The young man was a fine athlete; a three letter kind of guy who was an All-American in basketball.

         “Mr. Penick,”  he said.  (no one called him Harvey)  “I want to learn to play golf.  Can you give me some lessons?”

        “Sure.  I’ll send some clubs.  Next time I’m there I’ll show you a few things.”


        Mr. Penick shipped him out a set  of clubs.

        After a few months Mr. Penick went to visit.  The son-in-law greeted him with great enthusiasm.  “I sure am glad to see you.”  Months had gone by and it had been a terrible go of it.  “This game is giving me a fit.”  Like all beginners the hooks, slices, and tops far outnumbered the sporadic solid strikes of the ball. ” Why did you wait so long for the first lesson?”

        Mr. Penick smiled.  “This is the second lesson.  You have already had the first.  In golf, a great athlete must be humbled before they are ready for the teacher.  Now we are ready to start.”

         I feel the same way about some of these reps.  They are young, smart, educated, good-looking, and pop society hip, but hopelessly unsophisticated about medicine.  I can no more give them a sound bite approach to lipid management than I can teach them to play the mandolin in an hour, or golf either one.  It also holds true in writing, a fact I have begun to learn over the last nine years.  Each discipline takes years to even get started.

        Mr. Penick died a very old and wise man.  He charged five dollars for lessons, but to everyone who knew him he was a very rich man.  He understood things about life most people never know while here on Earth.  He even came close to understanding golf, which is near  impossible.  I wish I had the privilege to know him, but at least I got to learn from his ‘Little Red Book.’  I am glad he left it behind.

        Maybe I need to teach some of the drug reps how to play golf.  I’d start by making them memorize Mr. Penick first. 

Dr. B